A Government plan to bring 28 child refugees to Ireland is in doubt because gardaí may not be allowed to travel to Greece due to safety concerns related to Covid-19.

This is despite the fact that social workers from Tusla have been given permission to make the same journey.

However, the mission is a joint operation with An Garda Síochána, which had said deploying garda personnel to Greece to perform security checks on the refugees would be "a breach of Employer Health and Safety Regulations".

In an updated statement issued this afternoon, An Garda Síochána said that following its risk assessment, "work has been ongoing between all relevant statutory bodies that will hopefully lead to An Garda Síochána continuing its participation in this mission".

The current refugee relocation programme is due to conclude this month, and the Department of Children said unless the mission goes ahead before its conclusion the children will not be relocated to Ireland.

In an earlier statement to RTÉ's This Week programme, gardaí had said that an Environmental Risk Assessment undertaken by the force found that it was "not conducive" to proceed with the mission in light of the potential public health risks posed to both garda personnel and the citizens in Greece.

"To deploy garda personnel in such circumstances would have been in potential breach of Employer Health and Safety obligations, in addition to potentially endangering the local population in Greece given the prevailing nature of Covid-19 in the recent past," it said.

It said the mission would also have been "in potential contravention of Public Health Guidelines and Regulations previously being implemented by the Greek Authorities".


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The Department of Children told RTÉ News that management at the child and family agency Tusla "have agreed that social workers may travel to Greece".

The department said: "Tusla awaits the agreement on dates for the joint mission to include gardaí and Department Officials."

The Department of Children said if the deadline for completing the relocation of refugees to Ireland is not met "this group of children will not be relocated to Ireland at this time".

"The establishment of a successor programme or exploration of bilateral arrangements may be required in order to effect the relocation of unaccompanied minors as soon as possible," it said.

This afternoon, the Department of Justice said that Minister Helen McEntee fully supports the Government's commitment to the relocation of vulnerable child refugees.

In a statement it said that the Minister was working with An Garda Síochána and other state agencies to overcome health and safety issues and allow the relocation of these children to happen in the near future.

Ireland agreed to accept 28 unaccompanied minors following a fire at the Moria refugee camp in September which left 13,000 people without shelter.

An initial 14 refugees have been identified, and Minister for Children Roderick O'Gorman told an Oireachtas Committee two weeks ago that he hoped a team from Tusla and the gardaí would travel last week.

The United Nations' refugee agency said that around 115,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently reside in Greece, with around 15,000 on the Aegean islands, and 100,000 on the mainland.

"It's really important for governments who have pledged to take people from Greece to recall that individuals are still arriving in Greece, the numbers are still continuing to mount," the UNHCR's senior communications officer Peter Kessler told RTÉ News.

Speaking from Athens, Mr Kessler said that for unaccompanied minors "the needs are enormous to find a better situation".

Mr Kessler said that the conditions for refugees arriving on the islands were "precarious... bordering on inhumane", while the fatigue among host Greek populations, especially on the islands, was growing.

Social Democrats spokesperson on children Jennifer Whitmore said it was "incredibly disappointing that we have reached this stage".

"It is seven months since the Government made a commitment to bring those children across from Greece," she told RTÉ's This Week programme.

"The Minister for Children only two weeks ago confirmed to me it was happening. Now it looks like it's not going to happen.

"I understand if gardaí have concerns about this but an alternative must be found. Perhaps our Defence Forces could step in?"