An election agent for the NI Conservatives has apologised after suggesting that migrants in danger at sea should not be rescued.
Ryan Moses, a Conservative member from west Tyrone who helped with the party’s campaign during the general election, had written a post on Facebook suggesting solutions to the crisis in the Mediterranean.
The crisis has seen thousands of travellers – many from war-ravaged Syria and Iraq – drown as they attempt to flee to Europe in rickety, overcrowded boats.
Countries including the UK have been taking part in a large-scale rescue operation to try and prevent their deaths.
Mr Moses had written the following poorly-spelt message this week on Facebook: “These boat rescuses are getting a bit out of hand.
“Two ways to solve the problem. 1) Tow the boat back to wherever it came from, leave the passengers safely on dry land, commondere the boat, and skink it!
“Or 2) Stop the ‘rescuing’, then they wouldn’t be so keen.”
Rev Richard Kerr, head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Global Concerns Committee, had recently voiced concerns about the Mediterranean crisis.
When Mr Moses’ comments were put to him, he said: “I’d be deeply concerned about that sort of sentiment, at a very basic level as a Christian. We have a responsibility to people. We can’t simply wash our hands.
“To abandon people in the Mediterranean, I think would be morally wrong. And I’d go further, and say ‘repulsive’.”
He added: “There’s also this myth that Europe is being flooded by refugees. The reality is it’s developing places like Jordan who are dealing with the bulk of refugees.
“We have a responsibility to save human life, and to seek to address the reasons why these people are prepared to go to such incredible lengths to flee from where they are, and seek a better life in Europe.”
Amnesty International has claimed that, rather than cutting back their efforts, “European nations need to step up search and rescue missions”.
It said destroying boats may only trap migrants in conflict zones, pushing them to seek even more treacherous ways to escape into Europe.
Last October, Baroness Anelay, Conservative foreign minister of state, faced criticism after announcing: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.”
She added that such rescues may be “encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”.
However, the Government has since deployed Royal Navy crews to help in the continued efforts to save travellers who are in danger at sea.
Two users had responded to Mr Moses’ Facebook post with highly critical comments.
He had written back to them saying: “Im not sure this post is as unpopular as what some people may want to think it is.”
However, when his Facebook post was brought to the attention of Conservative Party headquarters, the party said: “Mr Moses has apologised.”
The post has since been removed.
A Conservative spokesman called the present situation in the Mediterranean “intolerable”.
He added: “But in providing support to address the immediate situation, we have to make sure we are not doing anything to make the problem worse.
“We must distinguish between those genuinely fleeing persecution and economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life.
“While the UK has a proud tradition of providing refuge for those who need it, we must not provide new incentives for those simply seeking to come for economic reasons.”