After years of turbulence, it is ironic that the Irish housing supply has finally taken a major turn at precisely the same time as new demands are emerging that challenge that achievement.
Housing starts for the past year are now in excess of 33,000 per year, meeting or beating most estimates of Irish housing needs.
In addition, the number of rough sleepers in Dublin fell by almost a quarter between April and November last year.
Even the most die-hard homebuilders will admit that these are complex problems that take a long time to fix. Everyone admits that progress is now being made. However, it faces a formidable challenge that was never predicted: Ukrainian refugees.
The forecast numbers are very high and need to be planned very carefully. While the majority of the government’s immediate reactions have been great, Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien has already gotten off to an unhelpful start by claiming that changes to the Fair Deal scheme would help accommodate refugees. For the avoidance of doubt, the proposed changes are a good and necessary part of the work to further improve Ireland’s housing system, but they are not to be confused with refugee housing.
The accommodation of refugees is an extremely complex and difficult issue. All reports indicate that the government and public services have already excelled at every stage from intake to processing to placement. More than 4,000 of those arriving have already been accommodated in more than 2,000 hotel rooms. The provision of these shelters has been equaled, if not surpassed, by providing immediate access to information, documentation, social welfare, health and educational support.
However, there is a real danger that this fine work will be compromised if it is not treated separately from ‘normal’ living from the start. The main reasons are the scale and complex dynamics of this issue.
First there is the scale. Ireland has already taken in more than 10,000 Ukrainians, with up to 30,000 more expected by the end of April. Some sources estimate that up to 200,000 people will eventually need to be accommodated.
To put this in perspective we need to accommodate more people than are already living in Co Longford by the end of April. The upper estimate, 200,000 people, is almost the entire population of Galway. It would increase Ireland’s population by almost 4 per cent in one year – the equivalent of almost five years of normal growth.
Then there is the question of the complexity of a refugee crisis. Unfortunately, there is a lot of refugee expertise in the world. They refer to refugees as “displaced persons” – of which there are an estimated number of more than 80 million. There are two types: those within a country and those outside.
At 6.48 million, the scale of internal displacement in Ukraine is already very large and of great concern. The concern stems from one of the most tragic aspects of displacement: that many never return home. This will most likely happen in Ukraine.
There seems to be mounting evidence that Russia is employing a tactic of large-scale displacement of civilians that was perfected in Syria by many of the same Russian military commanders. Despite being a war crime, it is a very effective military tactic to “soften up” future zones of urban warfare.
That matters in Ireland. No two refugee events are the same. In this case, the demographics of those seeking protection are heavily dominated by women, children and the elderly – men are still struggling. This mix will lead to an “asymmetrical” need for social support, with less new labor force participation – despite the typically very high level of Ukrainian educational attainment.
It’s too early to tell, but Ireland should probably come up with a pragmatic but flexible plan that anticipates fairly high levels of retained population due to this crisis.
All of the early Irish answers were excellent. This is not unusual for our internationally oriented agencies and departments that consistently serve us so well. The concern is that this excellence could be diminished by internal forces of two kinds. First, we must all be vigilant against the “kidnapping of fugitives” by activists across the housing spectrum – from charities to construction companies – as they mobilize to exploit this terrible tragedy for their own ends.
Second, there are lessons throughout history about internal so-called nationalist patriots who claim to feel threatened or disadvantaged by newcomers. The success of these groups is often aided by the following winds of the type of economic storm the world is facing due to rising inflation and rising interest rates.
Preparedness and vigilance should be our guard rails.
Protection is one of the most basic human needs. Losing a home, homelessness, is one of the most harrowing human experiences on an individual level. When this happens to entire communities on a city scale, it becomes almost unimaginable. The term “refugee” conveys none of this numbing loss and pain.
Often unnoticed, there is a moment for every refugee when they leave home for the last time. Your life suddenly becomes a journey. For many Ukrainians, a place they may not have heard of before, namely Ireland, will become their new home in the coming months.
National commemorations of our centuries-long journey of nation-building come into sharper focus as we see another country’s independence on the brink of extinction.
To date, we have used our independence to create one of the most successful and increasingly prosperous nations in the world. Self-determination and self-expression, making our own decisions, are the most fundamental reasons for independence. Nation-building is a never-ending process. Like the lives of individuals, our national character is the sum of our choices as we navigate, especially when we choose to do difficult things.
All of us, including the soon-to-be newcomers from Ukraine, are on a difficult journey as we journey into that future together.
If finding shelter is a basic human urge, then sharing shelter is one of the most basic human decencies.
What is the use of our independence, our success and our money if not to use it to share and help, even if it will be difficult?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/influx-of-ukrainian-war-refugees-adds-complex-challenge-to-housing-issue-41491061.html The influx of Ukrainian war refugees adds a complex challenge to the housing issue