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'We're currently doing it': Fine Gael's Regina Doherty says EU already outsourcing asylum

Four out of the five panel members said they would not support von der Leyen’s bid for a second term.

EU BORDER POLICY was among the major themes debated on this afternoon’s The Week in Politics programme on RTÉ after Taoiseach Simon Harris said on Friday that he was keeping a “very open mind” about the possibility of the EU outsourcing the processing of asylum seeker claims to non-EU countries. 

The panel consisted of five EU Parliament candidates from the Dublin constituency. They were Regina Doherty (FG), Umar Al-Qadri (Ind.), Daithí Doolan (SF), Niall Boylan (Ind.) and Sinead Gibney (SD). 

The candidates were asked for their views on a wide-ranging list of issues that also included the re-election of Ursula von der Leyen as Commission President, climate change and transport, EU defence policy and Irish neutrality, as well as how they might affect housing policy from Brussels.

Outsourcing asylum

In light of Harris’ comment, Doherty was asked for her view on the proposal from the European People’s Party’s manifesto to make deals with third countries to offshore asylum processing.

“We’re currently doing it,” she said. 

“We’re using countries outside of the European Union at the moment and my view is that if it protects the borders and makes decisions faster then the people are allowed into the Union and if it doesn’t, well then obviously we have to help them go back to where they came from or some other place that they might be accepted,” she said. 

“Ultimately, what we need to do is to protect the borders of the European Union, therefore protecting the borders of Ireland.”

As the plan remains a proposal by the EPP, the EU Parliament group of which Fine Gael is a member, it is not clear what Doherty meant when she said “We’re currently doing it”. 

While there are bilateral deals similar to the one in the EPP manifesto, such as the recent agreement between Italy and Albania, there is no EU-wide policy of making such deals. 

The EU does have deals with countries in North Africa and with Turkey, for example, that see the bloc pay those countries to prevent refugees from entering Europe, but those are aimed at avoiding processing asylum claims outright, not outsourcing them. 

In a statement provided to The Journal, a Fine Gael spokesperson sought to clarify Doherty’s comments, saying:

“Regina was referring to previous arrangements the EU has made with other countries to protect people from the unsafe, unregulated border crossings and entries – often perpetrated by people traffickers and smugglers.

“One example is the ‘EU-Turkey deal,’ formally known as the ‘statement of cooperation’ between EU states and the Turkish Government, which was signed in March 2016. This agreement aimed to assist refugees entitled to international protection in line with EU and international law.”

Again though, the Turkey deal is not the same as the policy proposed by the EPP, which along with the Migration Pact has been widely condemned by humanitarian organisations

Migration Pact

Doherty was also asked about the EU Migration Pact, which Ireland has yet to sign up to but the Government parties support. 

“I’m 100% in favor of opting into the immigration pact because we negotiated it and at any stage in the future, if we don’t like something, we’ll have a veto with our ministers, or our Taoiseach sitting in Europe,” she said. 

Other members of the panel disagreed, with Umar al-Qadri saying that he is in favour of two aspects of the pact but not the rest. 

He said he welcomed the solidarity mechanism, which will see countries given quotas for accepting asylum seekers or have to pay border countries to avoid taking them in. He said he is also in favour of the data-sharing aspect of the Pact. 

“Our neighbor has recently had Brexit and the UK’s Rwanda policy has really pushed us in a very difficult situation. I think therefore, we need to have a sovereign policy one that is fit for purpose, not one that looks at mainland Europe,” he said. 

Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolin said the Irish asylum system is “broken” and that the number of staff processing claims should be doubled. 

He argued that the EU Pact would “tie our hands” when it comes to detention at borders – a feature of the Pact – and that it “does not recognise our unique situation with the Common Travel Area with Britain”. 

Independent candidate and former radio host Niall Boylan, whose policy is “detain, deter and deport in 30 days”, praised the UK’s Rwanda policy as an effective “deterrent”, which he believes is “really important”. 

Social Democrat candidate Sinead Gibney described Boylan as “delusional”. 

She said that the EU should begin carrying out search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea. 

“We are allowing people to die in the Mediterranean, we are denying that fact that we are treating people inhumanely while we then criticise the UK Rwanda policy.” 

Over 900 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, adding to the almost 30,000 dead or missing since 2014

Von der Leyen leadership

Aside from immigration policy, the candidates were also asked about their position on defence policy at EU level and whether or not they would be supporting the re-election of outgoing Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who drew widespread criticism after she announced the EU would fully support Israel last October. 

Four out of the five panel members said they would not support the German politician’s bid for a second term. The only one to voice support for von der Leyen was Regina Doherty. 

The crux of the criticism of the current President was her position towards the conflict in Palestine and the possibility of more defence integration and spending in the EU. 

“I would not accept her as the President of the European Commission and the reason for that is because of her role in giving a green signal to Israel to commit genocide,” Al-Qadri said. 

Doherty said that while Fine Gael had been critical of von der Leyen’s statements in the early stages of the conflict that she was still the party’s choice to be Commission President for another five years. 

For a full list of all the EU candidates running for election, see our candidate database here


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