Tuesday, 23 January 2018
Reception Conditions Directive: Motion
I note that the Government has to seek the approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas on opting in to the directive which will provide for minimum best practice standards for the reception of asylum seekers, and this is only right. There is no doubt that opting in to the directive entails allowing asylum seekers limited access to the labour market. In general, Fianna Fáil supports the decision to opt in to the directive, which was a recommendation of the McMahon working group. It will bring Ireland's asylum system in line with European norms.
Fianna Fáil has long advocated for reform of the direct provision system. Asylum seekers spend far too long in the system which was designed in 2000 to be a short-term interim provision to deal with the high number of asylum seekers entering the State. That was to be an interim measure but here we are 18 years later. At present, approximately 36% of residents spend two years or more in direct provision, which some of them have described as a form of internment. The delays in assessing applications for asylum remain unacceptable. The long periods spent in direct provision have a negative impact on both the mental health and well-being of the individual. It also impedes integration and creates a legacy of dependency.
The McMahon working group published its report in 2015. It made a number of recommendations, including that asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision on their application for asylum for more than nine months and who have co-operated with the process should be allowed to work. Fianna Fáil supported the recommendation. Three years have passed, however, and only now is the Government starting to act. I contend that the Government is only acting now because it is being forced into implementing the recommendations of the Supreme Court which concluded in May 2017 that prohibiting asylum seekers from working is unconstitutional. Despite that Supreme Court judgment, the Government has delayed introducing provisions to allow asylum seekers work. The ban on the right to work will be struck down as unconstitutional on 9 February 2018. Therefore, a temporary measure has to be put in place between 9 February and the date on which Ireland will have completed all necessary measures to opt in to the directive. Why did it take so long? I contend that there was appropriate time to deal with this without having to put an interim measure in place. We should have gone straight to a situation of opting in without interim measures. The interim measures permitting asylum seekers to work are restrictive. They are restricted to seeking jobs in specified sectors and the job must attract a salary of at least €30,000. I accept that the Minister spoke about the issue of asylum seekers having to pay for an employment permit. If my understanding is correct, that will not now be the case.
In general, the implementation of the reception conditions directive will have positive implications beyond the right to work. These include greater protections for children and vulnerable applicants seeking asylum. The asylum reception system which we call direct provision will have to be put on a statutory footing and this will ensure that the system has appropriate parliamentary oversight. This must be a welcome step towards introducing a more humane reception system for asylum seekers.
I understand work permits will be restricted by the list of highly skilled and ineligible categories that apply to work permit applicants, which are very restrictive and exclusionary criteria. The current list indirectly discriminates against women, as the majority of employment categories eligible for work permits are in male-dominated jobs. Female asylum seekers would, then, be additionally adversely affected by this intern scheme as it currently stands.