President refers ‘rushed’ asylum Bill to Council of State

Higgins understood to be concerned about speed of Bill’s passage through Oireachtas

 President Michael D Higgins said he has  called a meeting of the Council of State for December 29th next to examine whether provisions under the International Protection Bill were “repugnant to the Constitution”. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins said he has called a meeting of the Council of State for December 29th next to examine whether provisions under the International Protection Bill were “repugnant to the Constitution”. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins has called a meeting of the Council of State to consider legislation reforming the asylum application system amid claims that it was rushed through the Oireachtas without proper scrutiny.

This is only the second time Mr Higgins has asked council to meet, the first being for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

In a significant display of Áras frustration with the Government’s guillotining of Bills, Mr Higgins has asked the council to meet on December 29th to examine whether three sections of the International Protection Bill are repugnant to the Constitution.

The President is said to be extremely concerned at the guillotine imposed on the legislation, which meant there was limited debate on its provisions in the Dáil and Seanad. Mr Higgins will now ask the Council of State to consider whether three aspects of the Bill are repugnant to the Constitution.

Seeking asylum

It is understood that the President’s biggest concern is an apparent redefinition of the family in the Bill.

The Áras has been asked to consider 40 Bills in the first 11 months of this year. In the past three weeks, it has had to consider 26 bills, highlighting the raft of legislation which has passed through the Oireachtas since the beginning of this month.There are 13 bills awaiting the President’s signature.

Labour TD Michael McNamara said the Mr Higgins decision was a result of the legislation not being properly scrutinised.

Mr McNamara, who was ejected from the Dáil last week for opposing the guillotine on the Bill, said: “This legislation was not examined in a meaningful way. It is farcical that the Council of State is now examining a Bill that the Dáil passed but did not examine in a meaningful way.

“The only voices that appear to matter are the Cabinet’s and they decided a guillotine should be implemented because they didn’t have the confidence to debate it.”

Mr McNamara said the Department of Justice and Minister Frances Fitzgerald wanted to silence debate on this legislation.

The Government says the Bill will bring Ireland’s asylum application procedures into line with other European states by reducing the length of time that applicants spend awaiting a decision.

However, several organisations including the Irish Refugee Council have said the new law could see asylum seekers being swiftly deported after a “cursory examination of their applications”.

Speaking in advance of the meeting, Council of State member and activist Ruairí McKiernan welcomed the President’s announcement.

Rushed through

Mr McKiernan said the Bill was rushed through the Dáil and Seanad by Fine Gael and Labour, with the support of Fianna Fáil.“It was done so in an anti-democratic manner that didn’t allow proper time, debate or consideration for the many concerns expressed about the effects of the proposed legislation,” he said.