High points and low points. They sound like polar opposites, at either ends of a spectrum.

They can be closely related too, though.

Take sport, for example. The difference between winning and losing in sport can often be as close as a hair's breadth.

We watch sport all the time for the highs that it regularly delivers, enduring the lows of losing along the way only because we have to.

Life itself can sometimes be similar.

The war in Ukraine and its impact here in Ireland was a theme that ran through 2022.

From the point of view of my working year, it delivered the high points and, unfortunately, the low point too.

There were a number of high points: the manner in which the community in Millstreet in north Co Cork welcomed around 70 Ukrainian refugees in April; the way people in Killarney rallied in October around a group of 135 Ukrainians who were given less than 48 hours notice of a move to Westport, having spent the previous six months trying to integrate themselves in Kerry; and the way people in Fermoy turned out at the beginning of December to welcome another group of applicants for international protection and Ukrainian refugees to their town.

Sadly, the solidarity rally in Fermoy came three days after a demonstration against the arrival of the same group of asylum seekers and refugees, during which protesters repeatedly chanted "get them out".

Everyone is entitled to protest. But when that protest forms at the entrance to a former convent which is the new home - a supposedly safe place - for people seeking protection and people fleeing war, and the protesters repeatedly shout "get them out, get them out": is that right; is it fair?

It was, I believe, a low point. There had to be a better way of making this protest, whether one agrees with the point being made or not.

Demonstraters in Fermoy this month in support of Ukrainian refugees and applicants for international protection

I have spoken to many people who have arrived in this country from Ukraine since March.

Most of those I have spoken to want to return home, once it is safe to do so.

Consciously or unconsciously, we all make judgement calls when we are talking to people, particularly when we are talking to people we are meeting for the first time or do not know.

"I firmly believe that they are genuinely grateful for the sanctuary and safety they have been offered in this country"

I believe the Ukrainian people I have spoken to are here because they feel they have to be here, that they would prefer to be at home in their own country but feel they would not be safe there, that their lives would be at risk if they were still there, due to the war with Russia.

And I firmly believe that they are genuinely grateful for the sanctuary and safety they have been offered in this country.

That was striking in Millstreet in April, when the first of a number of mass accommodation centres for Ukrainian refugees opened at the Millstreet Arena.

Vira Ruban is among them. She had arrived in Millstreet from Donetsk with her mother-in-law.

Ms Ruban left Ukraine on 4 March when she could no longer tolerate the sound of the bombings.

In April, she was happy to be safe in Cork.

"Ireland is great. When we met the volunteers we relaxed a bit and started to feel safe. But we still have flashbacks from everything," Ms Ruban told RTÉ News at the time.

Vera Ruban, right, spoke to RTÉ in April

She expressed her gratitude then and she repeats that now.

"Everything is great," Ms Ruban says. "Ireland feels like home. We are safe here. We have a nice community."

Khrystyna Hermanchuk was also one of those who arrived in Millstreet in April. She said she felt safe there.

"I am happy to be here. I am very thankful, and thank you for having us here," she said. "This place is amazing. Everything is so beautiful. People here are so welcoming, so warm."

Christina Hermanchuk spoke to RTÉ in April, when she said was thinking of all those in Ukraine

Two months ago, Ms Hermanchuk returned home to Ukraine for a week but was saddened by what she saw.

"It was so horrible to see all the damage that was done," she said. "I am still thankful to be here, because I really feel safe here."

A number of voluntary and community organisations are helping to integrate the refugees and applicants for international protection into the towns where they're now based.

IRD Duhallow provides interpreters, transport and other facilities and interacts with the HSE and others on behalf of those in Millstreet.

In Killarney, when 135 Ukrainian refugees were given less than 48 hours notice of a move to Westport, the community protested until the decision was reversed.

Many of the refugees had found work in the hospitality sector and in other areas in Killarney; their children had settled into schools, got uniforms and books.

They did move out of Hotel Killarney - where they were being accommodated - but alternative accommodation was found for all of them within the area.

"The department is working to improve advance communications for elected representatives, local authorities and local communities"

Communication remains an issue

This was the argument made by organisations like the Killarney Asylum Seekers Initiative, but the group said they found it difficult to make the point because there did not appear to be anyone to whom they could make the point directly.

They were heard, eventually, and the decision was reversed, but communication remains an issue.

Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism complained at the time that the first it hears of the arrival of more refugees and international protection applicants is when a bus pulls up at a hotel door.

To be fair to Minister for Integration Roderic O'Gorman, the scale of the challenges facing him and his department at the moment is huge.

A spokesman for Minister O'Gorman accepted that, while every effort is made to notify public representatives and State agencies in advance of occupying a building, advance communication is not always as comprehensive or as early as the department would like.

The spokesman said the speed necessary to find emergency accommodation often limits the time window for advance consultation.

He said the department is cognisant of these issues and is working to improve advance communications for elected representatives, local authorities and local communities.

Demonstraters in Fermoy, Co Cork this month in support of Ukrainian refugees

Demand for services at 'breaking point'

Killarney has among the highest ratio of refugees and international protection applicants of any town or city in the country.

Killarney Asylum Seekers Initiative was established more than two decades ago to support refugees.

The organisation is still involved in that work today and demand for its services is greater than at any point in the past.

"It's at breaking point," KASI Chairperson Sheila Casey said.

"We can't cope with the situation, the health service can't cope and the schools can’t cope with the huge demand."

Since she issued an appeal for more resources in October, KASI has been funded to hire more staff, but its resources and office space still are not adequate to address the needs of the people looking for help.

Dr Gary Stack is a director of the local out-of-hours GP service, SouthDoc.

He has said the health services were close to collapse, with GP practices at capacity.

"Finding accommodation for refugees must be more than an exercise in identifying where there are available beds - services must also be put in place"

Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism says finding accommodation for international protection applicants and refugees must be more than an exercise in identifying where there are available beds - services must also be put in place.

Ms Casey says the system does not seem to be able to hear or respond to calls for more support.

The system must, somehow, find a way of doing so.

In the midst of all this, the Immigrant Council of Ireland has warned that protests against the arrival of applicants for asylum and international protection in places like East Wall in Dublin and Fermoy in Co Cork threaten to cause division within communities.

The Immigrant Council is calling for clear communication to inform communities where asylum and international protection applicants are being accommodated, and for adequate services to be put in place to ensure their needs and those communities' needs are met.

These calls and warnings are coming from the middle ground, from organisations that are supporting international protection applicants and refugees: the ones who are making the system work on a day-to-day basis on the ground.

There is every reason to believe that the flow of people from Ukraine and applicants for international protection will continue into the new year.

In February and March, the tourism industry will be gearing up for the new season and hotels will be looking for their rooms back.

The challenges now are quite substantial, but they are likely to be even greater then.

"What is going to happen," asks Ms Casey. "If we don't have accommodation, what are we going to do."

These questions are not being posed by the people who were protesting outside St Joseph's Convent in Fermoy, the ones who were shouting "get them out".

They deserve to be addressed by those who are responsible for administering these programmes.