Fitzgerald rules out blanket amnesty for those in long-term direct provision

Proposed legislation to speed up asylum process will only apply to new applicants

People arriving at the the Convention Centre Dublin  for the citizenship ceremonies for Ireland’s newest citizens. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

People arriving at the the Convention Centre Dublin for the citizenship ceremonies for Ireland’s newest citizens. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

A blanket amnesty for asylum seekers who have spent a long time in the direct provision system has been ruled out by the Minister for Justice.

At citizenship ceremony in Dublin yesterday, Frances Fitzgerald said she would not consider a blanket amnesty because many the 4,500 people in direct provision were “very connected into the legal system under judicial reviews at the moment”.

“And a number of people are under deportation orders whose cases are reasonably heard and who have been to the courts, those cases have to be dealt differently to others,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “But of course we’ll consider individual circumstances and make the very best decisions we can for those cases,” she added.

Direct provision, a system in which asylum seekers live in accommodation centres with food supplied and are given €19 a week until their applications are processed, has been widely criticised. Some groups have called for a blanket amnesty for those who have been in the system for years.

Promised new legislation aims to speed up the asylum application process, but it will only apply to new applicants.

Responding to concerns about children in direct provision, Ms Fitzgerald compared their situation to children who were living in “dreadful conditions” in refugee camps in Syria and Iraq. “In direct provision in Ireland children go to primary school, they go to secondary school they are involved in the local community,” she said.

The Minister said she would examine how to improve conditions for families, including giving them “more self-determination around certain aspects of direct provision”, including food or other issues that would “help with their parenting and give more of a sense of being able to be in charge of their own families within the context of direct provision”.

Also at yesterday’s citizenship ceremonies was Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who has responsibility for equality and new communities and who has described direct provision as “inhumane”.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said he did have sympathy with the suggestion that for people who had been in the system for many years “due regard would be given to their situation”. “However, there are people who have deportation orders hanging over them so an amnesty in that regard would probably not be the way to go,” he said.

He also said he did not want to “raise expectations unnecessarily” about what the recently established working group, set up to examine the system, would recommend. He said he hoped the group would report in three months time.

Some 86 former asylum seekers were among the 3,275 people who became Irish citizens at a series of ceremonies yesterday presided over by the Ministers alternating and by Mr Justice Bryan McMahon, retired from the High Court.

Music at the uplifting event was supplied by the Garda Band, including the force’s answer to Michael Bublé, Garda Charles Kavanagh, who sang Home and Haven’t Met You Yet.

To a chorus of crying babies, Ms Fitzgerald gave the speech at the first ceremony yesterday. “You are Irish, you belong here, you’re one of us,” she told the participants, to much applause.

Mr Justice McMahon was also applauded when he told applicants that his parents and his grandparents back through the generations were born in Ireland and had lived here for centuries. However, he added, “after this ceremony I will have no greater legal rights in this country than you will have; under the Constitution all citizens are equal”.