Simon Coveney stresses that religion should not be a factor in responding to refugee crisis

Minister moves to distance Ireland from hardline stance of some European countries

Simon Coveney: “I am not going to start judging other countries.” Photograph: The Irish Times

Simon Coveney: “I am not going to start judging other countries.” Photograph: The Irish Times


Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has moved to distance Ireland from the hardline stance being adopted by some European Union countries to the growing refugee crisis.

Mr Coveney said he was not going to start judging other countries with regard to their policies to cope with the growing refugee crisis but he was keen to stress Ireland would be a welcoming place.

Asked about comments by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban raising concerns about the fact that many of the refugees are Muslim, Mr Coveney said he did not share Mr Orban’s views.

“I think that is unfortunate language. I am not going to start judging other countries. Hungary is under huge pressure at the moment,” said Mr Coveney, speaking in Cork over the weekend.

“They are talking about hundreds of thousands of refugees trying either the transit through Hungary or coming into Hungary from the Western Balkans,” he said.

Christian refugees

Mr Orban, writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper last week echoed comments made by Slovakia’s prime minister Robert Fico that his country would accept only Christian refugees.

“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” Mr Orban wrote in the German daily.

“This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity,” he added as Hungary continues to build a four metre high 175km fence on its border with Serbia.

Mr Orban was already criticised by EU council president Donald Tusk who said religion should not a factor when it came to responding to the refugee crisis and Mr Coveney sounded a similar note.

“I certainly think we should not be distinguishing people on the basis of their religion,” said Mr Coveney as news broke of the LÉ Niamh rescuing another 329 refugees in the Mediterranean.

“If somebody is fleeing persecution or fleeing war, trying to find a safe haven for their family to build a better life, then we should be applying international law in terms of how we treat them.

“Most of these refugees, particularly those from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea do not have a home to go to and their religion should not be a factor in ensuring we look after them properly.”