IRELAND needs to be “firm” with people who arrive in the country with a false story or under false pretences and return them to their country of origin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar said the State’s policy on migration should be “fair, firm and hard”, including on human traffickers who are exploiting migrants.
He was speaking at the start of the European Council summit in Brussels where EU leaders will hear Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky ask for more military assistance with the war against Russia and push for his country to be allowed to join the EU.
The Ukrainian president will hold separate meetings with EU leaders with Mr Varadkar due to meet Mr Zelenskyy along with his counterparts from Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal later on Thursday.
On his way into the summit, Mr Varadkar said he believed it was feasible for EU accession negotiations with Ukraine to begin later this year, arguing that it is not the case that because part of its country was occupied by Russia that it could not join.
“I don't think we should dilute these tests but if Ukraine satisfies the criteria for membership, well, then we should advance their application,” he said.
“Cyprus, for example, is a member of the European Union, notwithstanding the fact that some of its country is not under its control.”
He said the main thing he would be telling Mr Zelenskyy is that Ireland will stand behind Ukraine “until a just peace is secured and that means Russia withdrawing and Ukraine being able to continue on its democratic and European path”.
He said that Ireland cannot provide lethal weapons to Ukraine but can help with financial and humanitarian assistance as well as supporting its EU candidature.
The Fine Gael leader said EU leaders would also be discussing how to better secure the bloc’s external borders and the issue of return of individuals who do not gain legal status to their country of origin, which he said all countries are finding “very hard” to make happen.
“I think when it comes to migration we need to be fair, firm and hard. We need to be fair with refugees because refugees are welcome in Ireland and people that need our protection should get it,” Mr Varadkar told reporters.
“We also need to be firm with people who come to Ireland with a false story or false pretence. We need to be firm with them and say that we are going to make a quick decision on your application and that we will return you to your country of origin, people expect that.
“And we also need to be hard on human traffickers because we should decide who enters our country, not criminal gangs and this is an issue that all of Europe is grappling with and we need to come up with solutions to deal with it together in many ways we’re the end of the line as a European country, nonetheless we have a shared issue and we need to deal with it together.”
He said he would be making the point to leaders that the best solution to the issue of irregular migration is to improve things in their country of origin.
“I think one of the best things we can do is to work on development, work on trade, work on human rights and political freedoms and that will reduce the amount of irregular migration patterns,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said the Government needs to improve communications with the public about refugees arriving into their area but that people do not have a right to say who lives in their area.
“I think in the absence of information coming from government, what you see is a lot of misinformation, you know, false rumours all the time now appearing online and just by word of mouth and I think if you don’t provide people with information then those who spread misinformation fill that gap,” he said.
He added this was the the reason why Minister of State Joe O’Brien had been given responsibility for integration matters but said he had had to “effectively set up a whole new infrastructure around that”, which is underway and will be resourced.
Also today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said many attacks on healthcare staff are racist in nature.
It is a “particularly invidious” feature on the increasing number of assaults on people who are trying to deliver care to others, he told the Dáil.
“A strong message needs to go out from this House that everybody is welcome in Ireland, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity,” he said.
“People who come here from other countries are particularly welcome in our health service.”
More than two in every five doctors and nurses employed in the HSE were not trained in Ireland, he pointed out.
“Without them, we could not provide essential health care to our most vulnerable citizens.”
Mr Donnelly said he would say to those who are perpetrating these “vile attacks” that the person they were assaulting was one they would depend on.
“This the person you will rely on to treat those you love — your mother, your father, your son, your daughter — when they are at their most vulnerable.
Minister Donnelly added: “I'd like to say to every healthcare working in Ireland who comes from another country, you are welcome in Ireland, you are valued in Ireland.
“The work that you do is essential and the work that you do is appreciated. Thank you for all that you do every day for patients and for their families.”