Thursday, 5 July 2018

Ceisteanna (6)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

6. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the rationale for refusing asylum seekers access to jobs in the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29607/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

I ask the Minister to outline the rationale for refusing to allow asylum seekers who want to get jobs in the public service to access such employment.

The 2013 EU reception conditions directive, which I signed into effect from 30 June last, enhances access to the labour market for asylum seekers. It means that eligible applicants will have access to all sectors of employment, other than appointments to the public service, the Civil Service, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. I am happy to outline the rationale for this approach. It is a standard requirement of the Public Appointments Service when advertising a position in the Irish public service that eligibility to compete is open to citizens of the European Economic Area. Similar provisions apply to recruitment to the Garda and the Defence Forces. An individual who applies for international protection in Ireland is given temporary permission to remain in the State to allow his or her application to be processed. This permission is temporary, pending the processing of the person's application. During this time, the applicant has not established a right to remain in the State on a permanent basis.

The processing of an application for international protection may result in a person being declared a refugee, in which case he or she will be fully entitled to compete for positions in the public service. Ireland's system for Civil Service recruitment through objective competitive examinations provides equal access to all of those who are eligible regardless of their origins. Equally, the examination of an application for international protection may conclude that the applicant is not entitled to international protection and therefore is not entitled to remain in the State. The Deputy will appreciate that the temporary status of international protection applicants is not consistent with being appointed to positions in the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Civil Service, the public service or an embassy or consulate representing the State. As I have outlined, the long-standing practice is for competitions for such appointments to include a requirement for candidates to be citizens of the European Economic Area.

While it is possibly understandable that there are restrictions on accessing jobs in the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána, it is unfortunate that the Government has chosen to exclude asylum seekers from the public service. Many asylum seekers in this country are very skilled.

Those skills could possibly be lost to the State with a restriction of this nature. For example, emerging and accelerating global and regional shortages of health care professionals present a significant strategic risk to the effective functioning of the health system. This is a lost opportunity to help to address those shortages. It could have helped to provide a mechanism to achieve better value for money compared with the use of agency workers.

The decision made in May 2017 to strike down the absolute ban on asylum seekers working as unconstitutional has forced the Government to finally address the need for reform of the direct provision system. The Minister mentioned the waiting time for a decision on an application for asylum, but it is still too long. It also takes too long to hear an appeal. Does the Minister have any comment to make on it?

I agree with the Deputy that there are people going through the various stages of the process who have skills that could be put to good use in their occupation while awaiting a final decision. It is not open to them to apply for public service jobs, but there are many similar arrangements in the private sector and I am sure they would be welcomed in that sphere.

I am committed to reducing the waiting time and ensuring the time it takes to process applications for international protection is the minimum. I want to ensure persons, who it is determined are in need of our protection, can have certainty of status at a much earlier stage. We want to facilitate their early integration into our society and communities. Persons with international protection status or permission to remain have full access to the labour market and State support on the same basis as Irish nationals.

My party and I welcome the announcement of a more open process to allow asylum seekers to access work. It is important to say that, but it is three years after the McMahon report that included those recommendations. On the waiting time for the granting of asylum, I am glad that the Minister acknowledges that the period is too long and that he is working on it. Asylum seekers spend too long in a system that in 2000 was designed to be a very short interim provision. Some 36% of residents spend two years or more in the system, which has been described as a form of internment. The delays in assessing applications are unacceptable and the long periods spent in the direct provision system have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of residents. It impedes integration and creates a legacy of dependency. Is any other reform of the direct provision system being considered beyond the right to work?

I am very pleased to note the success of the initiative undertaken by Judge McMahon whom I thank for his engagement and ongoing interest in the area, in which he plays a very important role. My Government colleagues, including the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and I are very appreciative of the role he plays.

I am keen to ensure a first instance decision at an early date. If it can be earlier than nine months, all the better. The Deputy has referred to persons who have been in the direct provision system for a number of years. The vast majority are persons who continue to appeal decisions already made. I acknowledge the importance under our law of people, as is their entitlement, engaging in the process of appeal and judicial review. My determination is to ensure a first instance decision is made within a reasonable period. Any lengthy period beyond nine months is unreasonable. I will continue to ensure we can have an early decision in the form of a determination, with a person either being given leave to remain in the State or, if it is in the negative, arrangements being made for the return of the person to his or her country of origin as circumstances may ordain.

I remind Deputies and the Ministers that we must keep to the timelines set down by the Business Committee as not doing so is unfair on others. Deputy Ruth Coppinger has apologised for not being here.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.