NEW figures from the Department of Education show that there are now 531 Ukrainian children in Clare primary schools and another 326 in the county’s second level schools.
Cork, Donegal, Dublin and Kerry are the only counties with more Ukrainian pupils, however even Donegal and Kerry have significantly greater populations than Clare, as well as Cork and Dublin.
Overall around 6.5% of the Ukrainian children attending Irish schools are doing so in County Clare.
While the numbers are large, Clare TD Cathal Crowe said that the Department of Education have coped quite well with a very challenging situation.
“Capacity is a problem, yet capacity can always be increased if decisions are taken quickly to do so. I would think that from the get-go Minister Norma Foley’s office have been one of the better departments to engage.
“They set up a team of people in each regional area, so there’s a Mid-West team that have been dealing with school principals.
“There has been a unit within her department as a kind of a one-stop shop for helping principals. I think there has been a lot of progress made.”
That said, he feels that more needs to be done to help provide Clare schools with the required infrastructure.
“When I think of the schools that have particularly gone out of their way to take in large cohorts, Lisdoonvarna is one that comes to mind, there have been applications for additional accommodation and some of them have been a bit too slow moving and I have been representing these in the Dáil.
“We’re now almost one year into this crisis, no-one knows how long this war will go on for and no-one knows how long our Ukrainian visitors will be here for.
“I think that departments like the Department of Education can no longer look at this as a short term intervention and I think they need to provide more medium term support.
“In the early weeks the Department would have looked at schools in Clare and said ‘look, it’s a crisis, we can all work our way through it’. Now I think they’re going to have to put in some more medium term to permanent measures such as sanctioning new classrooms.”
The Fianna Fáil TD said that Clare schools will respond generously and positively to the situation, but they can’t be left without the capacity required.
“We can’t have children taught in staff rooms or cloak rooms. All schools are willing to bend over backwards and help out in a crisis, but long term it needs resourcing.”
He feels that at this stage it is apparent that the crisis is not merely a short-term problem, and that needs to be reflected in the State’s response.
The Meelick man also feels that the International Protection Accommodation Service need to be more active in this county.
“A roof over the head is only one metric of providing care, there are many others, education being one of them. We really need IPAS, the State body co-ordinating this effort, to have their boots on the ground more.
“They were down an awful lot in the months of March, April and May, they’ve been around the county each time we’ve had an ambassador or a visiting dignitary, but I think we need far more presence in the county to support the communities receiving these Ukrainians, and also to support the Ukrainian community itself.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.