Judge clears NDLS of discrimination over learner driver permits

Court overturns previous finding in favour of people in direct provision

The judge said Irish law on the licensing of drivers requires evidence of permanent permission to reside in the State. Photograph: Thinkstock

The judge said Irish law on the licensing of drivers requires evidence of permanent permission to reside in the State. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

A ban on issuing learner driver permits to asylum seekers does not amount to racial discrimination, according to the Circuit Court, in a ruling which overturns a previous finding in favour of people living in direct provision.

Delivering judgment in Dublin Circuit Civil Court on Thursday, Judge John O’Connor ruled that the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS), which is run by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), does not discriminate against asylum seekers on account of race.

Judge O’Connor said the licensing agency applies existing Irish law on the licensing of drivers which requires evidence of permanent permission to reside in the State.

The case concerned a single mother who has lived continuously in Ireland since 2015 when she applied for asylum. Her commute from a rural direct provision centre in the south of Ireland to work as a housekeeper in Dublin involves a lengthy journey by bus and rail.

The woman, who holds a full licence in her country of origin, was offered a car by her current employers if she gets a full licence. She applied for a learner permit in October 2018.

However, the NDLS told her she would need to provide evidence of full or “permanent” residency permission which, by virtue of being an asylum seeker, she could not provide.

WRC ruling

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission took her case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) which found that the RSA indirectly discriminated against the woman on grounds of race. The WRC ruled that the woman be given a learner permit immediately and awarded her €5,000 compensation.

However, the RSA successfully appealed the WRC’s decision to the Circuit Court on Thursday, which found that the WRC “went substantially beyond its remit” under the Equal Status Acts.

Judge O’Connor said the case was not about the right to a driving licence. It was about alleged discrimination in the course of the woman’s application for a learner permit. The judge said she enjoyed certain rights but these were not the same as those enjoyed by citizens.