The Irish parliament voted to uphold an EU travel restriction against migrants from the Middle East and Africa on Wednesday.
In a unanimous vote, MEPs voted against a motion to extend the EU’s visa-free regime to citizens from the six countries in the Middle Eastern and African region, which are majority Muslim.
“It is unacceptable to put the interests of our own citizens above the welfare of the European Union,” said Fianna Fáil’s Fintan O’Toole, who was the only MEP to vote against the motion.
The European Commission had initially asked the Irish government to extend its ban on the Middle-Eastern and African countries, which had been imposed after they failed to grant asylum to migrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran and Libya.
However, the European Commission was told by Ireland that the government was not prepared to extend visa-exempt travel for the Middle and African regions and that it could only extend the period of the travel ban by a further five years.
“I think it is a very important vote.
It shows we are not prepared for a refugee situation,” said Dublin MEP John O’Doherty.”
The Irish government’s position is clear: we will not support a visa-restricted regime.”
The decision to extend a visa waiver to the Middle, African and Eastern regions is seen by some as a win for Ireland.
“We will certainly support this,” said MEP Máire Báthory, who has previously criticised the EU for its lack of support for the migrants from those regions.
“If you look at it from a refugee perspective, it is an incredibly important thing,” she said.
However Ireland’s opposition to the travel restriction was not without its critics, including former Irish Prime Minister Martin McGuinness, who said it showed the EU was “playing a game of chicken” with its citizens.
“They are not going to allow Irish citizens to come into the European area and have their lives destroyed.
The European Commission should not be doing this.
It is playing a game with Irish citizens,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.
The Irish Government said it would consult with EU officials before taking any further action.