Further trauma for family who had fled from terror

OPINION: Given the treatment endured by one Ukrainian family, with two children with specific needs, Killarney councillor John O’Donoghue has asked Kerry County Council to ascertain if the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) is not considering Killarney as an option for long-term accommodation for refugees due to the price of rent

Cllr John O’Donoghue

I have asked Kerry County Council to seek clarity from the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) on whether or not Killarney is actively being considered as a location to provide long-term rented accommodation for Ukrainian refugees due to rental prices.

This question, which may seem unusual to some, arises from a case which recently came before me and one I would like to highlight.

I was contacted by a person who is involved in the educational support services in this county about a family housed in a large centre for Ukrainian refugees in Cork. This family had two children who presented with complex additional needs which meant the crowded accommodation they were in was highly unsuitable.

They were extremely grateful for the assistance they received from the Irish government and people and, ordinarily, would have been delighted with their accommodation but their additional needs meant it was not an option for them.

Their daughter suffers from diabetes and the one-size-fits-all nature of the food in the centre made regulating her condition extremely difficult.

More seriously, their son has Down Syndrome and is pre-verbal. The noise in the centre they were housed in, particularly as it was a pet-friendly centre, was extremely upsetting for him and he was unable to sleep.

The Ukrainian family was extremely grateful for the support received

This eventually presented itself with him refusing to eat or drink for days on end and his family having to take turns sitting up with him at night time, covering his ears in an effort to get him to sleep as he would not allow any form of ear-muffs to be put on his head.

This strategy had, as you might imagine, mixed results and I won’t even mention the trauma of it all upon the entire family, except to say this was a family who came to Ireland to flee terror.

I was liaising with two educational psychologists who had put a whole range of supports in place to help the family and, in particular, the young boy, once accommodation could be sourced in Killarney.

They had volunteered their own time to work with the son should the family get a move to Killarney and Down Syndrome Kerry was also on board to link in with the family if they could get their move.

The answer from IPAS was that they were actively seeking suitable accommodation for the family but it was proving difficult.

Is there a blockade on families being re-homed in Killarney in individual accommodation due to high rents?

Nobody needs reminding of the housing crisis in Killarney and, indeed, the entire country so I absolutely accept the difficulties they were facing securing suitable lodging for the family. I managed, however, to find a suitable house for the family to rent and contacted IPAS to inform them of this.

After spending weeks running from one section to another, and from one agency to another, I eventually realised I was going around in circles and sought help from some far more influential individuals than myself.

They intervened and they too were assured that all was in place for the family to move, once suitable accommodation could be found. This was despite suitable accommodation having already being found and passing an inspection from an IPAS agent.

A multitude of individuals, including myself, spent weeks wasting energy in futility on the issue, despite the fact we were going to them with a solution to an emergency situation, not a problem to be solved.

Education psychologists had volunteered their own time to work with the son should the family get a move to the town

I am delighted to say that last week, the family was finally re-homed and is now in accommodation in Cork City. It is a pity that this is not Killarney, given all the supports that were in place to deal with their complex medical needs, but the family is extremely happy with their new surroundings.

My question for IPAS is to ask if there is some blockade on families being rehomed here in Killarney in individual accommodation due to high rents? I understand there are many within the locality being very generously remunerated for providing accommodation to Ukrainians so I fail to see how there could have been such resistance to this family being relocated.

I accept this family is just one of many arriving with hugely varied and complex needs but this is a case where the solution was being offered, not merely a problem being presented.

I am equally aware, as we all are, of the housing crisis we have in our country, which is an enormous shame on our society, but this accommodation was being offered specifically to a Ukrainian family, not as social housing and I have no control over the wishes of the landlord.

I should now also highlight that, at all times in this case, we were dealing with those working in a central national office for IPAS, for fear anyone present feels I am being critical of anyone Kerry County Council. I can assure you all I am not.

I also recognise those working trying to process these new arrivals have a near impossible task as they are completely overwhelmed by the task at hand, which is unprecedented in recent history.

I am very proud of the effort that our town, our county and our country has gone to in assisting these beleaguered and displaced people and I absolutely welcome them but as we are very quick to stand on the national stage and pat ourselves on the back for our efforts, I would equally like to know if there are any subversive governmental policies not being publicly highlighted?

We live in a country famous for the welcome it gives to those from overseas but I’m afraid this family who presented, with a dire emergency need, were very badly let down by the very agency supposed to have their best interests at heart.

I would like to know if there is policy specific to our town behind their actions?

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