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Thursday 8 December 2016

No upper limit on refugee number Ireland can take: Tánaiste

Niall O'Connor, Ralph Riegel and Sam Griffin

Published 07/09/2015 | 02:30

Refugees cross
the border line
between Greece and
Macedonia near the
town of Gevgelija
Refugees cross the border line between Greece and Macedonia near the town of Gevgelija
The Labour Party has said it believes more than 5,000 refugees could be given sanctuary in Ireland as the Government comes under increasing pressure to play a greater role in addressing the unprecedented crisis
A German man holds a cardboard with a ‘Welcome’ slogan during the arrival of refugees in Dortmund

The Labour Party has said it believes more than 5,000 refugees could be given sanctuary in Ireland as the Government comes under increasing pressure to play a greater role in addressing the unprecedented crisis.

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In a move that raises the stakes with Fine Gael, Tánaiste Joan Burton said there was no "upper limit" to how many refugees Ireland could accommodate.

Her remarks were backed by Communications Minister Alex White, who said recent controversies surrounding the "relatively modest" water charges are put into "stark perspective" by the images emerging of thousands of displaced families.

A range of departments are preparing detailed plans which will feed to an overall Coalition strategy aimed at contributing to the efforts to tackle the crisis.

Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works Simon Harris last night said he had directed his officials to draw up a list of vacant sites that could be used to accommodate refugees.

"I have asked my officials to analyse and audit vacant State property so that we can enable government to make an informed decision," Mr Harris told the Irish Independent.

Migrants wait for buses after crossing Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, September 5, 2015.REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Migrants wait for buses after crossing Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, September 5, 2015.REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Migrants arrive at the Austrian train station of Nickelsdorf to board a train to Germany, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Migrants sleep inside a tent in a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
A migrant stands in a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Migrants stand in a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Migrants stand in a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Migrants sit in front of their tent in a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
A boy grabs a piece of bread as he arrives at the Austrian train station of Nickelsdorf to board a train to Germany, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Migrants wait for buses after crossing Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Migrants arrive at the Austrian train station of Nickelsdorf to board a train to Germany, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Migrants arrive at the Austrian train station of Nickelsdorf to board a train to Germany, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
A migrant sits in front of his tent on a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
A migrant child plays with a wheelchair on a field near the village of Roszke, Hungary, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Migrants arrive at the Austrian train station of Nickelsdorf to board a train to Germany, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Austrian Police helps migrants as they arrive at the train station of Nickelsdorf, Austria to board a train to Germany, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Migrants wait for buses after crossing Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, September 5, 2015.REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
A migrant walks after crossing Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Migrants wait for buses after crossing Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, September 5, 2015.REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Such a move may see former garda stations and army barracks being used to house refugee families in need.

It is understood Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin will bring a plan to Cabinet this week detailing costs associated with Ireland's refugee strategy.

Speaking yesterday, Ms Burton said in excess of 5,000 refugees could potentially be accommodated.

"It could be 5,000, I wouldn't like to put an upper limit on it," the Labour leader told Newstalk.

"In relation to the people coming into Europe, Ireland absolutely has to and will step up to the plate because as a country that's what we've always done," she added.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, her Cabinet colleague Alex White said a figure in the thousands "seems realistic".

"We are a well-off country even though that might surprise some people. I think it does start to put things into perspective. We've had arguments and controversies over relatively modest charges but what we are seeing in recent weeks in relation to the migrants puts these issues into stark perspective," he added.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Simon Coveney has warned that religion should not be a determining factor in the European response to the escalating North African and Middle Eastern migrant crisis.

His comments came as politicians in both Hungary and Slovakia expressed concerns at the potential settlement of thousands of Islamic refugees in Christian countries.

"I think that is unfortunate language (about religion)," Mr Coveney told the Irish Independent.

"I am not going to start judging other countries. Hungary is under huge pressure at the moment. They are talking about hundreds of thousands of refugees trying either to transit through Hungary or coming into Hungary."

"But I certainly think we should not be in the space of distinguishing people on the basis of their religion," he added.

Mr Coveney said that, like Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who is also the father of young children, he found it hard to sleep after viewing the image of Aylan Kurdi (3), the child refugee who drowned and was washed up on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey.

"If somebody is fleeing persecution or fleeing war, trying to find a safe haven for their family to build a better life - if they do not have a home to go to, which is the case for most of these refugees, particularly from Syria and from Afghanistan and Iraq and Eritrea - regardless of their religion we should be applying international law in terms of how we treat them and look after them properly."

The remarks came as thousands attended refugee solidarity rallies at the weekend in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

In Limerick, citizens pledged 173 beds to house refugees with further pledges expected from major cities and towns nationwide.

In Cork, hundreds attended a rally which urged Ireland to adopt a much stronger role.

Irish Independent

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