Give asylum seekers ‘ID to open bank accounts’

Publication of White Paper on ending direct provision on hold until mid-February

The Government should provide asylum seekers with “acceptable identification documents” and proof of address so they can open bank accounts and manage their money safely, the head of Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) has said.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information request to The Irish Times show Brian Hayes, BPFI chief executive, urged the Department of Justice last year to provide asylum seekers with identity cards that “meet customer due diligence requirements under the Criminal Justice Act” so that banks can open accounts for asylum seekers. Proof of identity and address is needed so banks can comply with legislation to combat money-laundering and terrorist financing, Mr Hayes said in a letter addressed to the department’s deputy secretary general, Oonagh Buckley.

"Neither Irish Residence Permits (IRP) issued by the Department of Justice nor the Temporary Residence Certificate (TRC) issued by the International Protection Office (IPO) are recognised as proof of identity by the Government, meaning our members cannot accept these documents as evidence thereof for the purposes of customer due diligence," wrote Mr Hayes in a letter dated September 21st, 2020.

He added that both the Department of Justice and IPO state on their websites that the IRP and TRC “are not identity cards”.


Mr Hayes warned that direct provision residents “may be unable to meet the requirements for suitable proof of address issued to the individual at their home address in the last six months given that their accommodation is temporary”.


“As such, it is often difficult or impossible to progress such applications,” he wrote.

If asylum seekers are provided with “acceptable identification documents” the banking sector will be able to provide them with bank accounts, “allowing them to manage their money safely and efficiently”, said Mr Hayes.

In her response dated October 8th, Ms Buckley said her department was continuing to seek “a solution to the issues of suitable proofs of identification and permanent residence”.

International protection applicants have repeatedly reported being unable to open bank accounts since the right to work was introduced for asylum seekers in 2018. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also warned that asylum seekers face "significant administrative barriers" in opening bank accounts and securing driving licences.

Asked in October what progress had been made on the issue, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said her department was engaging with the BPFI.

I believe that in order to deliver the significant, lasting and transformational change required, it is vital that we not rush the White Paper

The barrier to opening bank accounts is just one of the many issues currently being examined by the Department of Children and Equality, which took over the direct provision portfolio in the autumn. The department was scheduled to publish a White Paper before the end of 2020 detailing what would replace direct provision after the Government committed to ending the system during the Coalition’s lifetime.

However, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said on December 15th that the paper would not be published until mid-February.

‘Advanced stage’

In a letter sent to NGOs and advocacy groups, seen by The Irish Times, Mr O’Gorman wrote that while work on the paper was “ongoing and is at an advanced stage”, the publication date had been put on hold.

“I believe that in order to deliver the significant, lasting and transformational change required, it is vital that we not rush the White Paper,” Mr O’Gorman wrote, adding that there would be further updates in the new year.

It is understood negotiations with the Department of Housing is responsible for the delay. The department said in November that own-door accommodation plans laid out in the expert group report, led by Dr Catherine Day, were “not workable” and threatened the State’s ability to house homeless people.

Green Party Minister of State for Community Development Joe O’Brien said the housing department’s claims were “very unconstructive” and had “crossed the line”. Mr O’Brien accused the department of using a “problematic” narrative and warned its claims of “two groups being played off one another” in the scramble for housing could cause serious issues.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast