PUNCHESTOWN Racecourse will use its Event Centre to house up to 378 people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The first refugees, mainly women and children, could move in next month and a two-year contract has been signed with the Department of Immigration. Security will be present on the site around the clock and catering will also be supplied.

Punchestown CEO Conor O’Neill said: “This was not a decision we took lightly. It won’t impact on our core business of racing in any way. The Event Centre has been segregated from the racecourse site. We are conscious of the humanitarian needs, but we also very mindful of our responsibilities to racing, the local community and Punchestown itself.”

The Event Centre was used as a Covid test centre during the pandemic and other parts of the racecourse were used for Covid vaccinations on non-racedays.

Now a total of 78 ‘pods’ have been created in the building, each one with two bedrooms. The bathroom areas are in a communal space, with private cubicles.

A spokesperson for the Department said: “It is currently envisaged that residents can expect to stay for a number of weeks and then be moved to more suitable accommodation, though this will depend entirely on longer-term accommodation being available.”

Since February 2022 to date, the Government is providing 96,965 people seeking refuge with state-provided or pledged accommodation and support services. In the last six months, there has been an average of 600 people seeking accommodation every week.

Last month, 750 refugees were temporarily housed in tents at the site of music festival Electric Picnic in Stradbally in Co Laois. That site was set to shut last week as a number of Ukrainian families had reported suffering extreme cold in the tents as the weather turned and the campsite became waterlogged.