The Situation for Ukrainian Refugees in Ireland

As Ukraine marks two years since the start of the war, the situation remains grim. Casualties are mounting, and millions have been forced to leave their homes.  Over 30,000 civilians have been killed, but the true toll is likely even higher. Many have lost their homes, and basic services like electricity and water are scarce. Ukrainians, both inside the country and abroad, are struggling to find healthcare, housing, and jobs.

Both sides of the conflict are suffering heavy losses. The Russian military has taken many casualties, and Ukraine is struggling to find enough soldiers. To try to fix this, Ukraine is considering recruiting younger people and increasing domestic weapon production.

There is nothing for the working-class in war, except death, destruction, and dislocation. We support all tendencies in wartime societies, such as desertion, sabotage of recruitment centres, fraternisation, and the protests of spouses and family members of serving soldiers, and of course strikes, that undermine the war and build relationships of struggle around the common interests of the working class, not the nation. 

In response to the crisis, the European Council has offered temporary protection to Ukrainians who are not citizens of the European Union. But this is just a temporary fix for a bigger problem.  The conflict has triggered a refugee crisis within the European Union. Millions of Ukrainians have sought asylum in EU member states, placing immense strain on resources and infrastructure. While temporary protection measures have been implemented. These will expire and there is an emerging faultline in some countries regarding what support should be made available to refugees, and immigrants in general. 

Ireland

In response to the influx of refugees from the war in Ukraine, Ireland implemented a distinctive system that set it apart from other nations. Notably, refugees were granted access to the standard rate of social welfare almost immediately upon arrival, along with a guarantee of accommodation. However, it was this guarantee of accommodation that ultimately led to its eventual unravelling.

The European Union Temporary Protection Directive was revised by the Irish government in December 2023 to impose new rules regarding refugee accommodation. Under the new rules refugees were entitled to state-provided accommodation for a maximum of 90 days. During this period, the level of social welfare payments was reduced as a measure to deter ‘secondary movements’—instances where individuals apply for temporary protection in one jurisdiction and then relocate to another.

At the end of the 90-day period, refugees gained access to the full rate of social welfare but were expected to secure their own accommodation. This significant policy change effectively divided Ukrainian refugees in Ireland into two distinct groups.

Figures compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shed light on Ireland’s response in comparison to other nations. Ireland ranked seventh out of thirty-three countries on a per capita basis and twelfth out of thirty-eight countries in total assistance provided.

The distribution of Ukrainian refugees across Europe reveals a concentrated settlement in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic, which collectively welcomed three-fifths of the total refugee population. As of December 2023, the aggregate and relative number of beneficiaries of temporary protection status stood at 9.6 per 1,000 people. Notably, several European Union member states recorded notably higher ratios, with the Czech Republic leading the pack at 34.5, followed by Bulgaria (26.5), Estonia (26.3), Lithuania (26.2), Poland (26.0), and Latvia (23.3). Ireland, with a ratio of 18.1 per 1,000, exceeded the EU average and closely trailed the aforementioned central and eastern European countries.

During the period spanning from March 4, 2022, to February 8, 2024, a total of 104,870 Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSN) were issued to Ukrainians upon their arrival in Ireland.

As of February 1, 2024, a total of 17,310 arrivals were enrolled in further education and training courses, with the majority (14,186) participating in English language courses. Moreover, by February 4, 2024, 40,997 arrivals had participated in employment support events organised by Intreo Public Employment Services. Within this cohort, 59% (or 24,059 individuals) identified English language proficiency as a barrier to securing employment.

Of the 40,997 arrivals who attended Intreo events, 19,132 had recorded previous occupations. Among them, Professionals constituted the largest group at 30% (or 5,716 persons). Additionally, out of 28,128 individuals with recorded highest education levels, 61% had attained an NFQ level equivalent to 7 or higher.

However, despite efforts to integrate into the workforce, just under 17% of arrivals were engaged in formal employment, based on data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Table 7: Number of arrivals from Ukraine with earnings from employment, by month, as of 04 February 20241,2Number
Number of persons with earnings from employmentJuly 2023August 2023September 2023October 2023November 2023December 2023January 2024
 15,62216,07117,06117,50018,10218,29417,702
Male6,0426,2846,7176,9127,2267,3547,143
under 25 years of age1,4621,5121,5551,5351,5941,6221,568
25 years and over4,5804,7725,1625,3775,6325,7325,575
        
Female9,5809,78710,34410,58810,87610,94010,559
under 25 years of age1,7051,7621,8041,7871,8131,8211,740
25 years and over7,8758,0258,5408,8019,0639,1198,819
        
NACE sector3       
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (A)342324335328323348315
Industry (B,C,D,E)2,0732,2392,4272,5502,7262,8032,787
Construction (F)820829890923994999926
Wholesale, Transport and Accommodation (G,H,I)8,0458,1868,5178,5418,6298,5628,280
ICT, Scientific and Recreation (J,M,R)1,0281,0361,0751,0711,0831,0711,036
Financial, Real Estate, Administrative (K,L,N,S)2,1652,2462,4142,4872,6072,6892,570
Public Service, Education and Health (O,P,Q)1,1491,2111,4031,6001,7401,8221,788
        
       
Mean weekly earnings (€)4435458445442456462467
Median weekly earnings (€)4420441431432442446464
1All data are preliminary and subject to change. For earlier months please see pervious series published
2Current age
3NACE sector of the employment with highest weekly earnings per month and person
4Uses gross pay, per person

Housing Crisis

In response to the influx of refugees, the state’s accommodation efforts proved inadequate. Initially, refugees were housed in direct provision centres, but as these reached full capacity, the government sought to establish new centres nationwide. However, such attempts were met with protests, often supported by far-right groups, forcing the government to negotiate with hotel owners and repurpose disused nursing homes. While some owners agreed, enticed by the guaranteed income, many projects faced opposition from local communities, leading to pickets and even arson attacks on earmarked buildings. To alleviate the strain, the government introduced the Accommodation Recognition Payment, offering €800 tax-free per month to homeowners or landlords providing housing to Ukrainian refugees. Despite these measures, with 21,824 Ukrainians accommodated by 9,615 hosts, according to CSO data, the housing crisis persisted, fueling resentment.

The inability to accommodate refugees underscores Ireland’s broader housing and homelessness crisis, rooted in policy shifts dating back to the 1980s. Following Britain’s lead, Ireland transitioned from state-provided social housing model toward a privatised market, facilitated by tenant loans that depleted the social housing stock. Consequently, waiting times for social housing surged, reaching up to a decade and longer in some areas. Concurrently, owner-occupier home ownership declined, particularly impacting younger and low-income individuals. From a peak of 79% in 1991, home ownership rates plummeted to 66% today with less than a third of 30-year-olds owning homes today.

The stark reality is further evident in the widening gap between wages and housing costs. House prices now average eight times the national average wage, soaring to ten times higher in Dublin. While wages increased by 27% from 2012 to 2022, house prices skyrocketed by 75%, with rents surging by 90%. Notably, almost 60% of new builds in Greater Dublin in 2022 were purchased or developed by investor funds, exacerbating the affordability crisis. The dominance of investor-owned properties pushes a dynamic where rents far exceed average incomes.

Moreover, Ireland’s rental market offers little security for tenants, who face eviction without cause. Over 30,000 households experienced no-fault evictions in the last three years, while the lapse of a temporary eviction ban led to a surge in termination notices, primarily driven by landlords seeking higher profits through short-term lettings, or new tenancies at a substantially higher rent. This is despite many areas of the country being designated “rent pressure zones” that limit the increase in rental price (in theory).  Presently, there are 14 times more properties available for short-term lets than for long-term rentals, contributing to soaring homelessness rates. In fact, homelessness figures are likely underestimated, with an academic estimating the true figure to be around 24,000, rising to 75,000 when considering hidden homelessness. 

Class Power 

The extreme insecurity that confronts people in the housing market is fertile ground for racism, bigotry, and non-answers to the problems that face us today. The policy measures the government brought in targeted at solving the refugee accommodation crisis were jumped upon by the racists to push their ‘them versus us’ narrative. The spreading of the belief that there is a competition between immigrants and native born for housing and other necessities obviously hinders the development of independent working-class politics and is ultimately only overcome in the practical unity of the workers’ in struggle around what they share in common, in this instance access to housing that they can afford. That unity needs to be fought for politically.  

At present though discontent regarding housing costs and availability has manifested itself in the electoral rise of Sinn Féin, a ‘catch-all’ nationalist party, and the nascent anti-immigrant right-wing movements, rather than in specific working-class struggles on these issues. Unlike many other European countries, Ireland has not witnessed a significant increase in workplace struggles, which explains why dissatisfaction around housing and other social issues has remained within the confines of bourgeois politics.

There is a prevalent but misguided belief that the election of a Sinn Féin-led government, or a leftist version thereof, would automatically address the housing crisis. While a Sinn Féin-led government is a plausible outcome of the next election, the latter scenario is a mere fantasy based solely on parliamentary arithmetic. In the event of a Sinn Fein-led government the illusions that exist in them will need to be overcome if autonomous struggles are to occur. They are a power hungry bourgeois party and their recent history confirms it. They were the political wing of a movement that fought a bloody war for thirty years to unify Ireland, and then accepted a deal that saw them administering British rule in Northern Ireland. They will do and say what they have to get into government because they see this as the best way to achieve their objective of a united Ireland. If they change their mind on their whole raison d’etre, why would they struggle to do policy u-turns on things like housing and healthcare. The latter is what parties in government do. 

This brings us onto a crucial distinction that lies at the heart of the difference between communist politics and other forms of oppositional politics, around the contrast between working-class struggles, best waged through the strike weapon, and activist campaigns aimed at influencing the consciousness of society and then mobilising it to enact specific reforms. Both well-intentioned liberal and far-left activism, on one hand, and the malicious campaigns of the far-right, on the other, end up substituting themselves for the self-activity of the masses. For communists, this latter aspect is what matters. It is not merely about reform versus revolution; rather working-class struggles enhance the capacity and power of the class as a whole to act for itself. The capacity and power of workers’ to collectively act for itself and set their own agenda is the legacy of struggles left behind. 

This kind of orientation represents the most effective response to the issues we face today. It is through the community constituted by the struggles of the class – the world communist party – that we can turn the tide and broaden our horizons to effectively address issues like war, refugees, housing, and more.