President Michael D Higgins has said the UN has failed to deal with the conflict in Syria and it must be addressed by heads of state and government.

President Higgins told RTÉ News at One the EU has also failed in not having being able to agree an adequate figure, with an implementable regime, raising the issue of a voluntary or compulsory compliance.

He said EU countries are going to have to talk about the number of refugees they are accepting, saying it is more likely two to three times the figure that was originally suggested to them.

President Higgins said racism and xenophobia are re-appearing in some EU member countries.

He said that people should not be afraid of an influx of refugees, saying they are people fleeing persecution, slavery and smuggling.

The President said that the Irish people have to do what is right and share the responsibility of a human tragedy unfolding, adding that families in Ireland are willing to make a contribution.

He praised those in hardship who are reaching out to those in need.

President Higgins said the UNHCR has said that the EU should be discussing a figure of 200,000, but the EU figure is, as he understands, at 120,000.

"The figure of 120,000, which opens the EU ministers discussions, if that figure is revised in terms of the UNHCR's figure of 200,000,that obviously doubles the different indications that countries have been making. And that is a matter for government.

“Different member countries are going to have to talk about two-to-three times the figure that was originally suggested to them."

Kenny: Ireland may accept more than 1,800 refugees

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that Ireland can cope with taking in more refugees than it has already committed to, suggesting it could be more than 1,800.

Mr Kenny said that on the basis that the EU was now looking at relocating more than 100,000 refugees from Greece and Italy then the figure "may be more" than the 1,800 that Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald alluded to on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning.

"Ireland can cope with more than already taken," he told reporters.

Mr Kenny also criticised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his remarks that Europe's Christian roots would be overwhelmed by Muslim refugees.

He said: "One of the founding principles of the EU is the free movement of people, we respect that absolutely and completely.

"That movement has to be irrespective of colour or creed, I disagree with the emphasis that Viktor Orban has put on that."

Ms Fitzgerald earlier said that Ireland may take in 1,800 refugees, adding that the figure was based on a trebling of the current number Europe has agreed to.

"If the figure of 150,000 for example is put on the table that will effectively mean a trebling of what we have committed to already.

"I believe that is a minimum of the response that we would be making towards next week. So if that figure is agreed at European level that brings us to a figure of 1,800 and clearly we would then have to see what extra initiatives we can make in terms of contributing aid, in terms of the naval search and rescue."

The minister said that the numbers of refugees accepted were clearly going to have to increase to deal with the current crisis.

She said there has already been a 50% increase in asylum seekers coming directly to Ireland and there will probably be 3,500-4,000 people this year.

Ms Fitzgerald said she believed Ireland would take in extra numbers but said it was hard to put a precise figure on it.

She said the Government wanted to arrive at sustainable solutions and Ireland had a positive attitude towards mandatory quotas.

She said clearly there are resource issues and the Government would expect to get some financial assistance from the EU.


What life is like in direct provision

At present asylum seekers here initially enter the direct provision system.

The system was set up to house asylum seekers 15 years ago and was meant to last only six months, however, thousands of people have spent years in the system.

Ellie, 35, from Malawi has been living in the direct provision system for four years. She spoke to RTÉ Journalist Evelyn McClafferty for the RTÉ Voices digital series (listen below).

Life for asylum seekers living in Direct Provision in Ireland


Ireland's offer 'not good enough' 

Irish Refugee Council chief executive Sue Conlan said Ireland's current offer was not good enough.

"It's not dealing with reality," she said.

"The numbers and the needs are far greater than that.

"We have to find a way to respond to the public sentiment where people in Ireland are saying we can do more and we need to do more."

Aid agencies and rights group including the Irish Refugee Council, Goal, Trócaire, Dochas, Oxfam, Crosscare, Comhlamh and the Migrant Rights Centre are meeting in Dublin today to discuss the response to the crisis.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch has said the Irish people expect the Government to "do an awful lot more than it has been doing" to alleviate the migrant crisis.

Speaking on her way into a conference at Dublin Castle, Ms Lynch said she expected that at least 1,500 refugees would be accepted into the country, but that the final figure would be determined centrally by Europe.

She said the EU was dealing with a humanitarian crisis, adding that Ireland should not have had to wait for recent media coverage before responding.

Ms Lynch said Germany had led the way during the current crisis, but she said she believed Ireland would follow its example, and be able to provide "a safe haven" for those who "felt they had nowhere else to turn".

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins has said the UNHCR has said the EU should be discussing a figure of 200,000 people, but the EU figure is, as he understands, at 120,000.

"The figure of 120,000, which opens the EU ministers discussions, if that figure is revised in terms of the UNHCR's figure of 200,000, that obviously doubles the different indications that countries have been making.

"And that is a matter for the Government. Different member countries are going to have to talk about two-to-three times the figure that was originally suggested to them." 

Ireland will show solidarity to those seeking refuge

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar earlier said Ireland intends to show solidarity with those seeking refuge in Europe.

Mr Varadkar said there had been "harrowing" scenes in recent weeks of refugees "streaming into Europe".

He said the continent was made up of 500 million people - many or most of whom, he said, were dissatisfied with their standard of living - but he said that for millions of others coming into Europe, the EU was "paradise". 

He said Ireland would do its part to deal with the crisis "commensurate with our size", but he would not speculate on the number of migrants the country would accept.

Mr Varadkar said that, depending on the geopolitical situation, up to 400,000 people could eventually enter Europe over the coming years, and Ireland would need to know how many migrants the EU could accept before the Government agreed a figure.

Meanwhile, the German Ambassador to Ireland has said a solution to the refugee crisis in the EU should not be based on voluntary contributions but on a binding set of rules for all members.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland Matthias Hopfner said the EU's asylum policy should be founded on solidarity and our shared value of humanity.

"We do also need a fair distribution of refugees in Europe and we do, I believe need binding and objective criteria for refugee quotas for all member states that take their respective capabilities into account the size of the country, economic strength and productivity.

"We need to better manage our borders and we must of course provide better immediate assistance to the EU countries that are under particular strain, Italy, Greece, Hungary," he said.

Mr Hopfner said the question of financial incentives for member states is a question for the EU fora.

He said the implementation of the Schengen agreement could potentially be at risk by the over-arching principle of free movement within the EU being "untouchable."

Mr Hopfner said the EU was facing a challenge of tremendous proportions, adding that army barracks and schools may be used to house refugees in Germany, which has agreed to take in an estimated 800,000 people this year.


Analysis: Europe Editor Tony Connelly

There’s been a definite shift in attitudes at political level on the refugee crisis. However, it must be said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been trying to drag other EU leaders into taking a more proactive and a more compassionate approach.

Germany has said it will be taking in up to 800,000 refugees this year alone and is saying other countries simply have to share the burden.

Notably, British PM David Cameron appeared to cave in to pressure yesterday and said Britain would assume its “moral responsibility” and take in thousands of refugees. These will most likely come from UN-operated camps on the fringes of Syria – places like Turkey and Jordan.

In terms of changing EU rules, we will be hearing more detail in the coming days about what is envisaged. Yesterday, French and German leaders indicated they would approve of a permanent and mandatory mechanism of redistributing refugees around the EU.