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More than 80% of asylum applicants now coming from UK via Northern Ireland, says McEntee

Minister for Justice described ‘challenge’ due to Common Travel Area, which Government has worked to protect

More than 80 per cent of people applying for asylum in Ireland are coming from the UK over the land Border with Northern Ireland, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has estimated.

Ms McEntee told the Oireachtas justice committee, which is holding a hearing on the Government’s decision to opt-in to an EU-wide migration pact, that the estimate was that more than 80 per cent were coming across the Border.

“I would say it’s higher than 80 per cent,” Ms McEntee told Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher.

Mr Gallagher said the statistic was “particularly worrying”. Ms McEntee said the Department of Justice engages with the UK authorities regularly, including through a Common Travel Area committee as well as bilaterally through the Department and between the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.


“This is the challenge that we have, that we have advocated for an open Border on this island,” she said. “It is absolutely a challenge.”

She said there is a returns agreement to send those back to the UK who have refugee status there, although that has been impeded by a recent High Court judgment which she is bringing forward legislation to remedy.

A Department of Justice source said that it was difficult to be precise about the numbers coming across the Border as it was not monitored routinely but that more than 80 per cent of International Protection (IP) applications are made at the IP office in Mount Street without having applied at a point of entry like a port or airport.

The Department believes that the overwhelming majority of those are coming from the UK and across the land Border. The Government believes that a significant number of Nigerians are coming via this route. There has been a spike in applications from that country.

Cabinet agreed that IP applicants from this country will be subject to an accelerated processing regime from Tuesday.

Earlier, Ms McEntee told the committee that up to 80 per cent of asylum seekers will be processed within three months under new EU rules.

Ms McEntee, who said that the new pact would mean that people will spend “less time in State-provided accommodation and ultimately are more likely to be returned to their country of origin”.

Failing to opt-in to the pact will result in Ireland becoming a more attractive destination, according to Ms McEntee. Numbers will “almost certainly increase” but the State would be precluded from accessing solidarity and burden-sharing mechanisms, “severely” limiting the capacity to “send people back to wherever they came from”, she told the committee.

“This would mean more people in the reception system for longer periods of time.”

The pact, which the Government wants to implement by the middle of 2026, has drawn opposition from politicians on the left and right. While the Government says it is a pathway to a fairer and faster immigration system, the plan to approve the pact next week is facing increasing opposition in advance of Dáil and Seanad votes.

Ms McEntee will give an overview of the pact, which consists of seven overlapping directives and regulations, arguing that there are significant risks to not opting in.

“We simply must recognise that the challenges presented by migration and asylum exist. They cannot be wished away. They must be addressed. And they cannot be addressed, in a globalised and interdependent world, by any state acting alone,” she told the committee.

She said that one element, the asylum procedures regulation, allows for “faster, fairer processing” of applications across the bloc, including “very condensed” border procedures for some people including those who come from countries with low “recognition rates” for asylum. It will allow for decisions to be taken in accelerated circumstances or for inadmissible applicants in three and two months respectively, and she argued that the longest time frame for a first decision will be six months under an ordinary procedure.

Under this regulation, she told the committee there are safeguards and appeals mechanisms. “In short, this regulation will ensure people get a quicker decision, whether positive or negative, on their claim.”

She outlined how the pact also contains a new screening regulation which kicks in when someone enters the EU irregularly or is found to be in a member state without permission.

The person will undergo a screening procedure within seven days, including identification, health and security checks and fingerprinting as well as being registered in the EU’s Eurodac database. This allows countries to check whether someone has lodged an application for asylum in another EU country.

Once that is concluded, people will either be entered into the asylum process or returned out of the country.

Another new regulation on the Eurodac database, she told the committee, will be important for Ireland as it experiences high levels of “secondary movement” – where someone has travelled to Ireland through another member state. Under this regulation, the system will be expanded to include collection of a facial images and fingerprints, including reducing the age for fingerprinting to six years and older.

Ms McEntee said this is to provide “stronger protection for at-risk children”, and that accessing this information will “help in returning secondary movers to the correct member state”.

Steps harmonising qualification for refugee status will reduce the incentive for applicants to move from one member state to another, she said, “which is positive for Ireland”.

She told the committee that managing external borders and the return of people without a right to stay in the EU will be done with “full respect for human rights”.

She outlined a new Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR), which will replace the current system for determining which member state is responsible for an asylum application, known as the Dublin III regulation.

“Ireland will directly benefit from a more effective system and process, allowing us to identify and return secondary movers to the correct member state responsible, freeing up out own system to assist those seeking international protection swiftly and efficiently,” she said.

To balance this, the same regulation will introduce a “mandatory solidarity mechanism” – something that certain critics of the pact have objected to. Under this, a “solidarity pool” will be established to balance out the impact on frontline member states where the most asylum seekers arrive, like Italy, Greece and Cyprus. This will consist of countries accepting people being relocated or buying their way out of this with a financial contribution.

Ms McEntee said Ireland’s share of this, based on current figures, will be 648 relocations or just under €13 million annually, with “flexibility” for states on how they meet it.

She emphasised that it does not mean Ireland will have to take an additional 648 applicants. “This may take the form of relocations, a financial contribution, offsetting against cases not returned ... or a combination of those.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times