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Ukrainian refugees in north Clare and elsewhere 'need brave decisions' on housing according to Councillor Mary Howard.

Call for ‘brave decisions’ on housing Ukrainian refugees

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“BRAVE decisions” on housing people fleeing Ukraine has been called for, as the numbers seeking refuge in Clare continue to rise. 

Councillor Mary Howard, called at the April meeting of the local authority, for a centralised facility to coordinate the distribution of support to the 2,000 Ukrainians known to have come to Clare to-date.

Responding to the government’s outline this week of proposals relating to accommodation, the Fine Gael member said the time had come to “stop talking and start doing”. 

Earlier this month, Council CEO Pat Dowling told elected members that people are being accommodated at 16 venues in seven locations, but that the authority had been mandated to step-up its support efforts.

This week, the Department of Housing has announced that a Director of Service level member of staff at each local authority, along with a small team, will be assigned to coordinate the local response to the crisis. 

“We now need very brave decisions,” said Councillor Howard. “We need quick builds and different kinds of housing. The reality is that the homes are not there at the moment. People need their own front door. A hotel room is fine, but not for the long term.

“The Council has plenty of land and not just in Ennis. There are sites in the likes of Kilkee where the local primary and secondary schools have room for students. We need to stop talking and start doing.”

The Ennis woman said she had been honoured to attend Orthodox Easter celebrations in Drumbiggle on Sunday, organised by the Clare Immigrant Support Centre and Clare Local Development Company (CLDC).

“To see the children just being kids and forgetting about the war was very moving,” she said.

“The Ukrainian national anthem was played and there were a lot of tears. Everyone I spoke to was so grateful for the kindness and the welcome they are receiving here.

“They are lovely, gentle people and really remind me of the Irish community of 20 years ago. The children told me they are enjoying school and hats off to our community, their response has been extraordinary. People have turned up trumps and we need action now on large-scale housing.”

On Tuesday, the Department of Housing issued an update outlining that Minister Darragh O’Brien intends to deliver on the Housing for All plan, and to provide adequate accommodation for refugees. 

“Local authorities have identified in excess of 500 vacant buildings in their local authority areas and, to date, 89 of these vacant buildings have been deemed capable of almost immediate occupation by up to 5,355 persons,” a spokesperson said.

“IPAS [International Protection Accommodation Services] have been notified of their availability for use. There is an assessment ongoing of the remaining buildings.”

The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) has been tasked with preparing a proposal for the minister on the establishment of an Emergency Vacant Housing Delivery Unit. The statement added that,”exemptions from planning requirements will be determined where necessary on these buildings”.

The OPW is to lead on the design, development and delivery of any accommodation to be produced through modular builds. The Department of Housing is also to establish a clearing houseto address contractual, operational and compliance issues associated with planning permissions which have been granted and not yet activated.

Beyond the response to the Ukraine crisis, the Department has also pledged a series of actions on housing. The Department has pledged to remove the local authority acquisition cap and “restore local decision making in certain emergency situations (homes suitable for housing first, homes which would prevent a person/family from entering homelessness etc)”.

A new Voids Programme for 2022 is also in the offing, with an emphasis on quick turnaround and re-letting of vacant social housing stock to those on social housing waiting lists.

In order to promote the use of vacant properties, the Department said it is to remove rates refunds on commercial units which are vacant because owners cannot get a reasonable rent, or because they are planning to redevelop the property.

“Work is underway and legal advice is being finalised in relation to the restriction of Short Term Lets in rent pressure zones,” the Department spokesperson added.

Fiona McGarry
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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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