Cabinet takes a step into the unknown with plan to cut benefits for Ukrainians

Inside Politics: The explanation for the cuts is simple, but their aftermath is unlikely to be so straightforward


The Cabinet on Tuesday signed off on a plan to cut benefits for those fleeing the war in Ukraine, and in so doing, has taken a step into the unknown. To be fair to the coalition, as one senior figure said there’s nothing here that is easy. But the latest intervention is much more of a roll of the dice than the last big move - which was to cut welfare rates for new arrivals from Ukraine and limit their time in State-provided accommodation.

From a policy perspective, that was a success. Arrival numbers dropped and the number of people leaving state funded accommodation is much higher than those Ukrainians going in. It considerably eased the pressure on the Ukraine side of the ledger - but when it comes to international protection (IP) applicants, that is as acute as ever.

Given the relative lack of pressure on the Ukrainian side, the move begs the question: why are they being targeted for slashed welfare rates? The answer, at least in part, lies with the difficulty on the IP side of the equation. Ukrainians can reclaim their full welfare entitlement by leaving state-funded serviced accommodation - the coalition believes many will go back to the war-torn country or move elsewhere in Europe. That in turn may free up beds for IP applicants, although the number of accommodation providers willing to switch from housing Ukrainians to asylum seekers is pretty small, as we reported in March.

There are also plans to review entitlements for those who come here seeking asylum: on Tuesday, Taoiseach Simon Harris hinted this could entail reviewing accommodation provided free of charge to those who have permission to remain in the State but are still in Direct Provision. He also suggested the government would examine at what point its obligation to continue paying welfare during the asylum process may expire.

This is all in keeping with the general hardening of the Government’s approach in the face of unrelenting pressure and record arrival numbers and a response to the need to reduce arrivals. But there are many unknowns: the State has successfully managed to keep the migrant accommodation crisis and the housing - more specifically the rental - crisis on separate tracks. If people leave hotels and direct provision and enter the rental sector, it may increase pressure there, and tensions. About 27,000 Ukrainians are now impacted by the policy change - this is not something people coming here will have to assess, but rather a reality heading directly for tens of thousands of people already here. The hardening of policy may also invite legal challenges. Meanwhile, there was palpable dismay from the Ukrainian embassy as the country faces renewed intensity in Russian attacks - the embassy has hitherto been very slow to remotely criticise the Irish Government. The coalition had its knuckles rapped by NGOs the last time they tightened policy - expect more to follow.

The official line is that the Government is equalising the offering across all categories of Ukrainians, regardless of when they arrived. The aftermath of the intervention is unlikely to be as straightforward as the explanation.

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Playbook

Topical issues starts the day in the Dáil at 9.10am, before a Labour Party motion on road safety and maintenance. Leaders’ Questions is at midday, before Questions on Policy or Legislation before lunch.

In the afternoon, Government time is given over to statements on delivering universal healthcare and the report and final stages of legislation governing the establishment of long term investment funds for infrastructure, climate and nature.

Divisions will be taken in the evening before the Dáil adjourns shortly after 8pm.

Here’s the full schedule

In the committee rooms, the Health Committee will hear about strategies for neurology and neurorehabilitation at 9.30am. At the same time, the Enterprise Committee is holding a session on the impact of AI on business.

Later in the morning, the EU Affairs Committee is holding hearings on recent EU developments on security and defence, while in the afternoon, the Transport Committee is hearing from the Garda on road safety. Revenue Commissioners chair Brian Cody is in the Finance Committee after lunch and in the evening, the Budgetary Oversight Committte is hearing from officials on indexing the taxation and social protection system.

The full schedule is here

Legislation on Research and Innovation is moving through the Seanad in the afternoon.

The full schedule for the upper house is here

When it comes to ministerial movements, Micheál Martin is at the PDFORRA conference in Cavan in the afternoon. Paschal Donohoe will give a keynote address at the Eolas Public Services conference. Catherine Martin is launching the Dún Laoighaire-Rathdown tourism strategy in Sandyford at 11am.

The report of the task force on safe participation in political life at 2.30pm in the Reading Room in Leinster House.

The SocDems launch their local and European campaigns in Merrion Square at lunchtime.

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