Thursday, 5 July 2018

Ceisteanna (2)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

2. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address the adoption of the Reception Conditions Directive and further issues in the direct provision system. [29923/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

The decision announced last week allowing those requesting asylum to seek employment was significant. I was very critical of the interim arrangements and the experience of those who applied bears that out. There were only two applicants and one of those withdrew. It is positive that what has been announced is a far more substantial scheme. There has still been some criticism of it, specifically regarding timescales and those currently going through the appeals process.

On Thursday last, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and I announced details of the coming into effect of the EU (Recast) Reception Conditions Directive 2013 which includes enhanced access to the labour market for asylum seekers. In summary, eligible applicants will have access to all sectors of employment, with a small number of exceptions. The directive has much broader impacts on the wider protection system and includes important provisions regarding health, education, children’s rights and material reception conditions including housing, food, clothing and a daily expense allowance. The directive came into operation on 30 June following my signing into law of the relevant statutory instrument giving effect to the provisions of the directive. It replaces the limited access to the workplace introduced back in February which, as I indicated previously, was only ever designed as a short-term temporary measure.

Last year the Supreme Court found that an absolute ban on the right to seek employment for asylum seekers, where there was no time limit in the decision making process, was unconstitutional. The Government availed of this opportunity to broaden the scope of reform required and committed Ireland, with the approval of the Oireachtas, to opt-in to the directive, aligning our position with EU norms and standards. Under the directive, asylum seekers will have access to the labour market nine months from the date when their protection application was lodged, if they have yet to receive a first instance recommendation from the international protection office and if they have cooperated with the process. That permission covers both employment and self-employment and will be granted to eligible applicants for six months, renewable until there is a final decision on their protection application.

Access to the labour market will assist international protection applicants, who are ultimately successful in their application, to integrate more easily into society. For those who do not qualify, it will provide them with an income and skill sets to take with them on their return to their country of origin. It will also allow those with means to move out of State provided accommodation and provide for themselves from their own resources should they wish to do so.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

An information campaign has commenced to ensure that applicants, employers, trade unions, NGOs and all other relevant bodies are fully informed of the labour market access and eligibility arrangements that will apply. Full details and an application form are also be available on the INIS website, www.inis.gov.ie.

Participation in the directive builds upon the existing programme of reforms to ensure that applicants are treated humanely and with dignity and respect while awaiting a final decision on their protection application.

This is a significant advance. I commend those organisations that campaigned for this. It was not a short campaign and, while the Minister responded in a good spirit to the decision of the Supreme Court, it did ultimately take a Supreme Court decision to bring the Government into this space. I commend the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Migrant Rights Council, Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, and many others. I particularly commend the Rohingya man who took the case of NVH versus the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Notwithstanding that it is a significant advance, the Minister has not responded to two difficulties with the scheme as announced. The first is that I would have preferred an entitlement to work after a six month period rather than the nine months that has been decided. That would have been in line with what the Immigrant Council decided. More significantly, I am disappointed that it appears that those who have already received a negative first instance decision from the international protection office will be excluded regardless of how long they have been here. That means the international protection appeals tribunal has significant delays and this will mean that some of the people who have been here the longest, a large category of perhaps several hundred people, will be excluded from the scheme and will not be able to avail of the right to work.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire will be aware that the EU (Recast) Reception Conditions Directive requires that access must be provided no later than nine months. To facilitate speedy processing of applications for labour market permission, my officials will accept applications from eight months and permission will be valid immediately from the ninth month. In consultation with Government colleagues, I will review all of the arrangements for access to the labour market, including the nine month period, one year from now. This will provide sufficient time to assess the effectiveness of the current arrangements. It is important, in the context of international protection, that we ensure that we can have an early and speedy determination. I am keen that such a determination will be made, in the first instance, within a period of nine months, or shorter if possible. It is important for everybody involved that there be an early decision-making process. I am happy to receive submissions at any stage over the course of the year on any issues and I would be happy to hear from Deputy Ó Laoghaire about any concerns that either he or his party might have. I will review the process 12 months after the regulation comes into effect.

That is all very well from here on but I am referring specifically to a category of people who have not already received a speedy decision. They have already been living in Ireland for a period of years and they will still not have the right to work. That is significant. The other point is that a lack of a right to work, and we must not lose sight of this, was a denial of the dignity of residents in direct provision centres and asylum seekers. That was a major criticism of the direct provision regime but it was not the only denial of dignity within that regime by any means. The Government has to go forward from here and outline its intention to transform the system and move away from the direct provision system. I acknowledge the point regarding the optional protocol under the UN Convention Against Torture and it is important that will have the scope to take in direct provision centres.

A notice, however, was posted in a direct provision centre in Newbridge last Friday banning the use of electronic devices in bedrooms during the night. That does not indicate a location with the kind of liberty desired. It is important that people have autonomy. I will finish on this-----

The Deputy is way over time.

Very well, that is fine.

The import of the Deputy's question, in short, is why do we have this system of direct provision and are there any plans to replace or abandon this system.

Quite clearly the direct provision system encompasses a range of State services, including food, accommodation, health and education directly provided to international protection applicants through all of the relevant Departments and agencies. It is a whole of Government support system for those seeking international protection in the State, although the term is more often used to describe the accommodation centres provided by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department. Notwithstanding the criticism levelled at the system, particularly in terms of length of stay, it has proven effective in ensuring those who come to our country seeking international protection receive food and shelter and have immediate access to our State services. More than 60,000 people have been provided which shelter since its inception. It is not possible to predict how many people may arrive in any given year seeking international protection. However, the system we have ensures all applicants can be offered immediate shelter, accommodation of a full-board nature and a range of services such as health and education while their applications are being processed. I am very keen to ensure the time in which the application is being processed is as short as possible.

I appeal to everyone to try to keep to the time limits. I will not hit people over eight, ten or 12 seconds, but if we do not stick to them it is not fair to other Members.