Sunday 21 January 2018

Coveney hits back at critics of migrant aid

Government to ask EU to exclude spend on crisis from budget rules

Aaron 3 and Leo 4 Flynn from Rush donate items for refugees of the North African and Syrian crisis at the drop in centre in Belevedere Court
Aaron 3 and Leo 4 Flynn from Rush donate items for refugees of the North African and Syrian crisis at the drop in centre in Belevedere Court

Philip Ryan and Ralph Riegel

Defence Minister Simon Coveney has lashed out at critics of plans for Ireland to take a "very generous" approach to the worst migrant crisis to hit Europe since World War II.

Ireland is expected to accommodate in excess of 2,000 migrants who are fleeing conflict zones in North Africa as part of a European Union-wide response to the refugees crisis.

"Some people will have a problem with that - particularly people who are relying on services from the State, people struggling to find housing and people who are concerned about homelessness," Mr Coveney told the Sunday Independent.

"This is another issue we have to solve and we have to take it on," he added.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent has learned the Government will ask the European Union to relax strict budget spending rules to allow Ireland take in more refugees.

And yesterday morning, in another sign of the escalating crisis, Irish naval ship LÉ Niamh was involved in the rescue of 100 refugees on board a small vessel of the Coast of Libya.

After a two-day meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Irish ships have played a key role in saving the lives of almost 6,000 refugees. The LÉ Niamh will return in October and be relieved by the LÉ Roisin. Mr Flanagan also said the EU will move to target criminals "preying on vulnerable migrants".

Last week, Tánaiste Joan Burton and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin met to discuss proposals to tackle the humanitarian crisis, which took centre stage after pictures emerged of the tragic death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who was washed up on a beach in Turkey.

Mr Howlin's department will now draft a position paper ahead of crunch EU talks on September 14 in Brussels.

The paper will set out Ireland's proposals to deal with the crisis and take into consideration the funding available.

It will also look at ways to ensure the additional expenditure on the migrant crisis does not affect funding needs already in place.

Despite very strong exchequer returns and a growing economy, the Coalition is hamstrung by strict EU budgetary rules which limit its spending.

The Government is expected to suggest that the EU loosen these rules so that any funding on the migrant crisis does not impact on current budget spending plans.

Labour is especially keen that funding available for homeless services are not redirected into the migrant crisis at the expense of families seeking accommodation in Ireland.

"We don't want an existing service to lose out because of the spending we are dedicating to help and assist refugees," a senior Government source said.

The position paper, which will be prepared in the coming days, will explore a range of accommodation options to deal with the influx of refugees.

The State's property portfolio and the rental sector will be explored as options to house migrants, alongside accommodation currently available through direct provision.

Mr Coveney said Ireland has a chance to show "real leadership" in the face of the migrant crisis and described those who are reluctant to help refugees as "inward looking".

"Some people say we have problems at home so those people can get sorted out by someone else.

"I strongly reject that thinking. That would be very inward looking and an unacceptable approach and that's why you will see a very generous offer from Ireland. Ireland can show real leadership on this," he said.

The Minister said he was attacked on social media for saying Ireland should be more open to accepting migrants.

In Cork, hundreds supported a rally to show solidarity to the refugees on Europe's borders. The rally, organised by Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI), was organised on the theme of 'Stop the Slaughter'.

Those attending the rally warned that proposed figures of 1,100 to 2,000 refugees for settlement in Ireland is simply not sufficient.

Sunday Independent

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