Ireland to sign up to EU migration pact, overhaul accommodation system

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland agreed on Wednesday to sign up to new EU rules designed to share out the cost and work of hosting migrants and also launched a fresh bid to overhaul how it accommodates arrivals following protests around the country.

Immigration has shot up the political agenda in Ireland after more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees - the largest number per capita in Western Europe - joined record numbers of asylum seekers in seeking shelter amid a crippling housing crisis.

The government said its decision to sign up the rules agreed by EU governments in December - where countries are assigned a share of arrivals with new expedited border procedure for those deemed unlikely to win asylum - would speed up its processes.

Ministers also laid out plans to deliver 14,000 state-owned beds by 2028 to accommodate asylum seekers in a bid to move away from its current "full reliance" on private providers which has led to a continuous scramble for accommodation and seen some arrivals pitch up tents on the street.

The system will still be supplemented, as required, by commercial providers but ministers pledged to end the use of unsuitable accommodation options currently relied upon, such as the sole hotel remaining in a given town.

The removal of such services from many small towns has led to objections from locals and anti-migrant protestors.

The government, which has been unable to stop a continuous rise in record levels of homelessness, said it would boost the accommodation for asylum seekers through the use of modular units on state land, purchase of properties, building of new reception centres and conversation of commercial buildings.

The plan replaces an undelivered 2021 strategy to house all applicants in state-run accommodation that was based on 3,500 new arrivals each year. Over 30,000 people have arrived in Ireland since January 2022 seeking international protection.

Prime minister in waiting Simon Harris told reporters earlier on Wednesday that the plans were a step in the right direction towards the "firm but fair" system on migration he advocated in a speech on Sunday.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Editing by Angus MacSwan)