Supreme Court dismisses appeals challenging Minister’s operation of asylum-seeking process

Issue related to 2015 International Protection Act which established procedures for asylum applicants in Ireland

The Supreme Court has dismissed two appeals that systematically challenged how the Minister for Justice conducts the asylum-seeking process.

In separate appeals, an Albanian national and a Nigerian national contended there was a conflict of role in international protection officers (IPOs) deciding applications from unsettled migrants in two distinct strands of the immigration process.

A five-judge Supreme Court held there was no such conflict of role or function.

The issue related to the operation of the International Protection Act, introduced in 2015, which established new procedures for asylum applicants in Ireland.


Asylum and subsidiary protection are now identified as categories of international protection. If a person is refused asylum or subsidiary protection, they may still be granted leave to remain in the State by the Minister for Justice.

The applicants questioned whether IPOs are legally precluded from deciding asylum and subsidiary protection claims and, on other occasions, determining leave-to-remain applications.

The issue arising in both cases was determined by the court in the Nigerian man’s case.

Route to deportation

Giving judgment, Mr Justice John MacMenamin explained the man arrived in Ireland in 2018 and was refused international protection.

He was subsequently informed the Minister also decided to refuse him permission to remain in the State, paving the way for his deportation. This decision was signed by an officer described as “Case Worker, International Protection Office”.

The High Court’s Ms Justice Tara Burns held that officers making leave-to-remain decisions are not exercising the functions of an IPO. Instead, she found they are acting solely as an officer of the Minister, even if they are formally appointed as an IPO.

She dismissed the proceedings and the Supreme Court upheld this decision on Thursday.

Mr Justice MacMenamin said there was nothing to indicate consideration of the man’s application to remain was procedurally flawed. Although “technical law”, he stressed that the substance of the decision touches on the lives of people who are entitled to an independent, impartial and objective determination of their status.

Additional issues arose in the Albanian man’s appeal against the High Court’s upholding of the Minister’s decision to refuse to grant him leave to remain.

Arrived as minor

The Supreme Court, by a three-to-two majority, dismissed his appeal. Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan were in favour of dismissal, while Mr Justice MacMenamin and Ms Justice Marie Baker dissented.

However, the court held unanimously that the Minister’s assessment of the young man’s right to private life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights was incorrect.

The appellant arrived in Ireland as an unaccompanied minor, aged 16, in 2016, and has since reached majority, gone to school and resided with a foster family. He was permitted to enter the labour market and generally lived an unblemished life, said Mr Justice Gerard Hogan in one of four judgments delivered in the appeal.

His asylum and international protection applications were refused and the Minister subsequently refused him permission to remain in the State, which provided for his deportation.

The court agreed his constitutional right to private life should have been weighed by the Minister when considering deportation.

The two minority judges felt this flaw invalidated the decision which, therefore, should be quashed. The majority held that the decision should stand, so the appeal was dismissed.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter