Northern Ireland

O’Neill seeks ‘thought-out’ response to cross-border asylum seekers in Ireland

The Irish Government said there has been an increase in asylum seekers arriving in Ireland after crossing the NI border.

Michelle O’Neill said she has yet to hear from the Taoiseach or the Tanaiste on the issue
Michelle O’Neill said she has yet to hear from the Taoiseach or the Tanaiste on the issue (Niall Carson/PA)

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill has called for a “thought-out” response to people who seek asylum in Ireland after travelling from the UK.

The Irish Government claimed there has been a shift in migration patterns into Ireland in recent months and that the number of migrants crossing from Northern Ireland was “higher than 80%”.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said claims the UK’s Rwanda plan is causing an influx of migrants into Ireland show its deterrent effect is working.

Ministers want to send asylum seekers coming to the UK on a one-way flight to the east African nation, with the aim of deterring others from crossing the English Channel on small boats.

The Irish Government is to introduce legislation in response to an Irish High Court ruling last month that Ireland’s designation of the UK as a “safe third country” for returning asylum seekers, in the context of the Rwanda plan, is contrary to EU law.

Sinn Fein vice president Ms O’Neill said neither Irish premier Simon Harris, Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin nor Justice Minister Helen McEntee had yet been in contact with her about planned legislation on asylum seekers arriving in Ireland from the UK.

“I am the First Minister in the north and I have yet to hear from the Taoiseach or the Tanaiste or the Justice Minister,” she said in Dublin on Sunday.

“To me, that highlights, maybe even underlines, how disorganised they are in dealing with this issue.

“Policy responsibility for migration and immigration sits with the British government, I’m aware that Helen McEntee is to meet (Home Secretary) James Cleverly over the course of the next 24-36 hours.

“There’s also a British-Irish intergovernmental conference this week, this is the forum in which these issues need to be addressed.

“This is the forum in which there should be a solution coming out the other end, but a thought-out solution, an actually considered solution, a human rights compliant solution, and we look forward to (that) over the next couple of days.”

Ms O’Neill was speaking at a launch of the party’s local, European and Limerick mayoral election campaign in Dublin.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said any proposal has to be properly resourced
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said any proposal has to be properly resourced (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, who was also at the event, argued that cross-border migration means Ireland should reject a newly-revealed overhaul of EU laws on migration and asylum.

“We now hear that the Government has plans to address the issue of those who have claimed asylum in Britain and who then move on to the island of Ireland,” Ms McDonald said on Sunday.

“We want to see what those plans are. Clearly, there has to be an efficient way of managing all of this.

“By the way, life has to continue on the island – people have to come and go to work, business and commerce has to flow. I dearly wish that we didn’t have a border on the island. Sadly, for now anyway, we do.

“So, ordinary life has to go on as normal. And then we need a plan that is resourced and delivered to deal with this issue.

“I hear that they are saying that they will now have accelerated procedures for people who are making a claim. I think that would be very welcome but I’m conscious also we’ve heard commitments like this before and they haven’t been delivered on.”

Asked about plans to overhaul the EU’s migration system, Ms McDonald said: “I think the turn of events and the specific set of circumstances that we have to deal with on the island of Ireland actually argue against signing up to the EU migration pact lock, stop and barrel.

“Unlike other European jurisdictions, we have to deal with our next-door neighbour of Britain and we have to have the flexibility and the capacity to manage that.”