Christy Moore will perhaps have to add a new verse to his famous song about Lisdoonvarna. Renowned for its spa, its matchmaking and the music festival immortalised by the singer, the Clare town is now at the heart of the most Ukrainian district of the country.
isdoonvarna is in the Ennistymon local election area of north Clare. According to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, up to 7.5pc of this area’s population is Ukrainian.
Since Russia’s invasion of its neighbouring country, Ireland has witnessed its greatest mass migration of refugees in the history of the State, with the arrival of 43,250 people.
It is a movement of population that is transforming many communities, particularly across the western seaboard, where many refugees are being housed in popular tourist destinations.
Apart from Clare, the areas with the highest density of population are the Ballinamore area of Leitrim (4.74pc), the centre of Galway city (4.37pc) and the Kenmare area of Kerry (3.79pc).
Bryan Fanning, professor of migration and social policy at UCD, says the only comparable event in the State’s history is the arrival of thousands of people fleeing sectarian violence in the North at the start of the Troubles.
With Vladimir Putin’s war entering its sixth month tomorrow and shelling of civilian areas a constant threat, the influx from Ukraine shows no sign of abating. The number of refugees registered in Ireland has increased by almost 4,500 in the past three weeks, according to the CSO.
The Irish Independent reported this week that ministers have been told that an additional 33,000 refugees could arrive from the war zone by the end of the year.
In Lisdoonvarna, the beauty salon owner Tanya Palamar (36) is trying to rebuild her life with her husband Oleg (36) and three children, Mariana (13), Veronika (11) and baby Yeremii (nine months). While Ukraine has forbidden men from leaving, those with three children or more, or with a medical condition have been exempted.
The Palamars, who are from Zaporizhzhia, have been staying in the Hydro Hotel since mid-March. From her new base, Tanya has still tried to run her business back in Ukraine.
“This week is my salon’s fourth birthday and this would have been the high season for my business, with lots of weddings and student graduations,” she says. “But the salon is still open and we are still getting some weddings and I am in touch with my staff every day.
“A month ago, a rocket across the street destroyed a shopping centre and broke windows in the salon, and we know this is an important city that the Russians want to capture. I am concerned about my parents and brother, who are still there and tell me everything is fine as they don’t want to worry me.”
Figures from the CSO show that 33pc of arrivals from Ukraine attending events organised by the public jobs agency Intreo were classed as ‘professionals’ in their jobs back home: 18pc were managers, 18pc worked in services and sales and 13pc were technicians.
Among Ukrainians who have found work in Ireland, the average weekly wage is €365.
Like thousands of other Ukrainians, both Oleg and Tanya have both found work here. He works in McGann’s pub in Doolin and she’s part-time with Lisdoonvarna Fáilte, the community development organisation.
“We want to find somewhere to rent and would like to stay in Clare, but we are looking everywhere, from Cork to Limerick to Galway, and it is very difficult and expensive,” Tanya says.
As with previous influxes of refugees and asylum seekers, the Government has had to house those arriving in places where accommodation was readily available. That often meant turning hotels in popular tourist locations in counties such as Clare, Kerry, Sligo and Donegal into homes for refugees.
Norma Moriarty, a Kerry county councillor, says the arrival of refugees in the town of Cahersiveen has increased the population in the town by 32pc. Many are being accommodated at the Skellig Star Hotel, which was previously used as a direct provision centre. In the local electoral area of Kenmare, which includes Cahersiveen, there are nearly 1,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Moriarty says of the population upsurge: “There are significant elements of this that are very positive because if we don’t have people, we don’t have a vibrant community.”
While she says that the refugees have been warmly welcomed, there has been pressure on services such as healthcare.
Around the country, the scale of the migration can be seen in schools. The latest CSO figures show that almost 5,000 children have enrolled in primary schools and 2,000 in second-level schools. Moriarty says up to 60 Ukrainian pupils have enrolled at the second-level Coláiste na Sceilge in Cahersiveen, and these students are also being given intensive English classes.
While the Ukrainians have been welcomed by communities, many have found themselves at the centre of Ireland’s housing crisis, as they are often put up in temporary accommodation and face uncertainty over where they will live next.
John Lannon, chief executive of Doras, a migrant support group, says the refugees’ arrival was met initially with a positive Government response and communities have welcomed them in towns, villages and their homes.
However, responding to the temporary housing of some refugees in tents at the Gormanston Army Camp in Meath, he says: “We have got to a point where we are struggling to cope, and it shouldn’t be this way.
“Of course, we have a national accommodation crisis, and have had for years now, but we’re still a wealthy country and we must provide a basic standard of care and accommodation that doesn’t see people sleeping in hugely inadequate conditions. The risk here is that tents become a new norm and we can’t allow that, especially as we enter the final weeks of summer and face the prospect of a long and cold winter ahead.”
So could we plan the arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers differently?
Since the start of the war, when it was predicted that 100,000 Ukrainians could arrive here, Prof Bryan Fanning has called for the setting up of a refugee agency to direct strategy and devise a coherent response.
“NGOs [non-governmental organisations] are doing their best, but who is driving the car here?” he says. “Who is taking responsibility?”
A national refugee agency operated in Ireland in the late 1990s and played a successful role in integrating migrants who fled the war in Kosovo. It led support programmes in local areas but was wound down with the introduction of direct provision.
“At the moment, there is no one-stop tzar who takes responsibility for pulling all this together,” Fanning says.
In response to the accommodation crisis and the upsurge in arrivals, the Government decided to suspend visa-free travel for refugees into Ireland from 20 European countries in an apparent hardening of immigration policy. It means that people who have been granted refugee status in other countries will now need a visa to travel here. The measure does not affect Ukrainian refugees. Lannon of Doras said the move would have only a marginal effect on the numbers arriving here.
“The numbers involved are quite small, but it makes life difficult for people who want to visit family members,” he says. “We have got to leave the channels open to ensure that anyone who needs to come here to seek international protection can do that.”
Lannon says there needs to be a medium- to long-term strategy for housing refugees and there should be a focus on vacant accommodation. He said the Government should incentivise people to make holiday homes available after the summer.
Nina Mishchenko, a refugee, volunteer for the community group Ukrainian Action in Ireland and Irish Independent diarist, believes the accommodation crisis could be eased if there was financial support for host families.
Many of the refugees face enormous dilemmas, torn between the option of living in safety in Ireland and a desire to be with their families in Ukraine — their husbands, their elderly parents and other close relatives.
Mishchenko says the housing shortage is one of the main reasons why refugees may return home or go to another country.
“After several months of living in gyms on beds, people return or look for another country,” she says. “It is difficult for many to live here when their men remain in Ukraine. Some people return because they think that their region is already safe. But as we see from the shelling of Ukraine, this is not always the case.”
Much of the community support across Ireland has come from Ukrainians themselves, either through people who lived here before the war or from volunteers like Mishchenko. This time last year, Ukrainian journalist Artem Kvashyn would never have imagined he would be in Galway, and would know something about race week, the arts festival and the high price of accommodation.
Nor would he have believed he would be running a hub for fellow Ukrainians, offering them advice on jobs and accommodation, organising language classes and children’s summer camps.
As with many fellow journalists, he had to leave Ukraine after the Russian invasion on February 24. His job with the Centre for Journalistic Investigations had already put him at risk.
After he and his wife Daria and three children left their home in Bucha, near Kyiv, their house was destroyed by Russian forces who have been accused of killing hundreds of people in the town. About 1,300 bodies, 31 of whom were children, were recovered, and there were reports of torture and rape.
Kvashyn is one of 2,700 Ukrainians living in Galway city and county, according to the CSO. This population is most heavily concentrated in the centre of the city, where there are 1,168 refugees. He pays tribute to the support being offered by Galway City Council and Galway City Partnership, along with community organisations and volunteers working with the hub he helped to set up at Westside Community Centre.
The hub will have to find new premises after August 14, when the community centre will be acquired for emergency accommodation for new arrivals.
And there is another looming deadline — August 26 — when some 600 of his fellow nationals staying in student accommodation in Galway will have to leave in time for the new university term.
“I know many Irish families are looking to invite Ukrainians, and some have contacted the Irish Red Cross, but have been waiting a long time to hear back,” Kvashyn says. “So we are hoping to make some direct links, where we will help to find a place for families and will ensure there is garda vetting.”
With the prospect of more than 30,000 more refugees arriving in Ireland by the end of the year, the pressure to find accommodation is unlikely to ease, particularly when students go back to college.
Prof Fanning says there is an urgent need for a refugee agency with a strong mandate to tackle the crisis.
“If you want to get things done, you have to treat it like you are fighting a war,” he says. “It needs somebody — a bit like Paul Reid [of the HSE] — who goes on the news to update the Irish people about what is happening every night. Somebody needs to step up to be the public face of this.”
‘I never dreamed I would be living like a princess in a castle’
Maria Kozlovska (25), who works as a waitress in a Galway hotel and volunteers for the Ukrainian hub in the city, was one of the earliest arrivals after the outbreak of war. After she left home in Zaporizhzhia, she flew to Ireland from Poland with her two sons Matvey (7) and Ilya (5).
Her mother and sister-in-law followed shortly afterwards, and the family are staying in Ballindooley Castle, near Galway City, where owner Barry Haughian has been hosting two Ukrainian families, totalling 11 people, for the past four months. Haughian, who lives in Spain, says the support is “as important now as it was on February 24”.
He has forfeited his family’s annual trip back to the castle for race week because he doesn’t want to put his guests under pressure.
Kozlovska says: “I couldn’t eat when I came to Ireland first, but Barry was so kind to us, helping us to find schools for the kids and to get our papers. I am a single parent, but I had my own flat, a good job, a new car and worked in tourism back home.
“Now our country that was so beautiful is destroyed and some people I know who went back to Ukraine from Ireland say it was a mistake because there is no childcare, prices are very high and there is constant danger.
“It is not easy to start your life all over again, but the kids adjust quickly and we are all healthy and can work. And though we must find somewhere to rent, I never dreamed I would be living for a while like a princess in a castle.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/treat-it-like-youre-fighting-a-war-how-to-change-our-refugee-response-41860078.html ‘Treat it like you’re fighting a war’: how to change our refugee response