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Dáil Debate

'An insult to the Dáil': Opposition parties promise to vote against EU Migration Pact

Taoiseach Simon Harris prefaced his arguments today by saying that Irish people want those fleeing war and persecution treated with “compassion”.

THE QUESTION OF whether Ireland should sign up to the controversial new EU Migration Pact has been debated in the Dáil today.

Government ministers have been arguing for Ireland’s full participation in the Pact over recent months, as they have done again today in the Dáil. If it passes tomorrow, the Government’s motion will see Ireland sign up for all its provisions. 

The Pact aims to overhaul the European Union’s border and immigration policies, making laws uniform across the bloc. The legislation has been widely condemned by humanitarian organisations for restricting people’s right to seek asylum and codifying the EU’s most hostile border practices – like using detention centres and outsourcing processing. 

Opposition parties have today said they intend to vote against the motion because they do not agree with all of the Pact’s aspects. Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats have all voiced support for some elements, like the sharing of data among EU states.

The features they oppose include a provision in the Pact that will allow countries to suspend their asylum systems in “emergency” situations and the use of detention centres to keep asylum seekers in a kind of legal limbo while their claims are “screened”.

Taoiseach Simon Harris prefaced his arguments today by saying that Irish people want those fleeing war and persecution treated with “compassion”.

“But we also need to see that balance with common sense,” he said while attempting to push back against “myths” spread by people on the far right. 

He said it was his duty to ensure that Ireland has a “coherent and effective migration policy”. 

Tánaiste Micheál Martin insisted that the Pact would “ensure fair, efficient and effective action to manage new pressures from migration”.

Martin said the Pact represents the “most realistic chance” of creating a comprehensive system for migration. Ireland’s participation is “vital”, he said.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the Pact will establish a system that is “firm but fair”. 

“Our system was not designed to deal with the volume of applications” that Ireland has been receiving in recent years, she said, adding that existing legislation is “no longer fit for purpose”. 

She also said that not joining other EU countries in signing up to the Pact would leave Ireland isolated. 

“If we don’t opt in, we will have absolutely no legal basis for sending people back to other EU countries,” she said. 

She also made the claim that migration has been “weaponised”, echoing language in the Pact that refers to people coming to Eastern Europe from Belarus. 

She said that opposition parties have offered no alternative plans while criticising the Pact. 

Sinn Fein’s leader Mary Lou McDonald then followed with her party’s arguments against the government’s position and offering alternatives to adopting it wholesale.  

She said that the government approach to the Pact was “wrong” and raised concerns about Irish sovereignty. 

“Migration policy must be set by an Irish government and the Irish people,” she said, while describing Sinn Féin’s desire for a system that is based on”common sense and common decency”. 

Sinn Féin also has concerns about the effect of the Pact on the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK. McDonald said this issue “has not been considered at all” by the government.

She said that government’s failure to respond to the high numbers of asylum seekers in recent years has been a problem of its own making.

“Is anyone competent in charge?” she asked. 

She also said the government has caused “division and tension in communities” and made people afraid to voice concerns “for fear of being called racist”.

The government has “fanned the flames” of these tensions, she said, adding that any system should “safeguard social cohesion”.

She said signing up to the Pact “ties the hands of future governments” and said signing up to all its elements would be a “dangerous surrender of sovereignty” while insisting she opposes all forms of bigotry. 

Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said his party had “huge human rights concerns” about the Pact, offering the examples of detention centres in Greece and people being pushed back to seas from islands there.

“The EU is complicit in this,” he said.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik opened her arguments by saying that seeking asylum is a human right that no country can opt out of. 

“There are many positive aspects to this Pact,” she said. “We agree in principle with a cross-European approach.”

But she also expressed concern about the direction of travel in the EU’s border policies, which she said lacks” solidarity with the global south”. 

“The EU should be able to devise a more humane approach,” she said.

Labour has “strong objections” to some parts of the Pact, she said, including detention centres at borders and the emergency measure that will allow countries to stop accepting asylum seekers temporarily. 

She is also worried about the consequences for the courts, which will lose power as a result of the pact. 

Labour will vote against the motion because the Pact will result in a system that does not conform with human rights, she said.

Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns described the Government’s handling of the legislation as “an insult to the Dáil” because of the limited opportunities the Oireachtas has had to debate it. 

She said the Government has “buried it until after the elections” and that today’s debate only gives a “veneer” of oversight, representing a “rubber stamping exercise”.

As with Sinn Féin and Labour, the Social Democrats are in favour of some elements of the Pact but not others, arguing that each should have got a separate debate.

She also said the lack of debate around the laws was “cynical” and “dangerous” because it allows for misinformation and disinformation to spread. 

Like the other opposition parties, Cairns said the Social Democrats have serious human rights concerns, including lack of access to legal advice, detention centres and outsourcing asylum processing. 

She said her party is in favour of the Pact’s solidarity mechanism, accommodation standards and data sharing elements but said they are grouped with measures designed to create “absolute misery”.


Need more clarity and context on how migration is being discussed in Ireland? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to finding good information online.

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