Proposed approval for EU Directive on standards for the reception of applicants for international protection

23 January 2018

Speech by Brendan Howlin TD
Labour Party Leader

Motion re: Proposed approval for EU Directive on standards for the reception of applicants for international protection
23rd January 2018


This proposal is a belated response to a long-running scandal.

We have all of us become inured to the unconscionable delays in our asylum decision-making process.

My colleague Aodhán Ó Ríordáin as Minister for State invited Judge Bryan McMahon and a group of experts to review the whole system in 2014 and the subsequent report made 173 recommendations including, crucially, on the right of asylum-seekers to access the labour market.

But nothing happened on this front until, in May last year, the Supreme Court declared Section 16 (3) (b) of the International Protection Act, which prohibits access to employment without any temporal limit for applicants, to be unconstitutional.

Significantly, the court did not immediately strike down the section, which might have produced a chaotic result, but instead invited a response from the Government as to how it should proceed.

The court adjourned consideration of its order the Court for six months and invited the parties to make submissions on the form of the order it might then make.

At the hearing on the 30th November, the Government outlined its plan to opt into this Directive, and asked for another extension of time, to cover the seeking of Oireachtas approval and an additional four month process required by the European Commission to confirm the opt-in following formal notification.

However, the Supreme Court was clearly unhappy with yet further delay in dealing with an issue that is characterised at every stage by unreasonable delays.

The court struck down the prohibition on international protection applicants accessing the labour market, as and from the 9th February 2018.

And, as usual, it is the legislative branch of Government – the Dáil and Seanad – that are informed last, and at the last minute.

The result is that we will not have opted into the Directive by the 9th February and we will need temporary measures.

Applicants will as an interim measure be applying via the employment permits system of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, on the same basis as other non-EEA nationals – even though, of course, no other non-EEA national has the benefit of a Supreme Court decision on their employment rights.

So, we have not yet arrived at the solution to this long-running issue, but we do perhaps have the end in sight.

While I broadly welcome and support the proposal to opt into the Directive, the sort of access to the labour market that the Minister proposes to make available seems to me to be inadequate.

And the degree of access he is proposing is not something decided by the Directive or EU law: that is a decision for himself – and one he is making on far too cautious a basis.

I recognise that there are issues in determining the level of access to be provided to applicants. But many aspects of what the Minister is announcing today will have to be examined in further detail, once those details are known.

He says that, in determining the list of sectors of employment to which access will be granted, regard will be had to labour market gaps, as well as the skill set of applicants and the expert advice of frontline Departments.
We will need to be told considerably more than that, before we can assess how the system will work.

I wonder if the Minister can tell us if we are now full participants in the entirety of the EU’s Common Asylum System?

As I understand it, since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System.

Both the UK and Ireland opted out of this Reception Conditions Directive, both in 2003 and 2013, in line with their treaty entitlements in respect of justice and home affairs.

In other words, up to now we have been semi-detached members of the Common European Asylum System: we are in the Dublin Regulation and EURODAC but we had opted out of this Reception Conditions Directive.

Does this signal a new co-operative approach to the development, post-Brexit, of a more coherent common EU approach to asylum?

Finally, at its heart this issue is about the living conditions, the family life and the personal dignity of applicants and their families while they await a final decision on their application for protection.

People like Mr N.V.H., who brought this case to court, who arrived in this country in 2008, who has been living ever since in direct provision and who has been refused permission to work ever since his arrival here.

Resolving this matter is long overdue.

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