Right to work in direct provision must be addressed, says ex-judge

Ban on working is ‘harmful’ and leaves people ‘hollowed out’, says Dr Bryan McMahon

Retired judge Dr Bryan McMahon: described as “very important” the recent Supreme Court judgment that the ban on working, without a time-limit, is unconstitutional. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The “two greatest problems with direct provision” have not been addressed, two years after a landmark Government report on the system, the chairman of the group behind the report has said.

The denial of the right to work and the length of time people were in the system were the issues which most adversely affected people in direct provision, retired judge Dr Bryan McMahon said. Among his 173 recommendations were permission to work after nine months and the introduction of a single application procedure to replace the sequential process that meant people spent many years in the system. He was speaking at an event, hosted by the Children's Rights Alliance, to mark the two-year point since the report's publication.

‘Let me work’

Repeatedly, said Dr McMahon, people had said they were desperate to work. He recalled how one man in the system for 10 years told him, “I don’t care about my papers anymore. Just let me work. Let me get up in the morning. Let me put on my clothes and have breakfast with my children, and come back in the evening and sit down and say, ‘today I worked.’”

He said the ban on working was “positively harmful after a couple of years. These people are hollowed out. They become deskilled, depressed, isolated and institutionalised.”



He described as "very important" the recent Supreme Court judgment that the ban on working, without a time-limit, is unconstitutional. "I have two suggestions: adopt the resolution that we suggested or sign up to the recast directive." This EU directive sets out minimum standards for asylum seekers, and includes a right to work. Ireland has not signed it.

Acknowledging the 2015 International Protection Act, which introduced a single procedure for applications, Dr McMahon said his report emphasised the need for resources.

Although the act sets out to ensure applicants have an initial interview within six months, insufficient resources means staff are processing just 40 applicants a week, with a backlog now of over 4,000.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times