A “watershed moment” is how Ennis man, Aiden O’Neill has described seeing Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi being carried out of the water.
Aiden has come to national prominence during the past 24 hours since he started a campaign to find 600 families to foster or adopt 600 Syrian refugees until their own families “can get back on their feet”.
Speaking to The Clare Champion he said the response has “overwhelmed” him and exceeded all of his expectations.
“I’m a sales rep. I’m just an ordinary Joe Soap. I’d seen all the images on Facebook and that image of Aylan was just a watershed moment for me and I just had to do something. It was just a harrowing image.
“I have a two-year-old and a six-year-old. People might give up the cigarettes or drink or find God. I didn’t find God but I couldn’t wash my hands of this.”
Aiden says he is looking to find 600 families to adopt 600 children until their own families “can get back on their feet”.
He has contacted Shannon Development to help find an office space with three or four phones for next week.
“I have over 200 phone calls to make to people who have contacted me and I won’t get through them all myself. I need as many people as I can get to help me get through the list, collate their details and email addresses and hopefully next weekend we can get everyone together and organise a meeting in Portlaoise or somewhere like that.”
The father of two says he wants to make the campaign “real” and a meeting will move the process forward.
“Facebook is very solitary and anonymous. I need to put a face on this and I want to meet the people who have contacted me. I need people to see it’s real.”
Aiden, who says he was up until 4am on Friday responding to people who have offered their assistance, also set up a Facebook page yesterday called ‘Aylan Kurdi Shelter’, which had 928 likes at 11am on Friday.
Aiden wants to meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and give him a list of 600 families who are willing to adopt before an emergency meeting in Brussels which is due to take place in two weeks time.
He says he has also contacted Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and he is trying to get as much information as he can.
Aiden says the enormous response has greatly surprised him.
“It has snowballed out of all expectations. “I had 164 texts on my phone this morning from people who I have to contact and that’s not including the ones I answered. I have had people texting me from the US, the UK, Europe and all over Ireland. I’ve had offers of donations but that’s another can of worms I don’t need. I just want to help.”