Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who will represent the Government at an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss a plan of action and member state quotas the week after next, said last night the country would do what was asked of it to ease the crisis.
However, aid agencies, refugee support groups, and opposition parties said a faster and more generous response was vital and was what the public demanded.
Ms Fitzgerald pledged the Government’s commitment to full participation in Europe’s response to the crisis in a day in which ministers expressed shock at the plight of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose image went around the world after his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach following a failed attempt by his family to reach Greece.
“Ireland will not be found wanting and as before will do the right and generous thing commensurate with our size and our capacity,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“We are open to accepting additional migrants and will participate fully in the range of responses needed to address this global humanitarian crisis.”
Her statement was somewhat stronger than that of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who said after a meeting with French president Francois Hollande in Paris that he had asked the minister to go to the meeting with “a flexible mind” but added: “We’ve got to be realistic in what we can contribute.”
However, neither remark were deemed sufficient by groups demanding an end to the wait-and-see approach adopted by Government, which has only committed to taking 600 refugees who have made it to Europe and 520 stuck in places such as Jordan and Turkey over the next two years.
Jerry O’Connor of the Immigrant Council of Ireland said nothing but political will was stopping the Government from immediately establishing refugee centres and flying families to safety.
“There is a sad reality here that there are weekends where more people drown in the Mediterranean than the Irish Government is planning to take in in the next two years, so we think the figures that the Government have been talking about are not an adequate response to what is a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Mr O’Connor.
“It does appear now that our political leaders are failing to reflect the views of the Irish people.”
Sue Conlan, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, also urged a swift and more substantial response. “Ireland doesn’t need to wait. Ireland can decide for itself, like Germany, like Iceland, whether or not and how it wants to participate in this crisis,” she said.
Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken said the offer to accept 600 refuges already in Europe was “an affront to the decency and kindness of the Irish people”.
“The Taoiseach must immediately convene an emergency meeting of the Dáil to decide on Ireland’s response,” he said.
Fianna Fáil has written to the Ceann Comhairle asking him to recall the Dáil to debate the crisis. Leader Micheál Martin said there could be no more procrastination.
“The Irish Government and the European Union need to take urgent action,” he said. “I have no doubt there would be all-party agreement in the Dáil to accommodate more refugees and I am calling on the Taoiseach to make this urgent decision immediately.”
Sinn Féin said the quota of 600 was “woefully inadequate”.
Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin also called on the Government to do more.
“Europe has not been responding adequately,” he said. “It’s been leaving it to the Italians. It’s been leaving it to the Greeks. Now is the time when we have to get that quota system working and I believe Ireland should take the numbers it’s allocated but we should be doing more.”
Labour ministers Alan Kelly and Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin both said the public was ahead of the Government on the issue in pressing for a response.
However, as with Fine Gael leaders, there was reluctance to be precise about the number of refugees it was felt Ireland could accept, although Mr Kelly said last night it was likely to run to thousands over a number of years.
“It will be multiples of what’s out there — the 600,” he said. “It will be substantially more than that. We’re going to have discussions again at Cabinet but I think we will be taking thousands over the next few years.”
The question of how to fund a comprehensive refugee resettlement programme here has also been raised given the demands on fragile public finances.
Mr Ó Ríordáin indicated assistance could be sought from Europe to help with the costs. “I think it is reasonable to expect we would have a European approach to this,” he said.
Ministers stressed the refugee crisis required not just an Irish or EU response but a global effort to secure peace in the countries from which refugees fled.