President criticises Ireland’s delay in taking in refugees

Michael D Higgins tells summit in Turkey global leaders are failing the most vulnerable

President Michael D Higgins has criticised delays in accepting 4,000 refugees and migrants to Ireland.

Speaking at the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey, Mr Higgins said he was not interested in "applying blame" to any person or institution for the delay.

However, he added: “We need to look at the process and the process shouldn’t have taken so long to have got it right.

"But it isn't only an Irish situation: all of the countries in Europe who made a pledge have a responsibility. This is the importance of conferences like this. It is to stress that we want universal application of law and protection, well then you have to accept your share of the responsibility."

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald announced in September last year that Ireland would accept up to 4,000 people as part of a co-ordinated European Union response to the refugee crisis.

Just 10 of the 2,622 asylum seekers that Ireland pledged to accept from Italy and Greece under the EU relocation programme have arrived in Ireland so far.

Hot-spot delays

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said delays in establishing emergency hot spots in Greece and Italy meant very few asylum seekers had been available for relocation to Ireland up until very recently.

Mr Higgins said there was a series of things that could be done to prevent the delays. However, he said there were other difficulties to overcome regarding culture and preparation.

He said that those coming to Ireland needed to be aware of the country they were arriving in and the communities they arrive in needed to be prepared.

He said that too many parts of Europe had resigned themselves to a culture of “fear and fatalism”.

“All countries in Europe must approach it and look at their circumstances, how in fact people can escape vulnerability, and then at the point of safety the provisions that you provide,” he said. “If, for example, the reason we are not meeting the obligation is because the paperwork in either Greece or Italy is not in position you change the process and you get on with it.”

Rethink of politics

The President made a series of addresses to the summit where he called for a profound rethink of politics.

He said global leaders were gravely failing the most vulnerable in society at a time when humanitarian needs have reached an all-time high.

Mr Higgins insisted not enough assistance was being offered and that the help being provided was not having an impact.

“For too long, empty pledges and fine words have died in our mouths – now is the time to turn promises into action for this generation,” he said. “So, let us honour those who have worked so hard to prevent, reduce and respond to conflicts, who have helped pick up the pieces in a broken world, but let us not shrink from the reality of the deep political and intellectual failures, with which we must deal, from which we must depart.

“This is our opportunity to restore hope, to demonstrate the relevance of our multilateral system, our capacity and our courage. This is for us a moment of truth, a moral test.”

Mr Higgins is to meet the aid agencies Goal, Concern and Trócaire today.