Amended immigration Bill expected before autumn


IMMIGRATION reform legislation to replace the Bill withdrawn by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, is expected to be introduced by the autumn.

A spokesman for the Minister said he would like to bring the amended Bill to Cabinet before the summer but it “could drift to autumn”.

In a surprise move Mr Ahern withdrew the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008, which is to be redrafted to take account of hundreds of amendments. The Minister said the Bill had become a “massive tome” and it would be quicker to publish a new Bill than continue with the current Bill which had finished committee stage after a lengthy debate and was due for report stage, when hundreds of further amendments were expected to be introduced.

The spokesman said legislation had been withdrawn in this way before and the Minister had discussed it with Opposition spokesmen.

Fine Gael and Labour have criticised the withdrawal of the Bill, after 18 days of debate at committee stage.

The legislation aims to reform the asylum process, provide for the rights of asylum seekers in the State and create a new long-term residence status. An EU qualifications directive provides for the rights of asylum seekers at risk of serious harm if deported, and this is part of the legislation.

The Bill aims to reduce the lengthy and costly process between application, appeals if cases are rejected and subsequent applications for High Court judicial reviews. The Irish Refugee Council has also criticised the Minister’s confirmation that he would not be changing the direct provision system costing €90 million where asylum seekers are provided with their meals.

Minister of State for Integration Mary White had called for more flexibility and for a change in the system where asylum seekers could work but Mr Ahern said there was no funding to change the direct provision system.

The spokesman said the Minister was prepared to listen to the Minister of State’s proposals. It is acknowledged by non-governmental organisations and internationally that Ireland has ruled out allowing asylum seekers to seek work. The Irish Refugee Council said it was vital to “make attempts to improve the asylum process and we endorse Minister Mary White’s courageous remarks where she expressed concern at the conditions of asylum seekers where parents are not allowed to cook for their children and where asylum seekers endure long delays awaiting the outcome of their applications for protection.”

Irish Refugee Council chief executive Sue Conlan said the Minister “has failed to note that the length of time spent by people in Direct Provision is due more to the delays in decisions by his department than to “vexatious” applications to the High Court.

Ms Conlan said she could “see the practicality” of withdrawing the Bill for the changes but she hoped this did not mean it would be “back on the long finger”.

Of 44 industrialised countries including the US and Australia, Ireland is 22nd for the number of asylum applications, but has one of the lowest recognition or acceptance rates for asylum seekers.