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'happy to do it' Leo Varadkar says he and his partner have registered to house Ukrainian refugees

The Tanaiste was speaking after a visit to the reception centre for Ukrainian refugees at Dublin Airport.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with partner Matthew Barrett. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with partner Matthew Barrett. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with partner Matthew Barrett. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar has said he and his partner have registered to take in Ukrainian refugees as he expressed concerns that space in hotels and B&Bs could run out within days.

Mr Varadkar said that the State's accommodating of refugees in the coming days and weeks will “present the biggest challenge”, saying he anticipated 20,000 refugees will have arrived in Ireland by the end of this month and that more than that will arrive.

He said that the Government was talking to the army about using venues at Gormanston and Millstreet for “group accommodation” which he acknowledged was not ideal.

“The truth is it's going to be very hard to accommodate tens of thousands of people. We’re up to 10,000 people as of now or certainly within the next day or two.

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"We expect it will be 20,000 by the end of the month. It's just simply a fact that we don't have our own door accommodation for 20,000 people," he said.

“So we're going to have to make do and do the best we can. At the moment we’re relying very much on hotels and B&Bs.

"We’re very grateful to that sector for making that accommodation available. That will probably run out at a certain point over the next few days or weeks and we'll have to use other accommodation but hopefully it will be temporary.

"Hopefully it’s going to be a matter of months, rather than being a permanent fixture.”

Mr Varadkar, who arrived home from a 10-day St Patrick’s Day trip to Latin America on Saturday, was speaking after a visit to the reception centre for Ukrainian refugees at Dublin Airport.

He said most of the people he spoke with expressed a desire to work and that the Government was working on recognising people's qualifications.

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney

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The Fine Gael leader said his partner Matt Barrett had registered them with the Irish Red Cross to provide accommodation to refugees. “Matt, who owns the house - I don’t own it - registered us with the Red Cross about three weeks ago. So we wouldn't have been able to do that in the past, but have a house now and have a spare room.

“So we got the acknowledgement and what they're prioritising now at the moment is people who can provide vacant properties and own door accommodation. So that's going to be the priority for the Red Cross and the Refugee Council.

“They said what they'll do then is move on to people who can provide a room or a link to public transport. So, we're in category two in that regard, but there is a process that has to be gone through and garda vetting and all sorts of things like that.

“So the government is very grateful to the 20,000 people now in Ireland who've made an offer of accommodation and we just ask for a bit of patience. I know people are keen to welcome people from Ukraine into their homes. We're happy to do that too, for at least six months.”

He said that the Red Cross would work with the Irish Defence Forces in a manner similar to how they helped out with contact tracing during the pandemic.

Mr Varadkar said he would speak to his Government colleagues about reports from the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland that Ryanair was increasing air fares from the region. “I think it should be understood by airlines that this is a humanitarian crisis and this isn't the time to try to increase your profits,” he said.

He said the Government, through the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, was monitoring petrol prices to ensure that recent reductions in excise duty were being applied.

“I need to be honest with people, the price of energy, the price of petrol, diesel, gas, electricity isn't set by the Government. It's an international price based on the international cost of energy and the best we can do is ease the burden. We’ve done that already and we’re looking at ways to how we can ease it more,” he said.

Elsewhere, Mr Varadkar described the mass sacking of 800 seafarers P&O Ferries was “pretty appalling” and that he was not sure would be allowed under Irish or EU law. He said his understanding was that none of the Irish-based employees are affected.

Mr Varadkar also said that he has spoken to Taoiseach Micheál Martin who is stuck in Washington DC after testing positive for Covid-19. Mr Martin is hoping it would be possible he could make it to Brussels for the EU summit this week if he is testing negative for Covid-19 and has no symptoms, the Tánaiste said.

He said it was also “very possible” there would be another White House visit later this year before the Taoiseach leaves office and that it was possible that President Joe Biden could also come to Ireland.

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