Ireland set for dramatic rise in refugees after new U-turn
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
The Taoiseach has said that Ireland would be able to take a greater number of refugees than the original agreed number of 600.
“Ireland can cope with more than we’ve already opted for,” he said this morning.
Mr Kenny has backed the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald who earlier today said that the number of refugees taken in by Ireland could increase to at least 1,800.
“The Minister for Justice is right to have a flexible attitude towards this,” he said, “but I think it’s important to get a fix as accurately as possible on what the number might be, and deal with it. Now countries should be starting to prepare for increased numbers from what they might have originally determined.”
Speaking in Lyon on the second day of his two-day visit to France, the Taoiseach said that there will be a 'more accurate fix' on numbers to be taken by individual members states when the next EU Council meeting takes place in early October.
“The question remains fundamentally can you do this in a voluntary capacity or does the European Union - because it’s so serious -make it mandatory and compulsory that you take the following. So if you stand on the interests of humanity or solidarity, then you better be prepared to measure up to what is a fair and proportionate number to take,” said Mr Kenny.
The Taoiseach also rejected the remarks of the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban who yesterday said that Hungary has “a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country. We do not like the consequences," he said, referring to the country's 150-year history of Ottoman rule during the 16th and 17th centuries.
“One of the founding principles of the European Union is the freedom of movement of people and obviously we respect that absolutely and completely, and that movement has to be irrespective of colour or creed,” said Mr Kenny.
“I disagree with the emphasis that Viktor Orban has put on that.”
The Taoiseach attended several business events in Lyon and also had a meeting with the city’s mayor, Gérard Collomb. Later today he travels to Cambridge where he will address the British Irish Association.
Senior ministers, led by the Taoiseach, confirmed the major U-turn on the Government's extremely cautious approach up to now as the harrowing images of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach awakened public opinion across Ireland and the world.
Labour Party ministers Brendan Howlin and Alan Kelly made it clear the Government would take a share of the 100,000 people across the EU requiring re-settlement.
In a strident speech last night, Mr Kelly said Ireland must now make plans to take far more migrants.
"Ireland should lead the world on this issue," Mr Kelly told reporters in Dublin.
He said one of the reasons he was proud to be Irish was the country's lack of support for anti-immigrant politics.
"It is that lack of anti-immigration sentiment in Ireland that allows us to be one of the leaders in Europe when it comes to facing this challenge.
"Anyone whose conscience had yet to acknowledge how grave this crisis is will have come to a realisation overnight with the heart-wrenching image of Aylan Kurdi lifeless on the sands."
Mr Kelly acknowledged that Ireland has big housing and welfare problems. But he said these difficulties paled when compared with the life-and-death situations of thousands of migrants scattered across Europe.
He rejected suggestions that this was a "knee-jerk reaction" to the images of Aylan Kurdi and his stricken family.
"We discussed this at Cabinet level earlier this week and there was unanimity around the table that we must do more and we will do more. If anything, the harrowing images has only served to reinforce the need," Mr Kelly said.
Officials said the definitive number of refugees taken by Ireland would have be worked out in the coming weeks.
Ireland is already committed to take a total of 1,120 over the coming two years, and the increase is expected to be "many multiples of this number - but well short of 10,000".
But the Justice Minister yesterday also emphasised that the number asylum seekers had doubled in Ireland to 2,100 in the space of a year. Some 30,000 people had been given refugee status here over the past 10 years, she added.
Ms Fitzgerald admitted that Ireland could do more - but added that foreign aid may have to be re-examined to ensure it gets to those countries which need it most.
"At one level, no response is good enough when you see an appalling crisis like this unfolding before our eyes. We are all touched and affected by what we have seen," Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent.
Ms Fitzgerald also said a "security force" was required, particularly off the coast of Libya, to tackle the scourge of traffickers. And she said that there should be consideration given towards sending refugees back to their countries of origin if they are deemed to be safe.
Earlier, junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said Irish people wanted to take in more refugees.
"They are ahead of their politicians in this regard. History will record how we all responded to this humanitarian crisis," he said.
EU leaders have struggled for months to frame a new migrant policy approach. German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday again said the burden of taking on hundreds of thousands of refugees could not fall on just a few European countries.
A number of Irish charities are working to help refugees both in southern Europe and in Ireland.
Several are running special appeals for Syrian refugees.
Anyone looking for information or who wishes to help can contact:
World Vision (01) 498 0800
Irish Refugee Council (01) 7645854
Medecins Sans Frontier (01) 6603337
Irish Red Cross (01) 6424600
Oxfam Ireland (01) 6727662
Concern (01) 4177700
GOAL (01) 2809779
UNICEF Ireland (01) 8783000