Ministers have agreed to pay out €1.5 million to a refugee relocation scheme instead of following through with a past commitment to take in 350 additional international protection applicants.
Ireland had agreed to take in the 350 applicants two years ago as part of a Europe-wide initiative to ease the burden on Mediterranean countries dealing with an influx of refugees from Africa.
The Government has now opted to make the financial contribution of €1.5 million to the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism instead of taking in the refugees.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the move reflected how circumstances had “changed fundamentally” in two years, with Ireland now under intense pressure having taken in about 100,000 refugees, from Ukraine and other countries, in the last year.
“About two years ago, we decided as a Government that we would help the countries in the Mediterranean,” the Taoiseach told reporters outside Government Buildings in Dublin.
“At the time, they were experiencing a migration crisis, huge numbers of people coming from Africa to the Mediterranean.
“We decided that we would take 350 asylum seekers from those Mediterranean countries at the Council of Europe.
“Things have changed fundamentally since then. We’re now one of the countries under pressure because we have taken in nearly 100,000 people, mainly from Ukraine but also from other parts of the world.
“That changes things and we are now no longer able to accept those 350 people from the Mediterranean. But we are going to make a financial contribution instead, which is allowed under the voluntary effort-sharing regulation.”
Mr Varadkar insisted Ireland would not put a limit on the number of people seeking international protection in Ireland.
“That’s not realistic, it’s not legal, it’s not practical,” he said.
“But we can manage the flows better and that’s one thing that we’re trying to do.”
Mr Varadkar expressed concern at the “Biblical scenes” of flooding in Ukraine following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine.
He said the incident could see more Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland from the affected areas.
“We have to prepare for the possibility that we’ll see an increase in Ukrainians to other parts of Europe, including Ireland, but also we need to make sure that Ukraine gets the humanitarian assistance that it needs,” he said.