The number of Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland could reach 80,000-100,000, Ministers said on Sunday, as civilians fleeing the Russian invasion continued to pour into neighbouring countries.
Officials are working on plans to use army facilities as well as hotels to cater for the influx, which is expected to gather pace in the coming weeks.
Junior minister Anne Rabbitte, who attended World Health Organisation meetings which discussed the issue in Copenhagen last week, told The Irish Times up to 100,000 refugees could arrive in Ireland. Asked if significant numbers of Ukrainians could start arriving “within weeks”, she said “I’d say sooner”.
She said schools should start preparing to welcome Ukrainian children while local GPs and medical services, as well as local retailers and businesses, should anticipate increased demand for services.
Latest figures on Sunday night showed 1,349 people had arrived in Ireland from Ukraine. Government sources said many had gone to stay with friends in Kildare and Galway/Roscommon, where many Ukrainians are working in meat plants.
Senior Government figures also confirmed Ministers and senior officials would discuss reducing excise rates on fuel in order to ease the pressure on prices at the pumps. Two senior sources with knowledge of the issue said however that while Government action was likely, it would not come immediately, as they wished to evaluate the extent of the upward pressure on prices in the next week or two.
Meanwhile, EU support is likely to be made available to farmers who sow crops to help meet grain shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, senior Government sources expect.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said he would ask farmers to plant seeds in the coming weeks to enable them to replace Ukrainian and Russian supplies.
The suggestion met a lukewarm response from farming organisations, but it is expected plans will be put in place for the EU to offer support. Mr McConalogue discussed the issue with EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and other agriculture ministers last week, officials said.
Any scheme to promote cereal growing is also likely to be voluntary, though with farmers entering the planting season over the coming weeks, officials say it is important it is put in place quickly.
Ireland uses about 5.5 million tonnes of grain every year, much of it for animal feed. About 3.5 million tonnes are imported, much of it from Ukraine. However, officials worry there will be little or no Ukrainian harvest this year because of the war, while sanctions will prohibit Russian imports. Ireland also imports much of its fertiliser from Russia.