Ukrainian aid | 

Taoiseach insists no cap on number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland

'There will be challenges but we are part of a European- wide response'

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (James Manning/PA)

Ralph Riegel

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has ruled out a cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland and said the Government's priority will remain doing its best to offer humanitarian help for civilians fleeing the Russian invasion.

Mr Martin - speaking after he toured the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, Co Cork, where he met a number of Ukrainian families - said he was deeply moved by the gratitude the Ukrainian citizens had shown toward Ireland and its offer of a safe haven here.

"I am not contemplating caps on refugees - I am not talking about that," he said.

"There will be challenges but we are part of a European- wide response. First and foremost, we are not a military power - the thing we can do best is humanitarian aid."

Mr Martin said speaking to people at the emergency accommodation complex underlined the horrors the refugees had endured in their war-torn country.

He said Ireland should be very proud of its response to the Ukrainian crisis.

"I have been very moved to meet with so many of the Ukrainian residents here, so many families who have fled the war in Ukraine and one cannot help being struck by their sense of gratitude," Mr Martin said. "Basic, simple gratitude articulated so eloquently and sincerely by them.

"The sense of peace and safety and security they have here now in Ireland for their children: that's very clear in the conversations we had.

"One mother with a six-month-old baby and another mother saying that their children were in a basement in their home for two weeks.

"They couldn't talk, lights were out at night for fear of Russian soldiers coming in.

"One woman actually said to me that when they hear planes going overhead now they still get a shudder and they get nervous. So in the first instance, Ireland is offering respite from that war, from that trauma, and we should not lose sight of that.

"Over 25,000 people have come into the country in the space of less than two months. Since 1999, maybe 100,000 refugees or asylum seekers have come into the country.

"So this is unprecedented, against an unprecedented war in terms of its sheer targeting of civilian residential zones, levelling of towns, creating of terror across Europe."

Mr Martin said State agencies had been remarkable in their response to the humanitarian crisis - but more still needed to be done.

"Now we have more to do, the schools are coming in tomorrow to meet the parents in terms of organising education," he said.

"Some parents are still worried about all of that but we reassured them about that.

"In two months Ireland has responded well and I want to thank the public servants across all of our agencies, across all of our government departments - (Children's Minister) Roderic O'Gorman and his department - for really pulling out all the stops in very quick time to absorb such large numbers."

The Taoiseach refused to be drawn on whether a single agency needed to be created to deal with the crisis.

"Everybody has to work on this in terms of the best interest of the Ukrainians who are here with us now and also in terms of Ireland's response of integration," Mr Martin said.

He said issues in respect o f capacity would be sorted out in the future - but Ireland should not lose sight of the fact it was offering safety to people fleeing Ukraine.

"The State has provided roughly, I think, 14,000 or 15,000 accommodations," he said. "Others have found accommodation themselves.

"We have got to keep being innovative. And I've spoken to various ministers on that front." He warned the focus should be on Russia, President Vladimir Putin and ending the Russian aggression.

"I want an end to the war. We have to keep the pressure on Putin, not on ourselves.

"And that's the fundamental approach of the European Union. It will be on a range of fronts - the war should end. There is no moral justification for it."

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