Justice officials distrust and misunderstand asylum seekers, claims O Riordain

Heated exchanges as Government defeated on Bill to extend family reunification rights

Minister of Justice Charlie Flanagan has defended his departmental officials against stinging criticisms of their attitude to asylum seekers by a former minister of state for justice.

Mr Flanagan described the comments by Labour Senator Aodhan Ó Riordáin as “extraordinary and bizarre”.

The Minister was in turn accused by Sinn Féin of being “cold and callous” and “to the right of Gengis Khan” on the political spectrum.

The criticisms arose as the Government was defeated by 24 votes to 17 after the Minister rejected a Bill to extend family reunification rights for refugees by 24 votes to 17.

The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill introduced by Senator Colette Kelleher of the Civil Engagement group in the Seanad, will now go to committee stage.

The current definition of a refugee family member eligible to come to Ireland under the reunification programme is confined to a husband or wife or children under 18.

The Bill returns the definition of family to that of 1996 legislation and enables a broader group of dependents to apply for reunification, extending it to any grandparent, parent, brother sister, child grandchildren ward or guardian of the sponsor who is dependent on the qualified person.

During debate on the Bill, which amends the 2015 International Protection Act, Mr O Riordain accused Department of Justice officials of “distrust, mistrust and a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the problem” of asylum seekers and refugees.


He claimed that running right through the department “is a suspicion of anyone who comes to this country seeking asylum”.

Mr O Riordain told the Minister: “I don’t think your department has any capacity to deal with this use. I think the entire area of immigration and asylum has to be taken out of it.”

He said “your department approaches this issue from a justice and defence mentality, a law and order mentality. They do not come with sense of humanitarianism or decency.

“They believe half the people seeking asylum if not more are liars.”

Mr Flanagan said Mr O Riordain’s comments were bizarre and extraordinary given that he piloted the 2015 Act through the Dáil and Seanad with no criticism of the department that he was now making.

Mr O Riordain said that when he was involved with the Act they were told that many of the concerns raised “were being over-rated”.

Ms Kelleher who introduced the legislation said that Ireland planned to welcome 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017 but only 1,259 had been welcomed to date.

She said the State was not living up to its legal and moral obligations and it was “un-Irish to think of the family as just your husband or wife and children under 18”.

She described a number of cases including one where a young African woman whose parents were killed by the rebels who kidnapped her sister, managed to subsequently trace her sister through the Red Cross but the Minister refused the application for reunification.

Mr Flanagan said existing avenues for the admission of more extended family members are already available. “As Minister I can and do apply this discretion.”

He said he would be happy to report to the House from time to time on the issue and said it was dealt with on a case by case basis.

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan said the Minister's speech was "the most depressing moment of my time in the Seanad".

He accused Mr Flanagan of being “so cold, so callous. Your speech was an absolute cold hearted disgrace”.

Mr Gavan accused the Minister of being a “supporter of apartheid in relation to Israel and “somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan on the political spectrum”.