Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 October 2015

EU Council Decisions on Measures in the Area of International Protection: Motions


10:45 am

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to accept the following measure:Council Decision (EU) 2015/1523 of 14 September 2015 establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and of Greece,a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 24 September, 2015.

I thank Members for making time today to discuss these motions concerning Ireland opting in to two EU Council decisions that provide for the relocation from Italy and Greece of persons in clear need of international protection. As Deputies will be aware, Ireland is not automatically bound by EU measures in the area of freedom, justice and security under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which includes the asylum area, but may opt in to any measure where it wishes to do so. It is clearly apparent that Europe is facing an unprecedented migration crisis. This is a humanitarian crisis which has continued to escalate and to which there are no simple answers. Both Italy and Greece have experienced unprecedented flows of migrants over the past 18 months in particular, placing significant pressure on their migration and asylum systems. Since the beginning of the year, approximately 116,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in an irregular manner and more than 211,000 have arrived in Greece.

As Members are aware, to date, the Government has been working proactively with its colleagues in Europe to ensure that Ireland and the European Union respond comprehensively to this critical humanitarian crisis facing Europe. Ireland has played its part and many months ago sent some of our naval vessels, including the LE Eithneand subsequently theLE Niamhand theLE Samuel Beckett, to the Mediterranean to carry out vital rescue missions to ensure the safety of many people. These vessels have rescued people in truly horrific conditions, with examples of individuals sitting in tiny dinghies that are completely unseaworthy with petrol spilling into them and people being burnt and unable to move, of young children being on board them, of numbers on vessels far exceeding their carrying capacity and of people being kept in situations in which they could not move and had no chance of surviving when the vessels got into trouble. People have been found in truly horrific positions and I must condemn unequivocally the smugglers who are involved in this regard. Ireland has sent its naval vessels and through Irish Aid, the Government's development co-operation programme, it has been supporting efforts to assist the Syrian people. This measure will see the provision of €41 million in support by Ireland. Deputies will also have noted the decision made by the Council meeting of all the EU Prime Ministers to allocate €1 billion in aid to the refugees and, in particular, to help ameliorate the position within the refugee camps, which had deteriorated. This substantial funding was agreed after the meeting to which I refer and is important in dealing with the many different aspects of the humanitarian crisis.

The decisions being discussed today form part of a package of measures introduced by the European Commission in response to this crisis. The first decision, which was adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 14 September 2015, provides for the relocation of 40,000 people in clear need of international protection over a two-year period, that is, 24,000 from Italy and 16,000 from Greece. The distribution of these persons was agreed by consensus by member states in July and, under that proposal, Ireland agreed to accept 600 people in the first instance. Since the July meeting, the influx of refugees through the western Balkans in particular has increased dramatically. While there has been a stabilisation in the numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean, there have been huge increases of those coming via the Balkan routes and, consequently, it has become clear that significant further measures were needed. Accordingly, at a further emergency Justice and Home Affairs meeting on 22 September, a second decision which provides for the relocation of a further 120,000 people in clear need of international protection was adopted. In this decision, 66,000 of the 120,000 people will be relocated from Italy and Greece initially. As for the balance of 54,000 people, these will either be relocated from other member states coming under pressure in the future, if necessary, or, alternatively, they could be relocated from Italy and Greece. That number came about because Hungary decided in latter weeks that it did not wish to be a country from which refugees would be relocated and that redistribution of 54,000 people is to be decided. The distribution of the persons to be relocated across member states is set out in the annex to the decision. Ireland has not been included in the annex because we did not opt in to the proposal before it was adopted. It is estimated that Ireland's allocation under this decision would be in the region of 1,850 people.

Three weeks ago, the Government agreed, in response to the crisis situation, to establish an Irish refugee protection programme and to accept up to 4,000 persons overall under the EU resettlement and relocation programmes. Resettlement is when refugees who are already in the camps come to us and relocation pertains to those people who have arrived across the borders in Italy and Greece in particular. Included in the 4,000 people the Government has agreed to accept are 520 people it has agreed to resettle in Ireland from the refugee camps, 600 people to be relocated under the Council's decision of 14 September and 1,850 people who are expected to be relocated under the Council's decision of 22 September. The make-up of the balance is yet to be decided. It is important to note that persons accepted here under these programmes also have an entitlement, once their protection claims are processed, to apply for family reunification if they wish to so do, thereby further increasing the numbers accepted by Ireland. The 4,000 agreed to is in addition to those who reach our shores directly to claim protection. Again, Members will be aware that numbers of people arrive here and claim asylum. Those numbers, in line with the rest of Europe, have increased substantially from the beginning of this year, admittedly from a low base. Ireland has seen probably an increase of 50% in those claiming asylum and that is a separate tract to the subject under discussion this morning.

A task force has been established to co-ordinate and implement the logistical and operational aspects associated with this programme. I chaired the first meeting on 16 September, which was a large meeting attended by all the main Departments that will be involved in providing supports, as well as the agencies, the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and others. The Irish people also have also shown great generosity in offering support and assistance of all types including accommodation, support to families and children and clothing. There have been thousands of offers of accommodation and the Red Cross has been given the task of drawing together these offers of assistance in a cohesive manner. On Monday last, the Red Cross launched its website to enable members of the public to formally register their pledges. I suggest to Deputies that people who offer help or support should be advised to give their pledge to the Red Cross - which can assess those offers of help - because obviously one must consider the appropriateness and sustainability of all such offers and how they might be taken up, probably more in the medium to long term rather than immediately. I thank the Red Cross for taking on this role.

At its meeting, the Government also approved the establishment of a network of emergency reception and orientation centres for the initial acceptance and processing of those in need of international protection who are accepted into Ireland under the EU programmes. I note the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard a presentation yesterday from the two agencies involved and I understand there was much discussion of and detail provided on preparedness at that meeting. The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, which also was present, has put in place various initiatives to ensure it is ready to deal with the situation. In view of the profile of the relocation applicants, I expect they will have their applications for protection processed in a matter of weeks and that many will be granted status. This is a new programme by the European Commission. It is not like relocation, where refugee status has been granted previously and nor does it pertain to asylum seekers arriving directly in one's country but is about people coming to Ireland, who had arrived in another country, with the expectation that the vast majority are refugees and will be assessed as such.

We have all been shocked and upset at the scenes witnessed in southern and central Europe and the distressing scenes during rescues in the Mediterranean.

Ireland has always lived up to its international humanitarian obligations as is evidenced by our resettlement programmes which has seen almost 500 people resettled here since 2009, our sending of naval vessels to assist in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, unlike other countries, and the introduction of a Syrian humanitarian admission programme, SHAP, last year which involved 114 persons being granted permission to come to Ireland.

By opting-in to these decisions we will not only provide a safe haven for families and children who are forced to leave their homes due to war and conflict but also show solidarity with other EU member states whose protection systems are under enormous pressure due to the large influx of migrants. I commend the motions to the House.

10:55 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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The current political and economic crisis being witnessed in neighbouring states close to the European Union has resulted in a new immigration crisis on our borders. At least 350,000 migrants crossed the EU’s borders in January-August 2015, compared with just 280,000 during 2014.

This is an EU level crisis which requires an EU level solution. Thus far, Europe has failed the test of providing a comprehensive response to the crisis. Ireland, having now agreed to accept 4,000 applicants, is in the top three countries of the EU as a proportion of our population for receiving immigrants from this crisis. We welcome the Government’s decision in this regard, although it was slow to react to events initially. However, we have yet to see a detailed, fully funded plan from the Department of Justice and Equality as to where and how exactly the people seeking refuge in Europe will be accommodated here. I would appreciate if the Minister could outline what is planned at present at the soonest opportunity. It is important that a proper plan is in place to ensure full integration of refugees into Irish communities across the country once regular status is given to those seeking asylum.

It is obvious that the distribution of refugees must be shared proportionately within the EU to ensure that those seeking asylum are properly catered for. Some of the approaches taken by other member states have been shameful to say the least. Hungary, in particular, has not acted in the spirit required to help in this crisis. Its government has called for European forces to take control of Greece’s borders, for example. We believe many of our neighbours within the Union could do more in accepting an increased number of applications. All member states need to step up and show compassion faced by the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Ultimately, it is important that the EU works on an international level to address the wars and instability driving the crisis. Ending the civil war in Syria must be an international priority. As a neutral country, it is beyond us to take an active approach in a military or defensive sphere. That is our tradition and one which has served us well in the past. We must, however, be active at institutional levels within the EU and the UN to encourage a resolution to the current crisis in Syria and the Middle East in general.

The last EU leaders’ summit in September appeared to act as a fudge and failed to come up with common policies to solve one of the greatest humanitarian crisis we have witnessed on this Continent in decades. It was clear that our heads of government have continuously failed to contain and manage the migration emergency. I understand that the emergency summit in Brussels decided to allocate €1 billion to aid agencies and transit countries hosting millions of Syrian refugees. Some have accused the EU of seeking to pay off Turkey to deal with the immigration crisis. This is not a long-term policy of which anyone within the EU can be proud. It still appears as though many in the Union are sticking their heads in the sand and hoping the problems will go away. The challenges will not be dealt with until the core reasons for the mass migration of people who are in great desperation are addressed. The crisis in Syria and across much of northern Africa and the Middle East has been ongoing for almost five years now. The failure of the international community to address the instability, war and destruction in the region is lamentable. Today, hundreds of thousands of people are dead and millions of people are displaced due to this failure.

The EU must have a comprehensive set of policies in place in order that countries receiving migrants are able to deal with this in a timely and humanitarian fashion. This is imperative to ensure the principles of freedom, security and justice are realised for those seeking a safe haven, but also for countries receiving immigrants. With regard to the motions, it is important that member states recognise the great difficulties currently facing southern Mediterranean countries in trying to cope with the refugee crisis. As stated in the Council decision, to which the motions relates, Article 78(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, allows for the EU to deal with emergency situations characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries into member states. This is an important provision and one which reflects the principle of solidarity, which is central to the EU’s success. We will support this motion in that spirit of solidarity.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin, of course, will support the motion. However, I would like to make a number of comments and outline our ten-point plan, which we offer to the Minister and her senior officials for consideration as part of their deliberations, towards the end of my contribution.

This crisis is not a new one. A few years ago, I visited Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which have been there for decades. They were taking in Palestinians from Syria. In other words, refugees were housing other refugees in appalling conditions. One of the buildings we visited had been bombed out by Israeli forces but refugees were living in it. Our delegation of parliamentarians from Ireland and Britain met officials from the UNHCR and UNRWA to discuss our concerns, which we also raised with EU representatives. This crisis has been going on, therefore, for quite a while. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have taken in a huge number of refugees and they have taken on a massive burden in the context of this crisis. The Minister gave assurances that Ireland would ensure the international community would give those states as much support as it can to deal with the crisis. When we talk about stepping up to the plate, it is remarkable what those three states have done. However, other states in the region have not stepped up to the plate, including the wealthy gulf states. We need to confront them morally about their failure in this regard and challenge them. It cannot just be commerce and business as usual with these states. We need to say we are part of a global community and everybody has to step up and do what is right as part of their international obligations.

Yesterday, INIS officials and the Refugee Applications Commissioner appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, to which the Minister made reference. They are good people doing their best but it is clear that there is not a definitive plan. They are working their way through what needs to happen, which presents an opportunity. Obviously, we would like full costings and a detailed plan but that will take time over the next number of months. Sinn Féin will submit its own suggestions, which I will address shortly.

President Juncker in his state of the Union address referred to a contribution of €6,000 per refugee to states and €500 per refugee for travel and so on. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform rightly said the Government would say to the Union that whatever expenditure is undertaken in this crisis will not be factored into normal budgetary considerations, which would mean it would not have an impact on other decisions the Government makes. I note both these important points. A considerable number of our citizens are wondering about our own housing and unemployment crises and our economic recovery and asking whether they should be addressed first. I strongly believe that we can address both domestic and international obligations but we need to lay out clearly how and why the State can do both. That is absent from the debate currently. I ask the Minister and her senior officials to ensure there is a clearly communicated plan and a clearly communicated message that the Government will deal with these domestic issues but can meet our international obligations and to reassure people before this is turned into a silent resentment or, possibly even worse, racism.

It is very important that we co-operate with the non-governmental organisations. There are superb people in those organisations who have tremendous expertise in terms of integration and location at various places throughout the State. We need to involve communities in advance. We need to tell them that there will be X number of refugees and their families moving to their areas and involve them in the process. There are good models. For example, Southill in Limerick was brought to my attention yesterday. I understand there was a relocation of Congolese or African citizens there that worked really well. That is a good model, which I would ask the Minister to examine. That can be done but we need to plan it out and involve non-governmental organisations and thereby have an inclusive process.

This State has not opted in to two directives that would have allowed those seeking asylum to work after nine months. That is a reasonable expectation. I think we would all accept that our system has been way too cumbersome and that it has taken too much time to make decisions. I welcome the fact that legislation relating to this matter will be brought forward in the near future, and the sooner the better. We have had people stuck in these direct provision centres for far too long, in some cases for more than ten years. We need to make decisions about people who have been there for that length of time. We should allow them to stay, that is my firm view. As the Minister will be aware, the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions did a good deal of work on this - its members visited the centres and it published a report. We are not happy at all with the direct provision system. It fails our people and does not reflect their values. It needs to go. I do not want the new numbers of refugees who will come here to face similar experiences. We have a bad track record on this, which is out of kilter with the history of the State.

As I have said in this Chamber on numerous occasions, ours is the only country in the world that has a smaller population than was the case in the early 1800s. That reflects our history of mass emigration, which has continued right up to recent years. I am a Donegal man. Our history in Donegal has been one of emigration. My father and grandfather emigrated. I emigrated for a short period and was lucky to be able to come home. That has been the history of people from Donegal and the west. It is the history of our country. With that history in mind, surely we can do better on the issue of taking a reasonable and fair allocation of refugees and welcoming them to our country. However, we must do it in a way that deals with the fears - sometimes these are legitimate - of citizens. We can do all of that.

I want to outline some of my party's ten-point plan on this issue. Ireland should commit to taking one refugee per every 1,000 of our population. A proposal in this regard was made by the non-governmental organisations and that is one of the figures mentioned in it. In fairness, the 4,000 figure over the two years is in that ballpark. That would see us take in 4,500 to 5,000 people this year. The direction the Government has taken is a good step. We probably can do more but it is certainly very encouraging and it is a good signal. We need to continue this in the next number of years because this crisis is not going to go to away any time soon.

We need to develop a national action plan. That plan should be both short-term and long-term focused. The Government should immediately set up a working group, made up of immigration experts. Some of what I am calling for may already be happening. I will set out the points, as we put them forward before these measures were taken. As stated, the Government should establish a working group, made up of immigration experts and civil society groups, to speedily identify the infrastructural requirements and other needs and the logistics necessary to make our response to the crisis as successful as possible. I understand from yesterday's meeting that a fair amount of that is happening. The Government should also engage with the Northern Executive - this is very important - and the British Government to work on a common approach across the island. We call for the immediate implementation and enhancing the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme from Britain into the Six Counties.

We fully support the use of the Irish Naval Service in search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean and the Government's call to ensure that these missions continue. We do not want Ireland to be involved in a EUNAVFOR Med mission or a military-style mission. However, all of our people are immensely proud of the work of our Naval Service and we should continue that work. I have already said that we need to end direction provision system.

We call for an emergency summit of member states to be convened immediately. Emergency meetings are ongoing and I ask the Minister to be at the forefront of that process. We call for others to play their part on setting up safe and legal access to Europe. This could be done through a UN Security Council resolution, as well as all European member states working together in a spirit of the Article 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, to make this happen. This could also include the provision of the issuing of humanitarian visas for those travelling from conflict zones.

We must suspend the Dublin regulations to ensure effective access to asylum. The regulations usually mean that the responsible member state will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU. The Dublin regulations establish a hierarchy of criteria for identifying the member state responsible for the examination of an asylum claim in Europe. This is not practical under the current circumstances.

We call on the European Commission and member states to activate the temporary protection directive. Temporary protection is an exceptional measure to provide displaced persons from non-EU countries and unable to return to their country of origin with immediate and temporary protection. It applies in particular when there is a risk that the standard asylum system is struggling to cope with demand stemming from a mass influx that risks having a negative impact on the processing of claims. This directive and its concrete proposals must be immediately activated in light of the current situation. We call on the Commission and member states to stop co-operation with third countries which aim to prevent asylum seekers from reaching a safe place in Europe and we also call for an end of negotiations on any such agreements with third countries, such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Egypt, that do not guarantee the protection of refugees and respect for fundamental rights.

Ireland should opt back in to the common European asylum system, CEAS. As I said, we should opt in to the directives. If we set a challenge that somebody has the right to work after nine months, it will mean that we will get our act together in terms of applications process. We cannot leave people languishing, for more than ten years in some cases, without the ability to work, living on €19 a week. I have visited these direct provision centres in my role as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. They fail the standard of decency that we set as a State. We cannot allow this to continue and we need to address it. We need to opt in to directives, which will ensure that our State meets the standards that are expected of the European Union.

We need to address the root cause of the crisis. We need to strengthen long-term efforts to resolve the root causes of the refugee crisis by advancing political solutions to conflict and inclusive socioeconomic development across Africa and Middle East. Ireland has a proud track record in overseas development aid. We had the highest per-capitacontribution to overseas development in the world a few years ago. It is a proud track record. We can do more. We can position ourselves in terms of conflict resolution because of the recent history in this State; we can be human rights defenders and we can be honest brokers. We have a fantastic diplomatic service. I have had the pleasure of seeing those in that service many times over the years. We can play a key role here but I am happy with the response to date. I have been disappointed historically but recently we have started to show a new direction and I hope we continue on that path.

11:05 am

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I too welcome the motion and, even though I speak only for myself, because I am an Independent Deputy, I will be supporting it. Unfortunately, our approach last winter was not quite so positive. We argued about the cancellation of the Mare Nostrum programme and protested to the Europeans that it was not a good idea. When programme was brought to an end, the refugees were never going to stop trying to come across the sea, they were just going to drown and that is what happened to many of them. People were also drowning when the Mare Nostrum programme was working but it was, at least, a big help at the time.

There is no doubt that this is an incredible crisis. On the issue of the refugees coming in, I support Deputy Mac Lochlainn's point about the importance of getting these people into a work situation as quickly as possible. Surely, it would be rational to do this. The manner in which we have dealt with that issue in the past has left too much to be desired.

I still worry about this situation. If we consider what has happened in the past 20 years, the statistics are frightening.

The militarisation of the planet has continued to increase, especially since 2001. In the past five years, there has been a 16% increase in the proliferation of arms in comparison to the previous five years, a frightening development. Of the 60 million people currently displaced, it is estimated 33 million of them are displaced because of war.

What will we do about this? Ireland is a small country but I believe we can play a positive role in this regard. Several weeks ago, Annette Groth, a member of the German Parliament who had been in Hungary watching the plight of the refugees there, told the German Parliament:

Germany is the third biggest weapons exporter in Europe and has good relations with, for instance, Saudi Arabia and Qatar ... Our government is still delivering arms to Saudi Arabia which happens to be supporting ISIS, the jihadists.

We all realise the whole Middle East region has gone crazy but we cannot stay silent on the reason for it. The number of refugees will actually increase, not decrease, unless there is a serious examination of the root causes of it all. For example, Deputy Mac Lochlainn made the point some countries are prepared to help more than others. Two countries not prepared to take in refugees are Saudi Arabia and America, yet the part they are playing in the destruction of this region is unbelievable. Yemen is being destroyed, with refugees being created every hour there, but no one has said a word about it.

Shannonwatch, through freedom of information requests, got the statistics on the planes coming through Shannon Airport last year. There are planes going through the airport from America to Saudi Arabia with all kinds of arms and most likely cluster bombs, which are being used in Yemen. We are allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the American Government and the arms industry to bring arms to the Middle East region to cause havoc. Bombs are falling on innocent people's homes and they are being driven out of them but we are not stopping it. It is great we sent two boats to the Mediterranean and it is to be commended that we are prepared to take in refugees but how can we continue to allow Shannon to be used for as a US military base? If the Minister for Justice and Equality did nothing else for the rest of her time in government before the election, it would be wonderful if she took a positive decision on this issue, as it would mean so much. We cannot possibly defend our facilitation with what is happening.

Those fleeing to Europe now are fleeing to countries which sold the arms that caused the havoc and displacement in the first place. The Russians have now started to bomb Syria, making them as culpable as the Americans. Bombs do not solve problems; they create them. The French and British cannot wait to get in there more. The region is a minefield now. They have been training rebel groups to fight Bashar al-Assad. While I would not defend Assad for one minute, the alternative is worse. The ISIS crowd are flourishing because of what is happening. It is crazy what they are like. Bad as Assad is, his is one of the last multicultural governments in the region. His biggest crime is that he is independent of America and Israel. I accept he is guilty of many crimes against his own people over the past five years. He should be tried for war crimes, the same as the likes of Blair, Bush and Obama for what they have been involved in.

I make no excuses for Assad or the Russians but Ireland has an opportunity to play a positive role. We are an island, a small country, but it does not stop us from having a real and strong neutral voice for peace. We cannot start talking about peace, however, while we continue to allow Shannon Airport to be used as a US military base. That is the height of hypocrisy. Up to 2.5 million US troops have gone through Shannon since 2001. The amount of arms that we allow through with permits on civilian planes is astronomical. We refuse to search military planes that land at the airport. When people are in opposition, they say we should search the military planes in Shannon. When they get into government, however, they say they have assurances from America that all is well. All is not well.

Deputy Clare Daly and I had three days in court in Ennis recently. Witnesses came forward who were working in Shannon to testify they saw arms on military planes which is illegal. Still our Government does not want to look into this. The judge accepted the bona fides of the testimonies of these individuals. He ended up fining us in the end, which was irrational given his own arguments but that is a different issue.

Will we look at the Shannon issue and stop helping one country bomb another? It would mean so much. Can one imagine visiting people in the Middle East region and watching bombs falling on the houses beside them, looking to kill someone involved military activity but wiping out women and children? Can one imagine sitting there knowing the bombs could have come through Shannon before they were dropped? What does it say about us that we can tolerate this?

The manner in which the world operates has never been as disappointing. The arms industry, along with the pharmaceutical industry, is one of the two largest industries in the world. One cannot get elected President of America without the support of the arms industry. It will cost Hillary Clinton $2 billion just to run for president, which is a lot of money. One needs the arms industry’s support to run for President of America in a serious manner. The end result is payback. Bombs have to be dropped on people to support the arms industry and keep it thriving. We are complicit because we choose to turn a blind eye to Shannon Airport being used as a US military base. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

11:15 am

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I welcome the Government’s decision to let 4,000 of those hundreds of thousands of desperate people, trying to flee the most horrific situations in Syria, Kurdistan, Eritrea and elsewhere, to come to this country. Our only response to people fleeing from these desperate circumstances has to be support and compassion. We should not, for one minute, allow anybody to encourage the idea these people represent a threat. It dishonours our own history if we act with anything less than compassion and solidarity to refugees attempting to come to Europe or this country.

The ships we see trying to cross the Mediterranean to escape war and horror are the 21st century equivalent of the coffin ships which left this country when people fled the horrors of the Famine to seek safety, security and a life elsewhere. If céad míle fáilte romhat is to mean anything, it has to be brought to bear on this situation. We must offer support and safety to people fleeing desperate circumstances. The people of this country have demonstrated their willingness in this regard. My office in Dún Laoghaire has acted as a collection point for materials to be sent to Calais. There was an amazing response. I have never seen anything like it. Our office was packed to the rafters with blankets, toiletries and clothes. All the indications are that the people of this country recognise the desperate plight of the refugees and want to help and support them.

The response of the European Union has been slow and in some cases outrageous. The attitude of the Hungarian Government is despicable but Europe as a whole has been slow to act. It is engaging in a numbers game and playing both sides of the fence in the debate on refugees. On the one hand, it speaks of the need for compassion but, on the other hand, it speaks of a need to strengthen border controls. We do not need to strengthen border controls, we need to open them to as many people as need assistance and support. To do less would be to dishonour our history. Would we have wanted border controls and restrictions on the millions of people fleeing this country during the Famine? Would we want them if, God forbid, anything like it were to happen to us again in the future? I subscribe to the view that we do not need borders on frontiers at all. There is one race, the human race, and our response should be to treat people as human beings and give them the support and backing they need.

It is also important to say there is no connection whatsoever between an increased population and adversity. If a small or reducing population was good, which is the other side of the argument, Ireland would have been the best place in the world in the 1950s and the 1980s when hundreds of thousands of people were leaving the country. Did things get better when we had mass emigration? Of course not, they got much worse. People are not a burden. It is people who generate wealth, provide services and make a society function. We are a very underpopulated country and Europe has an ageing population. Over the next 50 years or so, we need probably an extra 50 million people to sustain the European economy and its society. People are not a burden or a threat. If given the opportunity to thrive they become the world's greatest resource.

There are two things we must do beyond providing a humanitarian response. If some people are worried because they are victims of things such as the housing crisis, poverty and deprivation, we must recognise they are right to be angry about those things. They are wrong if they direct their anger at refugees but they are right to be angry about people living in tents and families stuck in homelessness, because none of it is necessary. We have more than enough resources to resolve the housing crisis and provide housing for all, including the refugees coming here and the people on the streets, but we have failed to do it. We have also failed to do it for the refugees who have arrived in this country to date. The direct provision system is a matter of shame for this country. This must be the catalyst for us to put resources into ensuring that everyone who needs a house, be they a refugee or an Irish citizen, gets it as a matter of right and that the shame of the direct provision system is ended.

As stated by Deputy Wallace, we have to address the reasons this is happening. To cut a very long story short, if we had not facilitated the United States and if the United States had not bombed Iraq, this would not be happening. If the western world did not continue to arm Saudi Arabia with its despicable manipulations in that region, this would not be happening. If we stop supporting dictators and despots across the Middle East and north Africa this would not happen. Yet we continue to do it. It must stop. Our complicity with those despicable manipulations by the big powers in north Africa and the Middle East must end.

11:25 am

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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It is a mad world when there seems to be always enough wealth and money for war but never enough resources for peace. If we curtailed military expenditure and stopped boosting the arms industry, the type of programme necessary to alleviate this humanitarian crisis could be delivered. We need something akin to the Marshall Plan delivered after the Second World War, if not more. The reality is that we have a crisis the likes of which has not been seen since those times. I am delighted we provided the naval ships and very happy with the role they played. I am sorry they did not bring those people to Ireland sooner than now, given the role we played in rescuing them. I am happy for us to take in any number of refugees here. As Deputy Wallace said, we are culpable in this humanitarian disaster.

In the limited time we have, it is more beneficial to deal with the reason for this crisis. Like it or not, from the times of the colonial eras, Europeans sailed around the world, pillaging and conquering, and then came home to enjoy the spoils. When those whose lives have been destroyed seek a better life and have to leave their countries, barriers are imposed . The lucky ones are those who we have seen washed up on beaches or herded into trains in Hungary.

The people who end up in Europe are a tiny fraction of Europe's population and a tiny fraction of the refugee crisis worldwide. Almost 60 million have been displaced. If they were a nation, they would be the 24th largest country in the world. Where do these people go? They go to the misnamed developing countries. The poorest countries take 86% of the world's refugees. The poorest of the poor give asylum to 25% of the world's refugees. In relative terms, very small numbers of people end up on Europe's doorstep, yet we call it a European crisis. It is a migrant crisis which Europe has played a part in sponsoring, not least through our facilitation of the US military machine.

The countries from which the majority of these refugees come are countries which the West has gone into and destabilised. Of these countries - Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen - some of them were poor countries and some of them are now utterly decimated. Through the destruction of Libya, we see the growth of ISIS. Colonel Gaddafi was traditionally one of the EU's favourite border policemen, given the deal with former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi to keep refugees out of Europe. Everyone was happy as we did not have to see them. Now with the disintegration of Libya, the issue is very much on Europe's doorstep. We have to deal with issues such as the US bolstering and facilitation of the Saudi regimes. Last year weapons were transferred through this country on their way to Saudi Arabia. We had a proud record of championing against cluster bombs. Are we going to find out that some of those cluster bombs which recently ended up killing children in Yemen passed through Shannon? There is a good chance of it. According to reports published this year, the US is now the world's top exporter of munitions. Many of those munitions have been used against civilians. Last year, 200 tonnes of weaponry passed through Shannon on the way to Afghanistan.

It is inevitable that some of this ended up in the hands of the Taliban and ISIS, as occurred in Iraq. That came through Shannon. This is a critical issue for us. We are complicit in this. Last year, there were 600 permissions for military aircraft, with 55,000 troops transiting through Shannon. Most of them were on their way to the Middle East. We have heard the words of the Americans, who thank Ireland for its steadfast support in permitting US military transits which back-stop US actions in the gulf region. In other words, we are responsible too.

I do not like some of the media coverage that has occurred and some of the spin whingeing about the so-called cost and problem of refugees and migrants. Yes, it is a big problem, but we are partly responsible for creating it. While we must respond in humanitarian terms, the best thing we could do is to stop making them refugees in the first place and stop facilitating the biggest war machine on this planet on a twice daily basis by landing military aircraft and transiting thousands of troops. It is not good enough and is hypocrisy supreme.

11:35 am

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies for their support. I note the unanimous support for the decisions the Government has taken in respect of the Irish refugee protection programme. I also thank Deputies for their principled support for the relocation of 4,000 refugees to Ireland over the next two years in line with our opt-in at recent Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings.

There were some thoughtful contributions on the range of issues that arise when one considers this humanitarian crisis and how it must be addressed. I refer Members to the European action programme on migration, which is a comprehensive range of initiatives. We are focusing today on the relocation but examination of the action programme on migration, which has been agreed by all member states, shows that it recognises the points a number of Deputies have made regarding the need to deal with the root causes of the migration crisis, the need to work with the countries of origin, the need to work with Turkey and the African states and the broader global and international issues relevant to the conflict zones which have led to the 30 million refugees in the world, as mentioned by Deputy Wallace. Very serious national and international challenges must be dealt with. I agree that Ireland can play a leadership role both at European and world level. We have a very good track record of interventions and we have experience of ending conflict. We intend to take as much of a lead role as possible in the coming months to deal effectively with this humanitarian crisis.

Clearly, the conflict situation and the threat posed by ISIS, for example, are very real. I welcome the solidarity in Europe in response to that threat. Solidarity is necessary at world level to deal with the threat posed by ISIS, because it is so severe. Thousands of young people from Europe are travelling to become foreign fighters. When they return they pose real threats. The radicalisation we see online must also be dealt with. This is all part of the current picture and is worthy of a debate in its own right. In fact, I recently met with the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister to discuss both migration and the terrorism issue. It is a real threat. Bulgaria has 2 million people on its borders who could potentially enter the country. They are refugees because of the Middle East crisis and the other areas of conflict we have been discussing. These are challenging global issues, and the global response to date has not been good enough. There must be more discussion at global level, be it between the Americans and Russians or at UN level. Certainly, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Taoiseach will be working on that in the weeks and months ahead.

To return to the practical decisions regarding the refugees who will arrive here, we have set up the task force and there are a number of sub-committees dealing with the different areas that require action, such as identifying accommodation and examining the integration aspects for the children and families. Obviously, the Department of Education and Skills has a role in that regard. The Department of Health is involved in respect of the varying health needs, as the refugees will require a health assessment when they arrive and appropriate supports and help. I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for his suggestions on the various initiatives that should be undertaken. We are working on a comprehensive plan and will publish the detail as soon as possible. At this point, we have held the first meeting of the task force and everybody has been allocated their various jobs. We will meet again shortly to review progress and to prepare for the first groups of refugees to arrive.

We want the accommodation to be of the highest standard possible and we want the centres to be orientation centres for the Syrians. We will involve the Syrians who are already here, who have formed a support group. The big criticism of direct provision has been the length of time people have stayed in that system. That is the key criticism. I agree that improvements could have been made to the accommodation over the years, but the standard of accommodation, food and shelter should be seen in the context of the crisis of 10,000 asylum seekers arriving. Direct provision dealt with that crisis but, of course, the number of appeals and the delays are a big problem. That will be dealt with shortly. Legislation will be introduced this month to ensure that the process can be completed in a speedier way. That will make a key difference to the situation.

However, we are proceeding with the plans. Obviously, there will be a budget, and the budgets that are required will be part of the budgetary discussions. I accept the point that it is not a question of either-or. We must respond to the refugee crisis and we are doing that. The Government has taken a principled and humanitarian decision. I believe it was the right decision. Equally, however, there are challenges for our citizens which we must continue to meet. If the economy was not improving as it is at present, we would not have the money to invest in the range of services that are required both for our citizens and for the refugees who are arriving in this country.

I again thank the Deputies for their support for the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to accept the following measure:Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 of 22 September 2015 establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece,a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 24th September, 2015.

Question put and agreed to.