FG MEP rows in behind call to take Calais children

Brian Hayes says Republic should move to accept minors as ‘humanitarian gesture’

“We should take action here,” said Brian Hayes on the issue of accepting children from the former “Jungle” Calais camp. Photographs: The Irish Times

Ireland should move quickly to take unaccompanied minors stranded in Calais as a "humanitarian gesture", Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said. The Dublin MEP says he agrees with his party colleague, Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty, that it is a "no-brainer" to relocate 200 unaccompanied children to the State.

“We should take action here,” Mr Hayes said. “Given that we have a large number of minors there [in Calais], as a humanitarian gesture we should move quickly on this. It’s the right thing to do.”

An estimated 1,400 unaccompanied children, some as young as six, remain at the site of the makeshift migrant camp known as the “Jungle” on the outskirts of the French port town. Although about 1,300 are being housed in shipping containers, dozens are sleeping rough in the fields and on roads around the camp, without access to education or adequate food.

Calls to bring 200 of them here, spearheaded by the Not On Our Watch campaign, are being supported by a growing number of organisations and church bodies, including the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW), the Irish Refugee Council, the Methodist Church, as well as the Children's Rights Alliance, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.


Statements will be made in the Dáil on the situation on Wednesday evening as a cross-party opposition motion, calling for the “immediate” relocation here of 200 unaccompanied minors from the camp, is considered by Government.

It was discussed briefly at Cabinet on Tuesday afternoon and will be discussed again on Wednesday, according to Government sources.

Tusla meeting

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, who is understood to be positively disposed to bringing unaccompanied minors from Calais, will meet Fred McBride, chief executive of the Child and Family Agency Tusla, on Wednesday, to discuss its capacity to take 200 young people.

Mr McBride on Tuesday told RTÉ that an average of 100 unaccompanied minors were referred to the agency each year. "To receive 200 in one fell swoop would cause some practical difficulties . . . but of course we will do everything we practically can. If the Government needs us to respond, we will do everything we possibly can to respond to that situation."

President Michael D Higgins on Tuesday said the language used to depict Europe’s current migrant crisis was once applied to survivors of the Great Famine in Ireland. Mr Higgins said that contemporary references to “swarms” of migrants had resonances with a similar negative depiction on the Irish western seaboard in the mid-19th century.

There were reports of Galway being “swamped . . . with wandering people” and there were stark contrasts during the growth of the urban environment, he said at the publication of the Royal Irish Academy’s historic towns atlas for Galway.

Methodist Church president the Rev Bill Mullally said "rescuing 200 children from the cruelty and chaos of Calais" would be an opportunity to remove a "great moral stain masking the European Union and [beginning to] colour Ireland as a result of the failure to care for unaccompanied children. We would encourage An Taoiseach to respond positively and with leadership by accepting the cross-party motion to that effect now before the Oireachtas. "

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times