THE National Famine Memorial in Murrisk, the sculpted bronze coloured replica ‘coffin ship’ at the foot of famed Croagh Patrick, draws you in. Many Irish people feel an innate connection with it. It is as if we experience some semblance of famine energy, still trickling just under our skins. 170 years later the country’s pre-Famine population of eight million still hasn’t recovered.
Only history will tell how we as a nation responded to the ‘coffin ships’ of 2015. There were poignant pictures last week of men picking up bodies of drowned migrants from the shorelines of Libya. Their boats to the EU became their coffin ships. Who is to make the call on why a person leaves a country? Is being an economic refugee a crime? If so, then millions of us who are Irish are guilty.
In the early ‘60s Bob Dylan wrote a song, ‘Who Killed Davey Moore?’ about a boxer who died after a fight. Each verse opens with: “Who killed Davey Moore, why and what’s the reason for?” The ref pleads innocence. “‘Not I,’ says the referee, ‘don’t point your finger at me’…”
Every verse closes with: “It wasn’t me that made him fall. No you can’t blame me at all.” Next up it’s the crowd. “‘Not us,’ says the angry crowd, whose screams filled the arena loud.” It goes on, “‘Not me,’ says his manager, puffing on a big cigar.” And “‘Not me,’ says the gambling man, with his ticket stub still in his hand.” “‘Not me,’ says the boxing writer, pounding on his old typewriter.” It finishes with: “‘Not me,’ says the man whose fists laid him low in a cloud of mist.”
Not wanting to take responsibility when something goes wrong seems to be part of human nature. We had it among our colonial guests during the Great Hunger just as we have among our European Union brethren and our own Government today when it comes to migrants.
We, as a nation, have agreed to accept 1,120 asylum seekers over the next two years. Almost 350,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean into the south of Europe already this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration. We, as a country that knows all about migration, have been too silent on the matter. Leadership is what is required, the same leadership that is required to tackle our national homeless problem.
This is a moral issue, clear and simple. It is beyond economics, quotas and politics. Most of the people who are on the move are trying to escape war zones. How many European countries are involved in the defence industry? Almost three per cent - $1.5trillion- of the world’s GDP is spent on arms annually.
Ms Merkel is highlighting the fact that Germany is taking in so many asylum seekers. We haven’t heard much about Germany being ranked fifth on the 2014 list of arms suppliers, with France fourth and the UK sixth. Other EU countries also feature – Spain (eighth), Italy (ninth), Netherlands (eleventh) and Sweden (twelfth).
Putting it simply, Europe is duty-bound to accommodate asylum seekers. Many European bombs and bullets have found their way into the homelands of these refugees. With Ireland’s neutral position and our personal history of migration it is incumbent on our political leadership to make a stand and take a lead in the asylum issue.
RTÉ reported over the weekend: “In a joint statement (today) with his British and German counterparts, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said they had asked for an urgent summit to discuss immigration in the next couple of weeks.” Note, ‘urgent… couple of weeks.’ Enough said.
The Government has announced details for new weaponry for the Irish Defence Forces. What are we playing at? We have budgets for this but cannot house our homeless and stay silent on refugees. For the Government to say that they want to help refugees as part of a “coordinated European fashion” (Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin) is a bit of a joke. There is no such EU response. Why can’t we be leaders, for once, rather than waiting? How many more coffin ships do we need?