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Taoiseach Simon Harris speaking to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo
Migration

Taoiseach: Comments from Sinn Féin about open borders 'should cause concern'

Simon Harris said “right-wing Tory rhetoric” is not needed when it comes to migration.

TAOISEACH SIMON HARRIS has said that comments from opposition politicians about ‘open borders’ should “cause concern”. 

It comes after Sinn Féin shared a video on social media of TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire speaking about the EU Migration Pact, in which he said the party was “opposed to open borders”. 

The video, which was shared yesterday, was also referenced in the Dáil today by Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys.

“We are an island. The only open border we have is with Northern Ireland, and I don’t think that you would suggest that we have a hard border with Northern Ireland,” she said, adding: “We have to be careful here.”

Speaking to reporters outside Government Buildings this afternoon, the Taoiseach said the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic “is something very important to people on this island”.

“I don’t wish to get involved in partisan politics on this, but I must say some of the comments that I’ve heard in the last couple of hours from some opposition politicians are very worrying, very peculiar and I think should cause concern,” he said.

“If flippant remarks and social media videos about borders… I would have expected better quite frankly, and look, that’s for others to speak to their own change of heart in relation to how we have borders on this island.

What we don’t need is right-wing Tory rhetoric. What we do need are effective solutions.

He was answering questions about comments made by Justice Minister Helen McEntee at the Oireachtas Committee earlier this week, where she said that over 80% of people seeking asylum in the Republic are arriving here via the border with Northern Ireland.

Harris said it’s true that “this has become a bigger percentage in recent months”, which shows “the scale of the challenge here”. 

Legislative change

He said the situation is going to require legislative change, as well as greater cooperation and collaboration between the gardaí and the PSNI, as well as between McEntee and the British Home Secretary James Cleverly. The ministers are due to meet next week. 

“We’re going to need to change the law, in my view, in relation to this and we’re going to need to change it very quickly.

“We need to have a process in place that if somebody has asylum in another country – in this case, the United Kingdom – and comes here seeking asylum, they should be returned to Britain.”

He said McEntee is working on legislation that “will come forward very quickly” in relation to this.

taoiseach-simon-harris-centre-with-left-to-right-minister-for-further-and-higher-education-research-innovation-and-science-patrick-odonovan-minister-of-state-for-skills-and-further-education-n Taoiseach Simon Harris with Minister for Higher Education Patrick O'Donovan, Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins and Minister of State for Public Procurement Ossian Smyth speaking to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“This is all about fairness. Our migration system is about people fleeing persecution. It’s not about a situation where you can be living safely in another country – have status potentially in that country – and then come to our country and seek immigration status. That’s the piece we have to fix.”

Harris was also asked about McEntee’s comments on RTÉ’s News at One programme yesterday, where she was asked about the ratio of refused applications for international protection with the number of people who have been physically removed.

She said that just under 7,300 people have been issued a rejected application for protection, with “under 100″ people having been physically removed or deported.

Questioned where the remainder of the 7,200 people are, the minister said that the majority of their applications are currently going through the appeals process.

‘Full confidence’ in McEntee

Asked if he still had confidence in McEntee, the Taoiseach said he had “full confidence” in her and that she is working in “an extraordinarily demanding situation”.

“I’m working very closely with her and supporting her and her work in any way that I can, because I do think that there is a real need… for the migration debate in Ireland not just to be one about accommodation, though it’s important, but it can’t just be one about accommodation,” he said.

“It also has to be one about borders, about the rules, about the borders of the European Union and about how there’s faster processing times. I think Minister McEntee has done a lot in this space.”

He said it would be an additional expense to deport an unsuccessful applicant who would otherwise leave the country.

“I think we have to be very clear when we talk about deportations. It’s not in the State’s interest to have to physically deport everybody.

“It is in the State’s interest to put a system in place that says: ‘You’ve a right to stay, you’re therefore welcome, let’s help integrate you into Irish society’, ‘you don’t have a right to stay, leave the country’.”

“Many people do leave the country and why would we go to the extra expense of physically deporting somebody who does leave the country?”

He added that there are a number of checks carried out after a deportation order is issued to an unsuccessful applicant and that there had been recent improvements to Ireland’s immigration processing.

“Am I happy the system is robust? I am. Do I believe the system could be better? I do.”

He also said there had been a reduction in the number of people arriving in the country’s airports without documents.

“If we’ve learned anything in relation to migration, I think it is the ability and the requirement of the State to constantly be agile and flexible in its response.”

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