Fine Gael MEPs reject claims they aligned with far right on migrant vote

Four MEPs voted against Mediterranean search and rescue resolution over one clause

LÉ Samuel Beckett comes to migrants’ aid during a search and rescue operation northeast of Tripoli in the Mediterranean in 2016

LÉ Samuel Beckett comes to migrants’ aid during a search and rescue operation northeast of Tripoli in the Mediterranean in 2016

 

Fine Gael MEPs have criticised as “disingenuous” claims that their position on search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean had aligned their stance to that of far-right groups in the European Parliament.

The four MEPs – Mairéad McGuinness, Maria Walsh, Frances Fitzgerald and Seán Kelly – voted against a resolution that came before the EU parliament in Luxembourg on Thursday on search and rescue.

They specifically disagreed with a clause that would have required more sharing of information by agencies involved in such operations.

The majority of MEPs in the European People’s Party, the group to which Fine Gael is aligned, also voted against the resolution, thus ensuring its defeat by two votes.

The result led to cheering and banging of tables by anti-immigrant and far-right MEPs at the session.

The vote was held just one day after 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in a lorry in Essex, believed to have been smuggled into the UK.

Ms Fitzgerald, an MEP for Dublin, and South MEP Seán Kelly on Friday defended the vote and also criticised opponents who “lumped” them in with the far-right groups.

“Our four MEPs support search and rescue and as much safety as possible. We also supported an increase in budget,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“It is disingenuous to suggest that because we have a problem with this resolution that we are against search and rescue in the Mediterranean,” she said.

“We had very serious worries about one element of it. I hope that it can be resolved and we get a thoughtful response to this one aspect.”

Far-right ‘hollering’

Mr Kelly said Fine Gael could not be responsible for the “hollering of the far right” after the vote. “None of us would ever be associated with them,” he said.

“Every resolution is voted on individual and on its merits. We were told if we supported this it would mean the sharing of information what would put the security of search and rescue at risk and play into the hands of people smugglers,” he said.

Both MEPs insisted Fine Gael had supported many of the amendments including increases in budget and capacity. It was this one resolution, said Ms Fitzgerald, which it could not agree with.

Maria Walsh, who sits on the relevant committee in the parliament, said the provision that required the European border agency to share intelligence with every boat in the Mediterranean “would endanger more lives by facilitating the operations of smugglers and human traffickers”.

Fellow Irish MEPs – Green Party members Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan, Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy, and Independents Luke Flanagan and Mick Wallace – all voted for the resolution.

No votes were recorded for Independent Clare Daly, DUP MEP Diane Dodds, the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long or Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher.

Sinn Féin has expressed strong criticism of the Fine Gael vote.

“It is a matter of deep shame that four Fine Gael MEPs actively voted to maintain a ‘fortress Europe’ status quo that has seen thousands of men, women and children drown simply for seeking sanctuary,” Ms Anderson said.

Voted against

On Friday, Mr Kelleher said he was surprised to hear the resolution had been lost and Fine Gael had voted against it.

“I support the commitment to ensure we have a humanitarian system in place that facilitates immigrants coming to our shores. This would have helped it.”

He said he missed the vote because he had to leave the proceedings early to catch a flight home.

Ms O’Sullivan said she strongly disagreed with the argument of the Fine Gael MEPs that sharing of data would compromise operations.

“Under international maritime law, when you have a rubber dinghy full of people that is in trouble, you have to share data,” she said. “The far-right were quite jubilant and happy. They were banging the tables. It was disgraceful. I really feel that Fine Gael in this regard took the wrong advice,” she said.

There have been 1,078 recorded drownings in the Mediterranean in 2019, according to the Missing Migrants Project, which tracks the deaths of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, who have gone missing along mixed migration routes worldwide.