CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Commencement Matter

 

Wednesday 24th May, 2017

 

Speech by the Minister of State Catherine Byrne T.D.

 

The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to endorse the goals of the Safe Passage campaign and introduce a humanitarian admission programme supported by a community sponsorship scheme, to create a new safe and legal migration route for people fleeing conflict, who have a family member in Ireland.

- Senator Colette Kelleher

 

 

Cathaoirleach,

 

The Tánaiste and I would like to thank the Senator for raising this important issue and for creating a further opportunity for us to discuss the ongoing response of Ireland to people and their families in need of international protection.

 

The House will recall that in order to reflect the proper response of the people of Ireland to the needs of people fleeing conflict zones, we have responded in a number of strategically important ways to offer our assistance to those most in need.

 

Ireland is one of the few EU countries who has maintained a naval service vessel in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the crisis, in order to save lives. Indeed, we are sending a further vessel this week. 

 

We have committed to guaranteeing funds for food aid for Syrian families on a three-year rolling programme instead of on an annual basis, to allow for greater certainty of funding to the World Food Programme.

 

Ireland introduced a Syrian Humanitarian Admissions Programme in 2014 and we continue to facilitate legal migration in a variety of ways through our regular immigration processes, including taking into account humanitarian needs as appropriate.

 

We voluntarily opted into the EU Relocation Programme set-up to assist Italy and Greece to respond to the needs of 160,000 people arriving there in need of protection.

 

We have offered protection to up to 4,000 people under our Irish Refugee Protection Programme. In meeting our response to this pledge, The Tánaiste has doubled our commitment to resettle 520 people by 2017 to 1,040 by the end of this year.

 

We have redoubled our efforts to process approximately 100 people per month from those available and registered in Greece under the relocation programme. We continue to work with all concerned to resolve issues to enable relocation to commence from Italy. 

 

To provide the best possible services on arrival in the State, we have recently opened our third emergency reception and orientation centre in Ballaghadereen alongside Clonea Strand and Monasterevin under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.

 

Under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, all offers from the community are welcomed and have been assessed and processed by the Irish Red Cross, and both the Tánaiste and I commend the generosity and willingness of people to assist us in integrating those in need of protection.

 

The Government also agreed, following an All-Party Dáil Motion, to offer protection to unaccompanied minors previously living in the Calais camps, who wish to come to Ireland. The Tánaiste and I are pleased to say every young person who has been identified to date, in consultation with the French authorities, as wanting to come to Ireland has either arrived here or is in the process of doing so.

 

The rights being offered to those under resettlement and relocation, or to the minors from Calais are significantly superior to those under the previous Humanitarian Admissions Programme and the Government is fully committed to vindicate this higher standard of rights.

 

The Tánaiste and I appreciate greatly the spirit behind this discussion. We would welcome any specific practical proposals from the NGO sector that would help progress the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. 

 

However, despite the merits of the proposal, adding further new programmes while working flat out to fulfil our existing targets, would not be useful or helpful at this time, particularly when there is sufficient capacity still to be filled under the existing programmes. The creation of additional schemes, would only lead to a dilution of resources and be counter-productive  – offering protection to people fleeing conflict under the IRPP is the priority.

 

Both the Tánaiste and I believe that by September this year, our efforts will not only have made a difference to a significant number of vulnerable people but will stand up well to scrutiny when compared to other countries across Europe. We remain fully committed to reaching the targets agreed under the IRPP.