Ireland may take thousands of migrants - Kenny

Taoiseach says numbers to increase under EU deal

A migrant holds a sign in front of Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

A migrant holds a sign in front of Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the number of asylum-seekers to be received by Ireland could surpass the figure of 1,800 suggested by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

The European Commission is expected to unveil a new proposal next week to relocate an extra 120,000 refugees across the European Union, amid mounting calls for a united EU response to the migrant crisis unfolding across Europe.

This is in addition to the 32,000 migrants that the EU agreed to accept in June.

Ireland has so far agreed to take 600 refugees. “Ireland can cope with more than we’ve already opted for, even though we’re outside the (Schengen) protocol,” Mr Kenny said while on a visit to Lyon.

Asked whether 1,800 was a baseline for the reception of migrants, Mr Kenny said. “If you multiply from the 40,000 originally determined to now over 100,000, the figure may be more,” Mr Kenny said.

When one considers the strife in countries of origin, Mr Kenny said, “We may well run into very substantial numbers, not just to Europe but to other locations.”

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban wrote in a Hungarian newspaper on Wednesday that his country’s “Christian roots” were threatened by Muslim refugees.

“One of the founding principles of the European Union is the freedom of movement of people, and obviously we respect that completely,” Mr Kenny said. “That movement has to be irrespective of colour or creed… I disagree with the emphasis that Viktor Orban has put on that.”

The EU must first decide how it will allocate numbers, and whether the reception of migrants will be mandatory, Mr Kenny said. This could be achieved at a meeting of ministers of justice and home affairs on September 14th, and at the European Council in October. “Clearly between here and early October I think there will be a much more accurate fix on what those numbers might be,” he said.

“Now, countries should be starting to prepare for increased numbers from what they might have originally determined,” Mr Kenny continued. “The question remains fundamentally: can you do this in a voluntary capacity, or does the EU, because it is so serious, make it mandatory and compulsory that you take the following?

“If you stand on the interest of humanity and solidarity, then you had better be prepared to measure up to what is a fair and proportionate number to take and deal with in the short to medium term.”

Ms Fitzgerald said on Friday the number of people Ireland would admit could treble, depending on what was agreed at next week’s EU emergency meeting.

“If the figure of 150,000 for example is put on the table that will effectively mean a trebling of what we have committed to already,” Ms Fitzgerald told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

“I believe that is a minimum of the response that we would be making towards next week. So if that figure is agreed at European level that brings us to a figure of 1,800 and clearly we would then have to see what extra initiatives we can make in terms of contributing aid, in terms of the naval search and rescue.”

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the scenes of refugees streaming into Europe were “harrowing”.

He said Ireland will play its part and do our share to show solidarity with other European countries.

However, Mr Varadkar seemed to downplay his colleague Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald’s claims that Ireland could accept 1,800 more refugees.

He said: “Before you come up with a figure like that, we need to know how many refugees in total the European Union is going to accept.

“When we know those numbers then we can make sure Ireland plays its part. We are a small country in the greater scheme of things. We can play our part and more if needs be.

“This is a problem that is evolving. I don’t think anyone can say today how many refugees are going to come into Europe.”

Mr Varadkar said people should reflect that while many or even most of the 500 million people living in Europe were not satisfied with their standard of living, the continent was “paradise” for the millions of people coming in.

Meanwhile, Minister for the Environmnet Alan Kelly said he expected the State would end up accepting “thousands of refugees”.

“The Irish public are ahead of all politicians on this issue,” he said. “The Irish people have always shown compassion.”

The Minister said he saw the nation’s homelessness crisis and the decision to accept more refugees as “completely separate issues”.

The Government plans to examine every single option in the country when it comes to housing refugees, he said, adding that Ireland need to move on from direct provision to a system that is “more embracing of the people who are coming into our country”.

“We’ll have to think broader on this issue with regards to how we will integrate and bring these people into the country and meet their very, very complex needs.”

The EU plan, to be revealed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday in Strasbourg, will propose the redistribution of 120,000 people arriving in Italy, Greece and Hungary across the bloc. But there were fears that the EU would struggle to secure the support of all member states for the proposal, with Britain, Spain and a clutch of east European countries still opposing the redistribution of refugees. The EU is facing the biggest mass movement of people since the second World War.

Ireland, which has an automatic opt-out from most EU justice and home affairs legislation, will be obliged to opt in to any new relocation proposal.

Ms Fitzgerald noted there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers presenting in Ireland this year, adding that the numbers of refugees accepted by the EU were clearly going to have to increase to deal with the current crisis.

Ms Fitzgerald said Ireland had a positive attitude towards mandatory quotas.

The refugee crisis is expected to dominate Friday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg which will be attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has called on the EU to admit up to 200,000 refugees as part of a binding “mass relocation programme”.

“People who are found to have a valid protection claim ... must then benefit from a mass relocation programme, with the mandatory participation of all EU member states,” Mr Guterres said in a statement. “A very preliminary estimate would indicate a potential need to increase relocation opportunities to as many as 200,000 places.”