Campaign and voluntary groups believe a grassroots outpouring of shock over the deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean will force a stronger Government response to the crisis.
Jerry O’Connor of the Immigrant Council of Ireland said the public reaction the organisation was witnessing on the ground to the photographs of toddler Aylan Kurki, whose body was found washed up on a beach resort in Turkey, signalled a turning point that could not be ignored.
“We’ve taken a lot of calls and we’ve been following public opinion on social media and it’s clear people feel very strongly and don’t want to wait to be told by Europe what we should do,” said Mr O’Connor.
“We would look back at the Bosnian crisis when Ireland led Europe in responding. Then we didn’t wait for the EU, we didn’t for the UN.
“When other countries were falling behind, we took in a thousand people in one morning at Dublin Airport.
“We didn’t wait for other people to act. We led the way and others followed and we don’t think that it reflects the views of the Irish people that Ireland is lagging behind now.”
The Irish Refugee Council said it had also received many calls, emails and social media messages expressing a desire for action both locally and by Government.
CEO Sue Conlan said: “We’ve had people saying, I’ve got a room or I could make a room available for a refugee family.
“One person said: ‘We’ve only two rooms but our boys are small enough to move into ours so we could free up the other.’ These are emotional responses and they may not pan out but it’s an indication that people are responding to the need.
“They’re saying we want a part of being an answer to this and I think the Government should hear that and should respond to it.”
Ms Conlan said people were not only thinking of short-term help for refugees but of how they could be of long-term benefit to rural communities that have been damaged by emigration.
“We have heard from groups saying we need children to save our school and people to save our communities,” she said.
“They’re thinking of how they could respond to this crisis in a way that would give refugees a real home and strengthen their own communities too.”
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was confident parishes would open their hearts and neighbourhoods to refugees if the Government was to increase the numbers it has committed to taking.
He said while he accepted people had concerns about the ability of the country to sustain a refugee intake financially, he believed those fears could be overcome.
“We have to try. We won’t know our ability until we try to do it,” said Dr Martin.
“Most people are absolutely shocked by that picture this morning of the small child. If we start from that then we have to find the ability.”
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