NORTH Clare’s response to those fleeing the war on Ukraine has been described as “a long haul exercise”, that now needs a clear plan as well as ring-fenced funding support.
Figures released this week by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that the Ennistymon Local Electoral Area (LEA) continues to be the area hosting the largest number of Ukrainian arrivals in the country, per capita.
While the reception provided in the area since February was commended by the West Clare Cathaoirleach, Shane Talty, he said the ongoing challenges need to be properly and urgently addressed.
Up to November 6, there were 3,567 arrivals from Ukraine in Clare with 45% or 1,592 living in the Ennistymon LEA. Arrivals from Ukraine now account for 8.8% of the population in the area.
The figure, according to CSO data, shows that North Clare is supporting far more newcomers than areas of a similar size around the country.
CSO analyst Karola Graupner said: “Our analysis also shows that the rate per 100 of the population ranges across all LEAs in the country from 0.08% to 8.88%. The LEA with the highest rate was Ennistymon.”
“There is now an enormous pressure on communities, resources, services and facilities,” Councillor Talty, who is also postmaster in Ennistymon town, said.
“It is to the credit of local community support groups that accommodating the new arrivals has gone relatively well. Now, however, it is more obvious that this is a long haul exercise. The response has been phenomenal over the last nine months, but this is now a multi-annual challenge.”
The Fianna Fáil member also repeated concerns aired at Monday’s meeting of Clare County Council when the impact on tourism was raised. “There is an impact on our key economic sector of tourism,” he said.
“We are looking as a Council for clarity on the number of beds taken up by the response and we haven’t gotten them yet. When we are drawing up advertising and tourism strategies, we will need to be conscious of the fact that our potential is inhibited.”
Councillor Talty also noted the impact on waiting lists and access to services generally.
“Now that this is a more embedded challenge, we need a plan to acknowledge the pressure on things like social housing. There are multiple challenges in terms of health and GP services as well as transport. The dedication of a single directorate of Clare County Council is welcome and now there is a unit looking at these issues and some great work is being done, but we do, at this point, need to know there is a clear plan.”
Ennistymon-based Senator Martin Conway, meanwhile, insisted that the area should receive the lion’s share of the funds allocated in Budget 2023 to communities supporting newcomers from Ukraine.
“I welcome the allocation for the country’s response to this humanitarian crisis,” he said. “It is needed for accommodation as well as for those wrap-around services that are an essential part of the response. I am looking forward now to the roll out of these funds.
“The Ennistymon area is now under the largest pressure and, in my view, should definitely be getting the largest allocation in recognition of the huge work that has been done on the ground. Community organisations like Lisdoonvarna Fáilte and other grass roots groups are under pressure at this point and they need to be supported.”
With respect to accommodation provision, Senator Conway said his preference in terms of integration was for the housing of refugees with host families.
“We do need more integration at this point and people who come forward with offers of accommodation in their homes need to be dealt with in a faster and better way,” he said.
In the Killaloe LEA, it has emerged that the East Clare Golf Club in Bodyke is the latest facility in that area to house arrivals from Ukraine. The number of people is, as yet, unconfirmed. Councillor Pat Hayes noted the success of a project in Flagmount to host 26 Ukrainians who are living in the community and with local families.
“If every community could do the same, it would go a long way to addressing the challenge,” he said. “At the moment, there is a two-tier approach, with some people living in the community and they don’t have the benefit of free meals that those living in hotels do. We should be encouraging more people to offer accommodation in their homes.”
Councillor Hayes also noted the high rate of employment among people coming from Ukraine. Nationally, more than 9,000 people have secured jobs. “The fact that so many people are working shows that there is a need for them,” Councillor Hayes said. “We are helping them in a humanitarian crisis, but they are meeting a need for staff in several sectors, so it’s working both ways.”
In response to a query from The Champion, a Council spokesperson said: “To put some of our county’s efforts into context there are approximately 3,400 displaced Ukrainian people living in our county at the moment. Of these visitors our communities are supporting 1,200 minors (under 18yrs) – these are real needs, this is a significant response and our communities have new young people for the time being bringing new energy and diversity.
“National figures indicate that our visitors are contributing significantly to our economy with over 13,000 in employment across a range of employment sectors and the proportions of those working correlates to where they are living – i.e. the people residing in County Clare are working in the county.”
In respect of North Clare, the spokesperson said: “The level of response by the community in North Clare is regularly presented through the Clare Community Response Forum and has been highlighted at national level. There are understood pressures on GP services, school services and both public and school transport services and the groups/services/agencies involved continue to work together to identify solutions.”
“While it is acknowledged that additional funding to support those efforts has been provided in the areas of public transport and Social Inclusion integration supports the need for further supports in terms of school transport, infrastructure and healthcare services has been identified,” the spokesperson added.
They anticipated the national funding support plan would “go some way to meeting those additional support needs” and said “the challenge for the Community Response Forum partners is to work together to identify the supports needed and secure the funding. This is a current focal point for the group.”
The latest CSO figures show there were 767 refugees living in the Shannon LEA; 762 in Ennis; 354 Kilrush LEA; and 92 in Killaloe. Nationally, to November 6, there were 62,425 arrivals from Ukraine.
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 [email protected] or telephone 065 6864146.