Ireland should take its ‘fair share’ of migrants, says Tánaiste

EU plans to share 40,000 migrants on voluntary basis over next two years

Tánaiste Joan Burton:   “Broadly, we’re agreeable to taking part in the arrangements and to take numbers that are appropriate to our size, population and resources.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tánaiste Joan Burton: “Broadly, we’re agreeable to taking part in the arrangements and to take numbers that are appropriate to our size, population and resources.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Ireland should be ready to take its “fair share” of migrants as part of a European Union plan to relocate thousands of asylum seekers who have fled across the Mediterranean in recent months, Tánaiste Joan Burton has said.

EU leaders agreed last week to take 40,000 migrants who are expected to land in Italy and Greece over the next two years . The agreement however is on a voluntary basis and a number of EU member states have already signalled they will not participate.

“Ireland should be ready to participate and to take our fair share,” Ms Burton told The Irish Times. “We will get the finer details of the procedures and examine them in detail. Broadly, we’re agreeable to taking part in the arrangements and to take numbers that are appropriate to our size, population and resources.”

While the EU wants to oblige member countries to share migrants, many of the 28 nations are refusing to have numbers dictated to them from Brussels.

Mandatory quotas

Commission demands for mandatory quotas resulted in a bitter row among EU leaders last week. Hungary, which has seen thousands of migrants cross its border by land, and Bulgaria, one of the EU’s poorest states, have been granted exemptions. Britain has opted out of the scheme, while nations in eastern Europe refused to accept set quotas.

Under the Schengen Agreement, Ireland has an automatic opt-out to any EU-wide immigration measure, but it retains the right to make exceptions in special cases. The Government will not make a formal decision on the latest EU plan until details are finalised on the likely number to be shared among member states. A motion is likely to be required to put to the Dáil if the Government then decides to take part.

Ms Burton said while Ireland had shown its willingness to accept additional asylum seekers from Syria, it was willing to do more. The State has already pledged to take about 700 Syrians refugees and migrants between 2014 and 2016 under two resettlement initiatives. She said many of these individuals were well-educated and welfare authorities were ensuring that new arrivals had access to supports such as education or training, where appropriate.

Direct provision

The EU proposal comes at a time when there is an increased focus in Ireland on the issue of immigration. A report by a Government working group into the reform of the direct provision system is due to be published tomorrow.

It is understood to propose extending the right to work to asylum seekers after nine months, as well as providing a route to residency for more than 3,000 asylum seekers who have spent five years or more in the asylum process.

While Government ministers have signalled their support for reforming the system, The Irish Times reported concerns voiced at Cabinet last week by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald over an increase in the number of migrants arriving into Ireland via Britain.

Sources said an increase has been noticeable since the turn of the year, with 700 arriving in the space of a month. These figures, if verified by official figures, are the highest since 2003, but below the peak numbers recorded between 2000 and 2002 when an average of more than 900 people were seeking asylum each month. Latest official figures show 215 people sought asylum in January of this year, the highest number in five years.