Trócaire executive director Eamonn Meehan said if the Government did not act, Ireland will have “abandoned the people of Syria” as Germany, France, and Britain all said EU leaders must meet to draw up a new plan - an issue which is threatening to split the coalition.
Responding to the latest tragedies involving 71 decomposed bodies found in an abandoned van in Austria and the sinking of a boat carrying 200 people off the coast of Libya last Friday, Mr Meehan accepted that Ireland has undertaken “very positive” work in rescue missions.
However, he insisted plans for Ireland to take in 600 – a figure the Government notes is “almost double” that requested by the EU – over the next two years falls far short of what is needed.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, the Trócaire boss said Ireland’s response has been “weak” and is “not satisfactory”, adding: “I really don’t think that [taking 600 people] is going to be enough.”
He said that, “as a nation, we have a responsibility” to help people fleeing crisis situations, “given our own past”, and argued “it is not beyond our capability to take several thousand”.
Mr Meehan said that if no attempt to increase the number of people coming to this country to escape what is happening in north Africa and the Middle East, Ireland will have “abandoned the people of Syria”, who are “not leaving on a whim, they’re leaving because they are in fear of their lives”.
The comments came just days after German chancellor Angela Merkel pointedly referenced Ireland, Denmark and Britain — nations which have an “opt-out” clause on EU-wide decisions – as countries which could take in more migrants, and suggested a new quota system based on a nation’s wealth should be considered.
Germany, France, and Britain all called for urgent EU talks to address the crisis in the Mediterranean, while French foreign minister Laurent Fabius yesterday accused Eastern European states of a “scandalous” policy to block migrants from crossing their borders.
The plan appeared to be backed by Equality Minister and Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who last night said “history will be very unkind to Ireland” if we do not “step up to the mark” on the crisis.
He said while domestic difficulties such as homelessness and housing issues demand attention, the migrant scandal should not be ignored in the process.
However, European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy supported Justice Minister and fellow Fine Gael TD Frances Fitzgerald’s comments last week that Government is not considering changes. Mr Murphy said Ireland has contributed €41m to addressing the situation and has been at the forefront of Mediterranean rescue missions.
He said the 600-person figure is higher than what the EU requested, that “we have taken our fair share” and no increase can be considered without an EU “proposal”.
Fianna Fáil’s European affairs spokesman, Timmy Dooley, said Mr Murphy’s “refusal to commit” to an increase means the Government is attempting to “distance” itself from the crisis.
He said the Government should immediately set up an expert group of humanitarian organisations and officials from the health, social protection, local government and justice departments to see what Ireland can “reasonably offer” as we “cannot turn a blind eye”.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement with her counterparts from Paris and Berlin, the British home secretary, Theresa May, said interior and justice ministers should meet within two weeks to draw up concrete proposals.
Reception centres to register and fingerprint new arrivals at common arrival points and an agreed list of “safe” countries to speed up asylum decisions are among the steps being considered.