Coalition split over response to migrant crisis

Tánaiste Joan Burton’s proposal to take in 5,000 not practicable, say Fine Gael

Tánaiste  Joan Burton: Believes the State should accept 5,000 migrants, mainly from Syria and Eritrea. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Joan Burton: Believes the State should accept 5,000 migrants, mainly from Syria and Eritrea. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Coalition has yet to settle upon the number of refugees Ireland may take in, with Fine Gael saying a call from Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton to accept 5,000 has not been agreed.

Ms Burton said she would like to see Ireland accept that number of people, mainly from Syria and Eritrea. They would come as programme refugees, meaning they would not have to enter the direct provision system.

Fine Gael sources, while not ruling out accepting that number, expressed doubt it was practicable. The party is working on the assumption that the number will be much lower than 5,000.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is to bring a memorandum to Cabinet tomorrow setting out the measures to accommodate refugees.

She said all options will be examined, including some 8,000 voluntary offers of accommodation from the public.

‘Manageable’ crisis

As tens of thousands of migrants continued to arrive in Germany and Austria from Hungary on Monday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said the crisis was “manageable” for Germany though she warned other EU countries that they must do their part.

“What isn’t acceptable in my view is that some people are saying this has nothing to do with them,” Dr Merkel said. “This won’t work in the long run.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is to unveil the EU’s proposal to relocate an additional 120,000 refugees tomorrow in Strasbourg.

The figure mentioned by Ms Burton represents a big jump from the 600 refugees Ireland agreed to take in as part of a European Union programme to accept 40,000 who have already arrived on its borders having fled war-torn regions.

Ms Fitzgerald did not commit to a specific number, saying it could not be arrived at before Mr Juncker’s announcement, or a meeting of EU home affairs ministers next week.

She confirmed Ireland was prepared to accept additional refugees as part of a wider commitment by the EU and mentioned a possible figure of 1,800 if the overall number of refugees being accepted by the EU rose to 120,000.

Ms Fitzgerald said she and the Tánaiste were both saying the Government’s response would be humanitarian, compassionate, prompt and concerted but also sustainable.

She said Ireland had acted proactively and did not have to opt in to the first programme to accept 600 refugees but did despite not being a party to the Schengen Agreement, which means the State has an automatic opt-out of any EU-wide immigration measure.

Family reunification

It was pointed out that an average of three family members came to Ireland under reunification programmes for refugees with status. That would mean a total of some 20,000 if 5,000 were accepted.

While the State has accommodated high numbers in the past, providing for them would have to be feasible, a Coalition source said.

Labour Minister of State at the Department of Justice Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said Ireland’s response was no longer going to be measured in hundreds but in thousands.

“We need to investigate whether we can adequately provide for 5,000. The Irish public is ahead of the political system on this,” he said.

British prime minister David Cameron on Monday committed to accept 20,000 refugees in Britain until 2020.

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the system should be voluntary.