Tuesday, 23 January 2018
Reception Conditions Directive: Motion
This proposal is a belated response to a long-running scandal. All of us have become somewhat inured to the unconscionable delays in the asylum seeking decision-making process. As Minister of State, my colleague Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin invited Mr. Justice Bryan MacMahon and a group of experts to review the whole asylum system in 2014 and that investigation resulted in 172 recommendations including, crucially, on the right of asylum seekers to access the labour market. Nothing happened on this front until May last year when the Supreme Court declared section 16(3)(b) of the International Protection Act, which prohibits access to employment for applicants, to be unconstitutional. Significantly, the court did not immediately strike down that section, as it might have produced a chaotic result. Instead, it invited a response from Government on how it wished to proceed. The court adjourned consideration of its order for six months and invited the parties to make submissions on the form the order might take. At the hearing on 30 November, the Government outlined its plans to opt into the directive and ask for another extension of time to cover the seeking of Oireachtas approval and an additional four-month process which would be required, as the Minister has again said tonight, to inform the European Commission that we were opting in.
The Supreme Court was clearly unhappy with the further delay in dealing with this issue that has characterised every stage and which can only be seen as unreasonable. The court struck down the prohibition on international protection applicants accessing the labour market as and from 9 February 2018. As usual, it is the legislative branch, this House and the other House, which is the last to be informed of this, with this only coming before committee last week and expected to be passed by both Houses now. If we do not opt into the directive by 9 February we will need temporary measures. Applicants will, as an interim measure, be applying via the employment permit system in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the same basis that applies to other non-EEA nationals, even though no other non-EEA nationals have the benefit of a Supreme Court decision regarding their employment rights. We have not, as yet, seen a full solution to this long-running issue but perhaps one is in sight, as the Minister said.
We welcome and support the decision to opt in to the directive but we are all agreed that the access to the labour market the Minister proposes as a interim measure is not acceptable or adequate. The degree of access he proposes is not something decided by the directive or EU law but is a decision for the Minister and the Government themselves and one on which the Minister is taking a far too restrictive and cautious approach. I recognise that there are issues in determining the level of access to be provided by applicants but many applicants will have to be examined in very great detail once the information is known. The Minister says that, in determining the list of sectors of employment to which access will be granted, regard has to be had to labour market gaps. We will need to be told considerably more than that.
In fact, it may be good to contemplate social employment to involve people and to ensure they are fully integrated into Irish society. I ask the Minister to consider that. The UK and Ireland opted out of the reception conditions directive in 2003 and 2013, in line with their treaty entitlements. Up to now we have been semi-detached members of the common European asylum system. We are in the Dublin regulations and Eurodacbut have opted out of the reception conditions directive. We will obviously have to reconsider these matters given the implications of Brexit. While I welcome that we have finally opted in to this directive, albeit belatedly, it really behoves the Minister to come up with a better interim solution than the inadequate one he is proposing.