Check Against Delivery

 

Topical Issues Debate

23rd September 2015

To discuss Ireland's response to the refugee crisis.

- Clare Daly TD & Mick Wallace TD

Opening Remarks by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD

Ireland has always lived up to its international humanitarian obligation and we are fully committed to playing our part in addressing the Migration Crisis facing Europe.

 

We have all been shocked and upset at the scenes witnessed in southern and central Europe and the distressing scenes during rescues in the Mediterranean. It is only right that we are do all we can as a nation to help.

 

To date, we have been working proactively with our colleagues in Europe, to ensure that Ireland and the European Union responds comprehensively to this critical humanitarian challenge.

 

This situation changed rapidly over the summer months and Ireland sent the LE Eithne, LE Niamh and the LE Samuel Beckett to the Mediterranean to carry out vital rescue missions to ensure the safety of many people trying to come to Europe to seek protection.

 

Irish Aid, the Government's development cooperation programme, has been supporting efforts to assist the Syrian people, which by the end of 2015 will total €41million. In 2014, Ireland introduced a Syrian Humanitarian Admissions Programme (SHAP) allowing naturalised Irish citizens of Syrian birth and Syrian nationals to apply for 114 vulnerable close family members, present in Syria or who have fled from Syria to join them here.

 

Two weeks ago, the Government decided that Ireland will accept up to 4,000 persons overall under EU Resettlement & Relocation Programmes.

 

520 programme refugees are currently being resettled in Ireland directly from refugee camps.

 

600 persons will come from Relocation from other EU States such as Greece and Italy. The first group will arrive before year end.

 

In additional Ireland has indicated it will opt-in to the further EU emergency relocation measures affecting 120,000 people which was agreed at yesterday’s meeting of EU Justice & Home Affairs Minister in Brussels, which I attended.

 

In line with our constitutional provisions I intend to seek Dáil and Seanad approval to formally opt in next week following official publication of the measure in the Official Journal.

 

It is important to note that persons accepted here under these programmes may also have an entitlement, once their protection claims are processed, to apply for family reunification, further increasing the numbers accepted by Ireland. The 4,000 agreed to, is in addition to those who reach our shores directly to claim asylum. This figure may increase by as much as 140% this year to a figure in excess of 3,000.

 

In accepting these numbers, the Government is also committed to ensuring that all persons arriving here are provided with all appropriate support.

 

The Government has agreed to establish an ‘Irish Refugee Protection Programme’. A Task Force has been established to oversee the planning and preparations for this programme. I chaired the first meeting on 16th September which was attended by all main Departments, agencies, Red Cross, UNHCR, etc.

 

My Department o and Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner will take the lead in the process of relocating persons to Ireland, the refugee assessment process and the establishment of emergency Relocation and Orientation Centres.

 

The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and the City and County Managers will lead on providing accommodation for persons granted refugee status. My Department, the OPW and Department of Defence will have completed an assessment of any available state properties within the coming days

 

The Irish Red Cross will take the lead role in communicating with, assessing, profiling and coordinating offers of public support and assistance, including accommodation.

 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will liaise with the NGO community

 

The Departments Health, Education and Social Protection, and agencies like the HSE and Tusla will provide health, educational, welfare and other services and supports.

 

A meeting of Justice and Public and Expenditure and Reform officials was held on 17th September to discuss the budgetary impacts.

 

This comprehensive approach will ensure that Ireland is in a position to contribute effectively to meeting the European Union’s challenge of protecting those in need.