Fine Gael MEPs have been criticised after they voted against a resolution to step up search and rescue for refugees in the Mediterranean.
The European Parliament rejected the vote asking member states to step up efforts to save asylum seekers making the perilous crossing on Thursday.
All of Fine Gael’s MEPs – Mairead McGuinness, Maria Walsh, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Kelly – voted against the resolution, which lost by two.
Fellow Irish MEPs – Green Party members Ciaran Cuffe and Grace O Sullivan, Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy, and Independents Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Mick Wallace – all voted for the resolution.
No votes were recorded for Independent Clare Daly, DUP MEP Dianne Dodds, the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long or Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher.
The resolution calls on the “EU Member States to enhance proactive search and rescue operations by providing sufficient vessels and equipment specifically dedicated to search and rescue operations and personnel, along the routes where they can make an effective contribution to the preservation of lives”, and “to step up their efforts in support of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean”.
Ms Anderson told the PA news agency that the European Parliament failed to commit to protecting human life in the Mediterranean.
“The motion fell by two votes, further adding to a damning record of the EU on the deepening humanitarian crisis,” she said
“It is a matter of deep shame that four Fine Gael MEPs actively voted to maintain a ‘fortress Europe’ status quo that has seen thousands of men, women and children drown simply for seeking sanctuary.
“While Fine Gael wax lyrical about the ‘four freedoms’ of the EU, including the freedom of movement, they are ready to side with their right-wing EU colleagues to ensure these values don’t extend to those fleeing destitution, war and persecution.”
Ms O’Sullivan added: “The result of today’s vote is deeply saddening to me.
“I don’t understand how MEPs could vote against an amendment that was ultimately humanitarian in its intent – supporting the rescue of drowning migrants in the Mediterranean.
“It’s soul-destroying to me and I am gutted.
“This was a vote that was swayed by the far right, who worked hard to kill the amendment and (unbelievably) cheered when it was defeated.
“Unfortunately this vote also has likely implications for those conducting rescue operations, which makes it doubly sad.”
When challenged on her vote by one-time Green Party European candidate Saoirse McHugh on Twitter, Maria Walsh replied: “I am the first to shout the loudest for the protection of our citizens, but this report wasn’t good enough.
“It was a short-term bandaid, and I believe would have cost lives.”
Speaking to PA, Ms Walsh said: “We need a coherent, comprehensive and long-term EU response to Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean.
“The resolution does the opposite by calling for Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, to share intelligence about its operational activities with every boat in the Mediterranean.
“That would endanger more lives by facilitating, instead of dismantling, the business models of smugglers and human traffickers. We could not support that,” Ms Walsh said, acknowledging she was speaking on behalf of her fellow Fine Gael MEPs.
“We can do so much better than the text which was voted down by the Parliament, which plays into hands of people smugglers and lacks workable solutions.”
There have been 1,078 recorded drownings in the Mediterranean in 2019, according to the Missing Migrants Project, which tracks the deaths of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, who have gone missing along mixed migration routes worldwide.
The vote was held just one day after 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in a lorry in Essex, believed to have been smuggled into the UK.