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Lessons from Ireland and their humanitarian response to Ukraine


Just as people across the globe were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel in regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, the events of the past month in Ukraine have dramatically changed the international environment once again. Now the impending threat is no longer a virus, but a war.

In Ireland, much debate and discussion have been centred around the required humanitarian response which, as we know all too well, holds extensive implications for local government who will be central to implementing these policies and plans within the communities.

As Ireland has agreed to welcome thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, local government will face a direct impact in many forms, such as helping to settle people in local communities and supporting them throughout the rising energy and food security crises. Without a doubt, current local plans will need to adapt, and quickly.

Another focus area surrounds the role Ireland should play on an international level, especially in reflection of the long-held belief in military neutrality. It also seems that the lessons from the cyberattack on Ireland’s health services at the height of the pandemic have been taken in stride as consideration resources at both a national and local level have been invested in to protect this critical infrastructure – this is especially the case within the local authority system where several authorities in their own right have been attacked in the past couple of years.

In addition, there is the immediate realisation of the diversity of the population in Ireland, and indeed the extent to which our own diaspora reaches into countries other than those we traditionally associated with emigration from Ireland. It is clearly apparent that Irish people and their families are now to be found right across the globe, many in places where the risk to life can be tenuous, to state the obvious. This requires new thinking around how to secure their health and safety too. Clearly, it is not just about those links but the wider and expected role countries like Ireland should play in supporting humanitarian responses where crises and risks to life are immediate. In more recent times, we have associated such thinking with the impact of climate change and the possible mass-migration being forced by such change across whole parts of Africa and Asia.

Local political support for Ukraine in the form of twinning; fundraising; motions; and, declarations of support, are important manifestations of a local response to the war in Ukraine, but of more immediate concern is the realisation that a multi-pronged response to meeting the needs of refugees who, in effect, hold the same rights as EU citizens as they land into Ireland is required. It is expected that up to 200,000 people might come into the country – demonstrating a movement of people fleeing war at a scale never previously encountered. Even the movement of refugees from Northern Ireland in the late 1960s was well below what could be coming in the next number of months.

Support for local government

Local government is sometimes the last line of defence in Ukraine and a key part of the response in other nations. See our support to local government in response to the invasion.

The refugee crisis due to the wars in Syria and Afghanistan have become portents of a future which even the most dystopian of films and novels could not envisage. In relation to Ukraine, it is not just about meeting the immediate needs of refugees for local government in Ireland, but also examining the need for emergency planning in the event of a nuclear and chemical conflict. This bleeds into the need to further focus on cyber investment; to consider the impact of sanctions on procurement of goods and services – as well as the general local economic effects; and, not to forget the urgent requirement to provide emergency accommodation for people fleeing from a wholly unwarranted conflict which those of us in Europe mistakenly thought had been consigned to the past. The need to support people who, only two weeks ago, had lives that were not that dissimilar to the lives being led in Ireland.

As stated, the impact goes beyond these immediate needs. In Ireland, we are already coping with the need to provide expected levels of housing as laid out in the recent national policy statement, Housing for All. The Ukraine war places more pressure to find and provide short-term accommodation which may well become a longer-term need.

In addition, as if preparing county and city development plans was not difficult enough – especially in the absence of up to date census data which was delayed due to the pandemic – now comes the need to reflect more adequately on the increased demand for housing and other facilities to meet the medium and long-term humanitarian requirements on an unprecedented scale. The provision of education will be important and the proposal to integrate teachers from Ukraine into local schools across the State will also be important, in both the short and medium-term.

It is arguable whether plans currently being prepared can be adequately considered against the backdrop of dated statistics and the current in-migration of refugees on a scale never previously contemplated. Should the focus shift from the development of policy under these conditions, especially in regard to spatial planning?

Moving beyond these critical policy considerations is there the opportunity, as delivered in rural Germany with the resettlement of so many refugees from Syria over the last decade, to match up the skills and capacity of one of the best-educated populations in wider Europe, that is the Ukrainian population, and whether they may be able to meet the existing needs in social care, hospitals, engineering and technology across the country.

As local authorities prepare their local economic and community plans (lecp) they have a central role in advancing such initiatives by placing skilled people in locations and sectors that are crying out for them. It will be essential that as local community and development committees in each local authority commence the process of preparing their lecps that there is a clear awareness of the numbers coming into each area and their range of skills, including capacity in the English language.

Furthermore, the local authorities will be preparing their climate action plans. With the issues around food security, inflation and the onerous carbon reduction targets that local authorities have to meet there will need to be difficult decisions and associated discussions confronting the local authorities as they advance the drafting of climate action plans too.

Evidently, there is so much to be considered and acted upon by local authorities in such a limited timescale, all we know for certain is local government has no time to sit back now, you are needed again. Sadly, this development in Ukraine comes on the heels of the pandemic. Right now in Ireland, the whole country is taking a moment to reflect on the lessons the last few years and how things have been permanently changed as we look to the future.

Read more about how Ireland is reflecting on the last two years of Covid-19 in this briefing here – open to members and followers.


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