Sunday 23 October 2016

Syrian refugees may be housed in army barracks or schools

Migrants walk along a highway in Budapest. Several hundred left the Keleti Railway Station yesterday, aiming to walk to Germany
Migrants walk along a highway in Budapest. Several hundred left the Keleti Railway Station yesterday, aiming to walk to Germany
Clancy Barracks
Simon Coveney
Hungarian policemen stand by the family of migrants as they wanted to run away at the railway station in the town of Bicske, Hungary

Dublin army barracks are being considered for use as emergency accommodation centres as Ireland prepares to accept up to 4,000 Syrian refugees.

The Government will examine an audit of all state accommodation resources including Defence Force barracks, Direct Provision centres, old school dorms and ghost housing estates to prepare for the influx of between 2,000 and 4,000 desperate people.

The Herald understands that Dublin facilities such as Clancy Barracks, army facilities in the Curragh and Kildare as well as Gormanston Camp in Meath will be considered under the emergency refugee accommodation plan.


Defence Minister Simon Coveney admitted that, like Environment Minister Alan Kelly, he found it impossible to sleep having viewed the images of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach outside the popular tourist resort of Bodrum in Turkey.

Both ministers are fathers of young children, and both admitted that the horrific image captured the terrible plight facing tens of thousands of migrants.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will attend an EU summit on September 14 at which countries including Ireland will get an indication of how many refugees they will be asked to accept.

Ireland has already committed to taking 1,100, but the scale of the crisis now in southern Europe means the Government could be asked to accept between 2,000 and 4,000.

President Michael D Higgins expressed serious concern at the emergence of xenophobia in some countries. He also challenged estimates being put on the migrant numbers.

"The figure of 120,000 - which opens the EU ministers' discussions - if that figure is revised in terms of the UN High Commission for Refugees' figure of 200,000, that obviously doubles the different indications that countries have been making. And that is a matter for governments," he said.

"Different member countries are going to have to talk about two to three times the figure that was originally suggested to them."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny echoed the views of Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Coveney.

"Ireland can cope with more than the refugees already taken. Ireland will also remember our own migrant history and the coffin ships of the 19th Century," he said.

Mr Coveney said Ireland will accept refugees on the basis of available accommodation.

"Ireland will take more than our fair share," he vowed.

"An awful lot of accommodation that wasn't previously being used - for example, we have Defence Forces barrack accommodation in Dublin that was used to house people who were homeless in situations.

"So there has been an audit done by local authorities in terms of the availability of potential accommodation.

"Whatever commitments the Government make here, and I think we will be generous, we need to make sure that we set aside the resources to ensure that we can develop accommodation facilities that are fit for purpose and will treat people like human beings rather than numbers when the arrive in Ireland."


Mr Coveney said the Direction Provision system, while not ideal, may offer a short-term solution to the Syrian crisis.

"We want to move away from Direct Provision if and when we can do it," he said.

"Having said that, if you look at the Direct Provision centres in Ireland versus the facilities that many asylum-seekers have in other parts of Europe, the facilities here are much better. But they are still not good enough."

Mr Coveney said the Government ideally wants to offer refugees "the dignity of a home that is fit for purpose in Ireland".

He said ministers were deeply moved by the images from Bodrum.

"I spoke to Alan Kelly about this," he said. "He told me, 'Look, I couldn't sleep last night, I couldn't get that image out of my mind'. I could relate to that."

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