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Fine Gael Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Peter Burke
Dáil support

Enterprise Minister Peter Burke says 'votes are there' for Government to join EU migration pact

He warned that opting out would have consequences for Ireland’s relationship with other EU states.

ENTERPRISE MINISTER PETER Burke has defended the Government’s intention to opt into the EU migration pact wholesale and said he has no doubt that “the votes are there” to pass it in the Dáil. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics today, Burke said that the pact would mean Ireland was integrated into an EU-wide system that would make it easier to return asylum seekers to other countries. 

Burke said that the pact would make rules uniform across the EU and that the bloc would be “responding together collectively”.

He warned that opting out would have consequences for Ireland’s relationship with other EU states. 

Burke also said that the amount of money that the Government would pay to border countries like Greece and Italy – as part of the pact’s “solidarity mechanism” – would be small relative to the amount Ireland pays into the EU each year.

“It’s very hard to credit why people are giving out about an amount as small as €12.9 million to be linked in to a system that will protect our people, that will ensure that we have a strong migratory policy and that we’re linked into Europe, because that’s the key here,” Burke said. 

The €12.9 million figure comes from a calculation contained within the pact – based on population and GDP – that would see countries take in extra asylum seekers from border states under particular pressure with immigration  numbers, or pay those countries instead. 

Under the rules of the pact, the Government could chose to take in 648 people per year as part of the mechanism, or pay €12.9 million, according to Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

Burke argued that if Ireland does not joint the pact, people from countries that Ireland has no return policy with would be difficult to deport. 

He said that pact was “a very good thing” and would “protect Ireland”. 

“If we’re outside it and people coming to Ireland, because we’ve no flights from a lot of these destinations, if people who have been in Europe come into Ireland and we’re outside of this pact, our ability to return them will be significantly compromised.

“And we will actually become a destination then because we will be an outlier and we’ll be outside this pact.”

He was confronted about those claims by Aontú leader Peadar Toibín, who said that there is nothing stopping the Government from changing border policy of its own accord, without joining the pact. 

“There’s nothing stopping the Government from making the system efficient and effective now,” he said.

“The idea that they’re going to sort it out because of this new migration pact is nonsense because it takes resources and takes will to do that, not laws to do that.”

Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh said that Sinn Féin opposes joining the pact because it is an issue of “sovereignty”. 

“Cooperation is necessary,” she said of working with other countries, but that “that is very different from giving away control of our own policies” around immigration and asylum. 

Echoing Toibín’s point, she said that the changes needed to the system can be made without joining the pact.

Independent TD Marian Harkin said that the Government has not given good reasons for adopting the pact wholesale and that people do not currently trust the Government as it stands when it comes to managing immigration. 

“We’re seeing nothing from Government to convince us that’s the way to go,” Harkin said. 

Burke said that opting out would have political implications for Ireland among its EU neighbours. 

“If you think we can watch them (other EU states) get flooded with people, and we can opt out and it will have no impact on us, we’re seriously misguided,” he said. 

While political debate over opting into the pact has centred around its implications for the Irish Government’s control its own border policy, the human rights implications of the agreement have been largely left aside, despite widespread condemnation from humanitarian and civil society organisations.

Among their concerns are plans to detain people at borders as part of a “screening process” and a provision in the pact that will allow countries to temporarily suspend their asylum system altogether in “emergency” situations.  

Amnesty International has told The Journal that adopting the pact is going to damage the EU’s reputation as a defender of human rights.

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