Flanagan to seek support over direct provision working rights

Government intends to change system in line with recent Supreme Court ruling

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: declined to say what conditions would be placed on asylum seekers’ right to work. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: declined to say what conditions would be placed on asylum seekers’ right to work. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is to seek cross-party support for legislation giving those in direct provision the right to work to ensure there is no major delay in implementing the change.

On Wednesday, Mr Flanagan announced the Government would seek to change the current system, which does not allow adults in direct provision to work until their immigration status is decided, in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Last May, a Burmese man who had spent eight years in direct provision before getting refugee status unanimously won his appeal over laws preventing him working here before his status was decided.

The seven-judge court unanimously agreed the absolute ban was “in principle” unconstitutional but has adjourned making any formal orders for six months to allow the legislature consider how to address the situation.

The Government has to present its proposed changes to the Supreme Court next month, with legislation giving effect to the change expected to follow thereafter.

Mr Flanagan told the Seanad that “adults who will soon have access to the labour market will also see their capacity for economic independence enhanced in line with the finding of the Supreme Court”.

He declined to say, however, what conditions would be placed on the right to work, such as how long adults in direct provision would have to be in the country before being allowed seek work.

Task force

Mr Flanagan said he would not pre-empt the findings of a task force set up to examine the issue, and which is due to report before the Government responds to the Supreme Court. The findings of the task force are expected to shape the Government’s response to the court.

With concerns about how speedily legislation can be passed in the current Dáil, a spokesman for Mr Flanagan said the Minister would “work with the Opposition” to see if delay in implementing the changes could be avoided.

Responding to the Minister’s statement in the Seanad, the Irish Refugee Council said: “We are calling for someone to be given the right to work after six months of waiting for an asylum decision and no restrictions be placed on what professions a person can enter and that self-employment also be allowed.

“We have also written to the Minister to request that we be given the opportunity to present to the task force looking at this issue and that, more importantly, people in the asylum process also be given this opportunity . . . We are still awaiting a reply to our request.”

Defending the principle of direct provision, Mr Flanagan said the system was a guarantee that every person who walked into the international protection office would have a bed, food, a shower, medical care, information and access to a wide range of services.

“I have yet to hear a credible alternative being proposed in almost two decades to the current system,’’ he added,

“All that being said, I recognise that the way this system operated for many years was wholly unsatisfactory.’’

He said the system was beset by problems as the State sought to grapple with a large volume of asylum applications, something Ireland was not used to.

While much of it was warranted, some of the criticism was not, he added.

“All states have to set and implement rules about people coming to the state,’’ he added. “Asylum seekers must apply for international protection status under international law on defined grounds.’’

Mr Flanagan said if the system was simply disbanded, as some members of the Oireachtas and advocates had called for, then the risks of consigning vulnerable people, who neither knew Irish systems or or language, to poverty and exploitation would be multiplied.