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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 3

Government Response to Situation in Ukraine: Statements

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach. Is cúis bhróin agus díomá go bhfuilimid anseo inniu chun cogadh tubaisteach san Eoraip a phlé.

Táimid go léir ag breathnú le huafás gach lá ar ghníomhartha foréigneacha na Rúise sa Úcráin. Seasann an Rialtas agus, tá mé cinnte, na Teachtaí Dála go léir go láidir leis an Úcráin agus le muintir na hÚcráine, agus táimid réidh lenár dtacaíocht a thabhairt dóibh. Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine is illegal, barbaric and immoral. Russia must halt its military action and withdraw from Ukraine immediately and unconditionally. With our partners in the international community, we are resolute in our solidarity and support for Ukraine.

I spoke with President Zelenskyy by phone on 16 March during my visit to the United States. I found him to be calm, focused and determined. I assured him of Ireland’s support for Ukraine. He expressed his gratitude to the Government and people of Ireland for their support, including in welcoming those fleeing the war; for our support for Ukraine’s application for EU membership; and for our support for the severest sanctions against Russia. I welcome that President Zelenskyy has accepted the Ceann Comhairle’s invitation to address this House next month.

I attended a meeting of the European Council in Brussels last Thursday and Friday, where EU leaders again discussed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We heard directly by video call from President Zelenskyy and he set out the desperate circumstances facing Ukraine one month to the day since the brutal invasion began. He called for the EU to continue to exercise the maximum pressure on Russia to end its appalling war. We were also joined in person by President Biden for an exchange of views on how the EU and the US can work collectively and in closer step to bring this war to a just end.

This was the third meeting of EU leaders within a month since the beginning of Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine. We met in a special session of the European Council on 24 February, and at an informal meeting in Versailles on 10 and 11 March. Determination and unity of purpose has characterised the EU’s approach and that will remain essential in responding to Russia and the crisis it has caused. Ireland has been to the forefront in the EU in calling for the most robust response to Russia’s appalling violence in Ukraine, including additional sanctions. We have fully supported the sanctions packages agreed to date and we are actively engaged with partners in looking at what further measures can be taken. Ireland has contributed in full to the €1 billion military assistance package provided by the European Peace Facility, EPF, for Ukraine; Ireland's total share will be €22 million, which will go towards non-lethal elements, consistent with our involvement in the EPF.

Among other supports, the Government has allocated €20 million in humanitarian aid, as well as providing medical supplies to Ukraine. We have launched a new dedicated Ukraine civil society fund of €2 million specifically to support Irish NGOs responding to the crisis. In recent weeks, more than 3.5 million people, mainly women and children, have arrived in the European Union. The EU has reacted swiftly in response to this humanitarian catastrophe. Member states, including Ireland, unanimously activated the temporary protection directive to offer immediate and effective assistance, and clear legal status to those fleeing Ukraine. The European Commission has mobilised financial support through the EU budget, building on the wide range of assistance already available under the civil protection mechanism, the cohesion policy and the home affairs funds.

As a member of the UN Security Council, Ireland has co-ordinated efforts to try to end this conflict through diplomatic means, to hold Russia to account and to call out Russia’s cynical attempts to use the Security Council and other UN bodies to spread disinformation about supposed Ukrainian bioweapons programmes. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is putting pressure on global food and nutrition security, and the worst impacts will be felt by the poorest countries, as well as those who rely on imports for their food security.

Addressing global food and nutrition security is a long-standing priority for Ireland. The European Union is now prioritising work on global food security, in particular by supporting food security and agriculture in Ukraine and food-deficit third countries.

The war and the implementation by the EU and Ireland of far-reaching sanctions against Russia is having, and will continue to have, an impact across all economies, including Ireland's. Global economic growth and investment will be impacted and this too will affect Ireland. Ireland is playing its part in this humanitarian crisis and the cost of providing for the reception of refugees arriving from Ukraine will be very significant. It is, however, a cost we must bear.

The invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the inflationary pressures the global economy was already experiencing as a result of supply chain disruptions brought about by Covid-19. Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of energy, food, fertiliser and other commodities, and whereas Ireland's direct trade links with Russia and Ukraine are very limited, the economy is exposed to the indirect effects arising from the impact on our main trading partners and rising costs for energy and other commodities. These international factors are outside Ireland’s control but the Government will closely monitor developments and seek to assist where possible. We will also continue to work closely with our European Union colleagues on how to respond.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sparked further energy price increases and brought unprecedented volatility to energy markets. This is feeding through to retail price increases for all consumers. The impact on low-income households is, of course, a particular concern for the Government. That is why we have taken targeted action to help alleviate the immediate pressure of energy costs. The electricity credit of €200 will soon be paid to all consumer accounts at an overall cost of €400 million. There is also a lump sum payment of €125 for people on the fuel allowance, which benefits 372,000 households across the country. This is in addition to the €5 increase to the weekly fuel allowance that was announced in last October’s budget. In addition, we have temporarily reduced excise duty on fuel by 20 cent per litre of petrol, 15 cent per litre of diesel and 2 cent per litre of marked gas oil. The cost of these reductions is €320 million overall. For hauliers, a temporary grant scheme will provide a payment of €100 per week to help mitigate the rising price of fuel and the scheme will operate for a period of eight weeks, valued at €18 million.

The Government will keep the energy situation under close and active review and we will continue to examine what measures are possible to manage the impact of rising energy prices for households and businesses. While the Government is responding, and will continue to respond to this crisis, we have to be realistic that it will not be possible to respond to every unfavourable price move on global markets. History teaches us that chasing inflationary pressures with ever more Government spending would be counterproductive. The country’s economy was recovering strongly as we were getting over the worst of the Covid-19 crisis with strong growth and reducing unemployment. Our response to the crisis in Ukraine will affect economic growth and we need to be prudent in how we respond to the challenges that lie ahead.

The agriculture sector has been particularly affected by inflation in the price of almost all farm input prices. The Government is committed to supporting our farm families through the challenges that have arisen as a result of the war in Ukraine. We are already providing support through the recently announced package of targeted interventions worth more than €12 million to support additional tillage and protein crops and the establishment of multi-species swards. This is in addition to an €8 million support scheme put in place recently for the pork sector. Additional work is ongoing to develop contingency plans and technical advice to assist farmers in managing their farm enterprises through what will be a difficult period and to prepare an industry response to the emerging issues with feed, fodder, fertiliser and other farm inputs.

As the House is aware, millions of people have fled the horror in Ukraine to seek refuge in the European Union and other neighbouring states, and it is anticipated many more will follow. The Government is committed to delivering a humanitarian response to welcome people seeking protection in Ireland as part of the European Union's overall response. The scale of response to this crisis has been unprecedented and Irish people have displayed an incredible level of generosity in their support and pledges of accommodation.

The Government has moved quickly to ensure a range of supports and measures are in place. To date there have been 15,294 Ukrainian arrivals here, mostly through Dublin Airport, but also at Shannon and Cork Airports and Rosslare Port. Dedicated reception facilities have been put in place to provide people with temporary protection and access to other services immediately on arrival. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth's international protection accommodation service has provided accommodation to people who have sought it on arrival here, and as the numbers arriving are increasing, arrangements are being ramped-up to provide accommodation in hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts, as well as accommodation pledged by the general public, State or privately owned properties, religious properties and local authority community facilities. Just over 20,000 pledges of accommodation have been made to the Irish Red Cross to date and the inspection process is now under way and been scaled up. The first of these properties will be handed over for use this week. It is hoped that as many of these offers as possible will be crystallised for use.

All accommodation options are being examined as the situation evolves and planning is ongoing for the medium and longer-term needs that will arise. Accommodation available through the existing channels may not meet the level of need if increased numbers of people arrive in the weeks ahead. For this reason, a number of contingency options are in place, including centres such as Millstreet and Citywest, as well as the use of Gormanstown Camp. Every effort will be made to ensure this type of solution is temporary until more suitable accommodation becomes available.

Other Departments have also stepped up a crisis response to give immediate support to people arriving here, providing access to personal public service numbers, income and other financial supports, health and social care services and education. The Government is also working to ensure local capacity and resources are factored into the overall humanitarian response. Local community and voluntary groups around the country have been mobilising in recent weeks to welcome people into their communities. As the new arrivals begin to settle in, community response forums will provide enhanced local-level co-ordination for the community and voluntary response in their area. This will build on the structures and relationships that were highly effective during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I thank all the people who have opened their hearts and, in many cases, their homes to people from Ukraine to provide shelter. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. It is inspiring to me that following all the sacrifices made over the past two years, the Irish people are once again rolling up their sleeves to provide much-needed help to a country and a people devastated by war. I repeat that Ireland will stand in solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the face of the brutal war being inflicted upon them by Russia. As a country we have never been found wanting in times of crisis and I am certain we will rise to the challenge of this humanitarian crisis.

Like the Taoiseach, I am sure Deputies across the House will join me in condemning in the strongest possible terms the illegal actions of Russia. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 26 February, we have witnessed scenes of appalling brutality, including the shelling of civilian areas and women and children huddled in bomb shelters while cities and towns have been levelled. This is a violent and destructive war that serves absolutely no credible purpose but carries with it an unbearable toll on the people of Ukraine.

The result of this has been one of the largest humanitarian crises Europe has seen since the end of the Second World War. There are millions of people fleeing their homes and seeking safety in Poland, Slovakia, other EU member states and Moldova. Today I will speak about Ireland's humanitarian effort in responding to the crisis in Ukraine, the work done so far, the plan we have set out and the challenges ahead. At this time we are facing a humanitarian crisis on a scale never before seen in Ireland. From 25 February until yesterday, 29 March, more than 15,000 people have fled from Ukraine to Ireland, and of these, more than 8,600 are now being accommodated by the State.

Since the outset of this war and within the whole-of-government response, my Department has been focused on providing reception accommodation to Ukrainian refugees in need. Our goal has been to provide shelter and safety. We have established a new Ukraine unit in my Department to handle the accommodation needs, with officials seconded from across the Department and other Departments to support this effort.

I acknowledge and pay tribute to many of the officials in my Department working tirelessly seven days every week to source accommodation, as well as those who have volunteered to staff airport and reception hubs, often working throughout the night.

In addition to quickly establishing a new unit within the Department, we have also been working to develop immediate, medium-term and long-term plans to accommodate those arriving. Those leading the Ukraine unit have been working with the Defence Forces on planning and developing a strategy to ensure efficiency and effectiveness as we move through this crisis. Currently, the vast majority of those being accommodated by the State are being accommodated in hotels. To date we have contracted almost 3,000 hotel rooms across the country. Given the ability of the State to contract hotels at scale and at pace, this has provided the bulk of the initial emergency response. However, there are limits on the ability of hotels to accommodate all those fleeing given the potential numbers. Measures need to be put in place to respond to this.

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 registerofpledges.redcross.ie. There has been a remarkable response by the public with more than 22,000 pledges received so far. The Irish Red Cross, the Defence Forces and estate agents and valuers are now working to evaluate those pledges and inspect the properties with a view to making them available quickly to refugees. They are focusing first on vacant properties which make up just under 5,000 of the 22,000 pledges. The Irish Red Cross and my Department will then begin to match refugees to properties and to support refugees to move on to 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 homes. 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 them. Deputies will appreciate the importance of ensuring the safety of people who may be vulnerable and are traumatised by the terrible experiences which they have recently undergone. I would ask for patience as the Red Cross works through this process. In the six years since the original pledge system was put in place by the Irish Red Cross, there were 600 pledges of accommodation in total. There have now been 22,000 pledges in the last three weeks. This is an enormous ramping up of the level of generosity and the level of offers from the Irish people. It is going to take some time to work through them all.

I want to thank everybody who has pledged support. I would also like to thank the Red Cross volunteers and staff who worked to facilitate that unprecedented level of offers. The generosity of the Irish people and of the NGO community constitutes a beacon of hope for people who have lost so much. I know from talking to refugees and to the Ukrainian ambassador how much that generosity is deeply appreciated.

Since the outbreak of this crisis I have been clear that all options are on the table when it comes to accommodation of those fleeing Ukraine. We are in advanced discussions with Airbnb and The Open Community regarding temporary accommodation being provided around Ireland to those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. It is anticipated that these discussions will conclude in the coming days and further information will then be provided. The Department is continuing to engage with religious orders to identify properties which may be suitable for use as accommodation for those fleeing Ukraine.

Given that this is a crisis situation I have to be honest with the public and with those fleeing here. This is the greatest humanitarian crisis Ireland has ever faced. More than 15,000 people have fled here in just over a month with more than half of them now accommodated by the State. This response will get more challenging in the weeks and months ahead. The accommodation available through local authorities, religious organisations, State bodies and pledged accommodation is unlikely to meet the level of need should the higher estimated numbers of people arriving come to pass in the weeks ahead. Current modelling suggests that there is an inevitability to moving into an emergency accommodation phase when pledged and other service supply is exhausted. The only question is how quickly this phase is reached. As such, we have put in place a number of contingency options. These include the use of arenas and conference centres as well as the use of Gormanstown camp. It will not be own-door and it may mean camp beds in shared spaces. It is not our first preference, however I think it is right that we plan for these contingency options if they are needed and that we are always in a position to provide safety and shelter to those fleeing this war.

It would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge the wider questions the Ukraine crisis asks of our migration and asylum systems. Last year we published a White Paper which set out how we would end direct provision and move to a new system based on human rights and integration from day one. I do not believe the compassion of the Irish public stops at Europe's borders. I know from the correspondence I have received, alongside years of activism across the country, that the Irish people want to see a kind and compassionate welcome to all those who come here in need, no matter where they come from. Undoubtedly the Ukrainian crisis puts extra pressure on my Department in terms of implementing the White Paper. At the end of February IPAS was accommodating just over 8,000 people. That number has since doubled and it will continue to grow. However, and I want to say this clearly, our commitment to ending direct provision will not waver.

To those who say we cannot or should not take people seeking refuge here, I think we can say now beyond all doubt that the Irish people have resoundingly shown that we are a nation of welcomes. We have shown that we want asylum, reception and integration processes that are compassionate and that afford equal dignity to everybody seeking protection. Although the challenges ahead are daunting, we will meet our obligations to the people fleeing here because when we see the destruction brought to Ukraine by the Russian invasion, when we see the devastation and death that have been caused, we know the offer of shelter and safety is the least of what we must do for those who are so badly in need.

Our response will need to be not just an all-of-government approach but an all-of-society approach. Those arriving will need a welcome and support from local community organisations, schools and sports clubs, residents' associations and employers. This is why the role of community fora, the community call as it was called during Covid, is going to be so important. There may be gaps in provision in the weeks ahead and I have no doubt there will be difficulties. We need patience and support from Deputies and particularly from the wider public as we develop what will be an extraordinarily complex and unprecedented operation. This is a humanitarian challenge which Ireland can and will meet. We are brave and kind enough as a country to do so. I ask for all Deputies to work with the Government as we work through this enormous challenge.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this matter. We all see on a daily basis the horrific images of what is happening in Ukraine. War in Europe is not something any of us had comprehended but it is a situation that Ireland must respond to. Ukrainian citizens are arriving here severely traumatised as they face the loss of family and friends, as they worry about those they have left behind, and as they arrive in a strange country having lost their jobs, their income and all their belongings. Their entire world has been turned upside down in the last few weeks and it is our duty to help them.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate and, in particular, to outline to the House how my Department is responding to the situation. Along with colleagues from other Departments, officials from my Department are responding in a sensitive and caring way and we are doing all we can to ensure that those who need our help will receive it as quickly as possible. The House will be aware that a welcome facility is operating at Dublin Airport where officials from my Department and the Department of Justice are available to meet arrivals from Ukraine. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I opened that facility a number of weeks ago at the onset of the crisis and it is working very well.

The steps being taken by my Department fall into three categories, namely, issuing personal public service, PPS, numbers, providing immediate income support, and providing access to child benefit. All income support claims are being fast-tracked for processing and all resources are being made available to ensure PPS numbers and payments are issued as quickly as possible. Immediate income support is being provided in the form of supplementary allowance, which is payable at rates up to €206 per week, with increases for adult and child dependants.

To give a sense of the scale of the issue, I will share some basic numbers with the House.

To date, personal public service, PPS, numbers have been issued to more than 14,000 Ukrainian citizens, comprising just under 10,000 women and girls and 4,000 men and boys. Supplementary welfare allowance already has been paid in respect of more than 9,000 people, while child benefit is being paid for almost 4,000 children.

As well as the facility at Dublin Airport, we have established a number of additional dedicated welcome centres at Cork Street in Dublin and in Cork and Limerick cities. My Department is working closely on this with the Departments of Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, as well as the international protection accommodation services in these locations. We also are working closely with the Department of Justice to ensure people coming here on each ferry at Rosslare Port are met on their arrival. Interpretation services are being provided, where required, to assist Ukrainian citizens to access my Department's services and application forms. Information on supports is available in both Ukrainian and Russian. A dedicated web page has been published on the Department's website to ensure those arriving from Ukraine are aware of the supports and services available to them. This page has been translated into both Ukrainian and Russian.

Once people have had an opportunity to settle in, we will arrange to provide the most appropriate social welfare payment, which, depending on individuals' circumstances, could include the one-parent family payment, disability allowance or jobseeker's payment. As Deputies know, many people arriving from Ukraine are anxious to support themselves and already are making efforts to seek employment. Fortunately, many of them have been successful in obtaining jobs and I know many employers are seeking to offer them work. My Department is putting in place plans to roll out job search and employment supports in order that those seeking employment can receive the assistance they require. A number of Deputies have been in touch about businesses that have employment opportunities for Ukrainians. Employers can email employer@welfare.ie if they wish to register their interest in offering work opportunities to Ukrainian citizens arriving in Ireland. My officials will work closely with employers, as well as with education and training boards, in order that any training and language supports that are needed can be provided.

It is important, however, that we give people the necessary time and space to get settled after they arrive here. They have been through an extremely traumatic experience and their immediate concern is naturally for their children and the loved ones they have left behind. For those who want and are ready to look for a job, my Department is here to help and we will assist in matching them with employers.

I thank the staff in the Department of Social Protection, who, over the past two years, responded in an unprecedented way to ensure income support was provided to people during a global pandemic and who are now doing the same again in respect of people arriving from Ukraine. The work the staff are doing at Dublin Airport and at the reception facilities and local offices around the country is public service at its best. I really want to acknowledge those efforts in the House today. We all hope this awful war will end but, in the meantime, we will continue to do everything we can to help.

As part of my remit in the Department of Rural and Community Development, I am working with the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, to engage with communities. As the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, said, the community call that was activated during the pandemic certainly will be utilised again to help people. As a Government, we need the help of everybody. This is a mammoth task and we will call on all those who are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel. We will be doing so through the community call and all the different organisations that really stepped up to the mark during the pandemic. We will call on them again and I know we can rely on them. We will work with them in every way we can to assist in this area.

First, I want to record again our absolute condemnation of the actions of Russia in invading Ukraine and to extend our solidarity to the Ukrainian people at this time. The actions of the Russian Federation are illegal, brutal and unjust. No country should be subjected to the kind of military aggression faced by Ukraine. The priority must be to end this invasion and secure a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory. To that end, we hope peace talks in Istanbul will be successful and that peace can prevail.

I welcome yesterday's decision by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to expel four Russian diplomats from the State. It is now past time for the Government to act in the strongest possible terms by expelling the Russian ambassador. I say this because the humanitarian crisis that unfolds before us daily demands action at that level - a tough diplomatic stance by Ireland, with no room for ambiguity and with no relief from our absolute rejection of this Russian imperial aggression and this illegal war. We need to send that message clearly and consistently. I know the Government has waited for an EU-wide response to this. There has been, to say the least, a dragging of feet in this regard across the Continent. Ireland should act now regardless. The time for putting this matter on the long finger is over.

As others have stated, Irish people have been very generous in their support for Ukraine and for Ukrainian refugees coming to this country. This illustrates the solidarity there is with the people of Ukraine. I agree with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, that this human instinct extends to all refugees and to everyone seeking international protection in our country. The solidarity and generosity of our people now begs that the Government set out a clear and comprehensive plan for our response to this crisis. I appreciate the updates from the Ministers today and I commend the work done thus far.

However, I have to ask questions about the accommodation needs, particularly in the medium and long term, of Ukrainian families feeling to our shores seeking safety. The Government needs to move beyond short-term planning, as necessary as it is now, and wide generalisations, towards being very specific. The Irish Red Cross, as ever, is agile and effective. I record our appreciation of its effort. However, what is required to accommodate people and to end direct provision - the commitment in that regard has been reiterated in the House - will be a very ambitious and radically different approach to housing and accommodation from what we have seen thus far.

I want to mention two additional matters. The first relates to mental health supports for families and children, in particular, who come here. We know our services are under pressure anyway. We need a sense from the Government of what will be done in terms of increased capacity and resources in order that every child, irrespective of whether they are Ukrainian, Afghan, Syrian or Irish, will have his or her needs met. Second, I note the need for real, tangible support for the community groups and grassroots activists who will embrace those seeking international protection.

Everything possible must be done to ensure a diplomatic and peaceful end to the invasion of Ukraine happens as soon as possible. The Ukrainians are the best placed to judge Russia's intentions and announcements that it is scaling back its military operations. So far, they simply do not buy it. Indeed, the words of the Ukrainian President, that the positive signs "do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells", sums up the situation and is a powerful reminder of the sheer brutality of this attack. It must end. Russia must cease its illegal and unjust actions and withdraw.

On that point, we are undoubtedly united. Seasaimíd leis an Úcráin ag an am seo. Tugaimid ár dtacaíocht di, cuirimid ár ndlúthpháirtíocht chuici, agus guímid gach rath uirthi sna cainteanna síochána.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about the situation currently unfolding in Ukraine and the devastating impact it is having. I will focus on the issue of children.

I acknowledge the work done to date by the various Departments and Ministers. I am aware that much of the work is the responsibility of the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys. The circumstances are unprecedented. A huge amount of work has been done to date given the situation.

It is estimated that 78 children have been killed and 105 injured. The UN suspects the figures are much higher. Unfortunately, the reality is that they will probably increase over the coming weeks, depending on how long the conflict continues. The UN estimates that 7.5 million children live in Ukraine. To put it into context, that would be 2 million members of our entire population. One in every two children in Ukraine has been displaced. That amounts to just over 4 million children in total. Some 1.8 million of these children have fled Ukraine in total. To put that into context, that is roughly the entire population of Munster and Leinster. These statistics concern children alone. Sometimes when we talk about figures, the message can get lost. It is really frightening to think about the number of affected children. Their homes have been destroyed or damaged. In many cases, fathers have left families to fight the invading Russian army. The children’s schools, crèches, play parks, playgrounds and everything they took for granted have been totally decimated and taken away from them.

There are reports that orphanages have been targeted. Neonatal facilities have been affected. We saw reports of maternity hospitals destroyed by missile attacks. No adult here can imagine how frightening this would be. Imagine being a child in that situation and not knowing what is going on, although picking up on your parents’ fear. Can you imagine trying to keep it together for the sake of your children when you do not really know what is going on yourself? There really are no words sometimes. It is just devastating to think of all those children who, in many cases, do not have access to safe drinking water, healthcare, electricity and heating. Food and medical supplies are dwindling in many circumstances.

We know from other conflicts that children fleeing the war in Ukraine are at greater risk of human trafficking and exploitation. We need to be conscious of that. It was mentioned earlier today in the Chamber that an estimated 6,000 unaccompanied minors have left Ukraine for Ireland and other European countries. We need to be very cognisant of the chaos and confusion. The movement of large numbers of refugees makes it very easy to exploit vulnerable children. Recent reports suggest that 500 unaccompanied children have crossed over the border into Romania alone. The threat children face is real and growing and we really have to do everything in our power to address it.

The whole situation needs to be addressed; however, where unaccompanied minors are concerned, we all have an image of children standing alone or being left totally by themselves. What they have already faced is horrific. We definitely need to ensure they have the safety and protection they so deserve.

While there is an immediate threat to life, it is the hidden or less publicised consequences of this war that will follow children into adulthood. This leads into what Deputy McDonald said about mental health supports. The latter will be critical. Is there a possibility of ascertaining whether we can link schools to some sort of mental health support, particularly where refugees will be attending? Could appropriate play therapy or some sort of regional service in schools and crèches be made available? Schools might provide an easy means of access. We should have access to those services anyway. It might be something we could consider. We need to be cognisant of terminally ill children, children in intensive care and children awaiting life-saving surgery, speech and language therapy or routine developmental checks. We must also be cognisant of what happens to them.

I heard a story from my local hospital that concerned women who had gone through or were in the middle of breast cancer treatment. They arrived here, obviously with no medical information or files, and the hospital was trying to figure out what types of tumours they had and what type of chemotherapy was appropriate. These are matters one would not even think about. We just need to be cognisant of this when asking Departments, hospitals and all our education and childcare services to take on all the extra work. We need to ensure they are supported and resourced to do it.

NGOs have already observed a reduction in vaccination and childhood immunisation, such as for measles and polio. Again, we need to consider children’s access to all the normal developmental checks. We need to be cognisant of how the war affects children’s physical health and all the normal things we take for granted, such as going for a vaccine. All the mental health considerations also need to be taken into account.

I express solidarity with the Ukrainian people. I warmly welcome the many thousands of Ukrainians who have fled to Ireland to seek protection. I recognise the warmth, generosity of spirit and community involvement exhibited right across the island of Ireland towards those Ukrainian citizens, primarily women and children, who have sought refuge. The response of the Irish has to be commended. I include the efforts of people such as Colette Talbot, Nicole Browne and David Whyte from my county, Wicklow. They have just returned after delivering badly needed humanitarian supplies at the Ukrainian border. People such as Neil Treanor and Willie Coster, and many others, are still there helping to address the refugee crisis. The scale of the humanitarian crisis and the sheer human cost of this war mean the number of war refugees whom we anticipate will reach Ireland over the coming months could well run to more than 200,000. The EU needs to adopt an approach to dealing with the humanitarian fallout from the war in Ukraine that is similar to that developed to assist Europe in the recovery after Covid. Maximising the effectiveness of our response in Ireland will require a cross-party approach. The Government now faces the responsibility of putting in place the necessary systems to deal with the demands that have arisen from the unprecedented situation. The fluidity of the situation places a responsibility on the Government to ensure the Opposition is kept fully informed and briefed continually as to what is happening. There is also a need to put in place a single point of contact for Members of the Oireachtas to provide information concerning the broad swathe of public services that Deputies are being, and will be, called upon to source for refugees in their constituencies.

Next week, I will be part of a delegation from the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs that will visit eastern Europe, where we will examine how countries such as Moldova and Romania are attempting to deal with the refugee crisis. While we will be holding high-level meetings with our European counterparts, we will also be visiting border crossings to witness at first hand the scale of the exodus from Ukraine. We will also be attempting to identify the needs of the refugees and the efforts Ireland can make at source to alleviate some of their suffering. The ferocity, inhumanity and deliberate targeting of civilian targets apparent in the Russian strategy mean those who have fled the war are seriously traumatised by what they witnessed and have had to endure. The majority of the refugees are women and children. Large numbers of children are crossing the Ukrainian border unaccompanied. Some of these have arrived in Ireland traumatised and vulnerable.

There are also reports that vulnerable refugees are facing further threats from human traffickers who are targeting women and children at border crossings. We need to develop a presence on the ground to work with local authorities to help to guarantee the safety of vulnerable refugees.

Ambassadors from Poland, Moldova and Romania appeared before a committee recently. The Ukrainian ambassador appealed to the Government to charter aircraft to bring refugees directly from refugee centres at the Ukrainian border, where there has been an increase in congestion and overcrowding, because overpricing is preventing refugees who have lost everything from securing flights without assistance. There is a need to alleviate the pressure before it precipitates a further humanitarian crisis in refugee centres.

I also want to welcome the decision by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to investigate allegations of price gouging by Ryanair, allegations made by the Ukrainian ambassador. It is important that a message goes out that Ireland will not tolerate any war profiteering. I look forward to hearing the outcome of the Minister's investigation.

Today, we have also heard reports that people are now starving to death in Mariupol. Russia needs to facilitate humanitarian corridors to allow life preserving supplies to reach besieged civilians. It is also important to note that Russia is blockading Ukrainian ports and preventing badly needed food supplies, in particular grain, from leaving for poorer countries which are highly dependent on Ukraine as a source of grain. Ireland has a responsibility to use its role on the UN Security Council and at EU level to ensure that international focus is maintained on the food crisis in other sites of humanitarian crisis.

I again express solidarity with the people of Ukraine for the turmoil the country has been put into and the vicious war that has been orchestrated from the Russian Federation which has cost the lives of so many and has scattered people all over the world. Some have come to Ireland. In my local community in County Leitrim, a Ukrainian neighbour of mine, Ivan Tarkovych, worked to get his family here. I have worked with him and many others in our community. Tomorrow he is flying to Dubrovnik, I understand, to bring back a whole lot of people from his community in a minibus.

There have been major efforts made locally by huge numbers of people in the community. A Facebook page has been set up and beds, linen and everything else people could possibly need has been donated. People have come forward to offer their homes, holiday homes and all kinds of other accommodation. That is the kind of community effort we see when people in Ireland step up to the mark. What is happening is tremendous. Like other Deputies, I want to commend the work the Government has done. In fairness, a huge effort has been made to try to make sure we do everything we possibly can to assist these people.

Last Monday week, I was in Donegal where 156 people from Ukraine have been housed in an emergency accommodation centre. I spoke to a lot of them. Many of the issues they raised concerned qualifications and how they would be matched. There were doctors, nurses, teachers and people with various other qualifications we require in this country. They are unsure as to how they will fit into our healthcare system and other services. They want to get assistance with that. I understand that one of the ways in which they can be assisted is through adult education officers in ETBs. There is a clear difficulty in trying to ensure the numbers coming have the adequate information they need.

Over the past number of days, local authorities and county councils have met in order to put together a strategy around that. They are also in the dark. I spoke to people from Leitrim County Council yesterday who did not know how many refugees had come to Leitrim or how many would come. They did not know whether an emergency accommodation centre would be set up. It is the same in every county. There is a little breakdown in communications that need to be resolved, and that needs to happen as urgently as possible.

Many Ukrainian people who come here have huge trauma, but there is also a great sense of gratitude that they are being helped and looked after. There is a great sense of gratitude that they are able to get payments. They want to work, and are anxious to get work as quickly as possible. Many have already started work. They want to contribute, and pay a little bit of rent to people offering accommodation for free to them. That is all positive, and we need to encourage and work with that.

After all of this, we need to reflect on something in a European context. I have dealt with refugees for the past two decades. Many came to an old direct provision centre in Ballinamore in Leitrim for many years, and another centre opened in the past two years. Whether they are from Syria, North Africa or wherever else, when children have had turmoil and hardship in their lives their tears are the same. It does not matter what distance they have travelled. There is an EU-Ukrainian association agreement, which can be set out as the reason we treat these asylum seekers or refugees differently. However, for me and the vast majority of Irish people who want to welcome them, it is a problem that we need to deal with.

It is not appropriate that we deal with one set of refugees differently, regardless of what agreements are in place or an international lobby tells us is the case. The reality is that the people who need help should get it, and they should get equal help regardless of where they have come from or what circumstances they have travelled in. They have come from war or have experienced human rights abuses where they lived, and have come here to seek shelter. We should try to do that in a more humane way than we have done in the past, in the very same way that we are providing assistance for Ukrainian people who are coming here now.

To return to the point at hand, I want to pay tribute to the work of the Red Cross. I have spoken to Liam O'Dwyer in the Red Cross on a number of occasions over the past few weeks. It is overwhelmed by what has happened and the number of people who are coming here.

Housing will be the greatest difficulty. We need to face that fact. We talk in here every day about the housing crisis facing so many Irish people who cannot find accommodation. Thousands are coming here. We have to be very careful that tensions do not arise, something that can happen very easily. The first day we put up the page "Leitrim Helps Ukraine" a couple of people talked about our own. In fairness, such comments were drowned out by the hundreds of people who said that we have a responsibility to help. The Government has a job of work to do to get this right.

In fairness, so far there has been a reasonably decent job done, but there are difficulties with communications and ensuring people know exactly what rights they will have and how they can integrate well in assisting those they want to assist. It is to be hoped that if we get a huge influx like we are expecting over the coming weeks, the Government will put the shoulder to the wheel and ensure we provide the level of assistance that people are so determined to provide. The ordinary decent people of Ireland are up for this, and we need to show that the Government is up for it as well.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Labour Party about the crisis in Ukraine and the governmental response. I want to first express my solidarity and that of my party with the people of Ukraine who have now endured an entire month of the brutal bombardment and horrific onslaught represented by the Russian invasion. Despite some indications in recent days of the scaling down of the siege on Kyiv, there is no indication that this horrendous suffering will end soon. We know just how brutal Putin's imperial regime is.

I am conscious that we are standing here in this peaceful corner of Europe, while on the other side of Europe we are seeing an unthinkable atrocity being perpetrated which has unfolded within such a swift passage of time. That is one of the reasons it is so truly shocking to us. The war is a crime, and there has undoubtedly been a huge array of war crimes committed by Russian forces in the course of the war. Yesterday, I spoke in the House about having attended the funeral of Pierre Zakrzewski. We owe him, his colleague, Oleksandra Kuvshynova , who was killed alongside him in a an attack outside Kyiv, and other war reporters a great debt of gratitude for shining a spotlight on the atrocities being committed by Russia and the suffering being endured by the Ukrainian people. Without that sort of front-line reporting, we would not be as aware of the scale of the appalling devastation being endured by Ukraine.

As I said, it is particularly shocking because it is happening in Europe. It is particularly shocking because of the speed with which it has unfolded and scale of the devastation that has been caused.

We are witnessing the appalling siege of the people of Mariupol, as well as 4 million people having fled their own country into other EU states in the course of just over four weeks. Of course, we are also witnessing yet another manifestation of the brutal rule of Vladimir Putin. It brings to mind the sort of war Putin conducted through proxy in recent history, such as through Assad in Syria. We saw the brutal siege of Aleppo and the enormous suffering of the Syrian people under that attack. It also brings to mind other wars being conducted on other peoples who are enduring and suffering brutal bombardment. I am thinking in particular of the people of Yemen in what is sometimes referred to as a forgotten war, but which is an absolutely brutal war of which, again, civilians are bearing a significant brunt and which is being waged largely through complicity by proxy with Saudi Arabia. I was glad to stand outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Dublin on Saturday to protest that war and the war in Ukraine.

Looking at the State's response, it is clear there has been an enormous and very welcome outpouring of generosity among all communities across Ireland. I acknowledge the speed and generosity with which the Government has responded. The Taoiseach and the Ministers, Deputies Humphreys and O'Gorman, spoke about some of the ways in which the Government has responded. I was glad to visit the Ukraine support centre nearest to me, located on Cork Street in Dublin 8, just last week and to meet officials of the Department of Social Protection and staff who had volunteered from the Citizens Information Services, the Department of Justice and other State entities. Those officials adapting so swiftly in order to assist people arriving from Ukraine is true public service. I visited volunteer-run service at the free shop on Clarendon Street, only 100 m from Leinster House, which has been set up by several volunteers to provide necessary and basic items for Ukrainian families and individuals fleeing here, some of whom I have met. I am told and know from those whom I have met that some of them have come with no more than a change of clothes. Their needs are extreme. As other Members have stated, many of them have left behind loved ones - fathers, husbands or parents - in Ukraine. The scale of human suffering is evident and it is welcome to see the great generosity with which this State has responded and the opening of our doors to 15,000 people.

There are several points that we need to consider because it is clear the need is extensive and the scale of the challenge is immense. We know there have been immensely strong offers of support. The Red Cross is doing exceptionally important and impressive work in co-ordinating those offers. We know also that it may come to a situation where, as the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, stated, we will have to look at short-term housing measures. I have indicated to him and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, that there is capacity to provide, for example, Sprung structures, as temporary accommodation on an emergency basis. My colleague Senator Moynihan has pointed out as Labour Party spokesperson on housing the need for a longer-term housing strategy and to ensure there is a revision to the Housing for All strategy and a whole-of-government response should the housing need endure for longer in the event of there being no short-term end to the war.

There are concerns relating to the schooling of the many children who are coming here. It is welcome to see the way in which schools are opening their doors, as well as initiatives such as the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, taking on the provision of information in Ukrainian and Russian to families and parents to enable a smooth transition into schools here. On a recent visit to Ballyvaughan in County Clare I saw the fantastic community response, including the school response, to those coming here and fleeing such devastation. On the schooling issue, we need to ensure all the necessary supports are provided for, particularly language supports.

On the issue of arrival into the country, although the Ukraine support centres and the centre at Dublin Airport have been impressive and superb, we still need to ensure there is a central point of contact and that, no matter where refugees come into the country, they receive the same level of supports. My colleague Deputy Howlin spoke last week about the concerns in Rosslare, where volunteers were doing a significant amount of work. I think that matter has been addressed but it is certainly the case that we need to ensure there are sufficient levels of support at Shannon and Cork airports and wherever else refugees are arriving.

As regards employment prospects, all present, including the many Members who have met Ukrainians coming here, are very conscious that many of those coming here are highly skilled. Many of them are able to continue working if they had been working remotely in Ukraine. All of them are anxious to get work and jobs. I very much welcome the highlighting by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, of the employer mechanism but, again, supports will be required. As a trade unionist, I am concerned to ensure that nobody coming here will be exploited. We must ensure that people are protected, especially those who do not have sufficient levels of English-language skills. I commend SIPTU and other unions for committing to provide refugees with information on workers' rights and job prospects here in their own language. That is a welcome initiative.

I refer to other ways in which we in Ireland can show support for Ukraine. It is clear that one such way is through our welcome of refugees here and our provision of humanitarian aid, to which the Taoiseach referred. At diplomatic level, we should be using all the non-military means at our disposal as a neutral State to support Ukraine and its accession to the EU. I am really glad the Minister, Deputy Coveney, indicated that support along with a small number of other EU states. I welcome his action in the context of the expulsion of diplomats. I very much welcomed the Taoiseach's announcement yesterday which, as it happened, was in response to my question on Leaders' Questions in respect of the expulsion of four senior officials from the Russian Embassy here. I believe we should go further and now move to expel the Russian ambassador. We did act not across the EU 27 but as one of a small number of EU states that moved to expel diplomats yesterday. I welcome that because it is an important diplomatic means at our disposal to express our condemnation of Russia's brutality in the strongest possible terms. However, we should go further now and expel the Russian ambassador.

As one who has always been a member of an internationalist party, for us in the Labour Party, a member of the Party of European Socialists, it is important that we stand up against this assault on democracy and the sovereignty of a peaceful and democratic state that we are seeing unfolding before our eyes. That is why we need to take all the measures that are available to us to show our support for Ukraine and its people, as well as the Ukrainian Government and President Zelenskyy.

I conclude by expressing my welcome for the fact that President Zelenskyy will address this House next week. I ask that his address be live broadcast. It is very important. Many people will want to watch the address as it comes to us. I know that many Ukrainian citizens who are now here in Ireland may like to come to the House to watch that address. If that were possible, it would be a welcome gesture. I presume the Ukrainian ambassador, H.E. Larysa Gerasko, whom I have met on several occasions, will be here, but it would be a positive gesture of solidarity with the Ukrainian people to have a strong presence in the House of the Ukrainian community and members of that community here in Ireland.

I again ask that we use all means at our disposal to convey our strong condemnation of Russia and our strong solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they endure this horrific onslaught.

From the response we have seen from the Government which has been outlined in the House today it is obvious that we, as a State, have done a significant amount so far to support Ukrainian war refugees coming to Ireland for safety while their country continues to suffer an unconscionable attack from Russia. We have reacted quickly in putting processes in place to welcome Ukrainians coming to Ireland and we have facilitated through practical means the compassion that the Irish people feel at this difficult time.

The Red Cross has received thousands of pledges from members of the public to accommodate Ukrainian refugees and, as Ukrainians get to know our communities, schools and workplaces in the coming period, more strong bonds between Ukrainian people and Irish people will be formed. For many years, our country has benefited from the presence of the existing Ukrainian community here. Of course, since February, Ukrainians have arrived here in dreadful circumstances and for reasons we fervently wish never had to be. Notwithstanding that, we are looking forward to getting to know the newest members of the Ukrainian community in Ireland.

We hope that their time in Ireland will allow them to create fond memories and strong friendships, despite the distress that this situation has brought about. It is important to acknowledge that the vast majority of Ukrainians do not wish to be here and want to be home and to return home. It will be our duty to give them the opportunities while they are here and when this war ends, to rebuild that beautiful country to make it fit again for the Ukrainian people.

This Friday, Ireland and Ukraine will celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations. Ukraine declared its independence in August 1991 and in the following year Ireland and Ukraine formally established relations. Since then the ties have only grown between our two nations and in recent years Ukraine has pursued closer association with the European Union. The European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, which we fully support and was not supported by all parties in this House, has allowed Ukraine to pursue closer association with the European Union and is very much what the Ukrainian people want, and what Putin does not want, which is a deepened co-operation between the European Union and Ukraine. We are very proud in this country to support the signing of the association agreement and to see the work that Ukraine has done since then, as envisaged in the agreement.

We all know that in 2014, Ukraine was invaded by Russia and indeed the Dáil condemned that at the time. I am glad to see that the condemnation this year is unanimous as it was not at that time. From 2014 Russia has illegally occupied the Crimean Peninsula. I hope that those who accepted that at the time have changed their minds by now. Russia has also stoked separatist agitation in Donbas. Again, both are inherent parts of Ukrainian territory. Ireland has always been unwavering in its stance that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be upheld.

Since 24 February this year the country has been under large-scale attack in a dramatic escalation of aggression. Ireland has used its voice, including at the UN Security Council, to denounce Russia’s aggression and to call for an immediate ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Russian troops. In the midst of all of this, our 30-year anniversary of diplomatic relations offers an opportunity to reflect on the strength of the relationship between Ireland and Ukraine and on the insistence of both countries on their sovereign and independent statehood. This dark period has shown us that the Ukrainian people’s desire for freedom, democracy and independence will never be extinguished. The Ukrainian people’s European choice and EU perspective is clear and Ireland supports Ukraine fully in that aim.

I am delighted with the strong words that the Taoiseach has consistently given on that EU perspective. Ireland has stood with Ukraine for the 30 years of our diplomatic relations. We opened an embassy last summer and we stand firmly with Ukraine now more than ever.

I join with the Minister of State’s closing words there that Ireland indeed stands with Ukraine. We have sincerely felt that across all parties in the Dáil over the past few months.

At this point over 4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine across borders into Poland, Moldova, Slovakia, and so on. This country has welcomed people with open arms and we have embraced anybody who has wanted to come here. This is unanimous from listening to people today. We have provided accommodation and social welfare supports for people who are arriving and we have welcomed refugees into all of our communities across the country. The majority of Deputies have had some interaction with families as they have arrived. That has been a great thing to see right across the country. Not too far from here, some people prevaricated in those refugees’ moment of need. Thankfully, Ireland did not waver and opened its doors.

The one-stop shop in Dublin Airport is working very efficiently. We have a concern as steps are being taken to provide for similar models in Shannon and Cork. Can the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in his closing comments, address what is happening in Cork and Shannon in taking the necessary steps to have a one-stop shop in place in both of those areas?

Deputy Martin Kenny referred to the need to cross-reference the skill set that many of these refugees are bringing with them with needs in the medicine or engineering fields, for example. Many of them may be teachers who can, perhaps, help in the months ahead. Can the Minister address in his closing comments what steps we are taking to catalogue their skills as they are arriving in the country? How best we can utilise them, as I have said, in the coming months? Many of the Ukrainian people I have spoken to who have arrived in Cork feel they have something to contribute to the new society and homes while they are here, and want to do so.

It would be remiss of me not to comment on Cork specifically in respect of education and disability provision. The Minister is very familiar with the problems we have there at this point in time. I have serious concerns about an influx of a large number of people because the service provision within various community healthcare organisations, CHOs, across the country at the moment is not up to standard. CHO 4 in Cork is one of those areas. I have serious misgivings about our ability to provide adequately for any of those students who may come with needs, particularly in respect of mental health services, for example in regard to assessments of needs, autism supports or whatever the case may be. The majority of schools in Cork city are full at present, which is a major concern for us. There are only two secondary schools on my side of the city which would have any capacity to take any of these people who are fleeing from Ukraine. That is also something we need to look at.

On direct provision, the Minister said in his opening comments that we are still adhering to the White Paper commitment that direct provision will be wound down by 2024. This emergency poses a real challenge for us to meet that target. I would very much like to hear the Minister’s comments on that. I know he is saying we intend to stick to that aim, but I sincerely believe it is inevitable that in winding down direct provision, as abhorrent a system as it was, there will be knock-on consequences for what we are aiming to do there. I would appreciate a comment from the Minister on that issue.

On our diplomatic response, I was one of the people who came out at a very early stage to call for the expulsion of Russian diplomats and staff. I have no problem in echoing that sentiment again today and will do so at every opportunity. Ireland should use its position on the UN Security Council as best we can. The single greatest message we can send is that as a member of the UN Security Council, we are calling for that publicly.

I also ask what consideration is being given to possible diplomatic sanctions on any state that supports Russia. I am commenting here, in particular, on Belarus. We need to scrutinise what its involvement is.

My final point relates to the Opposition. I will not attempt to score political points about previous voting records, etc., in the European Parliament, but I will challenge the Deputies opposite on one point. I was hoping to say it to their leader earlier. I think that at European level, they are part of the same party - The Left group - as MEPs Flanagan, Wallace and Daly. I believe these people need to called out for their position. They are an embarrassment to this country. I would appreciate any efforts that the Opposition parties might make in that regard.

I welcome the more than 14,000 Ukrainian people who have already arrived into Ireland. A couple of weeks ago they could not possibly have imagined packing up their lives and moving to the far side of this Continent. I hope that their time here, whether long- or short-lived, brings them the safety and support they so badly need and deserve.

Ukrainians arriving at Dublin Airport are being met by a welcome group - a team of Department officials who are helping them to set up PPS numbers and get access to social welfare support. I thank the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman, Humphreys and McEntee, for putting together that seamless emergency process.

More than 20,000 Irish people have pledged accommodation through the Red Cross. Right now, there are hundreds of Ukrainian refugees in hotels in my constituency and education welfare officers are working tirelessly to find school places for hundreds of children in my area. Last week, Frances Fitzgerald MEP, Councillor Vicki Casserly and I visited St. Andrew's National School in Lucan, where a Ukrainian child has been enrolled in the primary school there. In Palmerstown, a family I know have taken in a 16-year-old Ukrainian teenager who had no family to stay with. Collections are happening in schools right across my constituency and in community centres such as Rathcoole Community Centre. The kindness which characterises so many Irish people is the sense of not just wanting to help but needing to help. I know of barbers offering free haircuts to Ukrainian refugees, of crèches offering free childcare places and of businesses looking to employ Ukrainian people who are available for work.

However, as a Government, we certainly would not encourage any Ukrainian person to take up work immediately. Instead, people should take a little time to settle in and recover from the trauma of their journey here before they think about contributing to the workforce. If there are businesses or companies seeking to advertise employment, they can do so on JobsIreland.ie. I was heartened to hear about the Ukrainian pop-up shop in Clarendon Street, which has been set up by a Ukrainian-Irish businessman to provide free clothes, toys, food and essentials. It is one example of the kindness that is being shown.

I commend the work the Government has done to welcome and accommodate people from Ukraine. More than 7,000 people have been provided with accommodation by the International Protection Accommodation Services so far. The Minister's Department is working closely with the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice, Tusla and the Irish Red Cross Society to house Ukrainian refugees as quickly as possible and eventually to progress the offers of accommodation that have been made by Irish people into accommodation itself. It is very important to have contingency options in place should the numbers arriving exceed the accommodation available. At this point, it is looking very likely that they will. While we certainly wish for our Ukrainian friends to be able to return home safely as soon as they wish, I doubt that even the most optimistic among us see the war in Ukraine ending soon. That is why it is essential that we plan for the future and the long term in terms of both accommodating refugees and responding to the international impacts that the war in Ukraine is having on Ireland in respect of the cost of living.

It is funny to think that, up to a month ago, we were not talking much about Ukraine. In fact, most people, including me, thought it was called "the Ukraine". Now, we are checking the news throughout the day and opening our hearts and homes to the women and children seeking refuge. I hope they will be very happy and safe here, that the family members they have left behind to defend their country will be safe and that this war ends sooner rather than later.

I acknowledge the work all the Departments are undertaking, but I have just taken a call from somebody working in Naas General Hospital who told me that in the last 24 hours more than 50 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the emergency department and the department is at breaking point. These people are traumatised and they also face a language barrier. We have to do better for them. The mental health section in Naas General Hospital is chronically understaffed and will not be in any position to meet what is coming.

The most important response we can make to the Ukrainian crisis is in pursuit of peace. We know that it does not take long for a war to take on a life of its own. Sinn Féin made peace in the North and we are certainly urging peace now. To the Members here who are beating the drums of war, they should know better from their previous employments. Not even in our wildest dreams could Ireland ever become a significant military power. Some of them really need to calm themselves. Ireland was never involved in a war of aggression. It is seen as an honest broker precisely because it is not a militarised nation. We are in a unique position to act as peacemakers, being the only European member state on the United Nations Security Council that is not a member of NATO.

On 6 April, President Zelenskyy is due to address the Houses of the Oireachtas. The commentariat says people love a hero often so they can drag the hero down afterwards. My party is a republican party and it does not put individuals on pedestals. For us, this was always about the Ukrainian people. President Zelenskyy is certainly standing on the shoulders of giants, those giants being his own people who have sacrificed so much as they have resisted the onslaught of the Russian army. I urge Ireland to resist the war jingoism and to be a voice in pursuit of peace, justice and freedom, not escalation.

First, I condemn Russia's actions in invading Ukraine. There is no justification for this assault on its sovereign neighbour. I praise the Ukrainian people for their valiant resistance in the face of this appalling aggression. I welcome the Government's decision to expel four Russian embassy staff. I question the reason Russia needs 30 members of staff in its embassy here in the first place.

It is welcome that the Government is fast-tracking the asylum process for Ukrainian refugees and has not, so far, put a restriction on the number coming here to escape this dreadful conflict. However, this begs the question as to why this was not done for others fleeing equally terrifying war zones such as Syria and Afghanistan. While this is a developing situation, I again question the Government's preparedness for the large number of refugees arriving. We have known for over a month that we will be dealing with large numbers. The use of State facilities which are currently not in use, such as closed Army barracks, is appropriate as a temporary measure in this type of emergency. Housing refugees in these numbers is rightly seen as an emergency which warrants rapid and flexible Government action. Again, however, this begs the further question as to why this type of emergency mindset has not been brought to bear on the housing crisis. I am told the local authorities are being inundated with correspondence from people on housing waiting lists to see if their applications for housing will be affected. The message that this is not the case has to be communicated to the general public. We do not need to leave any space open for far-right groups to propagate their racism and fear.

I welcome the dialogue that has opened between Ukraine and Russia and I call on the Government to encourage and assist this in any way it can, especially using its position on the UN Security Council. This invasion should be brought to an end and the best way to do that is through dialogue.

I have questions on a number of issues. Has the Government put in place supports for disabled refugees coming to this country? There is bound to be a significant number and they will need additional support. I am aware that many disabled people and carers are willing to open their homes to refugees, but they are concerned that they might lose social protection or housing payments. The message that this is not the case must be communicated to them. For example, somebody will not lose his or her living alone allowance. Finally, many refugees coming to this country will be highly qualified in health and social care professions. Is anything being put in place to examine how those very qualified people could be employed, if they choose, in our very understaffed healthcare system?

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this discussion and I thank the Minister for remaining in the Chamber. I am incredibly proud of the generous and warm welcome that the Irish people have demonstrated to those fleeing the horrific violence in Ukraine. The collective condemnation of this unacceptable Russian aggression and the heartfelt expression of solidarity with the people of Ukraine speak volumes about our citizens. I also acknowledge and commend the approach the Government has taken to date. It moved rapidly and progressively in this humanitarian crisis. It reacted in a very open manner and that has translated very much into a type of comfort for those who are coming to Ireland. They recognise that they are very welcome and that we will do what we can to support them.

However, the challenge of what we face is not lost on anybody. It is going to be very difficult. As the Minister said earlier, we have never experienced a crisis like this. It will involve everybody working together as a society and as a Parliament. This will be a collective effort on our part. I have spent a great deal of time over the last few weeks working at local level in Wicklow, where there has been a high intake of refugees, particularly in the north Wicklow area. Groups of volunteers are working across every level of our community. That is not just a Wicklow thing, but is replicated across the country. My comments today reflect the feedback I am getting from those volunteers and the people offering support.

I have already spoken to the Minister about some of the feedback I have been receiving, so what I want to convey is that this is not a criticism of the Government. As I said, the Government's response so far has been good. However, there are gaps and issues that have to be addressed. What is seen among the volunteers and the front-line staff is that many are burnt-out at this stage. Many are facing their own traumas and experiences for which they are not equipped. We need to be cognisant of that and acknowledge it. They are working into the early hours, as the Minister will have seen even within his Department and in other Departments. People are working from 8 a.m. until 3 a.m. trying to provide the necessary supports and, indeed, trying to juggle work and family life.

A group in Wicklow has come together to cook dinners for each other's families so that once they get home from work they can start to work with the refugees. This is an incredible level of commitment but it is not sustainable. At this point in time, the Government needs to provide and put in place more formal structures of support. The heavy reliance on volunteers and civil society was necessary in the first month and the first phase of this but we need to move on from it. There needs to be a more clearly co-ordinated and accountable response from the Government.

From what I have seen to date, what we are missing is a national structure and framework. We also need to have local structures in place and there needs to be communication between the two structures. Even when it comes to simple things such as who is in charge, initially I believed the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, was responsible for the whole-of-government response to this humanitarian crisis. The remit of Minister and the Department is accommodation. At this stage we need a Minister who has sole responsibility to drive this response, to bring all of the various Departments together and make sure we have a co-ordinated whole-of-government response and framework in place. We need a clear national framework that outlines the roles and responsibilities of the Government in the areas of social protection, health, education, housing and justice. This should include guidance and standards, monitoring frameworks and audit procedures. I recognise this is not something we had ever envisaged would be required. I imagine that coming out of Covid people were quite hopeful for time to get working on the Departments' normal work. Unfortunately this crisis has happened. A clear framework is absolutely required.

There is a need for adherence to international standards for humanitarian responses, in particular adherence to the international agreed minimum standards for child protection in emergencies and the minimum standards for education in emergencies. We need a strategy to engage and co-ordinate between national and local levels and the non-governmental sector. Communication and guidance are fundamental to a successful local response in this regard. I get the sense from listening to the Ministers who have spoken in the debate that a huge amount is happening in each Department. In some instances it is happening in silos. It is not being communicated to a local level. The communication gaps need to be addressed.

There needs to be a clear plan to ensure services provided to refugees by the philanthropic community, churches, NGOs and individuals are subject to minimum standards to ensure child protection, data management and co-ordination with national systems. We are moving to Government services being accountable for upholding and protecting the rights it has guaranteed to Ukrainian refugees. We are in an emergency phase of the situation but this is where we need to go and I hope the Government can get the structures in place quickly. It is not just about the national structure; it is also about the local structures.

I welcome that community response teams are being put into each local authority. They were very successful during Covid. The communities responded well to them. The framework is in place and I hope it can be reactivated very quickly. There needs to be a standard or an overview of what is happening. I understand some authorities have re-established them and others have not. There is still a lack of clarity on what their functions are, how they will be rolled out and when they will be rolled out. I understand the Department will house a number of refugees in large accommodation centres. The provision of services to these people will be easier. It will be harder to target and assist those going into family homes. There needs to be consideration of how we can create linkages for people living with individuals throughout the country.

Something that has been made clear is that the requirements being placed on large provision centres seem to be primarily with regard to the provision of a bed and food. We should expand this and look beyond the bare essentials. How will people wash their clothes? How will they provide school lunches? Are there kitchen facilities? Is there a room in which the refugees can gather? Is there a social room where they can mingle or get English lessons? These are the types of services we should require of the accommodation providers if possible. Another issue raised with me is that hotels are providing very standard three meals a day. A baby might need non-solid foods and they do not eat according to our timeframes. These issues will be ironed out as we go along but I would like the Minister to be mindful of them when engaging with accommodation providers.

Education will be a key component of providing stability and support not only to the children and students coming in but to their mothers also. Knowing their children are happy in school will bring huge comfort to parents. Many schools have gone above and beyond to take in students to their classrooms and to their hearts. There needs to be guidance from the Department on enrolment policies. At present schools cannot go outside their enrolment policies to take in individuals. The Minister needs to give clear guidance that we are in an emergency situation and there should be provision to override schools' enrolment policy to enable them to take in students. It is not just a matter of finding a place for a student. Schools do not have English language supports. They do not have mental health supports. Ongoing resourcing will need to be provided.

I have spoken to the Minister previously with regard to health. It is critical that refugees coming in have access to GP care within the first 24 hours of arriving at a centre. Dehydration and a lack of prescription medication are proving very difficult for people. I have a huge amount more to say but I have run out of time. This is an issue on which we will have to work together and I hope we can do so. We also need to work quickly on it. I will keep in touch with the Minister on other aspects that come to light.

I thank the Taoiseach and the Ministers for their intervention. I particularly thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for not beating around the bush about the severity of the situation being faced, the need for clear thinking about the challenges that will be presented and the responsibilities that lie on all of us in the House and throughout the country.

Echoing much of what Deputy Whitmore said, I would like to think there is a collectivity of purpose whereby all of us, regardless of what bench we sit on, are aware that people are fleeing the most awful of circumstances and require a response from all of us as legislators and those who have control over the public finances and purses to respond in kind in a manner and nature that is thorough. There is much need for a discussion not only this afternoon but on a continuous basis as this war continues to rage on. The refugee crisis stemming from it will not end quickly. We are seeing the largest displacement of people on the Continent since the Second World War.

I want to touch on a number of areas. Many of them have been raised by other speakers and will be raised during the course of the debate. This is a debate worth having on a regular basis. We need to see a clarity of updates not only to the House but to Opposition leaders and wider society as a whole. We have all been touched by the generosity of Irish people, be it in terms of raising funds for the Red Cross, offering to open up their homes, give up their holiday homes and whatever they can. I have been taken by the number of schools and others in my community that have held fundraisers and events. There are also those who have protested against this bloody war at the gates of this House or outside the embassy. There remain quite a number of questions and there is a desire for people who want to help to have clarity on this help. Those offering accommodation are asking questions that on the face of it may seem cold but it does have long-term implications.

They are asking when they might expect to receive the property back, whether they can inspect it to ensure it is maintained and that the bills are paid. They are not asking in any callous manner, but out of a duty of care to those they are opening up their properties to.

My second point is one I have raised before and relates to something I am deeply concerned about, the strategy for dealing with the pastoral requirements of the people who are coming to our country as guests. We can talk about practical needs in respect of accommodation, healthcare, school places and linguistic supports, including the clear need to train people to give them a basic level of Ukrainian and to provide access to English language courses, but I am very aware that the vast majority coming to Ireland having fled Ukraine will be in a state of trauma. In many cases, they are seeing their homes absolutely levelled. They have left behind family members who are perhaps too infirm to travel or who have taken up the cause and are fighting to defend their homeland. Over the course of the next couple of months, and possibly years, they will be receiving extremely difficult news and will be left in the dark with regard to other news. We have an absolute responsibility to ensure that pastoral counselling and linguistic support is available.

I attended an event in my own community on Sunday in the parish centre in Kilternan where a number of Ukrainians who had just arrived in the country were met by local people who just wanted to be there for them and to provide a basic introduction to our communities, rather than just our country, and not just on a short-term basis. However, there is always a need for co-ordination at the level of the Government and officialdom to ensure it is done in a proper, right and consistent manner. I will conclude on that point.

How beautifully true céad míle fáilte romhat rings from an Irish perspective at the moment. The arms of Ireland are wide open to welcome refugees coming from Ukraine. As of yesterday, my county of Clare had 1,500 Ukrainian refugees. I believe that figure will rise to 1,800 tonight. That is the largest intake of any Irish county. It must be said that it is a rural county and that its capacity to do this is very much under strain but the arms are still wide open and people are very welcome. Like other speakers, I acknowledge the immense efforts of volunteers throughout County Clare who are doing everything from gathering food and collecting shoes to running coffee mornings and helping to ferry kids to school. Their efforts are absolutely immense.

I thank the Minister and his officials for what they are trying to do. This is a crisis situation. Europe is at war and Ireland is playing its part as a neutral nation in welcoming people to safe refuge but I am very concerned about how some of this is unfolding and manifesting itself on the ground. A town and a community can only properly support and offer care, shelter and all of the ancillary supports people require when it has the capacity to do so. The town of Lisdoonvarna in County Clare ordinarily has a population of 300 people. It does not have great GP capacity or immense public transport infrastructure. The schools are small. That community struggles to meet the needs of its surrounding hinterland in ordinary times. At the moment, 850 refugees are staying in the town. The town is very welcoming and warm but it is struggling. It has gone beyond its capacity in this regard.

Again, Lisdoonvarna has a population of 300 people and has taken in 850 refugees. Down the road, Limerick city has a population of 60,000 to 70,000 but there are fewer than 100 refugees in Limerick city. Not every town, village and city is carrying its share of the load and playing its part. More places in Ireland, more towns and villages in Clare and more counties in Ireland need to step up to the plate because, at the moment, refugees are being funnelled into communities that are bursting at the seams and the needs of those refugees are not being fully met. Yesterday morning, a Bus Éireann service from Lisdoonvarna to Doolin National School never arrived. There is no GP capacity.

I will ask for a number of things in my concluding moments. The Minister needs to sanction translators. In schools we have English as an additional language, EAL, teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, principals and teachers but a translator is absolutely essential from a pastoral, home-school link point of view. We also need a GP service. We have fully trained, fully competent Ukrainian doctors with the full language skill set required in refugee centres. They need to be appointed to do the circuit around all of the accommodation centres to meet people's medical needs because our existing GP service is not sufficient. The point I am trying to make is that we are wide open and welcoming but you cannot funnel hundreds and hundreds of people into an area without providing all of the ancillary supports needed. These are lacking in Clare. Tonight, 1% of the population of Clare will be Ukrainian. Do we have the capacity to help them? We do, to a point, but we have gone beyond that point. More Clare communities need to step up but so does the rest of Ireland. Ancillary supports are crucial to making this a success.

I will begin by referencing the Taoiseach's opening remarks, which addressed the wider global context. In the face of the humanitarian tragedy playing out in front of us, there is a need in both the short term and longer term to have a look at the global systems that underpin much of this conflict, including with regard to energy security and our reliance on fossil fuels, which needs to be rethought and unpicked for a range of reasons. We also need to consider downstream products, even with regard to the production of fertiliser and how we have built our agricultural system around that kind of fossil fuel input. We will also need a short-term or medium-term response to hunger in the global south. This is something I have raised with the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy. We will need a response to global food security because we know that Ukraine and Russia make a disproportionate contribution to the global grain supply. That will have to be addressed before the next harvest.

To return to the national context, the first thing we need to get across is the scale of the challenge we are facing. The Minister was very clear on this. This challenge is unprecedented in nature and we need to face up to that in our conversations. We almost need to revert to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The first thing we need to do is to provide these people with accommodation and shelter and to make sure they arrive at safe harbour.

I acknowledge the incredible outpouring of support through the Red Cross's pledging system but we need a one-day, one-week, one-month and one-year plan. A lot of what Deputy Whitmore said chimed with my own understanding of the issue. We absolutely need an emergency response now but we also need longer-term planning. We need such planning with regard to how we layer needs. I believe Deputy Cathal Crowe was moving towards this in his contribution. We need to think about where accommodation and school places are available but also about where transport and social welfare services are available and, it is to be hoped, where employment will be available.

I only have a few seconds remaining but, on the education response, we need to have a conversation about how to best provide for the educational needs of the children who are arriving and what is needed to address their trauma. We should begin a conversation on some sort of summer provision to allow them to get to grips with some of the language difficulties. There is a great raft of things we need to get across but the number one thing is the scale of the problem we are facing. We have to face up to that and be honest about it.

When we are debating the response of the Government to the war in Ukraine, we have to look at both its political response and its humanitarian response. The response under both headings has been very good. It has been compassionate and accurate. On the political response, the Government is to be commended for having identified unambiguously where fault for this war lies. It unambiguously lies with the expansionist and imperialist policies of Vladimir Putin's regime. It does not rest with any desire for expansion on the part of the EU, with NATO expansionism or with expansionism on the part of the United States. It unambiguously lies with Vladimir Putin's regime. The Government has been very clear in emphasising that and I commend it on doing so.

The Government has also been clear in identifying the solution. The only solution to this is the removal of Putin's forces from independent Ukraine. We have to be clear and reassert that unambiguously. It can sometimes be difficult for a neutral State to be listened to when talking about an armed conflict but let that not silence us because we come with a strong voice in the world and we should unambiguously repeat the fact that Putin needs to remove his forces from independent Ukraine.

We also need to look at the humanitarian response of the Government to date, which has been commendable. That response reflects the view and charity of the Irish people. To date, we have accepted 15,000 Ukrainian refugees. As the Minister has indicated, that number is going to rise. We also need to be clear and honest with Irish people that, once the offers of accommodation have been exhausted, it will become increasingly difficult for the State to provide that level of accommodation.

We still find ourselves in situations where emergency accommodation is being provided in places that we would not regard as suitable. We need to be honest with the public about the challenges we face.

When looking at the overall response, we need to have a general recognition and respect for democracy. Democracy is in its infancy throughout the world. In the history of the world, democracy has only existed in countries for 100 years or so. Let us consider what the poor Russian people have gone through for the past 400 years. They had 300 years of the Romanov tsars. They then managed to get rid of them and they were replaced by the tyrannical Marxist-Leninist regime that ruined the lives of people and deprived them of human rights for 80 years. After that they have been subjected to Vladimir Putin. I suspect the real fear that Vladimir Putin has is not the arrival of missiles in neighbouring countries, but the arrival of democracy into those countries, particularly democracy as epitomised by the European Union. I wish democracy to the Russian people.

Until very recently, Ukrainians lived normal lives, but that changed abruptly when Russia invaded. Ukrainians are also experiencing agonising feelings of injustice and unfairness as their hard-earned democracy and freedom have been ripped away. The people arriving on our shores have had their whole lives turned upside down. People have had to leave behind their homes, their jobs, their schools, their friends and basically everything they know. Most heartbreaking of all is the separation of families - fathers and brothers who had to remain in Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion and elderly relations who may not have wanted to or were unable to make the uncertain journey. These people are leaving a war-torn situation. This is an especially traumatic experience for anyone to endure.

Abundant research shows that such difficult experiences can lead to severe consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. PTSD symptoms include terrifying and realistic flashbacks of war scenes, intrusive memories of the trauma, panic, inability to sleep and nightmares as well as avoidance of anything that resembles any sort of trauma. Children are specifically vulnerable. We can only imagine the terror children face in a dark basement watching the faces of their parents, praying that the next missile will not hit their building. Parents can shield their children to some extent from this trauma but they can only do so much.

When people arrive in this State, we can very quickly identify physical health needs, but identifying the psychological needs is not so straightforward. Trauma does not always manifest itself immediately but can come to the fore months and sometimes even years after traumatic events that people have had to endure. It is incumbent on the Government to plan for the dramatic effects of war and displacement. The Government must plan to provide mental health services in a culturally appropriate manner and to consider language and other factors. We do not know how long these people will be here. Looking at the structural damage to their homeland, many may not get the opportunity to return home. Therefore, we must do everything humanly possible to help them integrate into Irish society.

I welcome the statement from the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. The numbers are startling and the scale is something we have not seen since the war in the former Yugoslavia. I extend my welcome to all those Ukrainian people, including families and children, who have recently come into our community. I also commend the local partnerships and the many local people who have done amazing work. I see it on our local WhatsApp residents' groups. People are opening their hearts, they are opening their hands and they are opening their homes to people who are in need.

I am glad the Government seems to have been listening and has expelled four senior officials from the Russian Embassy in recent days, stating that their action was against diplomatic standards. It is heartening there may be some movement in the de-escalation of the war and, it is hoped, that it will end pretty soon. In the meantime, the people of Ukraine still need our humanitarian efforts.

I wish to highlight something we could possibly do. I received an email from one of my constituents yesterday highlighting the work of a support group, Helping Ukrainians in Ireland. He pointed to the information and representation gap on the border between Poland and Ukraine as well as a dire lack of transport. One of the people involved in the initiative is called Joby Redmond and he posted the following:

I am back in ... [Poland] on Saturday. I need a translator and I need help with the organising of getting families to Ireland. I have been trying to do this on my own with my own funds, but I need the physical help now because it’s got very busy and these people want to leave fast. I have got 30 families out in 1 week and that’s nearly 100 people. I'm getting help with buses from Germany, France and UK organisations. There are no Irish organisations helping at the border except for amazing Irish people who have come down to volunteer.

He is working on his own initiative, using his own funds. He has expressed real concern about human trafficking risks if no clear transport is organised. Time and again we have seen how refugees, who are trying to flee war, famine and distress in their own countries, can be abused by people who are seeking to exploit them. I ask the Government to contact this person to see if it can do anything to support him to get people here safely without being exploited by people who are traffickers.

I am sharing time with Deputies Boyd Barrett and Barry.

I will mainly focus my remarks on the question of giving the best welcome to those who are fleeing from Ukraine and coming to Ireland. Before I get to that, I want to make a couple of international points. Does the Irish Government have a position on the call from large trade unions in Ukraine and social movements for the cancellation of Ukraine's odious debt? It is immense; the foreign debt stands at $125 billion. The debt servicing expenditure is 12% of all the state's budgetary expenditure. In the appeal, they make the point that chaotic borrowing and antisocial debt conditionality was a result of total oligarchisation. Unwilling to fight the wealthy, the state rulers kept getting deeper in debt. Loans were issued under conditions of social spending cuts and the repayment forced it to economise on vital needs and apply austerity to foundational economic sectors. Ukraine is a very poor country. Debt servicing is contrary to rebuilding that state in any just way. The Government should make a clear statement calling for the cancellation of Ukrainian debt. That would be a real act of solidarity.

I would like the Government to make a statement about, or a criticism of, the so-called temporary suspension of 11 opposition parties in Ukraine. It is very concerning. While we would not share anything in common with these political parties, between them they got 18.3% of the vote in the previous election. It includes the biggest opposition party, which got 2.7 million votes. Of course, it is very likely that what starts out as a temporary measure becomes a permanent ban. We have seen that repeatedly with anti-democratic measures introduced at times of emergency.

I quote from the head of the Ukrainian socialist organisation, the Social Movement. Again, this group does not politically stand in solidarity with these parties that have been banned. It makes the point that the Ukrainian Government telling several million Ukrainians that the parties they voted for are beyond the pale is unlikely to motivate them to keep fighting the invaders at the front either. It undermines the struggle against the Russian invasion to send such a message and we need a statement by the Irish Government opposing this undemocratic measure.

The Government needs to step up and provide the funding for schools so that they can welcome the new intake of Ukrainian children who have had to flee war. We need to hire new teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs. We should start by offering proper full-time contracts for those teachers currently looking week to week for substitute teaching hours. We need extra counselling support, including psychologists, available to help children recovering from the traumas of war. There are many empty buildings near our schools, particularly church-owned buildings, which should immediately be brought into public ownership and used to expand facilities. These people need support.

My final point is about English language teachers, many of whom are currently very poorly paid and on precarious contracts in the private sector.

Instead of relying on these private companies, we need to expand the ETB English language teaching programme and provide classes right across the country, free of charge and with staff properly paid and on decent contracts.

The world is rightly disgusted at Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine and it is right and proper that we should be as generous as possible in our solidarity with the Ukrainian people fleeing Putin's bloody war. I want to commend groups like the Red Cross and the many individuals who have offered accommodation, many of whom have gone out to offer transport and other assistance in the Ukraine to help Ukrainian people exit this disastrous war instigated by Putin.

We have a huge task in terms of accommodating the people who are coming in but, frankly, this should be the moment when we take the sort of radical measures we should have taken long ago to address the housing emergency in this country. One of the things we learned during Covid, and we may learn it again, is that when the Government actually wants to have an emergency response, it is capable of doing so. It is absolutely right that we should have an emergency response to the disaster in Ukraine. However, in the St. Helen's Court complex, where people have been threatened with eviction by a vulture fund and where, sitting alongside the place people are being evicted from, there have been for the past two years 15 empty apartments that the vulture fund has just sat on, which should have been used to house people, someone said to me: “Maybe, finally, the Government will build some houses for us.” In other words, they were not in any way hostile to Ukrainians coming in and they absolutely recognise the need to be generous, but they simultaneously ask if this means we actually could have the wherewithal to make homelessness a thing of the past and take the sort of radical measures to get hold of empty properties being sat on by speculators, land hoarders and so on to house everybody. We should have done it long before now and this should be the moment when we do it.

The other thing I want to comment on is this. If we are rightly opening the door and our hearts to people fleeing from Ukraine, it has also essentially revealed a double standard in terms of providing refuge to people fleeing war. We learn, with Ukraine, why people flee their homes. It is because of war and, immediately, we recognise they do not want to leave home but they need assistance. Was that any less true in Afghanistan, except it was a US-led war? Maybe that is why we had a different attitude. Was that any less true in Syria, which was a Russian-led war? We were different in terms of our treatment of Syrians. Do we show the same generosity for people fleeing Somalia, which the US bombed in the past few weeks? There is a different standard. Those double standards will come back to haunt us. Those double standards are apparent in our different responses to the politics of Putin’s imperialist invasion. It is an imperialist invasion but so was the US-UK-led war on Iraq. What is the support for Israel, which Amnesty is now rightly condemning as guilty of crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people? We do not impose the same sanctions on them, we do not criticise them in the same way and we certainly do not offer the same level of solidarity to the Palestinian people. Is this going to be the moment when double standards are abandoned and we oppose all warmongering in the same way and show solidarity to all people fleeing war, regardless of their colour or creed?

I have consistently made the point in this House that the two key factors in defeating the invasion will be, first, the resistance of the Ukrainian people and, second, the Russian anti-war movement. Today, I want to go into a small bit more detail on the question of that resistance. When James Connolly addressed members of the Irish Citizen Army at Liberty Hall in 1916 before marching to the GPO, he told them, in the event of victory, to hold onto their guns. He said that the people we are fighting alongside are out for political liberty but that we are out for social and economic liberty as well. I hope the Ukrainian people drive out the Russian invaders and I hope, when that is done, that the working people of Ukraine - a clear majority of the population - move to take control of their country, take control of its wealth and take control of its mineral and agricultural resources. In other words, I hope they achieve not just political liberty, but economic and social liberty as well.

This is an important point because there will be other forces interested in that wealth and those mineral resources and agricultural resources too. Obviously, Putin is one but there are also false friends of Ukraine in governments in Washington and London and in European Union capitals who front for big corporations - the oligarchs of the West, if we like - who would like a friendly government in Kyiv and easy and profitable access to those resources. Some of those governments are offering military hardware to the Ukrainian Government. No doubt people in Ukraine will take guns from wherever they can at the moment, but I would be very wary of the unofficial price tags that are being attached. All the more reason, in my view, that Ukrainian workers need to organise, and organise independently. The words of James Connolly in this city more than 100 years ago also have relevance for them there today.

This is a very important debate and I think we all agree on the necessity to have this debate. The actions of the Government must be added to and they are supported right around the country - in our communities, in our political parties, in our schools and everywhere else. The impact of this appalling, evil war in the Ukraine is felt in every house and home in Ireland. On every television, on every Facebook page, on every TikTok channel, the reality that war is evil and the human tragedies are unfolding hourly on the media. There is no hiding place for the truth, and the truth is that this war must stop. The truth is that the West, in particular the European Union, have given firm and very constructive support for Zelenskyy, who, to me, epitomises democracy and the right of people and of nations to determine their own future.

Sadly, this is not the first time cities in Ukraine have been reduced to rubble. Indeed, Ukraine was described by Ukrainian writer, Vasily Grossman, during the Second World War as his country was reduced to “fire and tears” and “sadness and wrath”. He said, in a very powerful book which he wrote, Life and Fate, “There is power, which can resurrect huge cities from the ashes, but no power in the world is capable of lifting the light eyelashes over the eyes of a dead child.” We need to learn from our history. There was a man who wrote of the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine, and of Russia as well at the time, and pointed out clearly what happens when evil takes over and when good is banished.

The Irish actions, particularly in regard to the United Nations, are very powerful and very important. Notwithstanding other voices in this House, the fact is that our role in the United Nations, our role in the world, always has been one of peacekeeping and of trying to find solutions. I commend our ambassador at the United Nations, who just happens to be from Drogheda, so I have to praise her. We are doing an excellent job there, in addition to the leadership we are showing as a medium size country in Europe in regard to how we respond to this appalling invasion. As I and other Members have said, all of our communities, through “The Late, Late Show” to the children collecting funds on the corner, are reaching out to help and support and open our doors to these people.

The important thing we need to plan now is how we make sure we are in a position, in our own country, to defend our borders if and when they may be threatened by sea, on land or in our airspace. The recent report on our defence capacity into the future is very important and we need to debate that fully. I understand we will have the Government decision on it shortly. We must be able to defend our land and, unfortunately, as a result of what is happening in the Ukraine, we must invest more in our military capacity to defeat any invaders.

At the international level, the Government has moved fast and has taken a leadership role.

I commend the Taoiseach, the Minister and their Cabinet colleagues on stepping up to the challenge.

Going back to the first moments of Putin's aggression against Ukraine, Ireland was clear about its responsibilities, understood its influence and urged a strong and united international response. As bad as the situation in Ukraine is, that leadership from Ireland and other member states has helped Ukraine in its efforts to resist Putin's aggression. The alternative to that response was to step aside, keep our hands clean and let his army role across the border and into Kyiv. While we struggled with the question of supplying military hardware - our neutrality and position of constructive abstention is something about which we will have to have a national debate - we did in those initial days and weeks everything we could, sincerely and diligently.

This challenge is only beginning. I spoke already in this House of my experience of being on the ferry from France with hundreds of Ukrainian refugees a few weeks ago. Despite taking a keen interest in all aspects of this crisis, it was not until I was on that ferry with those people and witnessed their tears and sadness that I felt I understand the enormity of what was unfolding.

We have responded speedily and effectively, in great contrast to our near neighbours. We have put no limit on the number of refugees who will come to our country. This decision will be no small part of an Taoiseach's legacy. When asked on British television whether he has security concerns about letting in refugees, he answered: "The humanitarian response trumps anything as far as we're concerned." That answer is a succinct expression of Ireland's approach and one of which the Taoiseach and Ireland should be proud.

My colleagues across the House have outlined many of the emerging issues. The pressures on housing, education, the social welfare system and the health system have been well articulated. Organisations on the front line of the effort are working tirelessly to ensure refugees arriving here are looked after for their immediate needs. I pay tribute to the Irish Red Cross, which is doing stellar work at the points of entry. In my constituency, the Minister will be well aware of the work of Doras Luimní. For many years that organisation has been at the coalface of efforts to integrate refugees into our community. The scale of this wave of refugees is so large that it and other organisations like it will be stretched to the limit. I urge the Minister to look at this and seek to provide resources so such organisations can carry out their vital work. Resources allocated in their direction now will be well spent, prevent further cost to the State down the line and give Ukrainian refugees the best chance of settling into Ireland.

It is impossible for us to fully understand the loss, grief, courage and defiance of the Ukrainian people. We can only stand in solidarity and stretch out the hand of friendship. It is a tribute to the Irish people that, up and down the country, that is being done. The stresses that is creating have been highlighted but the Government has responded quickly and with compassion to the challenges we face.

It is said that in war the first casualty is truth and there is no doubt that in the case of Russia that is so. Russia breached the Budapest memorandum which set out six obligations designed to protect the independent sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine. Russia wantonly tore up that agreement by its invasion of Crimea. That invasion initiated Ukraine's interest in joining NATO. That had not been a commitment of Ukraine before that. The Russian action has humiliated many people in Europe who tried to hold out a hand of friendship and détente over many years.

The difficulties Russia faces are of its own making. However, we must find a way to talk to the Russian people about the challenges they now face. They are sending their young to die in a cause which is a vanity project for the ebbing career of an autocrat. Do they know the actions of their troops have forced half the children of Ukraine to abandon their homes? It is an extraordinary figure, barely equalled in countries like France during the Second World War. Do they know the toll of the war crimes being done in the name of the Russian people and for which there will be an account to be held? Sanctions are right but, in the long term, isolation of Russian people is not a sustainable answer. We must find a way to talk over the heads of the ambassadors and the Russian security system to ordinary Russians about the challenges the action of their leadership has created.

The free world has responded with much greater solidarity than anyone expected and it is to the credit of those involved. The world has been changed by this aggressive action and we need to look at the international organisations of which we are members to see whether they can respond more effectively. We must stop war crime tribunals and trials only being for those who are defeated. That has been, sadly, the pattern in the past. We must seek to find security guarantees that can stick for the Ukrainian people when these issues are finally resolved. We must find a way to move on from the UN's arrangements whereby the veto of one party can stop any effective action. We must insist on such a UN resolution before we become involved in any peacekeeping or peacemaking activity. The biggest test for us is sustaining our focus after the attention of the world's media has moved on. We need to sustain it because the world has decisively shifted to become a more dangerous place and we need as international politicians to respond to that greater danger.

Téimid ar ais go dtí an páirtí Shinn Féin, an Teachta Martin Browne agus an Teachta Andrews. Cúig nóiméad, to be shared.

Earlier today, I spoke on the topic of neutrality. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say that a peaceful resolution to all conflicts must be our main focus. The scenes we are witnessing can easily make us question everything, but a resolution that involves the withdrawal of Russia must be the main objective. The scenes we have witnessed were unthinkable for the 21st century, but here we are, faced with a tyrannical regime that is hell-bent on imposing an agenda that seeks to impose its dominance. It cares little for the people it displaces, the families it tears apart and the savagery it imposes. That is why we must play our part.

Ireland has not fallen short when it comes to helping people seeking refuge from the horrors being inflicted upon them by the Russian Government. The response of the Irish people has been extraordinary. Every community across this country will see similar levels of openness and compassion to those I have seen in County Tipperary, with people registering to open their homes to refugees while communities such as Fethard are coming up with initiatives to refurbish buildings to house larger numbers of refugees. The Presentation Convent building in Fethard is one example. This is Ireland at its best. This is a country that knows the impact of aggression and how to respond in a manner that has peace and security at heart.

I welcome the decision to lift visa requirements between Ukraine and Ireland to facilitate the entry of people to this country and to ease their situation as they settle into a foreign country while their own remains under constant attack. A couple of issues have been brought to my attention. They have to do with the systems that are being put in place to help integrate refugees, particularly in the areas of education and accommodation. I have been told that the provision of translation services for schools is not meeting the increased demand. There is uncertainty as to whether the Department intends to allocate additional funding to schools to provide for the demand that is being placed upon them or if it will come from the schools' budgets. Can the Ministers in question provide some clarity on this?

I also have questions about the co-ordinated response to accommodation. Are there plans for regional databases of houses available or households willing to take in refugees? This is a question that is being asked by a group involved in the refugee programme in the south east. I have been informed that there are schools in the south east making enquiries about accommodation for children who are in emergency accommodation presenting at schools. This is an undue burden for these schools to take upon themselves, but I understand that is the situation in which some find themselves. Has a database been put together that can match need with availability on an area-by-area or region-by-region basis and that can be accessed by people working to process and allocate resources to refugees? I would appreciate any clarity that I can get on these points.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the situation in Ukraine. I send my continued solidarity to the people of Ukraine. The resilience and courage they have shown is inspiring. Every day they are enduring the brutal and deadly reality of Russian aggression.

It has been uplifting to see the rapid response, from here and from the rest of Europe, and the opening of doors to give shelter and support to those fleeing this war of aggression. A notable player in this regard has been the Red Cross. It has been doing amazing work and it is important to acknowledge that.

Rarely have we seen sporting organisations take a stand in wars. This has changed in the context of Ukraine and Russia, but this change must be applied equally. We saw the decisive pressure applied to Roman Abramovich that pushed him to begin the process of selling Chelsea Football Club. We have also seen powerful acts of solidarity with Ukraine by sports fans in stands right across the world. What worries me now is the lack of continuity from the sporting community. It feels selective in what wars it opposes. Newcastle United Football Club is now effectively owned by the Saudi Arabian government. Last Sunday, the second round of the Formula One championship was hosted there. This is the Saudis whitewashing their terror. Saudi Arabia is waging a brutal and illegal war on the people of Yemen, where nearly 400,000 women, children and men have died. Only last year, an Algerian athlete, Fethi Nourine, and his coach were banned from competing for ten years for refusing to compete against an athlete from apartheid Israel. How can anyone justify that ten-year ban? Drug cheats in sports have got significantly shorter bans of a few months or years. Where is the consistency?

It seems that the world's sporting federations view some wars as brutal and oppressive and others as none of their business. Waving a Palestinian flag at a UEFA match will result in a club being fined, but it is okay, rightly, for fans to wave a Ukrainian flag. This is the sort of inconsistency our international sports bodies need to address. Sporting bodies have played an important role in standing up to the Russian aggression, but we cannot have an à la carte approach to wars. We cannot have one terror state being allowed to sportswash while another faces sanctions. We must put an end to sportswashing by all terror states.

It is hard to find words to describe the horror of the war in Ukraine. Undoubtedly, this shocking invasion has led to a strong desire among Irish people to help in any way we can. Ukraine and Ireland share many parallels between their histories. Ukraine is lodged right up against a large colonial power, has suffered from extensive and devastating famines because of the decisions of that colonial power and aggressive wars were also waged against the smaller country by that colonial power. Undoubtedly, we cannot afford to stand idly by. We should be as active as we can be in respect of offering support, in a humanitarian sense, and also agitating for peace and de-escalation.

I find it hard, however, to find evidence of this Government agitating or working for de-escalation. In the last several months especially, it seems the Government has outsourced much of our foreign affairs activities to the EU. When Aontú pushed for the Government to expel the Russian ambassador, the response was that it would wait for the rest of Europe to do so also. The Government said the action would have more power if the EU as a whole acted. It may be true that a collective decision would have more impact and influence. Collective indecision, however, does not have any more power or influence. In fact, we could show leadership in making these decisions ourselves. It seems shocking that we would outsource our sovereignty on these key issues, supposedly to help the sovereignty of Ukraine.

It is important for us to have a leadership role in respect of the decisions we take to help Ukraine in its time of need. I look at countries such as Israel and France in this regard. Their leaders picked up the phone and made an effort to talk to the leadership in Russia about de-escalation. Many would say it is hardly likely that people will listen to Ireland in this situation. On the flip side, though, it is hardly likely that 100 rockets being sent over from the Curragh to Ukraine is going to change the nature of the war there, yet we have seen many people from the Government benches argue that Ireland should start to feed lethal weapons into that war.

That would be a grave mistake. Ireland has a strong and proud history of neutrality. It has a proud history as well in respect of UN peacekeeping, of anti-colonialism, of fighting against nuclear weapons and of missionary work. We saw missionaries leave this country for generations to go to the developing world to help to build that developing world. As a result of that strong work, we have a great reputation internationally. An Irish passport opens minds and doors everywhere we go. We have a competency, if you like, in being a country that can be seen to help to de-escalate situations and to be able to send people in to sit down and try to work with different factions to see if we can bring about peace. Our own peace process gives us expertise in that space as well.

If we were to get involved in aligning ourselves with military blocs, we would undoubtedly squander our reputation, competitive advantage and competency in this regard. People who have studied neutrality and military blocs will tell us that those blocs have often used wars to look after their own economic needs. We have, indeed, seen NATO being involved in military conflicts as a result, primarily, of its own economic needs. Small countries have little influence in respect of directing the actions of large military blocs. It is absolutely illogical therefore to think that Ireland would have influence over any military bloc, be it the EU or NATO, in respect of how it uses its military. Yet we would have to supply military hardware and, potentially, young men and women to fight in those wars.

An interesting example of our influence, compared to that of Germany, was that the EU decided to take the step towards providing military hardware to Ukraine based simply on the fact that Germany decided to change its policy in this regard. As soon as Germany changed its policy, the policy changed throughout the EU. Therefore, we must ensure that we focus on humanitarian aid. We can do a great deal in this respect. We have not exhausted our ability to help, and the need for that help, in any way whatsoever. We are only touching the tip of the iceberg in this respect. We can save lives through the provision of medical supplies to people in Ukraine. They need blood, oxygen, medicines, warm clothing, tents and sleeping bags and other materials of this type and we can provide far more in that context.

I pay tribute to the role played by people like Laura O'Neill, a representative of Aontú in Westmeath, in respect of gathering an enormous amount of material to send over to Poland to help people in Ukraine. I also commend Elaine Dunne from the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, FECP, who is on her way to Poland with a truck full of medical and humanitarian material. This is the real impact people here can have in helping our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

Turning to the issue of refugees, I note that the Taoiseach and other leaders of the Government appeared on international media making highbrow speeches in the context of welcoming refugees to Ireland. I also note, however, that at the time I was getting phone calls from social welfare offices telling me they were dealing with people coming here from Ukraine but did not know what to do with them. I was getting phone calls from the offices of GPs to say they had people from Ukraine arriving but that they had got no direction from the Government about how to deal with those people. A young Ukrainian woman also rang me from Limerick. She had flown in, met with her friends in Dublin Airport, and then did not know where to go in respect of securing housing when she was in Limerick. People like those working in the Red Cross have done great work in helping refugees.

My key point, and I would like the Minister to pay particular attention to it, is that there must be an interdepartmental task force to deal with refugees coming into the State. For ten years, this State has welcomed approximately 4,500 refugees annually. In the last four weeks, though, it has welcomed about 15,000 refugees. Therefore, there is a need for centralised, interdepartmental co-operation to ensure that all key stakeholders are involved and good communication about what is happening.

Right around the country, I can think of church leaders, parish priests, community groups and civil society groups doing phenomenal work. I understand from speaking to these groups that the Government is yet to engage with them, and that is not right. The Government should do the media briefings and appearances but its members should do the background work first and get the key elements sorted.

We are hearing stories about sex for rent and I am delighted such practices are being addressed by a Bill in the Dáil. We must ensure there is absolutely no space for exploitation in any way here and there can be accountability right through society about what is happening. I have a fear that we will see Ukrainians being sent to direct provision centres at some stage in this process. We already know that in my county at Gormanstown, the Army is looking at using tents to deal with the refugee crisis. I would like to see more effort being made to get vacant homes right across the State back into use for housing refugees coming here. There are many old schools, convents and buildings in this country and I know some in my constituency that are in the hands of the church or the State that have been empty for long periods. We need to get those buildings back into use to ensure we can accommodate refugees. Many of the steps necessary to house the many people already searching for homes in this country are the same as those needed to house refugees. Work done in this respect would help with both of these problems.

I pay tribute to the group MECPATHS for the fantastic work it has done in combating human trafficking. It has called for all front-line staff to be trained in identifying the exploitation of women and children in the context of a refugee crisis. Will the Government ensure this happens? Human trafficking is something that does not get adequate discussion or debate in this House and I commend JP, Ann and all those at MECPATHS for the constant campaigning they do on this issue. It is absolutely appalling that this State is an outlier in the lack of work it does to protect people who are trafficked. It is something we do not see and it is hidden for many people in society but it is absolutely real for hundreds of people on an annual basis in this State.

I will briefly speak about the amount of money washing around in the Irish Financial Services Centre, IFSC. It is incredible that there are billions of Russian roubles washing around the IFSC, with people trying to circumvent the sanctions that have been placed on Russia by the West. The Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland was before a finance committee here a few minutes ago. I do not want to put words in his mouth but I can paraphrase him. He believes there are up to 15 or 16 entities in the IFSC with connections with sanctioned individuals or entities in Russia. I have asked the Government numerous times if it will investigate what is happening. I have also asked the Central Bank if it is investigating what is happening. It has indicated, being honest, that its role is administrative and it does not have a proactive role in the process. I have called the Garda economic bureau and asked what it is doing to investigate but I have received no answer. What is the Government doing to investigate the billions of euro or Russian roubles washing around the IFSC?

At the same time there are Government parties here looking to sanction Poland. Instead of ensuring sanctions are enforced against Russia in this country, they are seeking sanctions for the country that has taken the most refugees during this crisis. Poland has taken over 2 million refugees and none of them is being put into a camp; I understand all of them are being taken into homes. That comes at a massive cost to Poland. I give credit to the Polish people and the Polish ambassador for the work Poland has done. Nevertheless, there are political parties in this House and the European Union that seek to enforce sanctions against Poland at this time. I ask those parties to desist from such actions and ensure Poland can have the necessary funding to deal with the refugee crisis there.

It is very important we see actions rather than words in helping refugees and providing accommodation. We must ensure the proper action is taken with the sanctions against Russia.

The war in Ukraine is something we thought we would never see again in 21st century Europe. We thought the modern EU had brought peace to the Continent but the current position is very similar to what happened in the Second World War. Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine because we see the huge hardship and casualties being inflicted upon them. I know this country will do its utmost to help to relieve the people of Ukraine and offer them sanctuary. Each night on news bulletins we see further loss of life and devastation of infrastructure in Ukraine. In the few short minutes available to me I will explore the consequences of this war in Ukraine and the reality that it brings to us as politicians in this Parliament.

Energy and food security are something we have taken for granted, but the war in Ukraine has shown us how vulnerable our country and the EU as a whole are. Food and energy are two essential components of life and food security was a cornerstone of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It was one of the principal reasons for establishing the European Economic Community, as it was at the time. Over the past decade, food security has slipped significantly down that agenda, and we can now see that we are vulnerable. We are dependent on food from other parts of the world, and when the supply is threatened, the entire supply chain is imperilled.

We can see the cost of raw materials doubling, tripling and quadrupling. I was told the other day that urea will be €1,500 per tonne before the spring is out. That will affect our capacity to produce food. As we stand here today, there are 800 million people in the world starving and 2 billion people on an inadequate diet. Unfortunately, before the year is out, those figures will have multiplied. We must go back to basics and ensure food security. The food must be produced sustainably and we must recognise climate change but some of the policy agendas that have been pushed over the past decade must now be reassessed. Food security must again become the cornerstone of EU agricultural policy.

Energy is in the same bracket and, again, we must recognise climate change. There is a cost for fuel in this country, however, and the changes we have been making are having a severe impact. Today, at the invitation of Deputy Mattie McGrath, we had a presentation from agricultural contractors in the audiovisual room, which showed the huge economic hardship being put on them. There is a ban on cutting peat in this country. I met representatives of the horticultural industry today and even if they can get the peat they need, the cost of importing it will break the industry. We must bring common sense policies back into play and recognise that energy and food security are the two most important issues for the citizens of both this country and the EU.

What is happening in Ukraine remains an outrage not just to Europe but the entire world. It should be said very clearly that any attempts by the Russian Federation to indicate its so-called peace talks will result in anything meaningful must be backed up with troop withdrawals, and according to the Americans they have not taken place. In Ireland, however, we must continue to support the Ukrainian people in Ukraine, Poland and in other countries on the borders, as well as here in Ireland as best we can. I repeat what the Tánaiste said a number of weeks ago about refugees arriving here.

We must do our best with all that is available to us. I commend the Red Cross on the extraordinary work it has done and the exceptional generosity of the Irish people who, the last I checked, have donated over €20 million to charitable causes in an effort to support the Ukrainians arriving into Ireland. That, backed up with 22,000 offers of accommodation, is an extraordinary sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Sanctions of course are not the only way in which we can influence this war and its outcome. We must also ensure that our opportunity to speak directly to the Russian Federation is not lost in this. While I personally welcome the expulsion of four diplomats from the Russian embassy, perhaps unlike others I am cautious of shutting down the opportunity to engage in multilateralism. It is an extraordinarily important component even in the face of atrocities and war crimes.

We must ensure that the children of Ukraine who are on our shores are supported in every way possible. That includes various Departments fast-tracking the qualifications recognition of teachers, support staff and linguists to ensure the children are supported in the classroom. The humanitarian aid this country has supported through its grant of €20 million to various schemes on the ground is ensuring that the food shortages that are being seen in Ukraine are being addressed. As has been mentioned by many colleagues, the Government must ensure that the human trafficking opportunity which I regret to say is present in this crisis is supported here to ensure that it does not occur.

We in Ireland need to be seen to support the accession of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to the European project as quickly as possible. However, we must ensure it is not just words. We must back it up with prompt actions to ensure they can join the European family.

I too want to compliment the Irish people. They have shown so much generosity. I have received several phone calls about housing and people who are willing to take in families. Up to last night we have had 14,611 Ukrainians arrive in Ireland. In the last few days Carlow has had 49 arrive, including a baby and 21 families. I compliment the agencies such as the Carlow County Development Partnership, Annette Fox and her team, Brian O'Donovan in Carlow County Council and his team, and of course Olwyn and the team in Intreo. They have all been working together. We need a co-ordinator here. All these agencies are doing a great job but there needs to be one lead agency. I ask that Carlow and other counties get a co-ordinator who can get all the wrap-around supports and work with the agencies that are doing a great job to lead the response.

I have been contacted about primary and secondary school places. I have also been asked about uniforms and books. The main issue is resources. The other thing is doctors. That has come up today again in respect of general practitioners and hospital appointments. I ask that we look at communication. There should be a direct line or even just one direct number through to a co-ordinating group that will lead this and provide the information people need. I ask for that to be done as soon as possible. When we received our 49 Ukrainians into Carlow they had come by ferry through Rosslare but there was no one-stop shop there. It is important that we try to do our best. The Minister spoke about this. It is only over a month and we have to be appreciate that everybody is certainly doing their best. I can only compliment everybody.

Last night I was on a walk in Carlow organised by Mairead Byrne in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. It was so nice to see communities come out. The support from people has been amazing. I want to mention the Red Cross. There is so much goodwill from the Minister and all the different Departments. There just needs to be one lead in the Government to co-ordinate everything. There should be one co-ordinator to lead in each county including Carlow, Kilkenny and all the other counties. That needs to be done.

We have witnessed 35 days of agony for the people of Ukraine in an act of aggression we never thought would darken our Continent again. As always the Irish people have stepped up to the plate and welcomed with open arms those fleeing inhumanity and bloodshed. I compliment the Government's response to the initial and immediate crisis, working to ensure local capacity and resources are factored into the overall humanitarian response. That response has been hugely important within local communities and for voluntary groups. We have to commend their truly incredible work to date.

In my own county of Mayo we have not been found wanting when it comes to providing homes for Ukrainians, with over 300 having been accommodated in Breaffy House Hotel outside Castlebar. The local Candle of Grace charity organisation has also been to the fore, helping to find homes around the county for over 30 families and also sending aid to Red Cross units supporting refugees in Ukraine.

The activation of the community response forum will be an important element to enhance local co-ordination for community and voluntary response. We saw how successful that was during Covid-19. Putting those structures in place now will be an important step forward. Schools, childcare facilities, transport services, healthcare centres and GP services will all need ancillary supports. I hope this will be co-ordinated at national and local level.

I want to commend Ireland on providing over €20 million in humanitarian assistance to support the UN and the Red Cross to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and the neighbouring countries. Our diplomatic efforts have also resulted in four senior officials being asked to leave the State. This sends a strong message that the Russians' actions are completely unjust. The recent volatility in prices has also demonstrated just how this war has impacted on us all. Similar to the Ukrainian people and their response in the face of tyranny, we must stick together as a nation and remember the struggles of those not too far from home.

I call An Teachta Ó Murchú, if he can get his breath. He is just after arriving into the Chamber.

At least the Acting Chairman has explained to those ten people who might be watching Oireachtas TV why I am out of breath.

I thought the Deputy was fit.

So did I until I started running. I should start by apologising for my hurried arrival into the Chamber. We were dealing with the matter of cybersecurity threats in a committee, specifically because of the situation we are discussing in the Chamber now, namely the outworkings of the criminal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. I add my voice again to everyone else's in saying we need to show absolute solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Part of that involves having a response that is adequate to a massive humanitarian disaster. We did not think we would have millions of people on the move directly in modern-day Europe. We are well used to disaster and humanitarian situations. We all know the Western world has not necessarily paid attention to places like Yemen and Palestine over many years. The fact is we are dealing with an absolute nightmare on our doorstep. We are a much smaller Europe than we were 20 or 30 years ago. Therefore we are very much connected with this. We need to make sure we have those parts in play. We know we have only the starting of pieces of work by local authorities.

This has been co-ordinated centrally in the Department and by the International Protection Accommodation Services, IPAS, but we need to ensure communication. Local authorities are talking about a Covid-type response and putting those sort of operations in play. That needs to happen but this needs to be that on steroids. Soon we will be dealing with 20,000 Ukrainian refugees. We could be talking about anywhere up on 200,000. There is a housing crisis. We are aware of the difficulties we have across the board. At a European level and at a State level, we must be imaginative. We need to look at solutions that will deal with both. This is one of those cases about which we have already been taught by the pandemic where the State will have to do heavy lifting. It will have to be facilitated by Europe as that is the only way we can do it. We owe it to those people but we also owe it to our own people who we have failed over many years, and we have to deal with that now.

Children and young people who are fleeing Ukraine have had their whole lives uprooted in the most horrendous of circumstances. We need to provide them with some sort of normality as soon as possible and that necessarily entails prompt access to education. Principals and school boards across the country have made incredible efforts to find space in our schools for Ukrainian children. It is a remarkable effort. School communities have rallied around Ukrainian children and young people, donating uniforms and books. I acknowledge the Minister's announcements last Friday on regional education and language teams to co-ordinate supports for Ukrainian students.

More can and must be done, however, to ensure that all the necessary educational supports are available in a timely and accessible manner to those arriving from Ukraine. For many parents, one of their first priorities is to try to give their child some sense of normality and some sense of socialisation, and a school is central to that. It is important that we do not lose sight of the other refugees not from Ukraine who are coming to this country. Of course, the Ukraine group is the largest in scale. I visited Mount Sion Primary School in Waterford on Friday and the principal was five or ten minutes late because they were dealing with an Afghan family who had just arrived into the school. We need to deal with those challenges as well and treat all equally.

While schools have shown enormous generosity and goodwill, it is inevitable that taking in additional students will put pressure on stretched resources. It is crucial the Department provides the funds necessary for schools to facilitate these students. A centralised Ukraine assistance fund that schools can directly apply to - for example, to meet the cost of additional furniture, books, uniforms and all that is required - would be of value. I raised previously the need for additional language support teachers, which is important. To alleviate the pressure on that until the Minister can put it in place, I reiterate my call for a database to be set up of both school-aged children and teaching staff who have arrived from Ukraine and their location on the island. A further database of schools across the country, which have indicated that they have space, should be published on the Department's website so Ukrainian families can get their child settled into a local school as soon as possible.

We need a cross-departmental approach to supporting these children and young people and I would urge the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to work in tandem to provide holistic mental health supports as they are required to ensure these young children are integrated into their communities. I will continue to work, along with the Minister, Deputy Foley, to ensure all the educational supports necessary are provided to Ukrainian families in Ireland.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the western world entered a strange interlude in which we forgot about the realities of the great power politics. The real failure was not only to ignore the resurgence of two of the old great powers - China and Russia - but to enable their rise. US Administrations helped China's rapid growth, especially after the Beijing Government was allowed into the World Trade Organization. America's political establishment told itself a fairy story that China would liberalise. As for Russia, its return as a military power was enabled by the Europeans buying Russian natural gas and oil in a vain attempt to look green at home and turning a blind eye to Putin's increasingly despotic rule.

European leaders, including successive Irish Governments, told themselves a fairy story that Russia would liberalise. We had ample evidence that we were making a mistake. We now have farmers who cannot get their hands on fertiliser in this country. If they can get their hands on it, they are paying through the nose. We have rumours that Russian ships were heading to Ireland full of fertiliser only to steer off into France as they are not welcome in Ireland. Do we have European unity on this issue or is it a case that we will sort someone out behind the scenes and nobody will know where that ship ends up, or where the fuel will end up or where it comes from?

I commend the people of west Cork on the kindness they have shown to the people of Ukraine. I have first-hand experience of the situation. I helped bring a young boy who had leukemia, Leonaid, into this country. This very ill little boy came from Ukraine with his parents. I thank so many people, especially the people who have been so generous on his GoFundMe page, who have sent gifts and done so much, from the medical practice - my own doctors - in Schull to Crumlin's children's hospital where the child is at present. I thank people for the significant support they are getting. The family are so thankful. I thank also the people of Bantry. In the St. Patrick's Day parade, they had the Ukrainians at the front. Putting people at the front like that has helped a lot.

We talk a lot about what needs to be done. I was first out of the blocks here to say that we need to look at community centres. We need to look at local, maybe closed, schools and such facilities that can be used to help the Ukrainians to settle here for the time being, especially in rural communities. Rural communities are dying a death anyway and they can well cater for these people in these times.

I compliment the agencies and the volunteers for the work they have done for the Ukrainian people to support women and children who are refugees coming into Ireland. Ireland is the best country in the world. When the chips are down on their own side from the lack of care of their own Government in the extra taxes it is putting on them, they still welcome people into their homes no matter what. We are known around the world for caring for people who are in need and the Ukrainian people are so lucky to have to come here to us because we are such a caring nation. I thank every single person who had anything to do with bringing people here for us to take care of.

We have gone through Covid. We were told by Government that we could not do this and we could not do that, but during Covid mountains were moved, things were done and people adapted to what was going on. What I am saying to the Government is that I am concerned with the figures coming from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The first figure they put out was that it would cost the State €500 million. They have come out today stating it will cost €2.8 billion to help the people of Ukraine. We can help the people of Ukraine and help the Irish people if the Government listens.

The pig farmers and the agricultural contractors were here today to ask the Government to help. These are the same people who are helping every other nation and every other person, but the Government lacks the vision as to what it can do. I asked the Government last October to cap the price of diesel at €1.30 and have no taxes on it after that. That would go a long way to helping everybody in this country. These are the same people who regardless of what their own situations are put out their hands and welcome anyone who is in need. The Government should look at what I have proposed and help the people of Ireland as well.

I warmly welcome this debate. It is at a time of crisis that people must be kind, stand up to the plate, and put out the hand of friendship to people who are in distress or in trouble. I suppose, to be honest, we never thought we would live to see a time such as we are witnessing now. It is good that the Irish people and the Irish Government - everybody - are putting their shoulders to the wheel in what is a significant challenge considering that we are so challenged already trying to take care of our own housing needs, our own education needs and our health needs. It is like those who have little. What do they always do? They try to give something of what they have to somebody else. That is what the Irish people are doing.

If you go back to Live Aid, etc., we were always more generous per capita than any other part of the world. We were known for that.

I thank the people of County Kerry, including Cahirsiveen, Killarney, Tralee, Tarbert and all the other parts of the county where Ukrainians have come to live and send their children to be educated. I thank the people in healthcare, the Irish Red Cross and all the voluntary organisations and individuals. Let me give examples of the efforts being made by individuals and the random acts of kindness. Young girls came to me to say they are able to teach Irish dancing and want to go to a centre where Ukrainians are staying to teach it to the young girls and boys there. Random acts of kindness like that would restore your faith in humanity when it is challenged on seeing the awfulness of man's inhumanity to man, as brought about by people like Putin. It is so great to see the exact opposite in counties in our country. I wanted to acknowledge that on the record of the Dáil. There will be awful challenges. Of course, there is no denying, in a housing crisis, the compounding effect of what is happening. However, we will just have to work our way through it. We will do so.

I want to be associated with the remarks made and to thank both Ministers present, the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and all the others doing their best at this challenging time. Much more needs to be done, obviously. I thank all the families and community groups and An Garda Síochána. May I mention the town of Cathair Dún Iascaigh, which the Ukrainian ambassador is to visit very soon to meet the Ukrainians there? The Fáilte Isteach group there is dealing with different nationalities, teaching them the bit of Gaelic but also the English language, which is more important for work and school. Ms Patsy McGuirk, Ms Fidelma Nugent and others are involved in this regard. Indeed, Fr. Peter Cullen, our parish priest, has give a parochial house for this work. Sergeant Ray Moloney and Garda Jenny Gough and all the others involved as individuals must be acknowledged. There are many families offering their homes up and down the country, but I am talking about Tipperary here today.

In Fethard, down the road at the old Presentation Convent, a local group got together. There is a major initiative there supported by locals that is to house refugees. There is a café run by a Ukrainian woman in Fethard, Ms Alla Dediuk. I had coffee there many times. Ms Dediuk has spoken out and is able to relate, bring what is required and do things because she is of the refugees' nationality. She is doing tremendous work in the patisserie. All the people up and down and around must be acknowledged. Ní neart go cur le chéile. It is a matter of the spirit of the meitheal, what we are known for. Even before the NGOs, our sisters, priests and brothers went all over the world helping in Third World countries to give people faith, alms and running water. We did it and the people are now doing it again.

I thank the social welfare officers, especially Mr. Leo Coffey in Cahir. The community hall in Cahir has been made available. The people want to do anything that is asked but we need a more co-ordinated effort. The Irish Red Cross has some issues with people saying they cannot get the required support when they have refugees staying. The process must be streamlined. I am aware it is all rushed and that there is a pressurised situation.

I did not even mention the dastardly war. It is awful and sickening. The Irish must stay neutral and do what we are best at, which is helping people — ag cabhrú leis na daoine go léir and supporting them. We are known all over the world for our great peacekeepers. Members of the clergy went all over the world. NGOs have started doing so in later years. This is being done and we are noted for it. We want to continue doing it. However, we want to have the supports in place, not pious platitudes and great statements. We need plenty of support and support lines. I know these will come but they will need to come fast because the people are arriving and need to be supported.

As Ireland celebrates 100 years of being an independent, democratic country, Dáil Éireann is to pass without dissent this motion, which condemns in the strongest terms Russia's acts of aggression against Ukraine and reaffirms its unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. We condemn the destruction of a much newer democratic country and the brutal, savage murder of its population. The artillery attacks on apartment blocks, schools and maternity hospitals are the actions of a coward's army to suppress the general population by the mass slaughter and murder of women and children.

The Russian ambassador to Ireland lacked all credibility in his interviews with the Irish media and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in the weeks preceding the invasion of Ukraine. There is no respect for his office and he has lost all credibility. While I accept the advice of the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding the expulsion of the ambassador, I hope the latter will have the human decency to retire and remove himself from this country as soon as possible.

I welcome the security review conducted in recent days and the consequent views expressed to the ambassador yesterday, whereby four so-called Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave our country. Ireland has a significant role to play in this regard in that it campaigned long and hard to achieve a UN Security Council seat for this year and next. It appears we had intelligence that the invasion was going to happen some months before it occurred and that the united nations of the world could not prevent it from happening. What if any democratic nation had a right to request the United Nations to send to it a peace-enforcement mission or unit from all other nations, particularly militarily neutral nations, to secure its borders from invasion, such that if another country did invade, it would be attacking all the other countries of the world and not a military alliance such as NATO?

When this war is over, the UN needs to conduct a comprehensive review of the rules of war, including in respect of what constitutes a war crime and the penalties for infringement; the treatment of civilians, particularly women and children, in the war zone; the shelling and bombing of, and missile attacks on, what are clearly civilian areas; the security and safety of nuclear facilities in the war zone and the creation of a safe zone around them; the use of chemical weapons; and the payment of reparation for the reconstruction of war-torn cities and towns. Ireland can play a role in formulating the new rules and must do so in its time left on the UN Security Council. In the case of the illegal war rained on Ukraine by Russia, any assets or cash seized by states from Russian oligarchs should in the first instance be ring-fenced and used to rebuild Ukraine. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, together with the Taoiseach, seek support for this policy around the table of the UN Security Council.

I am puzzled by the hypocrisy of the Russian state regarding the remarks of US President Biden about Mr. Putin staying in office as unacceptable. While this is a matter for the people of Russia to decide, the Russian state deems it completely acceptable for it to invade Ukraine, a democratic country of 46 million people, the primary aim being regime change. Surely, it is the right of the people of Ukraine to decide what sort of government it wants to have and the international organisations it wants to join.

I look forward to the address of President Zelenskyy to the Dáil next week. I suggest to the Minister that arrangements be made to broadcast his address on big screens in some of our cities and towns. In Dublin, for example, the park in Merrion Square would be an ideal location. We should encourage Ukrainian refugees who are living here to attend. We will all stand with Ukraine and its people on the day.

Last week I visited Lisdoonvarna, where I met and engaged with volunteers who work with Lisdoonvarna Fáilte. I met many Ukrainian refugees who have made their way to County Clare. I pay tribute to the local community organisations in Lisdoonvarna and elsewhere in the county, including Ballyvaughan, Kilkee, Shannon and Ennis, which have given such a warm welcome to Ukrainian people. I pay tribute to Clare Local Development Company, An Garda, the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, the Red Cross, the Department of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Rural and Community Development. The community-development organisation Lisdoonvarna Fáilte is doing tremendous work under the management of Ms Jacqueline McCoy and her team.

Issues have emerged that need to be addressed. For example, there is a glaring need to provide refugees with access to new shoes, lunch boxes and clothes, but shoes are a much-needed commodity. It would make sense to open up access to a form of the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance for the population of Ukrainian refugees.

I ask that the Government make a quick decision in this regard.

Lisdoonvarna Fáilte has made an emergency application via Pobal for the employment of translators and liaison people. This application needs to be fast tracked and approved as soon as possible. There is an urgent need for medical translators, school provision, etc. I congratulate the Government on the response to date.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in unison with the rest of the House in condemnation of what is happening in Ukraine. I do not think there can be any room for being neutral in a linguistic sense on an issue like this. What is happening in Ukraine is an appalling human rights catastrophe and a criminal act by a desperate Putin regime. The murder and mayhem inflicted on Ukraine, the levelling of homes and cities and the fact that 50% of the children of Ukraine are now homeless or are refugees on the move as a result of an appalling act have rightly moved the entire world to respond as it has done.

It is somewhat unfortunate that some in the House would seek to criticise our appropriate response because we do not respond in a similar fashion to other wars elsewhere in the globe. It is true to say that this is in our backyard and has particular resonance because it is the first full-scale war on European soil and is happening on the borders of the European Union. For that reason, it is different. Nonetheless, all wars are appalling, be they in Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or anywhere else. Some find it difficult to be on the side of the European Union, the United Nations or USA and to be critical of former colleagues in Marxist-Leninist countries like Russia.

I commend the Government on its political response. At an EU level, we have been in the vanguard of endeavours and, in particular, in our role at the United Nations. This conflict has exposed the failings of the United Nations structurally. In the context of the broader debate about neutrality, the House could consider why we should outsource our right to act as a people in terms of the veto capacity in the United Nations, in particular the veto of Russia on the Security Council. That is something that needs to be factored into the broader debate on neutrality and where we sit on this issue. I have been particularly heartened by the political response at Government and European Union levels and by the efforts at United Nations level, flawed and all as that organisation is.

This is a whole-of-government issue. I appreciate that the Ministers, Deputies Coveney and O'Gorman, are, in many respects, the personification of the challenge that we face in terms of what is happening in Ukraine and how it is impacting on our shores. Every Department has a role to play. Others have referenced the impact on agriculture and education, health services and energy services. We would do well to reflect on energy policy here in light of what is happening in Ukraine and how it has brought home to us our excessive dependence on imported fuels.

If the lights go off here, nothing will undermine the consensus around the agenda for sustainable development and energy policy more than such an act. We will be foolish to be ideologically hidebound on such matters and should acknowledge that transition fuels, as we progress to a journey of reduced dependence on non-renewable energy sources, are something we would do well to take on board.

We need to consider the scale of the challenge we are facing, whether it is 14,000, 24,000, 40,000 or 100,000 refugees. Whatever the numbers are, we will very quickly be confronted with the magnitude of that challenge and how it manifests itself in what some would consider to be the less than optimal accommodation we can offer. That is why the Irish Red Cross needs to reach out to local authorities, in particular, as well as local development companies, etc., to examine how they could assist in, for example, processing the 20,000 offers of accommodation. The need for that is evident from the people I know who have registered their interest with the Irish Red Cross and have not been contacted yet.

Given the scale of the challenge now unfolding in terms of the numbers arriving here, it is clear that the Irish Red Cross needs assistance. It is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge that. We are grappling with an enormous challenge, and we need to take assistance wherever we can get it. Local authorities are well positioned to process some of the offers of accommodation. Not all of them will materialise. Therefore, we have to be prepared for the visualisation of temporary accommodation as a solution. We have heard commentary around tented towns and villages. For example, the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet is gearing up for this effort. No community has better experience in the country than Millstreet in terms of its previous capacity in dealing with direct provision, etc.

The Government's response has mirrored, at a political and humanitarian level, the response of the Irish people, which has been quite extraordinary. There are difficult days ahead. Nobody is suggesting that we should limit our ambition. We should respond appropriately and not put a ceiling on the numbers, but the numbers will be very difficult to deal with and that is why the Irish Red Cross needs to reach out to local government in particular. It is very well equipped and has shown its capacity to reach out and deal with matters at a local level such as, for example, the Covid response. We need to consider local authorities stepping in to assist the Irish Red Cross in this area.

I want to conclude on the point that one of the first casualties of war is truth and we need to differentiate between the Putin regime and the Russian people. We need to explore, as a global community, ways to get our message across to the broader Russian population because I do not believe would necessarily support the kind of inhumane atrocities being inflicted on Ukraine at present.

What is going on in Ukraine is truly horrific, and I want to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people and join the call for an end to this terrible war. Nothing can justify the aggression the Russian Federation has imposed against Ukraine and we must do all we can to support the Ukrainian people and condemn Russia’s unprovoked and destructive attack on a peaceful nation. I would also like to take this opportunity to recognise the more than 14,200 people who have been arrested in Russia for taking part in anti-war demonstrations in many locations across Russia to protest Vladimir Putin’s unforgivable invasion of Ukraine. Those people might be able to show how this war can be opposed and stopped.

I want to recognise the Irish citizens who have opened their homes to people in need who have been fleeing the conflict. I have been heartened by this gesture. It has shown the Irish people’s concerns are, rightly, with the people of Ukraine who have been displaced during this conflict. It will open more people's eyes to how we have treated other refugees in the State. More people will be radicalised when they see the difference in how refugees are treated.

I know the EU has put in place a temporary protection directive to allow Ukrainian citizens fleeing Ukraine to move through the EU in a manner akin to EU citizens. I welcome this directive, and I welcome that the Department will provide support and services to assist people covered by this directive who are fleeing Ukraine and arriving in Ireland. However, the fact that this directive is not extended to people of other nationalities fleeing Ukraine is incredibly unfair and must be addressed. It sadly shows where the EU's priorities lie.

The reality is that anyone feeling this war is in danger and is a vulnerable person, and all should be treated the same. I raised this issue three weeks ago with the Taoiseach. However, it has become clear that neither he nor the Minister for Justice see this issue as a priority. It is completely unjust that these people will not be entitled to the same protections as Ukrainian citizens.

Victims of war are victims of war no matter what their citizenship is. Victims should be treated equally and with respect. We cannot even begin to imagine the difficulties these victims have had to face. The last thing we should be doing is creating barriers for people already facing such difficulty. We need to further our efforts in supporting these victims and we need to ensure the Department provides support and services to assist all people displaced within Ukraine.

This assistance should, of course, be offered to all refugees fleeing war, including those in Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine and Syria. Everyone deserves safe and humane living conditions no matter what their citizenship or which country they are fleeing. We must make sure we do all we can to provide safe and humane conditions. That includes the end of direct provision, something that has been promised by this Government but is yet to be seen on the ground. We need to start properly discussing accommodation needs for those fleeing war and we need to move beyond short-term planning, although doing so is currently difficult because this war has only just begun and we are trying to deal with issues as they arise.

When it comes to real and physical support and assistance we can lend to victims of war, there are certain things that should be prioritised. We should focus on using our resources for accommodation centres and refugee schemes rather than for military expenditure. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, stated earlier today that a Bill to enshrine neutrality "would prevent us putting our money where our mouth is" on issues such as Ukraine. That money should be put into providing the safest spaces possible for those fleeing war, not on compromising our neutrality or satisfying the military industrial complex.

I have often spoken about the importance of Ireland's neutrality. The topic has been discussed a worrying amount lately and I have been openly vocal about my concerns in respect of where these talks are leading us. The Taoiseach recently stated that a citizens’ assembly should consider Ireland’s neutrality. I think he is hoping the assembly will come up with a fudge that will allow him to get rid of it. I cannot understand why some Members of this House are pushing this conversation so much. The Irish people have always voted overwhelmingly to maintain and protect our neutrality. Why is the Government seeking to undermine this? Is it responding to the pressures of the EU and NATO over the wishes of its own citizens or is it looking for foreign direct investment that we are currently losing out on?

Neutrality contributes to the strengthening of peace and security at a global level and plays a vital role in developing peaceful, friendly and mutually beneficial relations between countries. Neutrality does not have to mean sitting back and doing nothing. In fact, Irish neutrality in effect has never done this. Why would it be assumed that we should start now? We can be neutral in a very active way through increased support for war victims and a strong and diplomatic stance. For example, I welcome the decision yesterday to expel four senior Russian diplomats. That is the type of stand we must continue to make.

We should be proud that approximately 600 people are arriving every day to Ireland from Ukraine and that it is estimated that 30,000 Ukrainian refugees will be based here by the end of April. Let us start focusing more on how we can assist these people and less on how we can please NATO by compromising our proud and long-standing policy of military neutrality. We need to remember what is important in all of this.

I call Deputy Connolly. We are under time pressure. I ask her to do her best. She is used to this job.

I will do my best. I welcome the opportunity to consider our reaction and that of the Government to the crisis in Ukraine. I am on record as standing in solidarity with the people of the Ukraine in the context of the appalling and aggressive war perpetrated by Russia.

We have done the right thing in opening our doors. We need more practical information regarding what is happening on the ground. I know that Galway has opened its doors. While it is not a competition, Galway is the third county in the country to open its doors. I understand two hotels - one in Galway city and the other in Connemara - are involved. I would dearly love some information on that issue as I have received emails regarding volunteers on the ground being overwhelmed. I will park that for the moment. We are doing the right thing.

Part of this is about our reactions. If our reaction is now to go down the road of getting rid of our neutrality as a result of this war, that is totally wrong and unacceptable. This morning, the Minister quoted Desmond Tutu as saying, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." He was absent from the Chamber when I addressed this earlier, so I will repeat it. First, there are many other things Desmond Tutu said that the Minister could have quoted to capture the peaceful man he was - a person who abhorred war on every level. The Minister did not do so. The suggestion or innuendo is that we who stand up and say not to carry out war in our name and not to get rid of our neutrality are somehow on the side of the oppressor-----

While overall national energy policy formation is the direct responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), my Department continuously engages with DECC on all energy related matters from an agricultural perspective, as well as a wide range of industry and other stakeholder groupings.

Minister Eamon Ryan, Minister for Environment, Climate Action and Communications launched the microgeneration support scheme in December 2021. This support scheme provides a range of supports to assist homes and businesses, including farmers to develop renewable generation for self-consumption with the micro-generation enabling framework introduces payments to micro-generators for exported electricity for the first time. This scheme will support the deployment of an expected 380 MW of new micro (50 kW) to support the deployment of rooftop and ground-mounted solar PV.

The Climate Action Plan 2021 recognises the important contribution of microgeneration to the decarbonisation of the energy system and commits to delivering a Microgeneration Policy Framework (see Action 105), led by my ministerial colleague Eamon Ryan. Specifically, this action will address the development and trialling of a streamlined grid connection pathway for installation sizes up to 50Kw. I do believe that farmers can positively contribute to this energy transition and I continue to engage with ministerial colleagues in the Department of Environment, Climate Action and Communication in this regard and on other energy-related matters.

To encourage on-farm renewable technology uptake and usage, grant aid is provided through TAMS in my Department to assist farmers in maximising their contribution to the production of renewable energy through the installation of Solar PV technology along with battery storage on Irish farms. The solar PV systems grant-aided under TAMS include Solar PV Panels and Solar PV Rechargeable Batteries and Solar Panels for water heating under the Pig and Poultry Capital Investment Scheme. Grant aid for solar investments in TAMS is for farm consumption use only.

-----but we have repeatedly come into this House on the side of peace and trying to get a more equal world to ensure we will not have wars on an ongoing basis. Speaking several years ago about the arms trade, Desmond Tutu said he had learned a lot about the business of war. He continued:

In my opinion [the arms trade] is the modern slave trade. It is an industry out of control: every day more than 1,000 people are killed by conventional weapons. The vast majority of those people are innocent men, women and children.

In the two minutes I have remaining, I do not have time to go through 20 years of the ongoing militarisation of Europe, starting with the Maastricht treaty and going on to include permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, the European Defence Agency and the European Defence Fund. All the while, the drums of war being beaten by the arms industry have had an open door into Europe and determining a strategic compass when we should be looking at a moral compass. I make no apologies for raising my voice, something I rarely do, for peace. We should be using our neutral strong voice to bring peace and to ensure our role on the Security Council is not used in a way that is warmongering with the EU leaders who have done it for years. Look at what Josep Borrell Fontelles has said. Look at the comment of Jean-Claude Juncker that we need a fully fledged European defence force. Look at what the arms company Raytheon said. It said, "We are not vendors; we are partners." They are not vendors. Can you imagine? Such is the obfuscation of language. When war is discussed, it is masked with a peace facility. There is discussion of battle groups and it is stated they are for peace.

I am totally opposed to the militarisation of Europe. I am totally opposed to using this horrific war to further more wars. I am appealing to the Minister to use Ireland's voice in the world of diplomacy to ensure we can get peace as quickly as possible and to stop further needless deaths. The President of Ukraine has spoken about having a neutral Ukraine. I do not think he is happy about that but he would certainly be agreeable to it as one of the many components involved in reaching a peaceful solution to this crisis. I do not know why the voice of Ireland, as a neutral country, was not raised previously in respect of Ukraine being a neutral country. . That could be one of many components to ensure a lasting peace. The Acting Chairman asked me to stop, so I will stop.

I assure the House that the Government is doing everything it can to try to make appropriate diplomatic interventions. There are far more Members on the other side of the House talking about neutrality than there are on this side. Every day, my Department and I look at how we can use international organisations and multilateralism to try to make interventions for peace. I will not have the argument skewed in a different direction. Nobody in this House is warmongering or looking to militarise the European Union but we do want to have an open, honest and evidence-based discussion on security and defence issues, given the fact that there is enormous war at the heart of Europe, bordering four EU countries. That does change the debate and we have to recognise that. It does not mean that we move away from our traditional stance of non-alignment militarily but it certainly means that we need to be aware of threats and respond to them.

These are dark times for Ukraine. We have welcomed and will continue to welcome thousands of Ukrainians fleeing war. Ireland has been enriched by our Ukrainian community and it is right that we have offered the Ukrainian people a place of safety in this hour of need. I thank Deputies across the House for their continued engagement on the issues arising out of the Ukraine crisis, a crisis caused by Russian aggression against a sovereign nation. Ukraine’s experience in the past month has resonated deeply with all of us and it is right that we discuss in the House the plight of Ukrainians, alongside discussion of Ireland’s response.

The domestic response already outlined is of great importance. Ireland has reacted quickly and put systems in place to welcome and help Ukrainians arriving here. This reflects the natural outpouring of welcome shown by Irish people. However, it is also important that, internationally, Ireland continues to demonstrate unwavering solidarity with Ukraine.

Ireland’s engagement at the EU, UN and beyond, is characterised by strong and consistent support for Ukraine. As a friend to Ukraine, it is incumbent on us to stand up and clearly restate the truth every time the world is confronted by disinformation regarding this unacceptable attack by Russia on Ukraine.

As a member of the UN Security Council and across the multilateral system, Ireland has been at the forefront of efforts to try to bring an end to this conflict. We have consistently condemned Russia’s unjustified, unprovoked and illegal invasion. We have used our voice on the United Nations Security Council to express our steadfast support for Ukraine and have consistently countered false Russian narratives.

Ireland has co-sponsored two strong resolutions at the General Assembly, which were supported by the overwhelming majority of UN member states, condemning Russia’s further invasion and calling for safe and unhindered humanitarian access. This work is ongoing.

Just yesterday, the Security Council briefed on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and Ireland expressed our deep concern at reports of Russian deportations or, quite frankly, abductions, where Ukrainian citizens are taken forcibly across the border and into Russia. This is absolutely unacceptable. Ireland also took this opportunity to counter Russian disinformation on food security. It is Russia’s war on Ukraine that is driving up food prices and food insecurity around the world, not sanctions.

This is of global concern. Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine is compounding other challenges to food security, such as recent droughts, floods and other conflicts, that were already increasing prices and squeezing supply chains. Before this conflict, the World Food Programme, which provides food to the most vulnerable people around the world, purchased 50% of its wheat from Ukraine. War is limiting the capacity of Ukrainian farmers to plant, harvest and export grain. Future harvests are therefore already lost, with longer-term serious consequences for global food security and humanitarian crises.

Yesterday, Ireland also spoke at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council on Ukraine. Ireland was clear that the invasion has had grave consequences for human rights as well as increasing humanitarian needs. The Human Rights Council has established a commission of inquiry into the alleged abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in the context of the Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Ireland sees the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, as the key organisation at which dialogue on European security issues can take place. We are actively countering Russian disinformation narratives through that forum. Ireland has signed up to the Moscow Mechanism of the OSCE, a human rights tool which essentially allows for a panel of experts to be appointed to investigate alleged human rights abuses.

Ireland played an important role in the decision earlier this month to exclude Russia from the Council of Europe. This unprecedented act reflects the strong condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked aggression. We will continue to seek the end of these unjustified hostilities during our forthcoming Presidency of the Council this year.

The EU has, of course, been the central focus for Ireland’s support of Ukraine. The EU has acted in unity in its response. Since Russia’s assault began, foreign ministers and leaders have met almost weekly and the EU has imposed successive sanctions packages of an unprecedented breadth and depth on Russian interests. Ireland has contributed in full to the European Peace Facility €1 billion military assistance package for Ukraine. Ireland's total share will be €22 million, which will go towards non-lethal elements. We have also provided ready-to-eat meals and body armour to the Ukrainian military.

EU foreign ministers also agreed on 21 February to provide an emergency macrofinancial assistance operation of €1.2 billion in the form of loans to foster stability in Ukraine. This is already being disbursed and is providing swift support in a situation of acute crisis to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience.

Ireland fully supports Ukraine's application for EU membership. EU leaders acted swiftly earlier this month and invited the European Commission to submit its opinion on Ukraine's application to become a member. EU leaders reiterated that invitation to the Commission at their meeting in Brussels at the end of last week. Ireland has also come together with a grouping of other EU member states that are similarly strongly supportive of Ukraine’s application with a view to providing political and practical assistance in support of Ukraine’s European perspective.

Separately, I would like to address briefly the Government’s decision to request that four senior officials from the Russian embassy leave the State. While we will not be entering into specifics about the intelligence assessment that led to this decision, we are satisfied we have taken the most appropriate course of action in the circumstances. I would also note that a significant number of other EU countries have taken similar actions. At the same time and as I stated yesterday, the Government continues to believe diplomatic channels between Ireland and the Russian Federation should remain open. This is in the interests of our own citizens as well as to ensure we can continue to convey our views to the Russian Federation in the context of Ukraine and other issues.

I want to share with the House that all of Ireland’s support is very much appreciated by Ukraine. I spoke to the foreign minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, on Monday, and he thanked Ireland for its ongoing support. Last week, on 25 March, he stated that Ireland is “at the forefront within the EU and beyond providing essential support for Ukraine in all possible ways”.

On Friday, 1 April, we will have the privilege to mark 30 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Ukraine. Next week, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy will address us in a joint sitting of these Houses. This anniversary comes at a sombre time for Ukraine but it is during hard times that true friendships are proven and Ireland is doing everything it can to support Ukraine through this dark time. I know other countries will continue to do the same and I look forward to future discussion and debate with perhaps a bit more optimism as we try to find a way to stop this madness.

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