Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Questions (3)

Robert Troy

Question:

3. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether asylum seekers should be able to obtain driver licences in view of the recent decision to award the right to work to asylum seekers. [37874/18]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Transport)

What is the Minister's view on whether asylum seekers should be able to obtain driving licences, in view of the recent decision to award asylum seekers the right to work?

The Minister has two minutes and I ask him to observe it.

As the Deputy will be aware, historically Ireland has not issued driving licences to asylum seekers.

The court ruling earlier this year stating that asylum seekers may work while awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications has little or no direct relevance to driver licensing law. The two issues are legally quite distinct, and the court ruling does not change the position.

I have however asked my officials to re-examine the question of whether we should issue driving licences to asylum seekers, as I know some EU member states do. The matters at issue in the case of driver licences for asylum seekers are matters of both EU and national driver licensing law. I understand, based on legal advice, that it would be possible to issue asylum seekers with driving licences and I would be happy to consider that once other matters are resolved.

The other matters relate to the integrity of the driver licensing system. Driving licences allow people to drive but they are also widely used as proof of identity in other circumstances. It is a core component of the driver licensing system that the identity of applicants has to be verified. The Government's policy is that identity for applicants for licences should be verified to what is called the Standard Authentication Framework Environment, SAFE 2 standard. It would not be acceptable to issue driving licences to some people only if they meet this standard of ID verification while allowing others to receive a licence without meeting this standard. I appreciate that some asylum seekers will not be able to verify their ID to this level.

Finally, we have to consider what will happen if an asylum seeker receives a driving licence and is subsequently turned down for asylum. It will be necessary to have a mechanism in place so that the Road Safety Authority, RSA, as the national driver licensing authority, can be notified immediately and can cancel the licence.

I have written to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, regarding these issues. When the issues concerned have been resolved, I will be happy to consider issuing driving licences to asylum seekers. I shall consider the situation further when these matters have been addressed.

Deputy Troy has two minutes.

The Minister referred to the decision made by the Supreme Court in May of last year to strike down as unconstitutional the absolute ban on asylum seekers working. This has forced the Government finally to address the need to reform the direct provision system. The Minister is right - historically asylum seekers could not work. Because of the Supreme Court decision, however, they now have a right to gain access to work. Some asylum seekers live in areas without readily available access to public transport and if we are serious about helping them into the workforce then one essential requirement is that they be able to obtain a driving licence, buy a car and travel to work. I welcome the Minister's confirmation today that he is reviewing this matter. There are a number of potential difficulties that he must overcome. I ask that we put a tight timeline on this. When can we expect the Minister to come back to the Dáil with an answer on this? When can asylum seekers reasonably expect to be in a position to apply for a driving licence?

I do not want to give the Deputy a very firm date because this is quite a complicated legal issue. Identity verification is difficult. I am as enthusiastic as he is to resolve this problem and see that there will be no overriding obstacle to asylum seekers getting driving licences. The key difficulty in issuing driving licences to asylum seekers, however, is identity verification. Ireland has determined that the appropriate level of ID verification is the standard referred to as the Standard Authentication Framework Environment, SAFE, level 2. Asylum seekers come to the jurisdiction with a variety of documentation or, potentially, in some cases with no documentation at all. Verification of ID to SAFE 2 level may be, practically speaking, impossible in some cases. If we are considering issuing driving licences to asylum seekers then it would be possible to take one of the three positions. It would make sense to issue licences only to asylum seekers whose ID would be verified to SAFE 2 standard.

There is obviously also the problem of the post-refusal of asylum. In cases where a person was refused asylum he or she would no longer have a right to remain in the jurisdiction. It is surely arguable in such cases that the individual is no longer normally resident - one of the qualifications - and therefore no longer eligible to be issued with a licence. A decision would then have to be made as to whether a driving licence issued to an asylum seeker should be cancelled if his or her application for asylum is rejected.

We will move on. I ask all Members to co-operate with me, because we will be embarrassed again today if we only answer a few questions. The clocks are very obvious. I call Deputy Troy.

The Minister has already himself confirmed that asylum seekers in other EU states have access to a driving licence. The challenges, therefore, are not insurmountable.

The Minister needs to set a tight timeframe so that we have something to work towards. If he does not set such a timeframe, this problem will have the potential to go on and on. People who come to my clinic and I am sure other clinics want to work and are eligible to work, but they cannot get to work because they live in areas where they do not have access to public transport to bring them to work. The Minister spoke about the continued eligibility of someone who has been refused the right to remain. I remind him that people lose their driving licences every day of the week. It is not an insurmountable problem. I ask the Minister to put in place a tight timeframe we can work towards to ensure people who want to go out to work can access motor cars to enable them to do so.

I thank the Deputy for observing the time limit.

I am very eager to expedite this. I have responded to the Department of Justice and Equality on this issue. It recognises that it is an issue. I acknowledge that other countries do not necessarily have the same problems and have already granted this particular avenue. I will ask my officials to engage urgently with the Department of Justice and Equality on this matter with a view to resolving the problem that has rightly been identified by the Deputy. There is a need to look at it not only as it applies to normal residency, but also as it applies after asylum has been refused. In addition, the problems of identification are thorny and difficult ones. As the Deputy will be aware, the legislative process is slow but there are ways for us to hurry it up. Obviously, our approach will be subject to the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, which has the potential to look very thoroughly at an issue of this sort. Although we might want to hurry up the legislative process, we need to ensure the law that is introduced is robust.