109. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the high-level diplomatic talks she has had with her European counterparts regarding unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Europe, with particular reference to the role that Ireland could play in this matter. [19087/16]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established by Government decision on 10 September 2015 as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa. In announcing the Programme, the Government recognised the importance of addressing the position of unaccompanied children. However, as indicated in previous responses to parliamentary questions, the pace of the relocation programme in Ireland and across the European Union has been hampered by significant operational delays and technical issues due to the sheer numbers involved and other logistical difficulties that have arisen at the 'hotspot' locations in Italy and Greece.
A team of officials from my Department, including the Director of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, travelled to Greece last month to meet with Irish embassy officials and relevant Greek authorities both to signal Ireland's tangible willingness to assist and to identify ways of addressing the obstacles that have arisen. The outcome of that visit has been very positive and the Greek authorities have now confirmed that, within the coming months, they will be able to increase significantly the overall numbers available to Ireland. In making this commitment, the Greek authorities also signalled that they will be in a position to include small numbers of unaccompanied minors among the groups being allocated. This will greatly facilitate Ireland’s efforts to meet the targets foreseen in last September's Government decision and fulfil our commitment to prioritise unaccompanied minors.
I recently chaired a meeting of the high level Task Force established to oversee the implementation of the IRPP during which an approach to taking unaccompanied minors from Greece was discussed. Unaccompanied minors taken in under the relocation strand of the IRPP will be cared for by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which operates under the auspices of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and has statutory responsibility for the care of unaccompanied minors in the State.
I continue to work proactively with my colleagues in Europe to ensure that Ireland and the European Union responds comprehensively to all aspects of the ongoing migration and refugee crisis. All aspects of the crisis were most recently discussed at ministerial level at the meeting of EU justice and home affairs Ministers on 7 July last. I share the concerns of the Deputy in relation to unaccompanied minors as an especially vulnerable group and I expect this issue to remain high on the agenda at EU level.