herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Government considering resettling twice as many migrants, says Frances Fitzgerald

Minister Simon Coveney meeting Ensign Ben Crumplin on the flight deck of the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta with Mnisters Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock. Also inlcluded on right is commander Pearse O'Donnell
Minister Simon Coveney meeting Ensign Ben Crumplin on the flight deck of the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta with Mnisters Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock. Also inlcluded on right is commander Pearse O'Donnell
Ministers Simon Coveney, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock boarding the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta

THE Government is considering resettling as many as 600 refugees from the Mediterranean migrant crisis, twice the number previously indicated.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald confirmed that Ireland is in discussions over the number of migrants it will accept under a European Union plan to resettle 44,000 of those who have made the dangerous sea crossing.

She was speaking on a visit to the Irish Naval vessel the LE Eithne which is today docked in Valletta, Malta.

The crew of the Irish flagship has saved the lives of 3,376 people making the desperate journey from North Africa –including 179 children – since being deployed to the Mediterranean almost two months ago.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney this morning addressed the 69 personnel on board.

He spoke of the country’s pride at their actions and thanked them for their “invaluable” work over the course of 22 individual rescue missions.

It is estimated that at least 1,850 people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone.

More than 3,300 others are safe because of the tireless efforts of the Irish crew under the command of the LE Eithne’s captain, Cmdr Pearse O’Donnell.

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At the event marking the ship’s departure in May, Taoise ach Enda Kenny spoke of how the Government would resettle refugees.

“We have agreed to take 300. Obviously the ministers for Justice, Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Government will look at this very carefully,” he said at the time.

Today, Ms Fitzgerald has said that the State may take double that number.

“What’s presently under discussion of course is the relocation out of the 44,000 which is only a small proportion of the overall number.

“The European Union is currently debating whether that will be mandatory or voluntary,      and Ireland’s proportion that we would be requested to take from that number is approximately 600.

“So that’s the next decision that the Government will be looking at.

“I’d imagine that decision will be made before the end of July.”

She said it would be a “once-off measure” and that Ireland has been at “the forefront in terms of settlement”.

“We immediately responded to Europe’s request for resettlement in relation to Syrian and Eritrean (nationals) – we took our quota as it were which is 220 for this year.

“That’s 520 Syrians and Eritreans over two years,” she said.

She also praised the crew of the LE Eithne for saving thousands of lives.

Ms Fitzgerald said they’re witnessing “the cutting edge of the human misery that is being caused by traffickers from North Africa, putting people into very unseaworthy boats”.

Mr Coveney said that the rescue operations undertaken by the Irish Naval vessel and her crew “have impacted significantly on the lives of so many people”.

“The work of our Naval Service in the Mediterranean is invaluable,” he added, saying that there will be a continuing Irish presence there for the coming months with the LE Niamh replacing the LE Eithne soon.

“Ireland’s focus will remain on continuing to assist the Italian authorities in the humanitarian search and rescue operation efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea.”

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