Not the time to count the cost

April 2nd, 2022 5:10 PM

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THERE was something incredibly vulgar about the reports in the national media this week of the cost of hosting Ukrainian refugees in Ireland.

One would hope that those who have already taken refuge here in recent weeks didn’t manage to catch any of the radio bulletins reporting the government estimate of approximately €2.5bn to cover the cost of harbouring those fleeing the barbaric war.

One national newspaper even referred to the ‘mind-boggling’ costs ‘for Ireland’ of the war in Ukraine, citing comments by Minister Michael McGrath, confirming the large expenditure needed.

The numbers, we were told, had come from a briefing to cabinet.

It is, of course, frugal for the government to be briefed on any major financial outlays coming down the tracks, and certainly ones that were not foreseen in the last Budget.

But the government must also keep a check on its use of language, and ensure that such statements do not add fuel to the already well-stoked fires of bigotry and racism in this country.

Within hours of the news reports, social media was awash with the predictable comments of ‘looking after our own first’ and ‘let Russia pay for them’ and suggestions that our ‘generous’ social welfare system would be a prime target for scammers who were not even from Ukraine, but would claim to be.

As expected, many commentators made reference to our housing crisis, and the need to sort out our own issues before trying to fix anyone else’s.

There was, surprisingly, very little reference to the pressures that an additional 100,000-200,000 residents could put on the health service, which is a concern that must be addressed.

Long before Covid, our health system was creaking at the seams, and swaying under the weight of a structure that was top-heavy with managerial roles and sadly lacking in frontline staff, creating ever-increasing waiting lists in almost every area.

Then Covid struck and now the system seems almost held together with plasters itself. Over 1,600 patients were being treated with Covid in our hospitals on Tuesday of this week.

But coming down the tracks is the perfect storm of an over-subscribed system, a busy tourist season, and an influx of thousands of Ukrainians, many of whom will undoubtedly need to access healthcare.

It is very likely that any countries that have helped out without hesitation and within hours of being asked, will get financial help down the line.

This week a group of 11 EU countries asked for assistance to help cover healthcare costs for their Ukrainian refugees. They want a fund set up to help them cover health insurance costs and other outlays. Ireland may, perhaps, be entitled to avail of such a fund, further down the line.

But for now, let’s concentrate on the task at hand.

The Ukrainians who have come to our island, and the thousands more who will make that journey over the next few months, are not choosing willingly to do so. And to a man, woman and child, they are all hoping the move will be as temporary as possible.

Just over a month ago they were living unremarkable lives, working at their jobs, booking summer holidays, and most of them had never heard of Ireland.

Now, just weeks later, they are packing up what little belongings they can manage to carry, and finding themselves on the other side of the continent. They didn’t ask for this and we didn’t expect it. But as in any family crisis, we pick up the pieces for them, and get on with it.

If a family member lost their home in tragic circumstances, we wouldn’t worry about the cost of helping them. We would just do it.

Now is not the time to start counting the cost.

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