Government accused of 'lacking in empathy' amid calls to bring 200 Calais children to Ireland

A candle-lit vigil took place outside Leinster House this evening as TDs discussed the issue

Government accused of 'lacking in empathy' amid calls to bring 200 Calais children to Ireland

Image: Stedman Photography

The Government has been accused of 'lacking in empathy' amid increased calls for Ireland to take in 200 young people from the recently dismantled Calais 'Jungle' camp.

The fate of up to 1,500 unaccompanied children in the vicinity of the former 'Jungle' migrant and refugee camp has been unclear as France and the UK remain engulfed in a diplomatic spat over who should take care of the youths.

French President Francois Hollande has suggested it is the UK's 'moral duty' to take a 'fair share' of the children.

However, reports earlier today suggested that the last remaining children had been taken to processing centres in France, where asylum requests can be processed.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: "If it emerges from Calais over the coming weeks that Ireland is a genuine location of choice for some of these young people, and our assistance is requested, we can of course respond in a humanitarian and proactive way.

"The wishes of the children must also be respected. A defining characteristic of the refugees who have gathered in Calais, including unaccompanied minors, has been their very strong desire to go to the UK as their ultimate destination," she added.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, meanwhile, told deputies that she has asked the child & family agency TUSLA to "review capacity to provide safety, protection and hope to greater numbers of children [...] Options and models for an emergency or humanitarian intake of children form part of that review."

Responding to the Government remarks on the matter, Sinn Féin spokesperson on children and youth affairs, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said: “I was quite disappointed by the Government's statements this evening, completely non-committal and lacking in empathy. This was the Government’s opportunity to put words into action. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen.

“I will now go back and consult with my colleagues across all parties in opposition and a motion will be brought before the house in the hope of putting further pressure on the cabinet. This issue will not go away," Deputy Ó Laoghaire suggested.

It came as dozens of people gathered for a candle lit vigil outside Leinster House in support of Ireland taking in 200 children.

The 'Not On Our Watch' campaign was supported by organisations such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, founder of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said: "Last Friday, I and others said that the disagreement between France and Britain about who was responsible for these children meant our government should offer immediately to assist by taking 200 of those at risk.

"One last time, therefore, I call on the Taoiseach, a self-professed European, to act. The EU was established, first and foremost, as a community of nations. Ireland needs to act as a mature and caring member of that community; move to assist vulnerable children and in the process demonstrate solidarity with France and Britain."

Image: Stedman Photography