Ban on asylum seekers looking for work ‘must end’

Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness to address right to work event

The outright ban on asylum seekers from trying to find employment leaves them "deprived of self-respect" and the practice must be brought to an end, former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness will tell a conference on Thursday.

Ms Justice McGuinness will tell the Asylum Seekers Right to Work event that the well-known difficulties of those in the Direct Provision system are exacerbated by the length of time they remain in limbo.

The conference will address the implementation of last May’s Supreme Court decision which found an absolute prohibition on work entitlement to be unconstitutional in principle. The Government is considering its response ahead of a court imposed deadline of November 30th.

“The outright ban on such people seeking employment leaves them deprived of the self-respect that comes from self-support and must now in the interests of justice and decency be ended,” Ms Justice McGuinness will say.


Virgin Media chief executive Tony Hanway is to address the importance of diversity and inclusivity to companies.

“We know that these are factors which add to our competitiveness and better reflect the current realities of Irish society,” he will say.

“The net economic contribution and unique energy that migrants bring to the workforce and wider society is evident worldwide.

"Ireland must do more to integrate asylum seekers and businesses can play their part through encouraging integration into the workforce."


Mr Hanway believes Ireland can offer an immigration policy in line with international obligations while also making asylum decisions “fairly and promptly”.

The Supreme Court decision related to a Burmese man who spent eight years in direct provision before securing refugee status. His appeal related to laws preventing him from working before his status was decided.

The seven judge court unanimously agreed the absolute ban on work was “in principle” unconstitutional. It adjourned for six months to allow the Government time to consider its response.

In a statement last night, the Department of Justice described it as an important judgment with potential implications extending to multiple Government departments.

“The court has concluded that in an international protection [asylum] system with no temporal limit on the decision-making process, an absolute prohibition on the right to work is contrary to the right to seek employment under the Constitution,” it said.

Access to labour market

The State, it said, will make submissions to the court at the “appropriate time” and in the meantime the law regarding access to the labour market for asylum seekers remains unchanged.

An inter-departmental taskforce has been established to examine the judgement and to propose appropriate solutions, as well as cost implications including those on welfare, housing, education and healthcare among others.

“In many EU member states, the right to work is not an unfettered right for applicants, often arising after a particular period of time, usually nine months to a year,” the department said.

“In many instances, access may be limited to particular job categories or may lead to the withdrawal of other financial supports. All of these matters are being carefully considered by the taskforce.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times