Ireland is considering taking migrants who illegally cross into the EU in a change from its long-held policy of opting out of such policies at European level.
The European Commission wants the taking of such migrants to be compulsory and to continue indefinitely in an effort to relieve pressure on countries such as Italy, Greece, and Malta that have been inundated with more than 200,000 in the past year.
A meeting of foreign and defence ministers in Brussels attended by Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Defence Minister Simon Coveney agreed to establish an EU military operation to put human traffickers out of business.
The EU hopes to get UN Security Council agreement for this soon and be ready to launch on June 22 in its first military operation of this kind, which plans to bomb empty boats on the Libyan coast. Ireland is unlikely to contribute to such an operation even if it does get UN approval, but will continue the search and rescue effort by the LÉ Eithne that is due to arrive south of Italy in the next day or two.
Ireland has an opt-out from EU asylum rules and as such would not be expected to take part in any EU relocation plans to take an initial 20,000 migrants and allocate them to countries in proportion to their population, unemployment rate, and wealth.
Ireland could be expected to take 200 to 300 under the scheme announced as part of the plan to deal with the tripling of refugees in the past year. Up to now Ireland has taken refugees from UN refugee camps in countries outside the EU such as Jordan on the basis that they would be settled in Ireland.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said last week she plans to take an extra 300 on top of the 220 mostly Syrians Ireland has agreed to take this year and next.
Mr Flanagan said Ireland was open to opting into the commission’s proposal, and said up to now there was an unfair burden on other countries with 95% of migrants taken by five countries.
“We believe that is unfair”, he said, adding that “Ireland will live up to its responsibilities in whatever the final outcome is agreed at EU level.” Asked if that meant the Government would consider opting in, he said: “We have not seen the final shape of a plan. Today we agreed to launch a new mission. It will involve a resettlement programme and when that plan is agreed finally you can be sure Ireland will play its part.”
The relocation plan has created a split between EU states, with France saying it will not be forced to take quotas as have Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Britain will not opt in and Denmark has a permanent opt-out.
The military naval operation will be headquartered in Rome and led by the Italian navy with the ultimate aim of destroying the boats of migrant traffickers. Britain is working to get approval from the UN Security Council.
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