Taoiseach says Covid-19 fund could be used to fund the cost of accepting Ukrainian refugees

Money set aside for dealing with the impact of coronavirus could be used instead to fund the cost of accepting tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, the Taoiseach has said. Speaking in London, Mr Martin said ministers are considering how the funds could be redeployed.

“That’s a contingency fund that had been provided in the budget for Covid, which hasn’t been spent. Some of it has but not all of it. And that may be available for us to work on the undoubted increase in expenditure that will occur in areas like education, in areas like health and across the board. And that’s something that the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure are examining,” he said.

The Taoiseach warned against scaremongering about the economic impact of the war in Ukraine but he acknowledged that its effect on fuel prices would feed into the broader economy. He said that European Central Bank (ECB) president Christine Lagarde had made clear to EU leaders in Versailles last week that the impact would be felt throughout Europe, even if it was impossible to be definitive about its scale.

“We have to be honest with you, it will have impacts in terms of the cost of living, in terms of fuel prices, in terms of food and other commodities as well. And it’s going to be a very challenging situation for the wider European continent and indeed for Ireland as well. Economically, it changes the economic dial,” he said.

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“We do have to take it step by step and we have made interventions in respect of fuel prices in particular, and in respect of trying to assist the haulage industry which is a key sector in terms of keeping the wheels of industry moving. And they play a vital role in the supply chain and we’re an exporting nation.

“So we’ll keep a watching brief on all of this in terms of managing, but we have to navigate this. We have to also prepare on the grounds that this could be long term, it could be a long haul in respect of the crisis and its economic impact. So we have to act prudently and wisely in terms of how we deploy resources with a view to understanding that they may not necessarily be short term.”

The Taoiseach, who took part in London’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday, watched Ireland defeat England at Twickenham on Saturday alongside Boris Johnson. During a bilateral meeting before the match, the two leaders discussed the situation in Ukraine and the ongoing negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol.

“It’s fair to say we’ve had different perspectives on this for quite some time. And I did make the point to him that when I speak to industrialists or business people in the north, nobody wants to cut off access to the European single market because it is advantageous to various sectors of the Northern Ireland economy,” Mr Martin said.

“But I think both of us agree that the existing challenge between the European Union and the United Kingdom in terms of the negotiation process between Maros Sefcovic and Liz Truss should be pursued, and we support a resolution of this. And already the European Union has put forward proposals that would represent a significant change to how the protocol would operate. I mean, that’s already happened in respect of proposals that have been made, and Europe has displayed very significant goodwill towards resolving this, and that goodwill maintains.”

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