THIS week Clonakilty opened its arms and its community hall to the families fleeing the horrific terror of Ukraine.
And those volunteering with West Cork Civil Defence, and the local Red Cross have also done Trojan work in organising the venue for the arrival of several families last weekend, as did Cork County Council and the West Cork Development Partnership.
The hall itself got a quick re-fit, with the facilities being upgraded, and hot showers made ready for the arrivals. The hall has had very little use in recent years, so it was warmed up as well, to coincide with the warm welcome these families received.
And while huge efforts have been made to ensure the hall was kitted out, with 80 camp beds, blankets and even a table tennis table, and food provided locally, it is still very upsetting to see these families having to share, what was until recently a draughty uninviting building, with so many other traumatised people.
The scene is being repeated all over the country – large local halls and hostels accommodating tens of people in one large room. People that just over a month ago were living in their own warm, comfortable homes, with no knowledge of the horror that was to befall them within days.
Looking at the photographs posted online this weekend of venues like the one in Clonakilty, with rows and rows of thin camp beds, it is difficult not to believe we can do better.
Within days of the invasion, thousands of Irish families registered to take in Ukrainian families with the Irish Red Cross.
Weeks later, radio programmes are full of stories of those families saying they have heard nothing since.
The Red Cross says it attempted to get in touch with these families, but in many cases, the phones rang out. A representative of the Red Cross admitted this week that there is no facility for the families to return calls, as there is nobody to answer them.
There have also been several anecdotal stories of mis-communication, including the very sad story told in this paper last week of 53 people – including very young children – being erroneously directed to a hotel in Clonakilty, only to discover the hotel knew nothing about their arrival. They were re-bussed and sent on to Killarney. Is this any way to treat already traumatised families?
The other delay in matching host families with Ukrainian refugees, we were told, was due to the process of garda vetting, where children were involved. And of course these already vulnerable children need to be protected, so garda vetting is essential. But this week The Southern Star was told by the Garda Press Office that the ‘vetting’ of families has now been passed to the Red Cross.
In a statement to this newspaper, the press office said that the Irish Red Cross had been designated as the ‘relevant organisation’ to conduct vetting ‘where hosts have pledged to share their home with these Ukrainian families’.
One would hope the Red Cross does not have access to criminal records of Irish citizens, given data protection rules. But then, one would also hope that the families taking in vulnerable children were properly vetted.
This is a worrying development. It smacks of panic.
As did the decision to house vulnerable people fleeing a vicious war for days in community halls and hostels, notwithstanding all the effort locals have put into making those venues as welcoming as possible. Foster parents, who are already – and regularly – garda vetted and trained in dealing with vulnerable children, have been told they cannot even be considered as host families, lest their foster children are put at risk.
Yet we have opted to allow the Red Cross ‘vet’ Irish families where vulnerable Ukrainian children are to be placed.
Does anyone else see a double standard here?