That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to accept the following measure:
Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast),
a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 22nd November, 2017.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to present the proposal of Government that the State opts into the EU reception conditions directive, recast, under the terms of Protocol No. 21, annexed to the treaties of the European Union. Last Wednesday, the opt-in proposal was discussed and broadly welcomed by members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. The motion was subsequently passed by Seanad Éireann earlier today. If the House's approval is granted this evening, the formal notification letter will be sent to the European Council and the European Commission immediately thereafter so that we will be in a position to begin the four-month compliance procedure with the Commission. I should point out that this four-month period is mandated under the EU treaties.
The migration crisis and asylum have been in the headlines here and around the world for a number of years now. For this reason, I wish to take this opportunity to clarify some issues. The Government has made a strong commitment to playing its part in addressing the refugee crisis arising from the protracted conflict in Syria. Deputies will be aware of our voluntary opt-in to the EU resettlement and relocation programmes which will see 4,000 people coming to Ireland to begin a new life here. Deputies will also be aware of the commendable work of our Naval Service which has come to the aid of those fleeing conflict as they perilously cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. We have made a significant contribution to the international humanitarian aid directed towards victims of the Syrian conflict through our partner NGOs and a raft of international organisations.
It is important to clarify any potential misunderstanding that may arise in respect of those fleeing conflict in Syria. First, those who come to Ireland from conflict zones under our resettlement programme arrive with refugee status. Second, those who have come from Greece under the European Union relocation programme will have their status determined quickly and usually within a period of three months. In both cases, those coming to Ireland under the Irish refugee protection programme will already have full access to our labour market. Separately, based on the current situation, those who come to Ireland of their own volition and make an application for international protection upon arrival generally come from different regions. Currently, Georgia, Albania, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Nigeria constitute the top five countries of origin of applicants for international protection who present spontaneously at our frontiers and enter the international protection applicant process. Each application is, of course, considered solely on its own merits.
The Supreme Court gave its judgment in the NVH case on 30 May last and, having given the matter detailed consideration, the Government chose to interpret this decision in a broad way, reflecting the calls from Deputies and Senators and acknowledging the work of the McMahon group and a number of NGOs in so far as they were encouraging that Ireland should align its bespoke system with European norms and standards. In opting into the EU reception conditions directive, recast, the Government has chosen to be ambitious and to enhance and protect the rights of international protection applicants and their families. We are using the opportunity afforded to us by the Supreme Court decision to continue our programme of reforms undertaken since 2014. In addition to labour market access, the directive also includes important provisions on children’s rights, including rights for unaccompanied minors, as well as provisions on health care and education. Participation in the directive will place the provision of material reception conditions for applicants, which are currently provided for under the executive system of direct provision, on a statutory basis and it will be underpinned by EU law for the first time.
The State already has a functioning employment permits system for third country nationals which we must be careful not to disrupt or undermine, nor must we take any action which could be detrimental to our legal migration system. The court’s judgment acknowledges the role of the Executive and Legislature in setting these parameters. Once the State’s participation in the directive is confirmed, I intend to provide for access for eligible applicants by way of an immigration permission which would exempt applicants from the employment permits system and any associated fee. In determining the list of sectors of employment to which access will be granted, regard will be had to the skill set of applicants and to labour market gaps as well as to the expert advice of front-line Departments.