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Clare County Council CEO Pat Dowling.

Refugee support efforts in Clare to ramp up countywide

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EFFORTS to support those fleeing the war in Ukraine will be ramped up in the coming weeks, according to Council CEO Pat Dowling. 

The Council chief told members this week that local authorities “are now more centre stage” in terms of providing supports to the more than 20,000 people who have fled to Ireland to-date.

Mr Dowling outlined that, as of April 4, Clare is accommodating 1,916 people in 16 venues at seven locations. That number is set to rise considerably, with the Council now mandated to source more accommodation. 

The CEO’s remarks came in advance of an emergency motion from Councillor Mary Howard calling for a centralised venue for the distribution of information and services. 

The authority, Mr Dowling said, has been asked to identify and activate options, including emergency accommodation, repurposing of venues, acquiring properties and commissioning suppliers.

“We are entering a phase of being challenged in the extent of availability,” Mr Dowling said.

“A venue in Ennis was prepared over the weekend with the help of Civil Defence and 18 adults are not availing of that. [Director of Service} Anne Haugh and her team are working around the clock so that at least we have shelter, food and warmth for people.”

The CEO also commended the community response. “We are very well aware of all of the efforts made,” he said. He added that there are still many issues to be addressed.

“There are thousands or organisations with thousands of questions,” he said. “Sometimes we have to operate without answers and in a grey area. Those who come will be welcomed and taken care of to the best of our ability. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.

“We will be looking at this at a county-wide level. We have to be sensitive to the needs of communities and to work with all of the agencies. It’s a learning experience for everybody and we will extend the hand of friendship at all times.”

Explaining her motion, Councillor Howard thanked her Council colleagues for supporting her in raising it. “We need a suitable location for people to drop off stuff and for groups and agencies to liaise,” she said.

“We have never had such a rapid influx fleeing a war and with very, very complex needs. There are women and children who have seen what nobody should have to see.”

The Ennis councillor said all of the agencies would welcome a central venue for information, vaccinations and the management of donations.

“Everyone is stepping up and this is the last piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Kilkee and Lisdoonvarna are doing an amazing job and this venue would address a small disconnect.”

Councillor Joe Garrihy described the experience of “being immersed 24/7 for the last five weeks” in support efforts.

“It is really important to pay tribute to communities,” he said. “The dignity of those coming in, in the fact of adversity, is something to be admired. The people of Ukraine have been scattered to the four corners and are dealing with unimaginable trauma.”

The North Clare man stressed the need to maintain social solidarity.

“I can’t emphasise enough the need to maintain community cohesion,” he said. “This is not going to be easy, but we’ll come out stronger. The world is watching what we’re doing.”

Cathaoirleach, Councillor PJ Ryan who visited Lisdoonvarna along with the Council CEO said: “I saw first-hand their faces and it’s something that would haunt you, even though they’re putting on a brave face”. 

Councillor Cillian Murphy said that, in addition to a centre, staff had to be provided to support refugees.

“This is not a short-term issue,” he said. “It could be going on for two years, maybe more. We can’t ask volunteers to staff that effort. I asked Minister Heather Humphreys when she was in Ennistymon to have a look at the money being paid to hoteliers. It is realistic to look for funding for staff. The staff of the Council are already to the pin of their collars.”

The Kilkee man noted that the local créche is to reopen there and suggested that the rest of that building could be a multi-use facility. “This would need staff so the government is going to have to step up and put its hand in its pocket.” 

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 NUI 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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