Sunday 25 February 2018

Top Irish diplomat critical of countries not playing their part in refugee crisis

A Syrian refugee wearing a life jacket and armbands reacts moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee wearing a life jacket and armbands reacts moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis

Mark O’Regan

Our hearts must rule our heads when deciding how many refugees we let into the country, a top Irish diplomat has said.

But David O'Sullivan - the EU's ambassador to the US - also warned that while the plight of those seeking sanctuary cannot be ignored, there is no "easy fix" to the problem.

And he was critical of countries who are not playing their part in the current crisis.

"I find it utterly unacceptable some recent statements seeking to shift responsibility elsewhere", he said.

He stressed that "basic humanitarian values" required by membership of the EU should be adhered to.

This crisis goes to the heart of why Europe is a "force for good in the world", he said.

"We are the largest in the world. When America and China argue whose economy is the biggest they are actually arguing for second or third place," he told a major economic think tank meeting in Dublin.

"It doesn't sit not very well, for the largest economy in the world to say, that it's beyond our ability to offer refuge and shelter to several hundred thousand people fleeing conflict and war, in an unprecedented situation.

"Look at the outpouring in Germany and Austria...this is the response we need.

"I sincerely hope the people of Europe, and the Government's of Europe, can respond to this not just with intellectual, legal, and economic arguments, but with arguments from the heart."

He also said the historic experience of America shows that emigrants can make a unique contribution to the progress of a country.

Separately, he held out some good news on the jobs front for Ireland.

He said a new trade deal between the EU and the US will boost general economic growth and employment.

And it will also help in the battle to lure more foreign firms in here.

He argued the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP, will disproportionately benefit Ireland.

This is because of our remarkably high trade levels with the US.

It will be a "powerful shot in the arm" for the country as it rebuilds its economy on a more diversified, sustainable basis.

He pointed out US firms have invested around €189 billion here since 1990, more than the combined total of US investments to Brazil, Russia, India and China.

"With only 1pc of the EU population, Ireland accounts for more than 14pc of all US investment to the EU, investment that supports 100,000 jobs.

"TTIP will make it easier for US companies to invest in Ireland, and vice versa, and this can only be a good thing for our school-leavers and graduates.

"Ireland is an export nation, and exports 80pc of everything it produces.

"The US is a vital export market for Ireland. In 2013, 20pc of all Irish exports went to the US, and the value of food and drink exports alone was over €500m.

"As TTIP aims to eliminate tariffs and behind-the-border barriers, Irish exports and jobs supported by them can only increase," he added.

But he admitted the beef industry in Ireland will face challenges under proposed trade deals.

He described opening up agricultural markets as a "two-way street."

"I'm not saying the beef industry is completely happy, but they are not going to be surprised by some dramatic opening of our market," he told the Irish Independent.

"There will have to be a significant offer to the United States of access to our market.

"All our analysis shows that the European beef market will be well able to absorb these kind of quantities.

"But this deal will significantly increase our agricultural exports to the United States. So you have to balance both sides of the agricultural equation.”

Mr O’Sullivan took up his four-year position last September.

His appointment comes less than five years after former Taoiseach John Bruton completed his term as the EU’s Washington ambassador.

He was addressing an economic forum entitled "Transatlantic Relations and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership)” held in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

The event was also attended by Tom Healy, Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, and Gina Quin, Chief Executive of Dublin Chamber of Commerce. 

The attendance also included Irish Independent and Sunday Independent writer and commentator Dan O’Brien, who is Chief Economist at the IIEA (The Institute of International and European Affairs.)

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