THE scale of Europe’s refugee crisis appears immense but it could attain biblical proportions in the not too distant future because of the failure of EU nations to agree a common strategy, the lethargy of the United Nations and, notably, climate change.
The UN has criticised the EU’s response but has confined itself to calling for an international conference on the issue - a paltry response to a growing and immediate crisis.
Add to that, the failure so far of the Irish Government to engage with charities and migrant support groups here to help tackle the crisis.
While a coalition of 16 Irish aid organisations has been formed, they need the input of government departments to decide on the manner and execution of help that these refugees so urgently need.
That means organising planes, clothes and food for those arriving on our shores. That is the kind of effort that takes not just energy and commitment, but extensive national resources as well.
So far, the Government has been dragging its heels, ignoring the fact that, in our history, Irish people found solace and security far from our shores.
EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made that point forcibly yesterday as he set out plans to resettle 160,000 migrants from Italy, Greece, and Hungary around the continent.
“There is a reason the number of O’Neills and Murphys in the US exceeds by far those living in Ireland,” he declared as he criticised member states for arguing amongst themselves instead of acting to alleviate the crisis.
He was bringing home to us the reality of emigration over the past 160 years and the hope that the ‘new world’ of north America offered those in Ireland fleeing famine.
Just as the photo of a little boy lying dead on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum galvanised a popular movement in Europe to halt the carnage, so the searing folk-imagery of our starving compatriots in the 1850s should bring home the reality of what is happening right now in north and west Africa.
Also, the issue of climate change is central to the refugee crisis. As the leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan, points out in his polemic on page 13, climate change has had a devastating effect on the people of Syria, helping to propel a civil war there. It is estimated that global warming will rob much of the continent’s ability to feed its growing population in the years and decades ahead, leading to drought, famine, pestilence and - inevitably - war.
As an island off an island off a continent, we may feel smugly secure from what is happening along the southern and eastern borders of our European neighbours but we cannot ignore it.
As the great 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke declared: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”
Doing nothing is not an option.
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