Wednesday, 27 June 2018
34. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Ireland's concerns will be made known at European level regarding a search and rescue ship (details supplied) and the lack of true humanitarianism within the fortress Europe mentality of certain member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28006/18]
Some Members more so than others are in breach of the time. That should be mentioned. Members on this side of the House are very conscious of the time and stick to it. That would make a big difference in delivering the questions in an appropriate time.
This question has unfortunately come back as a topic on the news again, with the vessel having difficulty docking at Malta last night. What are Ireland's views on this issue and what does the Tánaiste intend to do at the European level?
I was at a Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday and a General Affairs Council meeting yesterday when I read and heard about the plight of the new vessel, the MV Lifeline, which is on its way to Malta. It was unable to dock elsewhere in the Mediterranean. There are 230 migrants on that ship. The conditions on the ship are not good. I felt that Ireland should show some solidarity with Malta but, more importantly, with the refugees on board that ship. Having spoken to the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice and Equality to make sure that we were all on the same page, which we were, I offered that Ireland would take 10% of those migrants in order to process their asylum applications here.
Other countries are also making offers and I felt that, by making an early offer in this regard, Ireland would trigger other countries to do the same. Malta has been negotiating with many other EU member states to try to share the burden. Malta is a very small member state. It fears that it might be asked to do too much, particularly in view of the resources it has available to it. We will accept in the region of 25 migrants here and go through the process to ensure it is done properly. Other countries have also made offers to try to deal with this particular case. This is the symptom of a much bigger problem that really needs a resolution in the next few days when the European leaders meet.
It is a symptom of a much bigger problem; that is certainly true. While the offer Ireland has made is very welcome, I would be concerned in light of the previous offer we made to take in 4,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. We have taken in less than one third of that number at this stage, approximately 1,400. It is an offer but does it actually mean anything? That is what I am getting at. I would like to see that it does actually mean something and that we will not be sitting here in two years asking if we are actually going to reach those numbers, even though they are very small. It is extremely important. Only when countries like Ireland step up to the mark and actually do something rather than just saying it can we show that fortress Europe does not exist. Then we can show other countries that everybody has to play their part. There is no doubt the Europe can handle the numbers.
We also have to look at what Europe is doing in causing the flow of migrants as well. Europe plays an active part in causing that flow through the deprivation visited upon and destruction of African countries and the Middle East. We have recently seen the destruction of Libya, which is where most of these people are coming from now.
There is an intensive political debate going on in Europe right now about how we can put together a collective and comprehensive response to the migrations challenges that we have. I do not agree with the Deputy when he says that our decision yesterday does not really mean anything. I was Minister for Defence when we agreed to send a ship to the Mediterranean, which was the first time we did something like that. Since then, Irish ships have rescued more than 16,000 people from the Mediterranean. Yesterday, one of our member states and friends asked for help and we gave it, there and then, by means of a practical response. We have offered to take 4,000 migrants in the context of the pressures that Italy, primarily, faces. We have taken nearly 2,000 so far. The actual figure is 1,842 and by the end of the year it will certainly be 2,000. We will take our 4,000. That is well above the figure that the quotas would have assigned to Ireland on a country-by-country, pro ratabasis. We made a conscious decision, which I remember because I was involved with it, to go well beyond the quota figure that would have been proportionate to Ireland's population. I am not pretending that Ireland is doing something extraordinary; it is not. Ireland is simply offering some modest generosity and also recognising the humanitarian crisis that faces many people in desperate circumstances. That approach will continue.
We should continue to do that but we should be doing so in a proactive way rather than waiting for countries like Malta to say that they have a problem before we step in. That is a way to send a message to the countries that are saying we cannot have this and that are pursuing a right-wing agenda and blaming immigrants for everything. We also should be calling into question Europe's involvement in the causes of this. We will never deal with the flow of refugees without dealing with what makes them into refugees and Europe's part in that. It was England and France that bombed the hell out of Libya and now Libya is a staging point for all these refugees. Bad and all as Libya might have been before, it was not a source of refugees to Europe. We have to question that as well. We should be proactive and mature and should not be waiting for a call from another country.
We have been proactive but it is not enough yet. There are substantial new schemes to try to ensure that we stem the flow of migrants coming from many African countries - Nigeria, Mali and many others - via what is essentially a trafficking route through Libya. We are working with governments in countries where the migration begins. We are also trying to deal robustly with traffickers and ensure that conditions in camps on the shores of Libya are improving through UN structures and engagement. The numbers that are trying to cross the Mediterranean are significantly down this year. Having said that, they are still significant; approximately 16,000 have so far arrived in Italian ports this year. We cannot continue to allow a small number of Mediterranean countries to carry the entire burden in the context of the migration pressures that exist. There must be a collective response from the European Union. We need to show some flexibility in respect of how that collective response works in practical terms. That is what leaders, including the Taoiseach, will be discussing and advocating in the next few days.