Noel O'Callaghan.

'Placing refugees in prefabs will lead to problems'

"The use of prefab buildings in Columb Barracks Mullingar, or 'modular units', is in fact hiding victims of a military war behind the high walls of a military barracks, and will create a ghetto, segregated from society instead of integrated."

So says Noel O'Callaghan (retired regimental sergeant major), who was speaking after it emerged that the government are considering the use of army barracks to shelter Ukrainians fleeing war.

It is understood that Columb Barracks in Mullingar, as well as military barracks at Clonmel, Cavan, Longford and Tralee are under consideration for modular homes or prefabs, which could be placed on land around these.

"The use of prefabs behind the high walls of a military barracks for victims of war will lead to more problems, confining people to prefabs is a crisis or panic management response," he says.

"Firstly, women and children, who need empathy, compassion, respect and their dignity, will, effectively be in jail - as they continue to be victims of war and of crisis management.

"Secondly, in prefabs, the heating will have to be electric, which is problematic regarding climate change. Thirdly, they need plumbing for water and toilets, showers, or a situation develops whereby those women and children, at dark of night or early morning, have to wonder around an unsafe place looking for such facilities, where a safe and secure environment can not be guaranteed."

Noel points out that all people who presently use the barracks have to be garda vetted, as children are involved.

"Locked into prefabs for a prolonged time on a daily basis is bad for mental health already affected by war. Will there be childcare support or counselling of PTSD?" he questions.

"Will there be an on-site project manager and security in the barracks? Where will the cooking, feeding, dining take place? There will need to be daily rubbish collection and extraction to ensure rats or mice do not add to the problems. Washing machines and dryers will also need to be in place, as will social and, or physical outputs for physical and mental wellbeing," he states.

"Our Defence Forces have a proud record of unbroken peace keeping with the United Nations since 1958, all over the world, so they know all about wars and the victims of war. A main priority on such missions is providing a safe and secure environment," said Mr O'Callaghan.

"During my 43 years of service with our Defence Forces, I too had service overseas. One of the many courses I completed and instructed was in human rights, and in addition, as a member of St Vincent De Paul for 25 years, I have seen how homelessness affects our citizens.

"It is a well-documented fact that women and children are the first victims of war. At present in our country, we have a refugee crisis. However, crisis management only creates more problems, where we have order, cancel order and then disorder.

"Our government must take ownership of this crisis and demonstrate leadership by example," he says. "If they are asking our citizens to take in and or share homes with refugees, then they must do so first - especially those with holiday homes and prosperities.

"They lost creditability and moral ground during Covid-19 when they continued to break the rules they enforced on citizens - that has not been forgotten. This is no time for political point scoring, posturing or political correctness. It is time now to stop, review, re-evaluate, plan and execute that provides that safe and secure environment - for instance, crisis management is something that the Defence Forces are excellent at, they have expertise and experience.

"With the best will in the world, you cannot get that experience and expertise working from an office."

Noel says that The 'Community Vision for the Future of Columb Barracks' document has always included the provision of short-term living accommodation, together with a care and rehabilitation centre, for individuals and families who have become homeless for financial or other reasons, who are going through traumatic stages in their lives, or are seeking refuge, and who could be assisted by both short-term accommodation and counselling in the centre.

"But, putting prefabs on the barracks square as a quick fix does not demonstrate community vision! I do not believe prefabs are good for anyone involved, no matter the location. Hidden behind the walls of any military barracks will make it worse.

"Government, local and national, need to talk to our citizens. They too are important, and many have genuine concerns for themselves and their families. Without our citizens' trust and support, this plan is unworkable. The mantra of hman rights is 'first do no harm' - it's worth thinking about," he said.