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Councillor Joe Garrihy: "The challenges really are with the Ukrainian people, what they've had to deal with, what they've left and the ongoing situation. Accommodating them as best we can is the test here."

Nearly 8% of North Clare’s population comes from Ukraine

Champion Chatter

Central Statistics Office figures show that almost 8% of the Ennistymon electoral division is Ukrainian.

This represents the highest concentration of Ukrainian refugees in the country, with arrivals from the war-torn country comprising 7.87% of the population of the area.

This is significantly more than in any other part of the country, the second highest being an area of Leitrim, with 5.36%.

Even within Clare the Ennistymon area is exceptional, with the percentages for the other electoral divisions being Kilrush 1.52%, Shannon 2.14%, Ennis 2.19% and Killaloe 0.25%.

In raw numbers, 1,411 PPSN allocations were made to Ukrainian arrivals in the Ennistymon electoral division, up until September 25.

There were 680 allocations in the Shannon area, with 734 in Ennis, 337 in Kilrush and just 54 in Killaloe. 

In Clare, 363 Ukrainian children have been enrolled in primary schools and 166 in secondary schools.

Lisdoonvarna-based County Councillor Joe Garrihy said that the integration of the new Ukrainian arrivals has been quite successful.

“Everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel and working together. My admiration for the Ukrainian people and the local community has grown. You find out what people are like when things are not perfect, when they are difficult.

“To date I’ve been very proud of the way that the people of North Clare and the wider county have done the right thing, as we would like to have done for us in a similar situation.”

Whatever difficulties there are with accommodating a large number of arrivals pale into insignificance when compared with the hardships those people have been through, he feels.

“The challenges really are with the Ukrainian people, what they’ve had to deal with, what they’ve left and the ongoing situation. Accommodating them as best we can is the test here.”

What concerns have been voiced about the large number of arrivals relate at least in part to their welfare, he added.

“There are genuine concerns, and they relate to the wellbeing of the Ukrainians as well. Everyone is doing all in their power to do the right thing and be supportive.”

On the demands being placed on the area, he said, “The big areas where you have demands are transport, education, medical. Those kind of services that are being put to the pin of their collar.

“In general, for the whole area the story remains the same, the vast majority of people have been very welcoming to them. My experience and that of a lot of people I work with in the community is that they are very much like ourselves and are trying to get through day to day.”

Extra transport has been put in place and a number of agencies are active in the area.

“In transport we’ve got an extra bus route going up and down to Ennis from Ballyvaughan through Ennistymon, three times a day. That has come in and it has helped a lot.

“There have been extra buses put on, a lot of kids are going to school and there were extra buses put on by RuralLink. A lot of things have been done.

“There is a North Clare Forum chaired by Jason Murphy who is the appointed Director by Clare County Council over this.

“The Forum includes all the various agencies and they are doing incredible work, there is a focus on North Clare from agencies like never before, because of this.”

It is important that the suffering of those people who have fled Ukraine is not underestimated.

“Can we put ourselves in that situation? Can we put ourselves into the minds and the hearts of the Ukrainian people? There’s no one coming to the west of Ireland from Ukraine on a holiday. I think it needs to be restated and recognised.

“A lot of people are here with families and their husbands are back there, maybe their elderly parents who can’t travel as well.

“A lot of people here who would like to go home with their young families are not going home because the risk of going home is that your family gets obliterated. I can’t put myself in that mindset. Every day I try to put myself in that position, but I can’t.”

The atrocities that have been committed by the Russian forces “touch he lowest depths of what humanity is capable of,” Councillor Garrihy added. 

He said that the Ukrainian community are setting up a lottery among themselves, with the proceeds to go to local organisations in North Clare, as they want to give back to the area that is their home for now. 

Among the refugees there is very strong solidarity.

“They have formed very strong support structures in their groups in hotels. When something horrible happens in Ukraine they are not left on their own. There is a whole support structure and they are there to help and support each other.”

He said that there is one teenage boy in the area, who lost his entire family in Mariupol.

“He lost his entire family, mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents. He has basically been adopted by the group.”

It is a very difficult situation for the Ukrainian refugees, who have wanted to go home since the moment they had to leave.

“They’re doing this one day at a time and hoping against hope. I remember meeting a little girl at the astroturf at a camp that Peter Casey ran in April, a great little hurler and footballer.

“She was saying ‘I’m in school’ and I was saying that’s great, you’ll be able to play with the school. She said ‘oh no, I’m going home next month’. She’s still here,” said Councillor Garrihy.

There has been some disquiet however in the area at the sheer volume of arrivals.

Last month Ballyvaughan Development Group publicly requested that no more Ukrainian refugees be sent to the area, as services in the area were unable to cope with demand.

Owen Ryan
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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.

About Owen Ryan

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.