Dáil Éireann - Volume 315 - 27 June, 1979

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Vietnamese Refugees.

1. Mr. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will indicate the arrangements for the reception of Vietnamese refugees in this country.

Minister for Defence (Mr. Molloy): The Irish Red Cross Society have accepted my invitation to set up a reception and holding centre for about 100 refugees from south-east Asia pending their settlement in the community. The preliminary arrangements are at an advanced [1171] stage and I expect that the society will be in a position to receive the refugees in the very near future.

Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister mentioned a figure of 100 refugees but I understand from a recent statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to whom I put down this question originally, that the figure was to be increased to 500. Has the Minister any information on this?

Mr. Molloy: No. The decision was to admit 100 refugees. The Minister was reported incorrectly in a reference which I have seen in a newspaper article where the figure of 500 was mentioned. That was incorrect.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Is it 100?

Mr. Molloy: It is 100.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Could the Minister give me any indication of the proposed arrival date of these refugees?

Mr. Molloy: I could not give a clear indication as to a specific date. As things are moving it seems that the refugees will be arriving in this country somewhere near the end of July.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Will the Minister give an outline of the proposed reception arrangements? I hope that there is no question of putting them into camps or anything of that nature. Could he give an outline of how they will be resettled in this country?

Mr. Molloy: I cannot give any definite information as to the reception area. That has not yet been finalised and I cannot give a definite date of their arrival until the premises is decided on. A number of places are under consideration at present. No final decision has been made. I hope that that decision will be made fairly soon because everything will flow from that. A meeting of the ad hoc group will be taking place this afternoon, that is a group from my own Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs, with the Red Cross who have undertaken this responsibility at the invitation of the Government.

[1172] Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister indicated that a number of premises were under consideration. Does this indicate that the idea is to resettle these refugees in some camp or settlement?

Mr. Molloy: I do not know how much information the Deputy has on the matter already, but he can take it there will be three stages. One of these is the establishment of a holding centre where refugees would be accommodated for a few months, and that would be established by the Red Cross. Certain formalities would be undertaken while they were there, such as health checks and documentation. Intermediate accommodation would be the next stage. It is expected that they would be accommodated in the intermediate accommodation for perhaps one-and-a-half to two years. After that the long-term integration settlement would take place. The reception of these refugees and their settlement in this country are being planned very carefully so as to cause the minimum upset to the people themselves when they come. We will try to have as many of the necessary arrangements made to make it easier for them to settle here.

Mr. Enright: Can the Minister give any indication as to why it has taken such a long time to finalise arrangements for the arrival of these 100 refugees? This matter has been discussed since as far back as last Christmas.

Mr. Molloy: It is just under one month since the decision was made by the Government, on 28 May, the date on which the Red Cross accepted the Government's invitation. Possibly things would have moved more quickly had we been able to find suitable premises more quickly, but we have not to date.

Mr. Keating: Is the Minister aware that his colleague, the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, in replies to similar questions in the last couple of weeks, indicated that the reasons for the delay were factors absolutely outside the control of the Irish Government relating to, as he put it at the time, his inability to control traffic from south-east Asia? It [1173] is now clear from what the Minister says that at least some of the delay—which I submit is inordinate—is related to the understandable difficulty of finding premises and accomodation in this country and the availability of the Government to be able to handle that in as expeditious a way as both sides of the House might like.

Mr. Molloy: The Deputy knows that the Red Cross are a voluntary organisation. They have very kindly offered their services. I am very pleased with the extent of the service which they have given so far and their attention to this problem. They are very keen to proceed as rapidly as possible. As the person appointed by the Government to coordinate these activities, I am anxious to ensure that the best possible arrangements are made for the refugees so that we will not rush them in here and then find that they are going to suffer all sorts of problems. We are all concerned to deal with the matter in as humane and efficient a way as possible.

Mr. Keating: Finally, is it not the case that people involved in this enormous international human tragedy that we see nightly on the television screens have already been accommodated by other countries quite close to us? The evidence could be said to point in the direction of some inability, indecision or lack of capacity on our part to handle this as rapidly as we all would like. I appeal to the Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the Deputy asking a question or making an argument?

Mr. Keating: I am asking a question.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is a very long question. It contains a lot of unnecessary wording.

Mr. O'Keeffe: It is an important issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair cannot measure matters by their importance or otherwise. Sufficient information has been elicited.

[1174] Mr. Keating: Will the Minister give a guarantee that every possible step will be taken to try to cut through any unnecessary red tape in view of the fact that we have been hearing about this massive gesture by this country for the past three or four months?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Question No. 2.

Mr. Enright: I have one final supplementary. Has the Minister discovered the occupations of the people who are coming, whether they are families or anything else? Could he give us some outline of the type of people coming? Will they be families, individuals, boys and girls?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will realise that the family histories of 100 people would take rather a long time.

Mr. Harte: Before the Minister replies, in view of the international request to countries to accept more refugees, would he consider sympathetically increasing the number that the Irish Republic would wish to have from 100 to 200 or maybe 300 and make our contribution towards accepting more?

Mr. White: Is the Minister aware that the major problem about the refugees in other countries has been that they have not been given suitable employment? Can he give an undertaking that the mere 100 now being accepted by the Government will at least be integrated into proper jobs here?

Mr. Molloy: From the questions posed by the Deputies it is quite clear that this is not a simple matter of flying them in on the first plane available. It is a difficult problem which must be handled properly and it will be so handled as far as the group dealing with it are concerned. I would like the assurance of all sides of the House that they will support the best possible arrangements being made. One Deputy has suggested that they should not be accommodated in camps. Another Deputy made a suggestion that they be [1175] brought in immediately. Talking about finding them jobs before the individuals have even been identified to us is a bit premature. In regard to the question posed by Deputy Enright, it is expected that the 100 who will come here will consist of family groups, but the individuals have not yet been selected by the United Nations High Commissioner.

Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister did not deal with the increase in numbers. That would have support from this side of the House.

Mr. Molloy: The decision of the Government has been to admit 100. Let us deal with that number first.

An Ceann Comhairle: We have been ten minutes dealing with this. The question originally asked for the arrangements for the reception. If the Chair at times appears to be strict it is because we deviate from the basic question.

Mr. O'Keeffe: It is an enormous problem.