Where will we house refugees once the hotels want their rooms back?
There is a cabinet meeting happening this evening discussing how the government continues to deal with the refugee crisis a particular focus on housing those refugees it comes amongst concerns expressed by some hoteliers that they need their rooms back in time for the high season in other words by April they want to be back functioning.
As normal some of them own a Mara Walsh is the chief executive of the Irish tourism industry Council and is with me now own you’re welcome to the show have you an idea for its own of of how many rooms a percentage of rooms in the hospitality industry are occupied by refugees at the moment well it’s the department of children that contract.
With all the individual hotels and we’ve got data from the Department of Children it’s about a month old at this stage so it’ll have moved on a little bit but the last data we had was the 28 of all tourism beds in Regional Ireland were contracted to government for Ukrainian refugees or Asylum Seekers so that’s obviously a big number it’s probably got.
Bigger since the end of November when we got those numbers and I think the issue that we’re kind of keen to impress is that you know that’s fine in December January even February but as soon as we get to St Patrick’s Day and Beyond and you get into the high tourism season we’re going to need those tourism beds back for tourists because ultimately.
That’s that’s the trade of hotels and guest houses and bnbs and tourism towns right up and down the length and best of the country need that tourism activity so if the tourism beds are are contracted elsewhere and not available to tourists there’s going to be significant economic problems and the the contracts that the department has.
With individual hotels do they all expire at different times is there kind of a standard contract that’s applied across the board how does it work it’s it’s it’s it’s different on an individual basis so so it’s actually quite difficult to clean all the information but some of the contracts are short term maybe three months six.
Months other contracts are longer you know 12 months plus um and I I think a lot of the hotels that have the shorter contracts that maybe are expiring around March April they’ll want to get back into the tourism game because that’s their bread and butter that’s their regular trade if you like and that poses a problem for.
The government because you know if refugees um can no longer stay in hotels because a conference has expired where will those refugees be housed so we’ve been calling on the government for quite some time to really really take this seriously to have a department of teach up that approach and come up with a comprehensive plan as to how refugees.
Now and into the future will be housed and that should include all forms of accommodation from modular housing to unused buildings to State dwellings to State institutions it can’t just be the tourism accommodation providers who are who are the primary source of of Housing and what type of blow would it represent to the industry where the government’s.
Turned around and say yeah listen it’d be great if we could do all those things we can’t do them by April we want to extend these contracts right across the board right through the summer will it be a significant blow and effectively we’d be sacrificing the tourism industry and in response if you like to our to meet our humanitarian.
Obligations and that has significant Economic Consequences like forger Ireland which is the state agency for tourism estimate that for every Euro a tourist spends on accommodation to Euro 50 is spent on ancillary tourism services so the hotels to a certain extent would be okay because they would get a rate from the government albeit.
It’s not as lucrative as the tourism rate but it’s the downstream tourism businesses that would really suffer so the restaurants the pubs the tourist attractions the adventure centers the the cultural experiences they would miss out on the tourist dollar and lots of livelihoods and lots of jobs would be at risk well it you know for some people.
Listening I think that’s a price worth paying you know you mentioned kind of weighing that up against our humanitarian uh um our humanitarian duties and some of those duties were outweighed the the financial impacts well administer Catherine Martin and indeed all the senior ministers and government have.
Always said that hotels and guest houses in BNB are a short-term solution and and after all it’s not particularly good for refugees you know a refugee family who have fled a war-torn situation shouldn’t be holed up in a hotel bedroom or a b b month after month after month there has to be a better alternative and the government have always vowed that there.
Will be a better alternative but we’ve yet to see it and I suppose the other thing to keep in mind to Kiran is that you know this isn’t a two-month three-month crisis this is a two-year three-year crisis like even if the war in Ukraine magically ended tomorrow which we all hope it will and those poor refugees have no homes to go back to so.
You know this is going to be a sort of a a not just a short term but a medium term that plan will need to be put in place and as I say the tourism Hospitality sector will do its bit as we’re doing at the moment but a lot of that bed stock needs to come back into the tourism economy and there are swathes of the wild Atlantic way and.
Slaves of Ireland I think you’re containing yourself you know tourism is really really important but if there’s not the bad stock there for tourists there will not be tourism activity what is your expectation though I mean given your experience of of dealing with the state and other matters you mentioned the promises that have been made to come.
Up with a more comprehensive plan we’ve been hearing those promises for about 10 months now the idea that we’re going to have a solution within three months seems a bit of a stretch yeah I mean certainly like you know words words are cheap to a certain extent I mean what we need to see is is action and remember like I mentioned 28 as I said that that.
Number we got about a month ago six weeks ago that could well have increased by now and also remember it’s increasing as each week goes by because more more refugees are coming on a week basis and I think it’s right that we have a very broad generous humanitarian approach but we just can’t if you like lump the responsibility on one sector and tourism.
Is the country’s largest indigenous industry it’s the biggest Regional employer and there’d be massive economic consequences if we get this wrong so we need a much more balanced creative approach to how how we house refugees and Asylum Seekers we can’t just lump them into hotels and guest houses on a continuous basis Tom mcineny is with us.
As well Tom is the founder of effective Aid Ukraine Tom you and I have had several conversations since last summer on this theme how slow the government and state agencies and local authorities are to find alternative suitable accommodation for refugees and here we are again yes but things have changed somewhat uh.
Kieran I wish I could say that things have changed for the better but that’s not quite the case and there are specific changes taking place at the moment that your listeners are probably in fact are definitely um unaware of I’ve spoken to over the last number of days I’ve spoken to a number of developers ngos people who for different.
Reasons um would be heavily involved in accommodating refugees people who would engage when I passed the government agency responsible for it on a regular basis and what I’ve been told consistently for each of them is that iPass is currently in chaos I mean it’s always been grappling somewhat in order.
To deal with the numbers that come on board it’s it’s not it’s on the vert according to one person I spoke to it is on the verge of collapse and all agreed that the government is likely to embark on some major reorganization of bypass now what does this mean and sorry in terms of the the disorganization one of the consequences of it has been that.
There’s several thousand units of accommodation uh that could have come on stream from private sources that could have come on stream uh months ago and that haven’t come on string that have been delayed just because there hasn’t been any engagement and you’re right of course hotels were only ever supposed to be a short-term measure mind you none of.
Us all of us hoped that the war would be a short-term War but what happened was that a lot of the accommodation that could have been made available more suitable of accommodation that might have been made available than it was but in most cases developers had to go off and invest significantly in making accommodations suitable in.
Restoring accommodation in converting accommodation and a lot of that com accommodation I am told as an absolute fact has been sitting ready to go for the last two to three months and develop for some developers are tearing their hair out trying to get somebody in bypass two inches like what form does this accommodation.
Take is this renovated older buildings is this new buildings because the accommodation that didn’t require it to be renovated would have used and that was available would have been made available back in March or April or May so this is largely accommodation that required some kind of restoration or some kind of conversion I don’t want.
This specified a particular accommodation because I don’t want to get those but I don’t want to risk identifying individual developers because it probably wouldn’t help an already difficult relationship that they have with iPass um but it this is not small scale this is not 10 or 20 units in a piece of.
Accommodation this is um all told thousands of units of accommodation and there is another problem Kieran and there’s a very specific problem and any developer that you speak to that’s engaging on contracts with iPass right now will be able to convert confirm this to you ipas.
Is unilaterally decided that the rate for this accommodation is to be reduced by between 20 and 25 so with it said to new developers the people who put money in and who invested in the expectation that they would be getting a certain return per night what they’ve said to them is that yes we’ve decided to reduce that uh nightly.
Race by 20 25 there’s no negotiation you take or leave us