Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Ceisteanna (43)

Robert Troy


43. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress with regard to allowing asylum seekers to apply for driver licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21995/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

This is an issue I have raised with the Minister previously through both oral and written questions. To be fair, the Minister has given an undertaking to look into the possibility of extending the rights of asylum seekers to apply for a driving licence. Will he take this opportunity to update the House in regard to what his Department is doing to extend that right?

When the Deputy prefaces his remarks to me with "To be fair", I get very worried because I am not used to it.

As the Deputy is aware, historically, Ireland has not issued driving licences to asylum seekers.  The Supreme Court ruling last year stating that asylum seekers may work while awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications has no direct relevance to driver licensing law. That judgment was in respect of a right to work only and does not confer an entitlement to a driving licence in order to obtain certain types of employment.  The two issues are legally quite distinct and the court ruling does not change the position.

I have, as the Deputy knows, 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 will be happy to consider that, once other matters are resolved.

Verification for the purposes of obtaining a driving licence is an important issue. This may prove difficult for asylum seekers but it is a requirement that all applicants have to meet.  It would not be appropriate to require some applicants to meet higher standards of ID verification than other driving licence applicants. The other matters, as I have previously stated to the Deputy, relate to the integrity of the driver licensing system and, in that regard, I have written to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. I have not yet received an update for the Deputy since my previous reply to him in April.  As I informed the Deputy at that time, my understanding is that the Minister for Justice and Equality is currently seeking background material from the European Migration Network as to the interpretation and implementation of Article 12 of Directive 2006/26/EC.

I always give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, apart from acknowledging that the Minister would look into it, we are no further on - not an inch further on. The Minister could have read out the exact same reply that he gave me eight months ago. That is extremely disappointing. While the decision of the Supreme Court in May 2017, which afforded the opportunity to asylum seekers to avail of work, was welcomed, we are preventing many asylum seekers from doing just that. There are two centres in my locality and I will give an example from one of them, Mount Temple Spa, which is located off the old Dublin to Galway Road, two miles from the main road. The National Transport Authority removed a bus stop from that location some years ago and although I wrote to ask that it be reinstated, it was not. There are only two bus services a day from a very remote location into the town of Moate. Of the 80 people resident at the centre, almost half are eligible to work and they are willing to work, but they have been prevented from working by the inaction of both the Minister and his Cabinet colleague. This service is available in many other European countries and in every province in Canada. Why can we not roll it out here in Ireland?

Ireland has taken the view, up to now, that asylum seekers are not "normally resident" here. Germany takes the view that they are. What the Deputy is asking me to do is to change that view. I am sympathetic to what he says and I am particularly sympathetic to the fact many of these asylum seekers have skills that are necessary and they want to stay here, and getting a driving licence would obviously assist them in their desire to stay here.

We are looking for two things. One, obviously, is a different interpretation of "normally resident", and there is another problem, which I am addressing in order to get a conclusion which the Deputy would like, namely, identity verification. A key difficulty in issuing a driving licence to asylum seekers is identity verification. Ireland has determined that the appropriate level of identity verification is the standard authentication framework environment, level 2, or SAFE 2. Asylum seekers come to the jurisdiction with a variety of documentation, or potentially no documentation.

Verification may be, practically speaking, impossible in some cases.

I remind Members to watch the clock.

I am sorry, it is quite a complicated issue.

It may be. I do not want to interfere. I am reasonable. I ask Members to watch the clock, that is all.

It is quite complex. I apologise.

The Minister does not have to. He will have another minute.

The Minister is sympathetic yet he is still not willing to act in a speedy manner. That is the bottom line. I raised this question eight months ago and we are no further on today. I acknowledge it is complex but I have cited examples, not just in other European countries. In the United States and every one of the ten provinces of Canada, asylum seekers are able to avail of a driving licence. I am not asking us to reinvent the wheel; I am asking us to be imaginative and flexible in terms of affording these citizens a right to work and to contribute to the Irish economy, which they want to do. In very many instances, and I have given the example of Mount Temple Spa and the Athlone Accommodation Centre in my constituency where, given their location, they are prohibited from working due to the lack of public transport. Give these people at chance. They want to work and to contribute to society. The only people preventing them are the Irish Government.

I would like this to come to a conclusion as well. The Deputy has led the charge on this, which should be acknowledged. I accept it has not been as speedy as we would have wished. Part of that is because it is complex and it involves EU regulations and several Departments. It is regarded as a redefinition of standards which we have already set.

I replied to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in February of this year, seeking his views on the issues. He responded to our correspondence on 12 March, stating that officials were seeking background material from the European Migration Network as to the interpretation and implementation of Article 12. A final response is awaited. I think we are fairly close to a conclusion of that particular argument. There is also the issue of verification, to which I have already referred.

I was just saying, before the Leas-Cheann Comhairle quite rightly pulled me up for time, that the verification of ID to SAFE 2 level may be, practically speaking, difficult in some cases for asylum seekers.

It would make sense to issue licences only to asylum seekers whose ID could be verified to SAFE 2 standard. It is important that the same standards apply here as apply to everybody else. However, I would like to be able to resolve this, complex as it is, in the direction in which Deputy Troy is aiming.