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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 11

Humanitarian Support for Ukrainian Refugees: Statements

I thank the Senators for inviting me here today to talk about my Department's response to the continuing crisis in Ukraine. Like the Senators, I am gravely concerned by the ongoing situation. I am sure they will all join me in condemning in the strongest possible terms the illegal actions of Russia, whose military strategy at this stage appears to be one designed to cause the maximum suffering for civilians. I am sure they will also join me in extending our hand of welcome to the many Ukrainians who have already arrived, and to those who continue to arrive, in our country seeking safety and shelter.

Since the outset of this war, my Department and I have been focused on providing reception accommodation to Ukrainian refugees in need. Since the outbreak of war and the first Ukrainians fleeing the war arriving in Ireland, the scale of response to this crisis has been unprecedented. As of yesterday evening, 10,414 Ukrainians have come to Ireland. We have established dedicated teams at our airports and ports to meet new arrivals from Ukraine comprising staff from several Departments including the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and my own Department. Officials from these Departments are ensuring that every person arriving is met and given support as soon as possible. We have specifically prepared reception areas, which include designated spaces for children and adults and quiet spaces.

Each Ukrainian refugee who arrives at Dublin Airport is provided with a permission letter confirming that he or she has been granted temporary protection under the EU directive, which allows for temporary protection for at least one year. This means that Ukrainian nationals fleeing the conflict will be allowed to work and will be given access to health services, accommodation, education for children and other social supports. Details of the new measure have been published on the Department of Justice's Irish immigration website at and are available in Ukrainian and Russian at

The Department of Social Protection is registering those arriving at Dublin Airport for personal public service numbers, PPSNs, so that they can have quick access to income support. The Department of Social Protection also has a presence at Rosslare Europort and in Cork and Limerick to register those arriving by ferry or through Cork and Shannon airports.

The international protection accommodation service, IPAS, of my Department has temporarily taken responsibility for providing short-term accommodation to Ukrainian refugees. A dedicated Ukraine unit is being established to manage the provision of accommodation and related services to Ukrainian refugees. To date, 4,942 Ukrainian nationals have sought accommodation from IPAS. My officials are continuously working to source further accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals to Ireland through hotel accommodation and various other accommodation solutions. IPAS has contracted over 2,500 hotel rooms, with additional capacity also being pursued through: hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodation providers; accommodation pledged by the general public; State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation; religious properties; and local authority facilities.

We have to be very clear about the scale of the accommodation challenge that we, as a country, face. In fairness, all of our EU neighbours are also facing this challenge. While we have been able to accommodate Ukrainian refugees in hotels so far, there is limited capacity within our hospitality sector to provide sufficient accommodation. Work is under way to expand our accommodation capacity, including through the repurposing of large buildings. However, depending on the number of arrivals, it may be necessary to draw on temporary or emergency accommodation options if existing accommodation sources are not available or are insufficient for our needs.

My Department has worked with local authorities, which played a pivotal role in securing short-term accommodation over the St. Patrick's Day weekend when hotel availability was more limited. We have engaged with the County and City Management Association about drawing on emergency accommodation in community centres, if necessary. Dublin City Council provided some emergency accommodation last weekend and we have engaged with convention centres about installing emergency accommodation in those facilities and with the Defence Forces about options if existing capacity was insufficient. I also know and appreciate that many people in Irish society wish to help directly. As has been the case so many times in the past, it is part of our heritage to give. The Irish people are doing this by opening their doors.

The Government has worked with the Irish Red Cross to put in place a national pledge as the mechanism for channelling the offers of accommodation which many members of the public wish to provide. The website through which offers of accommodation can be pledged is available online at There has been a remarkable response by the public, with over 20,000 pledges received so far. The Irish Red Cross, the Defence Forces and estate agents and valuers are now beginning to evaluate these pledges and to inspect the properties with a view to making them available quickly to refugees. They are focusing firstly on fully vacant properties, which constitute 20%, or 44,000, of all pledges. The Irish Red Cross and my Department will then begin to match refugees to properties and to support refugees to move into their new homes. The Government, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Red Cross and Tusla have been working together to develop a vetting process for donors of shared accommodation. This is where a room or rooms have been offered to Ukrainian refugees in people's houses.

As children constitute a significant proportion of the Ukrainian refugees currently arriving in Ireland, child protection has to be a priority. For this reason, anyone offering a room or rooms in a shared home will have to be vetted before Ukrainian refugees are matched with them. Senators will appreciate the importance of ensuring the safety of people who may be vulnerable and who are traumatised by the terrible experiences which they have recently undergone.

I thank everyone who has pledged their support. I also thank the Irish Red Cross volunteers and staff who work to facilitate this unprecedented demand. The generosity of the Irish people and of the NGO community continues to be a beacon of hope for people who have lost so much.

One of the most important elements in dealing with a crisis is information. Essential information regarding support and services are available online at and on my Department's website. The information is available in English, Ukrainian and Russian. We are working to expand the range of information provided. I recently met with both the Ukrainian and Polish ambassadors and I have committed to keeping the Ukrainian Embassy regularly updated as a crucial information hub for refugees and for the Ukrainian community in Ireland more broadly.

In the wider context, my Department has been working closely with key stakeholders and with the European Commission, other EU agencies and member states. This has helped us to be prepared for the sudden increase in people seeking international protection in the EU. As part of our foreign policy focus and using our seat on the UN Security Council, we have been working to ensure that entity plays its role in ensuring that full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of Ukraine is provided, although we are all aware that this is not currently being facilitated by the Russian military. At the UN Security Council, Ireland has called for unrestricted safe passage for civilians out of areas of military operations and for the delivery of humanitarian supplies including medicine and food to be facilitated.

The targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of prohibited weapons, and indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are absolutely unacceptable. Russia has a clear obligation to comply fully with international law, in particular international humanitarian law. Ireland has joined 38 other International Criminal Court, ICC, state parties in referring the situation in Ukraine to the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN Human Rights Council will undertake a commission of inquiry into violations of human rights in Ukraine.

As the House will know, we have made significant humanitarian aid available. The Taoiseach initially committed €10 million. That was followed by a subsequent €10 million. We have also contributed €11 million to the EU's peace facility package. As the House will know, that Irish aid is non-lethal. Nevertheless it is all vital aid Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government require. I recognise the website of Dóchas, which is the umbrella organisation for Irish NGOs. That may provide a hub for people looking to donate to the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts taking place on the border and in Ukraine itself. People who wish to support those NGOs may do so.

The scale of this humanitarian crisis response is unprecedented for this State, but it is a task we undertake knowing that, by so doing, we are saving lives. As I said in my opening remarks, we are extending a welcome to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland. They are fleeing invasion. We are offering them shelter and safety. We will need help from all sectors of Irish society and from communities across Ireland if we are to respond effectively to the needs of a people who have been deeply wronged and subjected to terrible suffering. We are scaling up our operation. We have to be honest that this will not be perfect from day one and that we will have to work to develop all the various connections required, from travel to transport, education, early years care and access to the job market. There will be hiccups as we develop this system, but we are absolutely committed to doing all we can to assist these people, who are so desperately in need through absolutely no fault of their own. I know Senators of all parties and none will work with the Government and in their communities to assist in this process.

Go raibh maith agat, Minister. Thank you, as ever, for taking the time to come here.

Laskavo prosymo. That is "welcome" in Ukrainian. Unfortunately, I have been saying those words a lot recently because we have had so many Ukrainians come into our county. Maybe we should all learn how to say those words for starters. I thank the Minister deeply because from the get-go he has turned on a sixpence and created systems that were never before demanded at such a scale and in such a short time. So far so good. Unfortunately, it looks like we will have a lot more to do, but the response from the Minister, his Department and the ordinary people of Ireland has been mind-blowing. It gives you faith in most people. Obviously, there are some very evil people, like Putin, but it is to be hoped the good will outweigh the bad and, overall, we will be victorious.

In my county, Clare, we have seen mind-blowing generosity from everybody, particularly the Polish community. They have been amazing. They led the way for the rest of us, who did not know what to do or how we could help, so I give a big shout out to the Polish people. Many of my Polish friends' family homes in Poland are now full of Ukrainians. It has been amazing. We must have hope and focus on the amount of positivity there is in most ordinary people in this world so we do not fall into the darkness surrounding the few evil people who can fill our minds with negative thoughts and a lack of hope. I have had many phone calls and conversations with people who are finding the war overwhelming. Overall, however, we must remember the average human being is good and means well. We have seen that globally in the outpouring from ordinary people at every level of society as we try to do all we can to support these people in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, the Ukrainians who have got as far as Ireland are some of the luckier ones, which is astounding to think. Everything is relative. Some are still back in their homes fearing the worst and fighting for their countries. Mother's Day is approaching. I think of the mothers of Ukraine who do not have their husbands, sons or fathers with them because they have had to stay at home to fight for their lives.

Our country is part of the EU. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been good at that level, but we have to be strong and do all we can to lead the EU. It is said there are no more sanctions we can impose. We have to beg our neighbours in Germany and France. We have to ask them to listen and to look at this properly and see if there is more we can do.

As a people, we can do our best. In some ways one of the most significant things we can do is look at our complete fossil fuel addiction and do more to wean ourselves off it. That seems to be the grasp Putin has on the EU, which is why the EU has not been stronger. I suppose Putin had hoped he would split us. He is having some success in that at present, but we are now in wartime. It is not a world war but it is a huge war the likes of which we have not seen since the 1930s. When was the last time we had 3 million people coming into Europe in such a short time? It is very important the Irish Cabinet looks at expediting every single thing we can do to move away from our fossil fuel addiction. We have had the solutions to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and these have come from the Green Party, the green movement, environmental activism and environmental scientists for 30 or 40 years. We have always had the solutions. One of the main reasons I got involved in green politics was to try to get those solutions manifested. We have seen good public transport, electrification of houses and really good retrofitting schemes, but we need to prioritise that now. At present, people are stuck with their fossil fuel dependence.

We cannot all go out and buy electric cars in the morning but, at a personal level, we have to drive our cars less. I know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, got shot down for saying driving above certain speeds results in increased use of fuel, but he was right. We have to take things at a personal level. The State, unfortunately, will not be able to bail everybody out. The Government will not be able to cover the quadrupled cost of 10-10-20 fertiliser for farmers. We will not be able to cover the cost increases in petrol and diesel, and they are not going down anytime soon, so we have some personal responsibility to look at our behaviour. This is behavioural change we were working towards anyway because of the climate emergency, but now we have an extra emergency, thanks to Putin, a war emergency, and this is wartime. Anybody who was alive during the Second World War will remember rationing, and we have to do that on a personal level. Unfortunately, it has come to that.

It is important the Cabinet prioritises all this now. We need to get our offshore wind going and to improve our public transport vastly, especially in rural areas. Currently, we see a big discrepancy between the choices rural and urban people have. I have a friend who has a Brompton, a lovely fold-up bike. He can go out of his house, cycle a kilometre, hop on the train and arrive in Dublin. That is lovely. Many people do not have that choice. A lot of our carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption come from private car owners in rural areas, so there is a significant part to play. We can turn some of this negativity into a positive if we expedite all the things we need to do on climate action. It will give us cleaner air, save us money and make us less dependent on evil people like Putin.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I wish the Minister and the Government well as they lead the national response to this terrible crisis. There is a lot to give us hope when we see the generous response of the Irish people. Many of the Government's measures taken so far will also have people's full support. I will make a number of points. Some may appear to be critical. Some will be more in the vein of praising and urging more of certain things. What I have to say is an attempt to contribute to the discussions we all need to have about which needs we can address and how quickly. We are dealing with the most serious international emergency in any of our lifetimes. Apart from needless death and destruction, it has caused huge international economic upheaval, the displacement of 3 million refugees so far, as we all know, and untold concern, anxiety and indeed grief among Irish people. It is very hard to stay listening to the radio and other media these mornings, though we know we cannot turn our heads away.

As for our response in the Seanad so far, in the four weeks since the invasion began we have had only one hour of debate on Ukraine or anything connected to the crisis, which is regrettable. On 1 March we devoted 90 minutes to discussing the latest in a long line of Amnesty International reports criticising Israel before then turning to have a debate lasting, I think, just 60 minutes, or not much more than that, on Ukraine. It struck me at the time that if the Ukrainian people had a lobby group funded by billionaires working on their behalf, maybe the Seanad would have debated their plight first. In the four weeks since then, we have made Seanad time for statements on the credit union sector, the second such debate this year, a Bill on sea fisheries and an EU motion relating to so-called hate crime.

All of these things are important in their own way but I wonder whether some of them could have been deferred. Could we not have found more than one hour over eight full sitting days to debate this critical issue? Most of us here defended the Seanad from its proposed abolition in 2013 but there is a danger sometimes that we show ourselves to be divorced from the concerns of people, which will lead to further and future calls for the Seanad's abolition if we are not careful, although obviously this pales into insignificance compared to the matter before us today.

The Minister gave us the figures regarding the very generous offers to make space available in people's homes or to make homes available to people. It is amazing to think that 80% of those offers involve sharing accommodation. I think the figure is 16,000. This is very much to be commended. All of us are thinking about what we ought to do and what we can do and are having discussions with our families about how we would go about it. Some consideration should be given to making even small payments or stipends available to people who are willing to take refugees into their homes. It is not something I would seek for myself but there are others who would need that and there are others who would be encouraged and facilitated in doing something that is already very generous. The Tánaiste ruled it out last Monday in a tone that suggested that it was out of the question. I do not think Irish people expect to be paid for their generosity but as a gesture of thanks or indeed to help them make preparations, it would not be inappropriate for the State to make some kind of stipend available to people to help them defray initial costs such as new bedding, furnishings, the basic decoration of spare rooms, books and toys for children. Ten thousand refugees are here at present. If we gave €1,000 to every host family for each refugee - means tested if you wish - it would cost a paltry €10 million. It was reported recently that it would cost up to €330 million to accommodate 10,000 refugees in hotels for a full year so I wonder whether this area needs to be reconsidered. I do not think we can justify spending huge amounts of money to put people up in hotels but then expect people to take refugees into their own homes thereby saving the State a fortune without offering them basic assistance. I again stress that this is a good thing for people to do; they should do it anyway. However, the State's response should be more reflective of the contribution people are making. It is also about Government money and how we spend it.

I am very glad to see Poland and its contribution being rightly praised at a time when Poland is often unfairly targeted at EU level. We need to worry seriously about human trafficking. This crisis presents a big opportunity for evil-doers to engage in the trafficking of people for prostitution and other nefarious purposes. We need to really care for those people and get it right in terms of how we welcome, accommodate and integrate those coming to our country. I would be grateful if the Minister could address that issue in whatever way is possible at this point in time.

It is so important that we are discussing this issue today. It is really hard to believe that our Ukrainian friends are facing such atrocities and horrors and are the victims of Putin's Hitler-style murder and destruction. I congratulate the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, on the work they and the Department are doing in respect of our response and thank him for the clear update in his speech. I also congratulate the Government on its leadership. The way this Government has acted alongside our European partners and the international community has been a matter of pride and we must remain resolute in our solidarity with and support for Ukraine. We must stand against Putin and his war. It is time for Europe and western democracies to stand tall in condemning war crimes and demand that Russia ceases all hostilities immediately and withdraws from Ukraine unconditionally.

I welcome all Ukrainians who have landed in this country. I know it is so tough for them. I cannot even comprehend the pain and worry felt by them. It is beyond anything I can imagine. It highlights the importance of us providing that safe haven with a welcome, smile and friendship that are so integral to our humanitarian response.

We all know it is not going to be simple. It will be very difficult and will be a challenge. Certain things will not be perfect. Services in this country will be put under pressure and I ask everyone in this House and outside to have an open mind, work together and be understanding as this country works to provide refuge for thousands of very welcome people. I thank all the Irish people for their phenomenal response to and support for the Ukrainian people. I am proud of this country and Government, which has committed to delivering that multifaceted humanitarian response outlined by the Minister. I am fully behind us working alongside our European partners. The people of Ukraine are going through something I never imagined we would ever see. It highlights how vulnerable our world is, how vulnerable our democracy is and how vulnerable our populations are to manipulation by parties and organisations who are anti-State mules, who want to destroy and who obstruct continuously. We must always stand against those who support dictators, make excuses for authoritarian regimes, do not abide by the rule of law, do not recognise democratically elected leaders and work to put them down. To hell with them all. This is a time for western democracies to stand against despots and authoritarian regimes and if we do not do this now, we will see a repeat of what is happening in Ukraine.

This debate is overdue. I recognise the tremendous efforts of the Minister and the Department to deal with the crisis caused by what has happened in Ukraine. We will leave that discussion for another day. There is little doubt that these people have suffered great trauma. Seventeen days ago, I travelled to Lviv in Ukraine to see at first hand the conditions refugees were facing in advance of crossing the border. Things have improved and they are getting through more quickly, which is to be welcomed. There is a real challenge and the Minister does not need me to explain it to him. I have visited Poland and have seen at first hand how it is handling it. I do not think we have seen anything like the scale of the demand just yet. I hope and I have great faith in the Irish people that they will stick with it. Everybody I have met wants to be part of the solution right now. This will require holding the nerve as numbers increase. We are at 10,000. It is a long way to 100,000 and it is a phenomenal distance to 200,000 in terms of stretching not just accommodation but our services and resources. This gives the Minister time as the key co-ordinator to work with State agencies and services to ramp up.

Even in the early stages, they are under pressure, particularly in terms of health. Senator Garvey will know the area I am talking about very well - Lisdoonvarna, Doolin and Kilshanny. The principals of three schools there got together and, working with the Department, effectively managed a plan. They are doing so blind because the Department is catching up but they are driving ahead. They are looking at the employment of teachers and putting the infrastructure in place. That is great.

The health service is under enormous pressure anyway. We do not need to talk about Covid, etc., but there is a gap there. We need to look to the community that has arrived. I spoke to a number of people in the facilities over the weekend. I visited most of them in Clare. There are doctors, nurses, dentists and teachers. The skill sets are there within the community. I am not talking about employing them straight away. I am just talking about building that community, enabling it and giving it the cover to assist its own. These are high-functioning people who want to work. They do not want to be here. They would prefer to be at home and the bulk of them will go back in due course when things settle. They just need that support structure around them. It does not have to be overly burdensome. We just need key co-ordinators in locations with large numbers of refugees. I do not want to over-emphasise Clare, which has opened its arms. Support is needed there.

The Minister spoke about a location in Limerick as a point of contact. I think it should be at Shannon Airport because, quite frankly, people are coming through the airport. It has been done at Rosslare, which is the right thing to do at the point of entry. The journey from the airport to Limerick is a distance. The point of contact should be located at the airport and I ask the Minister to give consideration to that.

I thank the Minister for taking these statements.

We need to begin by remembering just how horrific it is that today in Ukraine, particularly in cities such as Mariupol, there are people who are hungry to the point of the risk of death. There are people without water. There are people trapped in buildings. This is all due to the oppression and the absolutely horrific, incalculable infliction of suffering by Putin and his crew in their decisions to go into Ukraine. At all times, it behoves us to make sure in our responses and as we discuss how we are responding to it that we never normalise it. We should never allow it to drop from the very first item on the news because it is such a horrific assault on democracy and on a country.

The people who are coming here, the vast majority being women and children, are going to find themselves in a place where they are waiting for bad news. I cannot imagine how horrific that would be. Anything that we do is well deserved and well warranted in our standing against Putin's oppression and our standing with people who are going forward and making the ultimate sacrifice while their wives, sisters, mothers and children escape. A population has been weaponised in this flood of refugees, which is a deliberate tactic of war.

Perhaps because of my unique involvement and insight in all of this, I have had the opportunity to speak to people in Ukraine and to try to assist them in moving with their families to Ireland. Many do not want to leave Ukraine. They believe this is short and if they can endure for the next couple of months some sort of normality will be returned. It is difficult to cope with those conversations when one looks from the safety of Ireland and thinks that even if that is the case, the rebuilding of cities will take an exceptionally long time. We are in this for a much longer haul. I would exhort us as a nation to look at the cost of flights, as they are very expensive. We should look at some intervention in that regard. I know there is potentially a longer-term plan for if there is mass exodus, but what critical point has to arrive for us to intervene with airlines to assist people in leaving?

I am very proud of the accommodation and humanitarian responses from the Irish people. It is no less, in a way, than I would expect. That has been exhibited over decades of absolute generosity in our own terms, always to exhort the generosity. That is done very well.

Given that we have such a large volume of women and children, obviously my mind goes to childcare, even for just the respite of women being able to meet and speak, not even work - but obviously they need to work at some point. The counselling psychologist in me says that when they arrive and take a breath and see the Irish media and are exposed to the perspective from Ireland, I think only then will the trauma truly hit. The fear of those families left behind will only hit then. If we can mobilise community centres and communal spaces for women and children to gather and speak, there will be a therapeutic value to that in and of itself. There is value in being able to discuss that shared experience, even if we do not initially have or are working on having counselling services available. Certainly, creating that space where people can come together is important.

I am mindful of all that the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Protection have done. The Minister’s Department has been exceptional and the Minister has shown exceptional leadership. I thank him for that. Does the Minister have enough people for all he is doing? If I were to call on anything from my own Government colleagues it would be to support and ensure the Minister is further resourced because it is certainly well channelled.

Lastly, I wish to congratulate the Red Cross. Liam O’Dwyer has done an exceptional job there. The Red Cross has been wonderful, as well as the auctioneers and estate agents who are assisting around the country. The level of voluntary support is just exceptional and every day reveals more and more.

I am in the schedule next to speak. However, I will go to Senator Sherlock and then speak after that, if that is okay.

It is very important that we are having this session today. I want to start off by saying how proud I am, and I know so many others are, of the enormous humanitarian response by the Irish people. We saw a vote taken in Westminster yesterday that effectively makes it illegal for Ukrainians to arrive in the UK without proper paperwork, with a risk of up to four years in prison. The contrast with Ireland’s response could not be more stark. It is a reflection of what our State and people are capable of when we put our minds to it.

While people in Ireland and our communities have very much opened their arms to refugees fleeing this deadly and horrendous war, the experience on the ground – certainly my experience on the ground – is that there is a very patchy system of joined-up thinking between those who are looking at how we house, how we educate and how we provide financial and health support to those coming here. I accept everything the Minister said in his speech about the work that is being done by his Department. Certainly, my own experience jars with some of that.

I have a number of questions. Firstly, what are the help and resources that we are putting into our schools now for Ukrainians who are coming into our education system? I know one school that is taking in 30 boys over the coming days, which is a large number in the context of the overall numbers in that school. Two miles up the road there is another school that has 17 teachers out today because of Covid – and of course Covid has not gone away. There are very real questions about what psychological, language and other educational supports are going into schools at the moment. I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, talking on the radio at 1 p.m. and she said that the numbers are only running into the hundreds with regard to children at the moment. However, in the same interview it was mentioned that a third of those coming into the country are minors. Therefore, there is a real issue of coming to terms with the number of school-going kids who are coming into the country, whether they are getting into the education system and how we are looking after them. Senator Seery Kearney and others said that the trauma they are coming from and that they will only come to terms with now that they are in safety will be enormous.

The second issue is around the co-ordination between the Department of Social Protection, the Minister’s Department and Tusla. Again, I fully accept the Minister set out very detailed work that is going on on the ground. However, I know of a situation last Saturday night where there were 60 people in the convent in Buttevant and there was the very real issue of nobody from IPAS or the Department of Social Protection there to help out.

There is a real issue now about those coming in through places other than Dublin and Rosslare. I am very glad and heartened to hear that a system is being put in place in Rosslare, because I understand as of Monday morning there was chaos there when the Stena ship arrived into the harbour. Credit goes to Stena for offering those free sailings from Cherbourg.

The third issue is housing. As the Minister said, the challenge is enormous. If Ireland eventually receives the 2% of the estimated 10 million Ukrainian refugees, that increase in population is almost the size of Cork city and its suburbs. It is hard to get our heads around that. We absolutely need to make sure that all refugees in this country, those in direct provision and Ukrainians coming in, are housed in dignified and decent conditions. We know refugees will say that they only want to come for a short period of time, but history tells us differently.

We need to think about the short term but we also need to think about the longer term with regard to housing.

The response by communities and people throughout this country has been magnificent but this urgent response also requires quick decisions on planning, procurement and the provision of material and services. We know where inflation is at currently and the direction it will go in the coming months. It is important to state, and I feel strange doing so, that this crisis must not provide an opportunity to those who would seek to profiteer from the misery of others and the necessary haste of the Government in having to make decisions. I am not making an argument not to spend, far from it. When we are buying up vacant student accommodation rooms and hotel rooms and other emergency spending that has to take place in this State, the hands of the State must not be tied and we must ensure people are not unnecessarily profiteering from this crisis.

I welcome all the Ukrainian people who have arrived on our island. I also commend the generosity of the Irish people to date. Where does one even begin? What we are watching is totally inhumane, grotesque and deeply unnecessary. It is difficult to watch and sometimes we switch off from the news. What a privileged position that is to be in to be able to do that. It is certainly not a privilege enjoyed by Ukrainian people either at home under siege or abroad watching on. They have shown incredible courage, bravery and heroism. Obviously, they have our unwavering solidarity.

As a non-aligned nation and a member of the UN Security Council, Ireland has an important role to play in providing leadership in terms of the humanitarian effort that is required. We should be leading the drive at the UN for the opening of humanitarian corridors to provide relief and assistance to civilians. I welcome that the Minister indicated in his contribution that we have called for unrestricted safe passage for civilians out of areas of military operations. I acknowledge that part of his speech. Hopefully that will bear fruit. It is the least any person can expect; the right to international protection.

The priority for everyone must be to end the invasion and secure full Russian withdrawal form Ukraine. The economic sanctions have been welcome but they need to be strengthened at the meeting of the European Council. Now is not the time for incremental strengthening. We need maximum sanctions. The Irish Government should press for that.

The Government indicated some time ago that rather than expelling the Russian ambassador from Dublin we would do something else in terms of a diplomatic response. I am not sure what steps have been taken in that regard. We are all aware of Putin’s diplomatic footprint across Europe. That needs to be challenged, certainly in Ireland where security experts have questioned the size and scale of its operation here.

In terms of the plan, the humanitarian crisis we are watching demands action from all of us but we need to see the detail of where people will be accommodated and how this will all work in practice. It would be remiss of me not to mention that countries in Africa, as we read in the news, are at risk of famine due to their reliance on goods coming from Russia and Ukraine.

In the context of this debate, I am concerned when I hear the Minister, Deputy Coveney, talk about the EU’s strategic compass, saying that Ireland would play a significant role in the EU rapid reaction force. Neutrality is central to our foreign policy. Our blue helmet work has allowed Ireland to make a major contribution to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts around the world. Irish people are proud of that tradition. At all times there must be someone in the room who is not militarily aligned.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. Is there a single Department responsible for the national response? Is that his Department? Numerous Departments are involved in it. The Minister might address that point.

The Minister is welcome to the Chamber and I wish him and his Department well in his work on this ongoing crisis. I would like to show my solidarity with the Ukrainian people, those who are fleeing war and those who are still in their own country. I am proud that Ireland is standing in solidarity and supporting the Ukrainian people at this awful time. I warmly welcome the Ukrainian people who have arrived in Ireland and those still making their way here. They have suffered an immense loss and I hope they find Ireland to be somewhere they can feel a sense of safety and belonging.

The invasion of Ukraine and the resulting refugee crisis is a human tragedy on an almost overwhelming scale. So many people have been driven from their homes by the Russian military assault. Again, the response from the European community, including Ireland, has been heartening. This crisis has had a deep resonance with the Irish people and they are eager to help in whatever ways they can. It is truly inspiring.

While I am inspired by the support shown for those displaced by the invasion of Ukraine, I worry that a hierarchy of victims is being created. For Palestinians, Yemenis and people of other oppressed and occupied nations, seeing the western world rush to condemn Russian imperialism and embrace displaced Ukrainians has been bittersweet. On one hand, no one is better able to understand and empathise with the anger, fear and desperation that Ukrainians feel than these peoples who are also being killed and dispossessed by larger aggressor nations. On the other hand, seeing the suffering of other people capture attention and sympathy around the world when one’s own plight is ignored is extremely painful. We must remember that all human suffering deserves our attention and our outrage. I am referring to invasions, occupations and bombing campaigns targeting civilians. These war crimes are just as vile no matter who they target. We need to extend this degree of empathy to all victims of oppression and war.

I hope this moment generates a moral reckoning with how we have treated people coming to Ireland who are fleeing violence and conflict. So many people have been subject to the awful conditions and endless waiting of direct provision. Many have had their applications for protection turned down on flimsy pretences necessitating drawn-out, emotionally taxing legal battles. Asylum seekers have had to fight for their right to work and their right to cook for their children, as the Minister well knows and I know he works hard on this area. I hope this is the beginning of a new chapter in Ireland’s response to the migrant crisis, one that demonstrates compassion and humanity that we can be proud of as a nation.

The temporary protection directive activated across the EU is a timely and effective response to this unfolding disaster. It will allow the Ukrainians coming to Ireland regularised status and access to public services. Its application to all residents of Ukraine at the time of the invasion and its emphasis on keeping families together demonstrates admirable compassion and foresight. This is a very humane vision and it should be replicated in Ireland’s approach to refugees fleeing violence and persecution elsewhere. The best way to do this is via the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill introduced by my colleagues in the Civil Engagement Group and former Senator Collette Kelleher. This Bill, which is on Committee Stage in the Dáil, would allow refugees and those in receipt of subsidiary protection to apply for permission for close family members to enter and reside in the State. If passed, the Bill would help alleviate the sense of isolation, worry and guilt experienced by many refugees as they try to build a new life for themselves in Ireland, far away from their families.

Accommodating so many refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere will be a challenge. My concern is that the Irish State has been unwilling to use its financial and administrative capacity to make much of a dent in homelessness figures or the number of asylum seekers languishing in direct provision. Faced with the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees the Government plans to use hotel rooms and spare rooms in private residences as an initial response. This is not a permanent solution. We know all too well how damaging it is to confine people, especially children, in hotel rooms and other forms of temporary accommodation. Plans for more suitable long-term accommodation are urgently needed.

The State needs to rediscover its capacity for ambitious intervention in social affairs. Almost 100 years ago, while under massive financial strain this State built social housing that still stands today. The miraculous roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines is an example of what a disciplined, well-resourced State project can achieve in modern times.

The State needs to marshal its resources to renovate the over 90,000 vacant homes around the country. Tackling dereliction could transform Ireland's response to homelessness and the worldwide refugee crisis thus providing real safety and security to those who need it. The scale of this crisis demands extraordinary action.

I thank the Minister for coming here to take this issue. He is, on a personal level, deeply invested in addressing the questions of direct provision. This is not an either-or matter. He has shown that he is deeply committed to resolving this problem and that there is a compassionate response to an appalling human tragedy. I am extremely proud of the approach that the Taoiseach and the Government have taken at European level of being to the fore in ensuring that the toughest possible sanctions are levied against a war criminal, a thug and somebody who does not respect international law. In addition, the strongest possible supports that can be made available are being made available to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

I appreciate that the following issue is slightly outside the remit of the Minister. In terms of humanitarian support, there are a number questions on education and training provision that we need to address. Our education and training systems - our universities, colleges and schools - are looking to respond in the best way they possibly can but the situation will present enormous challenges. A lot of English language supports will need to be made available to children, young people and adults. Support systems will need to be put in place for the children who come to this country in order to bring them into our education system while remembering that many of them will have experienced trauma. Let us consider that these young children will have spent time in school with their friends before being removed from that normality and brought thousands of kilometres across Europe only to enter a very different school environment where the language and curriculum is different. School places and additional supports will need to be made available.

There are also challenges in higher education and research and I hope that they are in the process of being addressed. This matter includes Ukrainian students who are in higher education or training programmes. Will we be able to recognise their qualifications when they come to Ireland? Will they be allowed to finish their courses here? Will the necessary supports be put in place for them?

We need to clarify the situation for Ukrainian students who are already here. The decision to effectively recognise students from the Ukraine as EU citizens is correct. However, there are Ukrainian students here who have already paid non-EEA fees and that anomaly needs to be addressed. Also, a small but not insignificant number of Irish students were studying in Ukraine or Russia but they have now come home. We must find ways for them to finish their education and training. I hope that we can address some of these matters in the supports that we provide.

We need to address the issue of Russian and Belarusian citizens who are based here. I mean we must ensure that ordinary Russian and Belarusian people are not blamed for the activities of their autocratic leaders. Most of us who have spoken to anyone from Russia or Belarus who are based here in Ireland will know that they abhor what is going on in their home countries. It will be important in the discourse that we have that we do not in any way be seen to discriminate against those people who have made Ireland their home. We have often spoken in this House about Belarus. Quite frankly, Lukashenko needs to be removed and it is ordinary citizens who are leading that fight. For ordinary Russians and Belarusians, we need to ensure that, as part of this campaign, that support is put in place.

Finally, I wish to raise an issue that I know my Wexford colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has also raised. I refer to the fact that significant additional pressures are now being placed on Rosslare Europort. I know that the Government has made moves to address some of them but Rosslare Europort is important. Local resources are doing their best in terms of the gardaí, customs, immigration and everyone else. The place will need significant supports if the numbers that are anticipated arrive through the port.

I wish to give half of my time to Senator Maria Byrne.

I can give the Senator five minutes.

Can Senator Byrne comment straight after I finish talking?

Is that okay with Senator Byrne? I do not know who arranges these things but the situation is unsatisfactory.

I have offered the Senator more time because the debate has sped up.

It is not the fault of the Acting Chairperson.

I welcome the Minister to the House. For good or bad he is now the lead Minister who is dealing with the Government's response and I think the matter is in very capable hands.

Over the last number of days I have engaged extensively with people from Ukraine who have sought refuge in this country and I have a number of questions. The Minister is in charge of what I would describe as a whole-of-government response. He may not have answers to all of my questions which, even though they may not relate to his Department, will certainly be channelled through his Department.

My first question is on the yellow letter that Ukrainians receive that grants them permission to remain here for one year. There is confusion because some people believe that the duration is three years. I ask the Minister to clarify whether the period is one or three years or one year with the potential to extend for another two years. I seek that clarification because it is clear that the war will be protracted.

Second, many Ukrainians are being accommodated in hotels. They want to know whether they will remain in a hotel or go to family homes and other accommodation. Can they remain in hotels if they so wish? If people come from a war-torn country and are staying in a hotel then they want to know whether that is where they will remain for six months or whether there will be alternative accommodation. A number of Ukrainians have raised this issue with me. I was very fortunate to have a Ukrainian translator and on Monday night I met dozens of Ukrainian refugees when I got a flavour of the issues that affect them.

Third, some of the refugees drove to Rosslare Europort and Dublin Port to get here. They have cars while other refugees have cars in the Ukraine. Will the Ukrainian driver licence be applicable here?

Fourth, some Ukrainian refugees are qualified to drive trucks in Ukraine and they have also driven trucks in Europe. Is the Government engaging with the Road Safety Authority to clarify whether their truck licences will be respected and accredited here?

Another issue is insurance. Has anyone in government engaged with the private insurance industry? I ask because a number of the refugees have heard about the rip-off insurance costs in this country. Given the fact that they are coming from the Ukraine to Ireland they do not have any no claims bonus driving history in this country. Will the insurance companies step up to the plate and provide reasonable insurance to them so as to allow them to drive the cars that they have brought with them from Ukraine or if they buy a car here?

Another issue is the cost of public transport in rural Ireland and I have raised this issue here for years. One must pay an awful lot more to travel by train from Ennis to Galway than from Maynooth to Dublin.

Most of the Ukrainians living in places like Ballyvaughan and Lisdoonvarna in County Clare - up to 99% of them - do not have cars and are reliant on public transport to get into the capital town to do shopping and other things. The buses were overrun during the St. Patrick's Day weekend. Some bus operators are running free services for Ukrainians while others are charging them. Is there a policy such that people who come from Ukraine will get a bus ticket for three months free of charge? I acknowledge this issue is not a matter for the Minister's Department but, as the leading Department overall, I expect him to be able to answer the question. Transport is a major issue.

On education, including higher education, I have engaged with young people in Ukraine who are doing the equivalent of the leaving certificate and who want to go to college in September. How will that work for the young people who come here? Has the Minister been engaging with the Department of Education to come up with protocols in this regard? I spoke to a student in Ukraine who has spent five years studying medicine there. Will that person be able to transfer to study medicine in Ireland? Again, as the Minister's Department is the lead Government agency on these issues, I hope he can answer that question.

I spoke to a woman who has been fostering in Ukraine for years and has looked after many dozens of children. She fled the country with eight children, a couple of whom are her own and the remainder of whom are foster children. She has been trying unsuccessfully to contact the authorities she was told to contact when she got to Ireland. I gave her reassurance that nobody would interfere with her looking after the children. I presume I was correct in doing so. This is another issue that needs clarity. We must have daily briefings that give answers to some of the questions I have raised.

I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in the mammoth task he is co-ordinating on behalf of the Government and the State. There is no doubt the people of Ukraine continue to suffer under the tyrannical and dictatorial actions of Putin. The scenes keep going from bad to worse every day. We see them on our telephones and television screens and in the newspapers. It is shocking that almost 150 children have been killed and 57 schools and 12 hospitals have been bombed. The list goes on.

Last week, I spent a number of days at the Council of Europe, along with the Leas-Chathaoirleach, engaging with nine female parliamentarians from Ukraine. Seeing the pain and terror in their faces and listening to their experiences was incredible. One of the parliamentarians brought her two young daughters with her because there was nobody at home to mind them as their father, grandfather, uncles etc. were off fighting. As hard as it was to listen to these women, it was harder to say goodbye when they left on Wednesday to travel back overland to Ukraine. We did not know whether we would get a chance to see and speak to them again. They have been involved in setting up a group, Parliamentarians for Ukraine, which is spearheaded by a former Prime Minister of Lithuania. I joined the group's first call yesterday morning and I recommend that Members of the Seanad and Dáil sign up to it. It is important that we, as parliamentarians, look at what we can do even outside of the whole humanitarian element. As legislators, we need to put policies in place.

The outpouring of support from the Irish people continues. The humanity our people have shown is nothing short of phenomenal. Like Senator Conway, I have been liaising with Ukrainians and volunteers throughout my area of south Kildare. We really have managed to unite people in this effort. The crisis has brought communities together in a meaningful way but more needs to be done on the co-ordination of the community response. I have emailed the Minister with some suggestions in that regard. Throughout the country, we are seeing men and women, young and old, coming together and going to extraordinary lengths to support the Ukrainians. My friend, Angie Goff, who is in Dublin, has, together with Ireland for Ukraine, found homes for more than 100 families in private households. That effort began two days after the war started and she has done phenomenal work. We hope the people who have been housed can be absorbed into the Irish Red Cross effort. Ms Goff has had conversations with its secretary general, Liam O'Dywer, but there needs to be clarity around these issues.

In my housing estate in Newbridge, young children have been going door to door selling blue and yellow cupcakes to raise money for the Irish Red Cross. My neighbours, Freddie and Breda Reid, have already taken in a family of seven and I have registered to take people into my home. Local hospitality businesses have given their premises for volunteers to meet. Pharmacies have sourced badly needed medical supplies to send to Ukraine. Local schools have contributed. I mention Ardscoil na Tríonóide in Athy in particular because Stephen Prior, who is doing a transition year placement with me, goes to school there. He is the buddy of a Ukrainian boy of the same age. The school has set up a system to absorb the Ukrainians into the community. Mary Lenihan and Peter Hussey have started organising language classes and social activities for those who are coming. Tomorrow, a convoy of people, including my sister-in-law, Siobhán, will set off for the Polish border to deliver necessary medical equipment and walkie-talkies before taking refugees home with them. I am in awe of the response of my community. I always have been a proud lilywhite but never more so than I am right now. The response by the public has been phenomenal, as has that of the State.

Colleagues and I have previously raised the actions of Ryanair in increasing the prices of flights. It is necessary again to call that company out in this regard.

I want to ask about the situation of the people with disabilities who come here. Will there be a cental co-ordinating agency to assist them? There are agencies that want to give that support. We need to have people stationed at the border of Ukraine to help people before they leave for Ireland. It is very important we have a presence there.

As I have outlined, there are some gaps in provision that need to be addressed, but I thank the Minister and his officials for the work they have done to date.

I thank the Minister for coming to the Seanad for this all-important discussion. Like many colleagues, I have been engaging with Ukrainians in my area of Limerick over the past while. Only last week, I met with a company called TRANSLIT, the CEO of which, Alex Chernenko, is from Ukraine. The company is offering free translation services and I assisted it in registering that offer of support. It has been working with many of the people who are coming here. The Polish consulate in Limerick has been very much to the fore, with many of its staff providing help to colleagues and neighbours in the region.

Many of the issues that have been raised with me already have been spoken about by colleagues. Senator Dooley suggested there be a reception centre at Shannon Airport. The Minister said there is one in Limerick but I agree there should also be one at Shannon Airport. It is the first point of entry and welcome in the region. There are such centres at the ports and in Dublin Airport and I hope he will consider something similar for Shannon.

Some 5,000 people from Ukraine have arrived in the country, many of them children. I do not want to see a direct provision situation being provided for them because we are trying to eradicate that system. We know further large numbers of Ukrainians will be arriving here and they are all very welcome to our country. We need to look at long-term supports and accommodation for them. The Minister referred to the Green Glens Arena. I do not want to see that turned into a type of direct provision accommodation.

I spoke to representatives of many schools and colleges. Mary Immaculate College in Limerick is taking in many Ukrainian refugees. It has reached out and that is just one institution that is taking in refugees. I also understand that more than 1,000 college beds have been pledged as well. This is most welcome.

I pay tribute to the Irish people and the level of support that has forthcoming. More than 20,000 beds have been pledged to date and the number is rising. Only today, people contacted me to ask where they could register their support to provide accommodation. There is also the humanitarian support. People have been very generous and not only with financial support. Many truckloads of donations have also gone out via the local authorities. Limerick City and County Council has not been found wanting in this regard. Several truckloads of donations have gone out as a result of the people of Limerick and the mid-west contributing to the fund. The Redemptorist Fathers have people on the ground who have been living in Ukraine and they have collected a large amount of financial donations from the public. People have been very generous and that money has gone directly to Ukraine and it is being used to support people by paying for flights for those who cannot afford them. Equally, it is being used for the provision of food and water and those kinds of things. It is great to see so many Irish links with the people of Ukraine. I look forward to receiving regular updates from the Minister. I compliment him and the Ministers for Justice and Social Protection for the fast turnaround of supports. The Minister is key to this fast turnaround. People have been provided with PPS numbers and payments and they have been registered quickly as they arrive in the country. This is most welcome.

The Minister is very welcome to the House. This debate is on a serious matter. Our humanitarian response is crucial with regard to what Ireland can give families, particularly mothers and children arriving on our doorstep. I very much welcome the one-stop shop established to provide access to the different Departments in each of the airports. This is crucial to show that Ireland means what it says and to welcome these refugees and provide them with safe passage and care and welfare when they arrive.

I am a spokesperson on education. In that context, how are we looking at supporting children in school? We see the number of refugees coming through and more than one-third are aged under 18. How will we support them at primary and post-primary school levels? Many towns and villages have outstretched arms and are offering places. Schools have been done up, including just outside Ballygar in Galway and in Roscommon town, to welcome and support refugees. My key questions are on education at primary and post-primary school levels.

Many groups are doing collections and gathering donations. My understanding in recent days is that what is most important at present is financial aid and giving donations in that way to organisations such as the Irish Red Cross, as opposed to the provision of collections of items to be brought over to countries such as Poland. The Minister mentioned that vacant properties constitute 20% of all pledges and that he will be matching refugees to properties. Regarding the timelines for the process, how long will it take?

The Minister probably referred to this aspect in his speech at the start as well, but what measures have been put in place to support families that take in refugees, be that in terms of counselling or understanding the long-term impacts? Those making pledges are asked for information when they go on to the website for the Irish Red Cross, but will the Minister of State give a little bit more information on the timelines and the supports in place?

I welcome the Minister of State. We just have to turn on the radio or the television to feel the shock and devastation, brutality and horror of what is happening. The words that come back to me all the time are the unnecessary loss of life and devastation. This causes trauma at the time but it will live with these people for the rest of their lives. Intergenerationally, this experience will utterly change their lives forever. I also acknowledge the helplessness of the Ukrainian community in Ireland and how its members have felt watching this unfold. My heart goes out to them.

We are seeing the best of people in their generosity. These are not my words but I agree with them. We are seeing the best and worst of humanity in this. We must be wary of people who will seek to prey on vulnerable people through trafficking. I emphasise the need for resources in this area to look after the welfare of people. This will expose our own vulnerabilities in our health system and mental health services, housing, English as a foreign language teachers and specific supports in schools. The Minister and I are representatives who come from Dublin West. We are familiar with areas such as Tyrrelstown, where 80% of children going to school do not have English as a first language. This is an opportunity for us to focus on the vulnerabilities that already exist and to ensure we are overproviding in those areas to cope.

I was proud of what the Taoiseach said about the security checks on UK television last week and that our priority is a humanitarian response. I am also proud of what Mairéad McGuinness said today as European Commissioner concerning the common travel area, which is in the news today for all the wrong reasons. We have an open door policy. It is backed up by Government policy and supports. I wish the UK was following the same path, but it is not. Plenty of people in the North and the UK, however, want to open their arms as we are doing to support people. The homes for Ukraine scheme just does not match at present and it has more questions than answers. Any concern about people using the common travel area to take advantage is utterly wrong and does not reflect the supports here versus what the UK is offering.

The one-stop shop is fantastic, and then there are pathways to Jobs Ireland and Intreo. Further supports, including community supports, will be needed thereafter to meet people's needs, to avail of their existing skills that they might want to use, for example to help to care for other people, and to help them to develop new skills. They might want to learn English, for example. Technology exists to help in this context. I know from my exposure to the world of remote working that there are companies that do this type of thing. They can use maps to match people and I recommend that we look into it, because it could be a service for all. This is data-approved from a GDPR perspective and by the European Commission.

Trauma comes first, and then if people want to engage with using skills or learning skills that is great, but areas such as the community employment scheme might be suitable as well.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. The generosity expressed in this room is reciprocated all over the country. I know it is appreciated. I know that from Ukrainians who just turned up at my Department in the early days of the crisis because that is where they were directed to. I had a chance to meet and have a brief conversation with them and I also met Ukrainians in my constituency of Dublin West today. There is a real sense of gratitude and acknowledgement of how the Irish people are seeking to support them in their time of absolute crisis.

Senator Malcolm Byrne made a very important point in terms of Russians and Belarussians who are living in Ireland. We have small but vibrant communities of Russians and Belarusians in this country. In a local school in Clonsilla, I met a young man whose parents were Ukrainian who was asking what the Government was doing at that time, but his teachers also made the point that there are Russian kids in that school as well and they are trying to manage the dialogue in the schoolyard and everywhere else. It is important to state that every day we see images from Moscow and St. Petersburg of Russian citizens being hauled away in vans. They have been so brave to go out, knowing what their government is like and what awaits them once they get into the van to be taken to the prison. There are incredibly brave Russians and Belarussians out there as well and we must remember that in our dialogue.

There has been a lot of discussion on how the Government action is being co-ordinated and I wish to provide as much clarity on that as I can. Our response to the crisis in Ukraine, but in particular the humanitarian element here, is an all-of-government response. It is being co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach. My Department is responsible for the emergency accommodation needs and the integration supports, but every Department must play and is playing a role. My Department does not have expertise in education, health or transport supports.

I will try to respond to the questions. Senator Conway gave me a long list of questions, as have others - rightly so. I understand that people have questions. We have created a Ukraine unit now in the Department. It is primarily focused on the immediate accommodation response.

Senator Sherlock said the response has been patchy in places. There is always a risk of getting defensive in times like this. I am sure it has been imperfect. To be honest, it is going to continue to be imperfect in the short term and probably in the medium term as well.

Senator Garvey made the point that we are creating a system that has never been demanded at such a scale and needed so quickly. That is what we are doing: we are creating an entirely new system. A temporary protection directive is something we have never had to deal with before. We are experiencing numbers we have never had to deal with before. It is going to be imperfect, but the advocacy of Deputies, Senators and councillors will remind my Department and other Departments where we are not providing the best service and that will enable us to improve. I hope everybody can work in that way and that where the system is not perfect, we do not turn it into a political football, we highlight it and we seek to address it as quickly as possible.

I wish to address a couple of issues. Senators Mullen and Currie spoke about trafficking and the like. What I can speak to there is that so far 22 unaccompanied minors have arrived in this country. Any unaccompanied minor who arrives in this country falls within the responsibility of Tusla, and it took care of each of the 22 minors. Of those, 12 were subsequently reunited with family members in Ireland and the remaining ten are now in the care of Tusla. Tusla has a presence at Dublin Airport. I will come back to that, but it is important to say the vast majority, 85%, of those arriving in the country are coming through Dublin Airport. Rosslare Europort and Shannon Airport have seen the next highest numbers, but they are dramatically smaller volumes. That could change, but that is the situation at the moment. That is why the hub was put in Dublin Airport rather than elsewhere. We are establishing one in Rosslare currently. I accept the argument in terms of Shannon versus Limerick, but there is also a significant number of people living in Limerick city at the moment and in the surrounding areas and easy access is the main concern. Up to this point, only 450 people out of 10,000 have come in through Shannon Airport. Of course, that could change, and we can change the arrangement if the need arises. We must remember that we are only 28 days into this situation. We had to deploy staff where they were most effective. We are growing the Ukraine unit and we will continue to grow it as much as possible. All support for that is appreciated.

The Ukrainian Government has written to us about adoption and to ensure that the crisis is not used to allow adoptions to be rushed through. That is a pro forma approach, but we will respond to it on an official basis.

In terms of education, my Department will facilitate access to the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme and the national childcare scheme through the sponsorship model. We will provide additional funding, as is necessary. We will provide childcare providers with Ukrainian language resources for those who want to sign up, but also supports for early years professionals in terms of basic Ukrainian they can use with young children. We are also providing play facilities in some of the larger reception facilities that may be needed. We are also looking to link parents in with parent and toddler groups around the country to provide early engagement and a bit of relaxation for parents. That is something that is important.

The Department of Education is looking at capacity around the country right now. There are areas of high demand for places. There are also parts of the country where there is not demand, and we will be seeking in the medium term to link housing provision with that, but it will not always match perfectly. There is ongoing work to do in that regard. An example was given of 30 in a school. I can understand how that is a big challenge for one school. The Department of Education is providing information to schools in terms of how they facilitate the registration of Ukrainian students at primary and post-primary level. The Department of Education is also looking to make it easier for Ukrainian teachers to get registered here through the Teaching Council and to simplify that process. I know a number of professional and regulatory bodies are doing that, in recognition that many Ukrainians do want to work and that is certainly the message that I received.

In terms of higher education, the education and training boards are providing free English language classes and that is a welcome step. They are also looking at trying to link people in where there are existing skills gaps. They are also looking at tweaking the Erasmus programme in terms of perhaps allowing Ukrainian third level students to constitute time spent here as an Erasmus year. That is something that is being done at a European level. Students may also qualify for European funding as well. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, made some points in that regard.

I am following up on the driver's licence issue raised by Senator Conway. It was raised earlier today, and I have been in contact with colleagues in the Department of Transport. We are following up on that and I hope we will have clarity on it soon.

The yellow letter, as it is called, is the letter from the Department of Justice that indicates someone is a beneficiary of the temporary protection directive. That is for one year initially. The European Commission may decide to extend the temporary protection directive for up to three years, but the initial grant of temporary protection is for one year and that is what applies.

In terms of the community response, I have spoken to some Deputies and Senators, and I am aware there are concerns that a set of supports is not in place in some areas where Ukrainians have arrived. It is the case that supports are not everywhere right now. We are working to address that and to activate local authorities. In particular, we are looking at the model that was used during Covid based on community fora, which worked well in terms of local authorities bringing together the HSE, Tusla and the local development companies, LDCs.

I refer to all these existing networks that are linked in to what is happening on the ground in a particular community. That process is beginning. I accept there is more work to be done but there is that desire across all areas for people to do so. Senator O'Loughlin made reference to that and highlighted the issue of that wider community engagement.

Ukraine is facing a crisis of unimaginable proportions. The European Union is stepping up in terms of making generous provision for Ukrainian refugees when they come to member states and Ireland welcomes that. Ireland will do everything that it can to continue that generosity - a generosity that is at EU level but is also a manifestation of the innate generosity we have always shown when it comes to international crises.

Due to the scale of this situation and because of the speed at which the very large demand is coming to us, our response is being developed. We do not have the full plan today. We will not have a full plan for a number of weeks but we are developing it. We are acting to meet the most urgent needs that people have right now in terms of accommodation, safety and shelter. That is what we are meeting immediately. We are giving people the provisions in terms of linking in to social welfare so that they have some element of income to support themselves and we will continue to link in to all the other social supports that all of us here take for granted.

We are 28 days in. There is much more work to do but my Department and all of government will work with all Senators and Deputies of all parties and none to make sure we can do the very best job for Ukrainians in this country.

What of the refugees getting insurance to drive the cars they have driven over in? Has the Minister any thoughts on that?

That is a very specific question and I do not have the answer for the Senator today. I can follow-up with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, if that is all right.

I thank the Minister.

I thank the Minister and salute his proactive and humane approach. It is certainly greatly appreciated.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 3.32 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 4 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.32 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.