Documents released to the Irish Examiner published today shows schools all across the country warned the Department of Education they are at or near capacity following efforts to accommodate children fleeing war-torn Ukraine in recent months.
The records, released under Freedom of Information, relate to Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, and Dublin that have more than 40% of all new Ukrainian students.
The Department of Education confirmed that as of March 1, 14,931 Ukrainian pupils have been enrolled in schools across Ireland; 9,650 in primary schools and 5,281 in post-primary schools.
One principal in Cork at a meeting with an official from the Department of Education in September reported feeling “that the situation is now ‘on-a-knife-edge’.” “He is concerned that the local community will ‘turn’ if ‘local’ parents perceive distinction between the communities.” He also believed the Ukrainian curriculum is “posing some difficulties”.
In Dublin, agencies working in the inner city reported that schools are “completely full to the point where trying to squeeze another pupil in would not be in the interest of the pupil or the class.”
Some schools reported emerging problems to the Department of Education including trauma-related issues, undiagnosed additional needs, behaviour and communication difficulties.
Responding last week to a detailed briefing on the refugee situation sent by the Department of Integration to the Public Accounts Committee (Pac), it’s Chairman, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said the proportion of refugees from Ukraine taken in by some European counties compared to their populations is “very low” and there needs to be a conversation on what can be done to “spread the burden”.
In January there was 70,752 refugees from Ukraine in Ireland which represented 1.4 per cent of our 5.1 million population.
France had 85,038 Ukrainian refugees compared to a population of 67.8 million representing 0.1% of its population.
He said the low proportion of Ukrainian refugees compared to overall population in places like Greece (0.2 per cent) and Italy (0.3 per cent) was down to refugee crises involving people from Africa and the Middle East.
Figures for March show that around 52,600 refugees from Ukraine and a further 20,000 people seeking international protection from different countries are in State-provided accommodation.
Mr Stanley said: “It’s clear that there’s a number of… northern European countries that haven’t been taking exactly the same amount”, highlighting France as “a case in point” and others where the proportion of Ukrainian refugees is “very low” None of what I’m saying should be taken as an argument for turning anyone away”.
He proposed that the Pac write to Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman to ask if he was flagging the issue with the Department of Foreign Affairs and with counterparts at European level.
Mr Stanley said Ireland’s housing situation is dire: “We want to help the people who are coming here. We don’t want people sleeping rough.”
He also said: “We probably have one of the worst housing crisis in Europe – it’s important that those countries that have capacity still, that that’s flagged up with them.”
Mr Stanley said Ireland’s welcome for Ukrainian refugees is “the right thing to do”. “I don’t want anything that I say to be construed in any other way.”
“But what I’m saying is that there does need to be a conversation with others in relation what can be done to spread the capacity or to spread the burden and to take up where there may be spare capacity.”
Meanwhile Irish residence accounted for a quarter of the 306,000 PPS numbers issued in 2022 by the Department of Social Protection, necessary to access social welfare benefits, public services, and to work in Ireland.
This data was obtained by Colm Burke, Cork North-Central, Fine Gael TD.
This compares to 174,525 in 2021 during restrictions on travel and 132,001 in 2020. A total of 196,177 PPS numbers were issued in 2019 before the pandemic struck.
69,070 PPS numbers were issued to Irish people last year including 56,954 PPS numbers for children whose births were registered with the General Register Office.
A total of 68,884 PPS numbers were issued to Ukrainians.
21,471 PPS were issued in 2022 to people from India in comparison to 13,815 in 2021; Romania: 15,581 in comparison to 14,036 in 2021; Brazil; 16,414 in comparison to 2,692.
In total approximately 236,000 PPS numbers were issued in 2022 to non-Irish residents, 77% of the total issued.
It cannot be denied that the huge increase in the number of workers entering the country along with refugees and asylum seekers is putting additional pressure on already over-stretched housing, education, and healthcare provisions.
The data released to the Irish Examiner from the Department of Education shows that Ukrainian children are suffering the same difficulties Irish children have suffered for years, namely timely access to healthcare and dentists. Children are not always allocated a GP or dentist on arrival in the country.
Protests at Dublin airport yesterday afternoon that brought traffic to a standstill for a few hours and the blocking of a food delivery to refugees housed in Columb Barracks on Saturday night are the latest incidents in months of protests described by mainstream media as “racist”.
On Friday protestors stopped a bus carrying international protection applicants from entering Columb barracks by blocking the gates which forced the bus to leave.
Videos posted to social media by protesters show them expressing worries about the effects of the new arrivals on already overcrowded schools in their areas, huge waiting lists for healthcare and the lack of houses and apartments to rent for existing residents.
An Irish Times-Ipsos opinion poll conducted in February shows public concern at the scale of refugee arrivals.
More than two-thirds of voters (68 per cent — up from 60 per cent last year) say they are “concerned that too many asylum seekers and refugees might come to Ireland”, while 84 per cent agree “there is a limit to the number of asylum seekers and refugees Ireland can cope with”, a figure identical to last July’s.
A Virgin Media poll in January by ‘The Tonight Show‘ showed 90% of people are unhappy with the government’s handling of the refugee crisis.
As a nation we are facing into headwinds of anger generated by the perceived government mishandling of the crisis that’s going to result in further social unrest and protests that will turn ugly.
An alleged assault on a Garda on Friday night outside Columb Barracks and the arrest of a man is probably a taste of what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead.
We are likely to see the emergence of a grassroots movement not seen since the water protest movement a decade ago that evolved into the platform for Paul Murphy and others to be elected to the Dáil.
The migration crisis coupled with the housing crisis will probably be top of the agenda come the next general election, which could come sooner than expected.
It will definitely feature in the local authority elections in 2024.
It’s unlikely that the Irish government will be able to hold back the tide of discontent sweeping across Europe at the moment, a tide that swept BBB to win 20% of the vote in the recent provincial elections in the Netherlands, a huge increase on the 1% it got in the 2021 general election, now giving them 20% of the seats in the Dutch upper house, the Senate.
This week’s visit to France by King Charles III was cancelled because of fears for his safety due to nationwide protests over pension reforms; reform of the judiciary caused the largest number of protesters ever to take to the streets of Israel on Saturday and today Germany’s transport network is at a near standstill as the country experiences one of its largest strikes in decades over pay demands.
‘𝐹𝑜𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑎–𝑐ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑖𝑛‘, What next for Ireland?