Tuesday 19 November 2019

Fine Gael MEPs defend voting against plan for EU to step up search-and-rescue for refugees in Mediterranean

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness was one of those who voted against (Niall Carson/PA)
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness was one of those who voted against (Niall Carson/PA)
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

FINE Gael MEPs have defended voting against a proposal for the European Union to step up search-and-rescue operations for refugees in the Mediterranean.

All four of Fine Gael’s MEPs - Mairead McGuinness, Maria Walsh, Frances Fitzgerald, and Sean Kelly - voted against the motion, which was defeated by just two votes in the European Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

Maria Walsh (Fine Gael)
Maria Walsh (Fine Gael)

The resolution called for 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” in the Mediterranean.

READ MORE: Up to 150 migrants feared drowned after boats capsize off Libya

The vote was held just a day after 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in a lorry in Essex. It is believed they were smuggled into the UK. There have been 1,078 recorded drownings in the Mediterranean in 2019, according to the Missing Migrants Project.

Other Irish MEPs, including Green MEPs Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O'Sullivan, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy, and Independents Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Mick Wallace backed the resolution, while Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher and independent Clare Daly did not record votes.

Migrants and refugees in a rubber dinghy arrive on a Greek beach (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Migrants and refugees in a rubber dinghy arrive on a Greek beach (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Carthy said afterwards there were “serious questions” for Fine Gael after they failed to back the motion.

His party colleague, Northern Ireland MP Martina Anderson, 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."

READ MORE: Germany calls for 'coalition of the willing' in EU to take in migrants

But responding to the criticism in a statement on Thursday, Ms Walsh defended the move on behalf of herself and her three Fine Gael colleagues in the Parliament.

Frances Fitzgerald (Niall Carson/PA)
Frances Fitzgerald (Niall Carson/PA)

“We want to save lives and fight human traffickers and to do that, we need a coherent, comprehensive and long-term EU response to Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean,” she said.

READ MORE: Ray Jordan: 'Why it's time to broaden our image of refugees'

“In the short-term, the EU and Member States must allocate more resources to Search and Rescue and increase missions to save more lives.

"We also need to urgently step up the fight against the organised criminals and human traffickers who profit on the vulnerable.

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly (Julien Behal/PA)
Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly (Julien Behal/PA)

“The Resolution rejected by the European Parliament today 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,” she added.

READ MORE: 'Irish concerns can't be dismissed - migration is not just responding to crises,' insists Taoiseach

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