Talks begin in Paris to bring Calais children to State

Move to bring 200 unaccompanied children to Republic expected to be approved by Cabinet

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone (above) and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald will seek Government approval for a “special project office” to respond to needs of children separated from loved ones by war and terror. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Senior Government officials are to hold talks with French authorities on Thursday ahead of a likely Cabinet decision next week on bringing children to the State from the former Calais migrant camp.

The Dáil passed an all-party motion last November committing to taking up to 200 children from the former camp, which was known as “the jungle”.

The motion, moved by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, noted that the French government had dismantled the Calais refugee camps and also noted “with concern” that up to 10,000 children were missing and at risk across Europe, and that this required a social humanitarian response from EU states.

Ahead of the Cabinet approving the move, officials from the Department of Children and the Department of Justice, as well as from child and family agency Tusla, are travelling to Paris for talks with their counterparts.


Legal groundwork

The talks are expected to focus on establishing the legal groundwork, as well as interview and validation processes, for the unaccompanied children seeking to come to the State. The first of the children are expected to arrive within weeks.

Ms Fitzgerald and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone are to bring a memo to Cabinet on the issue next week, and they will seek Government approval for the establishment of a so-called “special project office”.

This will respond to the needs of children who have become separated from their loved ones as a result of war and terror.

While it is being established in response to the Calais children, it is understood the office will remain in operation to, if required, handle future intakes of refugee children.

Ms Zappone’s spokesman said the discussions in Paris “are an important step to ensure that both the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla are in a position to act on any Government decision next week”.

Joint approach

The spokesman added that a joint approach was needed between Ms Zappone’s department, Tusla and the Department of Justice “to ensure that children arriving here have a proper immigration status and also to put in place the proper resources to give them every opportunity to restart their lives”.

“It is the Minister’s hope that the process to allow children into Ireland will be in place at the earliest possible date,” he added.

“Irish people and TDs have made clear that they want to see a continued humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis – and Minister Zappone and her officials are working hard to ensure Ireland continues to meet its international commitments.”