CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

The exercise by the State of the Option or Discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union in respect of Council Decision No. 2015/1523 of 14 September 2015 and Council Decision No. 2015/1601 of 22 September 2015 establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece

 

1st October 2015

Opening Remarks by Ms. Frances Fitzgerald T.D. Minister for Justice and Equality

I move the Motions, a Cheann Comhairle.

 

I would firstly like to thank you for making time today to discuss these motions concerning Ireland opting-in to two EU Council Decisions which provide for the relocation of persons in clear need of international protection from Italy and Greece. As Deputies will be aware Ireland is not automatically bound by EU measures in the area of Freedom, Justice and Security under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which includes the asylum area, but may opt-in to any measure where it wishes to do so.

 

It is clearly apparent that Europe is facing an unprecedented migration crisis. This is a humanitarian crisis which has continued to escalate and to which there are no simple answers.

 

Both Italy and Greece have experienced unprecedented flows of migrants over the last eighteen months in particular, placing significant pressure on their migration and asylum systems. Since the beginning of the year approximately 116,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in an irregular manner with more than 211,000 arriving in Greece.

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.

 

Ireland has clearly played its part in this regard by sending some of our naval vessels - the LÉ Eithne, LÉ Niamh and the LÉ Samuel Beckett - to the Mediterranean to carry out vital rescue missions to ensure the safety of many people trying to come to Europe for protection. In addition, Irish Aid, the Government’s development cooperation programme, has been supporting efforts to assist the Syrian people, which by the end of 2015 will see a total €41 million in support provided.

 

The Decisions being discussed today form part of a package of measures introduced by the European Commission in response to this crisis situation. The first Decision which was adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 14th September 2015 provides for the relocation 40,000 people in clear need of International Protection over a two year period; 24,000 from Italy and 16,000 from Greece. The distribution of these persons was agreed by consensus by Member States in July. Ireland agreed to accept 600 people under this proposal.

 

Since the July meeting, with the influx of refugees through the western Balkans, in particular, dramatically increasing, it was clear that significant further measures were required. Accordingly, at a further Emergency Justice and Home Affairs meeting on 22nd September a second Decision was adopted which provides for the relocation of a further 120,000 people in clear need of international protection. In this Decision 66,000 of the 120,000 people will initially be relocated from Italy and Greece. With regards to the balance of 54,000 these will either be relocated from other Member States coming under pressure in the future, if necessary, or alternatively will be relocated from Italy and Greece also. The distribution of persons to be relocated across Member States is set out in the Annex to the Decision. Ireland has not been included in the Annex because we did not opt-in to the proposal before it was adopted. It is estimated that Ireland’s allocation under this decision would be in the region of 1,850 persons.

 

Three weeks ago the Government agreed, in response to the crisis situation, to establish an Irish Refugee Protection Programme and to accept up to 4,000 persons overall under the EU Resettlement and Relocation programmes. Included in the 4,000 are 520 people we have agreed to resettle in Ireland, 600 people to be relocated under the Council’s decision of 14 September and 1,850 expected to be relocated under the Council’s Decision of 22 September. The make up of the balance is yet to be decided.

 

It is important to note that persons accepted here under these programmes also have an entitlement, once their protection claims are processed, to apply for family reunification, if they wish to do so, thereby further increasing the numbers accepted by Ireland. The 4,000 agreed to, is in addition to those who reach our shores directly to claim protection.

 

A taskforce has been established to coordinate and implement the logistical and operational aspects associated with this programme. I chaired the first meeting on 16th September which was attended by all main Departments, agencies, Red Cross, UNHCR, etc.

 

The Irish people have also shown great generosity, offering support and assistance, including accommodation, to those to who may be relocated to Ireland under these Decisions. The Red Cross has been given the task of drawing these offers of assistance together in a cohesive manner and on Monday last launched its website to enable members of the public to formally register their pledges. I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Red Cross for agreeing to take on this role.

 

The Government also approved the establishment of a network of Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres for the initial acceptance and processing of those in need of international protection who are accepted into Ireland under the EU Programmes. In view of the profile of the relocation applicants, I expect that they will have their applications for protection processed in a matter of weeks and that many will be granted status.

 

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. Ireland has always lived up to its international humanitarian obligations as is evidenced by our resettlement programmes which has seen almost 500 people resettled here since 2009, our sending of naval vessels to assist in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and the introduction of a Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme (SHAP) last year which involved 114 persons being granted permission to come to Ireland.

 

By opting-in to these decisions we will not only be providing a safe haven for families and children who are forced to leave their homes due to war and conflict but are also showing solidarity with other EU Member States whose protection systems are under enormous pressure due to the large influx of migrants.

 

A Cheann Comhairle, I commend these Motions to the House.