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Shipping containers and lorries are the 'coffin ships' of the 21st Century, Dáil told

It comes in the wake of the deaths of 39 Chinese people in the back of a refrigerated vehicle in Essex on Wednesday.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny made the remarks as he also hit out at people who “peddle far-right ideology” against immigrants.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the tragedy in Essex is a “reminder of just how ruthless and shocking people trafficking is right now.”

Mr Kenny said: “One of those people was the last to die and watched 38 die before them.

“This is an unimaginable horror.

“We have our own tragic history in this country as well… the owners of the coffin ships exploited Irish immigrants by cramming them into holds and under the decks.

“Today these shipping containers and lorries are the coffin ships of the 21st century.

“It highlights the human tragedy of displacement and conflict.

“These coffin containers are what may people fleeing persecution and war have to resort to to get to safety.

“Tackling the criminal gangs behind them… must be prioritised,” Mr Kenny said.

Mr Coveney said: “The tragedy that unfolded yesterday, the 39 Chinese people, 31 men, eight women and one of them was a teenager… was a reminder of just how ruthless and shocking people trafficking is right now.”

He said this is an issue that “comes right into our own lives, into the UK, and the investigation that is underway at the moment involves the Garda Síochána also.

“I can assure this house that the investigation by the Essex Police will have the absolute and full cooperation of An Garda Síochána.”

He said there is a national action plan to prevent and combat human trafficking in Ireland that’s “comprehensive” and involves significant resources being committed to investigating and prosecuting such cases.

Mr Coveney also said there is a specialised Garda unit for this.

Mr Kenny also said: “Unfortunately there are some people in this country who peddle far-right ideology”.

He said the “hatred” they spread online is “regrettably taking root in some places in our society" and the language used has “taken root among people who would otherwise be decent and reasonable.”

He said legitimate concerns in communities where accommodation for asylum seekers is proposed that it will have an impact on  health and education services.

But he said these concerns are “twisted into reasons to be intolerant” and elected representatives have to "stand firm against this.”

He claimed members of Fine Gael and other parties have been involved in “whipping up hysteria” and he sought an assurance that the government is “prepared to stand against this sort of thing creeping into our society.”

Mr Coveney said this country has a legal obligation to protect and look after asylum seekers while their applications are being processed.

He argued that while the direct provision system is “far from perfect”, Ireland has done a “reasonably good job in this country in ensuring immigrants integrate into Irish society.”

Mr Coveney said there is a need to answer questions fully when communities have concerns that are legitimate.

He said junior justice minister David Stanton is today meeting community representatives from Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, which has been the scene of protests against proposed accommodation for asylum seekers.

Mr Coveney said: “What I would appeal to everyone in this house to do is to make sure that when we contribute to those discussions and debates we’re doing it in a way that recognises the obligations that we have as a country, the tries to calm... the kind of hysterical language that we hear from some, but in a way that is reassuring.”

The Tánaiste insisted there are many examples of towns and villages where the integration of asylum seekers has been “a success story”.

Online Editors

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