All-party push for full Dáil debate after agency’s plea

Dáil time is to be sought for a full debate on the refugee crisis after a plea by the head of the GOAL aid agency.

The Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee is to approach government and opposition party whips for agreement on debate time.

The move came after GOAL chief executive Barry Andrews told the committee they were wrong if they thought the parliament of a small country could not influence the international response to the crisis. He said Syria’s leaders were emboldened by the inaction of the international community.

“There hasn’t been any private members time given to it, no all-party motions. It has been debated in this committee but nowhere else. It is not given the priority it deserves,” he said.

Mr Andrews reminded the members he first told them of the humanitarian disaster in April 2013. “I reported that an estimated 70,000 people had died, 6.8million were in need of aid, 4.25m were internally displaced and 1.3m were seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.”

GOAL chief executive Barry Andrews
GOAL chief executive Barry Andrews

Now deaths numbered at least 250,000, 12.2m were in need of aid, 7.6m were displaced inside Syria and 4.1m were refugees. “The situation was desperate then and the circumstances are far, far worse today,” he said.

“I am asking this committee today to make a pledge to focus your minds on Syria, to do everything in your power to make it your collective aim to bring about change.”

Committee chair, Pat Breen, got unanimous backing for his proposal that the committee push for a “proper debate” with “substantial time” in the Dáil but overall the response from the committee was muted.

Members expressed scepticism over Ireland’s ability to help, frustration that Gulf states weren’t doing enough, annoyance that traffickers were not being targetted, concerns that opening borders would encourage more refugees and fears over reports that several thousand ISIS jihadists were among the refugees.

Mr Andrews pointed out reports that 4,000 Europeans had left to join ISIS. He also urged perspective on Europe’s plan to accommodate 120,000 refugees, noting 60m displaced people worldwide.

“In 2007, Ireland took in 140,000. Sure it put pressure on resources but 120,000 people in Europe over two years is a drop in the ocean.”

Sophie Magennis, of the Irish office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Sophie Magennis, of the Irish office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Sophie Magennis, of the Irish office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, reassured the members that under the refugee relocation and resettlement programmes, people due to come here would be thoroughly security checked.

“It would be very helpful if parliamentarians could assist in raising awareness about these programmes and why these people are coming, and assisting with their integration in Ireland,” she said.

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