Sunday 18 March 2018

We will be 'generous but not naive' in bid to ease crisis - Coveney

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

Niall O'Connor and Ralph Riegel

IRELAND will accept more than the 1,000 migrants it has already agreed, but will refuse numbers beyond the country's accommodation capacity, to avoid people sleeping rough.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton signalled that Ireland is willing to consider doing more to help the EU cope with the migrant crisis.

But Defence Minister Simon Coveney said that Ireland had been "generous" but must not be "naive".

The Tánaiste said Ireland would play a fair role.

"Ireland, I am confident, will be playing its part. So far, we have committed fairly intensive resources as requested both in terms of the navy and in terms of our agreement to take additional numbers of people," Ms Burton said.

"As a Government we have responded to that humanitarian crisis. If we are asked to look at perhaps, taking further people, I think that the Government will look at that in the same way as we have addressed each of those requests so far."

The Taoiseach acknowledged that Europe faces "an enormous catastrophe."

"Voluntarily, we have entered into that (migrant) protocol. (Naval Service vessels) are down there. They have now saved more than 3,000 lives," he said.

"Ireland understands this (crisis) from our own tradition."

Mr Kenny said Europe had to look at ways of easing the root causes of migration - and avoid the closure of country borders.

He also played down criticism of Ireland's stance from German sources.

"(German) Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined a number of countries that are outside the (migrant) quota."

"And as I said, voluntarily, we included ourselves and made that point at the European Council meeting that Ireland would take a number of people over the next few years, despite the fact we are not legally bound," he added.

Mr Coveney said that he was "very worried" at the sight of some states effectively closing their borders in the face of a flood of humanity.

He also said the migrant crisis now gripping the EU represented arguably the greatest challenge faced by the entire European project.

"What you do not want is to be generous but naïve," he said.

"I think Ireland has taken a very generous and forward-looking approach towards accepting migrants. We accepted that we would take 540 initially and then we added another 600 to that."

"That is over 1,000 refugees that Ireland will be accommodating over a two or two-and- a-half year period."

"If Ireland is going to take more than that, I think we have to be sure we can actually physically accommodate them."

"(If not) as a result, you see migrants living on the streets of your country. Countries need, I hope, to be generous towards what is a crisis in areas of the Middle East and North Africa where very genuine refugees are fleeing from conflict zones and do not have homes to go back to."

Ireland will decide at a Cabinet meeting today on sending a third vessel, LÉ Roisin, to the Mediterranean if the migrant crisis continues.

"We have said we will keep the navy mission in the Mediterranean until the end of September," Mr Coveney said.

"If I feel, or the Government feels, that Ireland should stay as part of that mission for another two months or so, then I won't be shy about bringing our recommendation forward."

Irish Independent

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