Tuesday, 23 January 2018
Reception Conditions Directive: Motion
Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom a rá go raibh cuid mhaith díomá faoin bplean agus faoin scéim a chur an tAire os comhair an choiste an tseachtain seo caite agus atá os ár gcomhair tráthnóna inniu. As I said last week in the committee, the Department appears to want garlands and congratulations for this measure, which is quite extraordinary given that despite the positive language and the move to engage fully with the consensus, since 1996 successive Governments have opposed the right to work for asylum seekers. This has been re-emphasised most recently in the International Protection Act 2015 and we are only discussing this directive and the right to work on the basis of the NHV v. the Minister for Justice and Equality last May. The Government now arrives with an interim measure that is impossibly restrictive and it is difficult to anticipate any asylum seeker being in a position to obtain work before the passing of the legislation.
The restrictions have been detailed and include having to pay over €30,000 per annum, with some 60 occupations excluded and a cost of between €500 and €1,000 for a work permit. That would be an extraordinarily high threshold if it applied to Irish citizens and many here would struggle to satisfy the criteria, let alone those who are fleeing war and oppression. To say this is a day late and a dollar short would be a bit of an understatement. The directive is an improvement and we support the Government's decision to transpose it but it needs to go back to the drawing board. Legislation will ultimately issue for the full implementation of the directive although, as Deputy O'Loughlin outlined, despite the fact that direct provision was intended as an interim measure, we are still dealing with it a long time later. The interim measures are simply not good enough and do not constitute a satisfactory right to work. I also believe this would be open to legal challenge in advance of the passing of primary legislation. The NHV judgment is far from perfect and I would have preferred the Supreme Court to have gone a degree further but there was a clear expectation that the Government would act and it has been quite slow to do so. The decision was made in May last year and we are only seeing action now.
We have been contacted by a number of people in organisations working with asylum seekers. They are very disappointed and are angry at the deeply restrictive nature of this approach. I am also concerned that the final legislation might involve pull factors and gaps in the labour market, although the Minister attempted to reassure me in a previous debate. The right to work, as the Supreme Court recognised, is based to a large extent on human dignity and on people's ability to play a full role in the community. There should not be a utilitarian approach to fill gaps in the labour market. We must have a full and realistic right to work, with nine months much too long to wait. I would not like to see anything like the restrictions that exist under the Employment Permits Act 2003 and in the unacceptable interim measures, on which the Government should go back to the drawing board.