Thursday, 19 September 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I thank the Deputy for asking a progressive series of questions. That does not often happen in this House. Normally, it is a case of criticism and defence when we discuss these issues, if "defence" is the correct word in this context.
The Deputy knows my views on the EU's responsibility for vulnerable migrants in the Mediterranean particularly in camps in Libya from which many are desperately trying to escape and are at the mercy of people traffickers who are brutal in their methods. I am both disappointed and frustrated by the lack of the EU's capacity to respond comprehensively to the humanitarian challenge which we all face. Part of that was driven by an inability to agree disembarkation procedures in terms of locations and so on for various political reasons I do not have time to go into. I hope that we will be able to find a way forward that can allow EU involvement on a humanitarian search and rescue basis. Of course, we must ensure that we are not encouraging people trafficking or creating any type of pull factor while at the same time ensuring that we are not knowingly allowing people to drown. Given the resources that we have the potential to provide to ensure that does not happen. I am proud to say that Ireland has made a very significant contribution in recent years. Irish naval vessels have taken approximately 14,000 people from the waters of the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. We will continue to work with other EU countries to try to find and agree a more collective approach towards migration and accommodation of migrants and refugees if and when they disembark in the European Union, which is a challenge for Ireland in light of demands on housing, criticisms of direct provision and other challenges. However, it is something we must do. We cannot allow EU Mediterranean countries to carry the entire burden or what will happen - it has already happened in Italy - in the forthcoming general election is that people will respond by putting those who engage in hardline thinking on migration issues into office. We need to work together to ensure that this does not happen and, in that context, we must help Italy with the burden it has shouldered.
I will return to the EPF facility in response to the Deputy's supplementary question in order to give a more comprehensive answer. There is a role for the EPF, for training and supporting countries in parts of the world that have been destabilised or torn apart by conflict to build security capacity. However, Ireland's expertise and role lies in the areas of peacekeeping and the provision of civilian supports in post-conflict situations. Those are the areas in which we have credibility and that is the emphasis in our contribution to most of these EU debates.