Thursday 21 November 2019

Irish Navy confronted with absolute 'carnage'

COMPASSION: Migrants being smuggled into Europe abandon ship to swim towards their rescuers. But last week their vessel capsized, leading to loss of life
COMPASSION: Migrants being smuggled into Europe abandon ship to swim towards their rescuers. But last week their vessel capsized, leading to loss of life

Daniel McConnell

Defence Minister Simon Coveney has said Ireland must be compassionate and generous in accepting migrants, but has strongly rounded on suggestions of an "open-door policy".

Speaking to the Sunday Independent in the wake of the LE Niamh's major rescue in the Mediterranean, Mr Coveney said such a policy would be unmanageable.

He was responding to criticisms that Ireland has agreed to accept 600 migrants who sought to enter Europe illegally across the sea.

"People who have been calling for an open-door policy on all migration from north Africa as a way of solving this problem, I think that is not manageable. I think the numbers would be absolutely enormous if that was to happen. You would have an awful lot of economic migrants mixed in with genuine refugees.

"Of course we need to be compassionate and generous, but a country like Ireland needs to be practical in what we can do as a small country.".

He said the decision to send a naval ship to the Mediterranean to assist in the search and rescue has been proven to be the right one.

"There are a lot of people alive today who wouldn't be if they weren't there. It has been a very challenging mission for our naval service," he added.

Mr Coveney said he spoke to the Naval officers aboard the LE Niamh directly and was told of the dreadful scenes at the capsized boat, which claimed the lives of over 100 people.

"It really was very difficult, and it is a real testament that they managed to save almost 400 people. They were confronted with carnage. Unfortunately, they have had to deal with very traumatic and difficult scenes.

"But that is what they are there for. To rescue people, deal with these very difficult scenes which result from organised human trafficking out of Libya. This was a vessel that was significantly overloaded, it seems to have listed slightly and took on water on one side. When a vessel that is so overloaded takes on even a small amount of water, then it triggers a capsize.

"The vessel sank in 40 seconds. Our naval service would have been in two boats, dealing with hundreds of people in the water, looking at a vessel sinking with a lot of people in it, stored down below in the holds of the ship. It was about as horrible a scene as you can imagine at sea - with a lot of people in the water, very few with life jackets," he said.

"When they approached the boat, they did so in two boats from either so as not to encourage the movement of people on board which would destabilise it. All of the lessons we have learned from the Eithne and putting them into practice," the minister added.

Mr Coveney said he will discuss with Enda Kenny whether to extend the Irish involvement in the search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean beyond September 30.

"We will review that decision. I will talk to the Taoiseach about it and if I feel Ireland can continue to make a real contribution, then we will look at that.

But he has appealed to the Irish people who may be fearful of large numbers of migrants coming here to be mindful of our own past.

"We have seen a lot of people leave Ireland in coffin ships in the past so we have to be generous and compassionate," he said.

With no end in sight to the migrants making the perilous journey, Bishop William Crean has called for special prayers at mass in the Diocese of Cloyne this weekend for all involved in the Mediterranean refugee crisis.

"The loss of such high numbers of innocent lives at sea resonates strongly with the Irish experience of the coffin ships during the Great Famine," Bishop Crean said.

Sunday Independent

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