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Uncontrolled asylum acting as a cover for economic migration needs a more radical response

The question needs to be asked why Ireland, on the geographical periphery of the EU, is facing 30,000 claims for international protection each year

Tents pitched on one side of Merrion Square, Dublin, last week. Photograph: Sam Boal/Collins Photos

The Government is using the party whip to push resolutions through the Oireachtas this week to allow Ireland to opt in to the EU migration pact. Cynics will note that the motions were due to passed before the recent local and European Parliament elections but were mysteriously postponed until after the people had voted – but you don’t even have to be a cynic to understand why that postponement took place. It took the migration pact off the immediate political agenda when in theory the electorate was asked to consider EU affairs.

In much the same way, the EU nature restoration law was left undecided at EU Council level until the electoral political coast was clear for its supporters to avoid unpopularity – and then almost immediately pushed through on a qualified majority decision.

This is more or less normal political tactics. And in the case of nature restoration law, no major adverse consequence for Ireland can be identified in the short run: there is plenty of scope for restoring natural environments on large tracts of Irish land not being used or suited for commercial agriculture. We need to take nature restoration, reafforestation and biodiversity a lot more seriously and urgently.

I am, however, opposed to the EU migration pact. Ever since the EU assumed competence in relation to asylum and migration issues, it has demonstrated the exact opposite of competence. Uncontrolled asylum acting as a cover for economic migration needs a more radical response than the EU institutions have ever attempted.


Although some argue the horse has already bolted in relation to the asylum issue, it is my view that the pact will simply worsen a problem that needs to be tackled at source.

Unless and until the EU collectively faces up to the reality that the international conventions on asylum seeking were not and never will be capable of dealing with mass migration for economic reasons, and that the system of legal protections for genuine victims of state persecution instituted after the second World War cannot and never will deal with global migration flows arising out of wars, poverty and climate change push factors, the EU will collectively fail to meet those challenges.

Decent people well understand the push and pull factors involved. In Ireland, they know our social and economic wellbeing depends on migration. They know that freedom of movement rights in the EU to participate in economic activity in other member states is not merely guaranteed but beneficial to all. They know that our present economic success is driven in great measure by inward migration.

They expect that our Government will control and manage non-EU migration effectively and fairly. They also expect that our Government will regulate migration to accord with our needs and capacities.

Letter to the Editor: Ireland and the EU migration pactOpens in new window ]

The difference between controlled and well-regulated migration policy, on the one hand, and uncontrolled asylum seeking, on the other hand, is that the Irish State does not guarantee indefinite free accommodation, employment, equal welfare rights or permanent rights to remain and family reunification to those seeking visas to migrate to Ireland.

Asylum seekers, once afforded refugee recognition, are theoretically entitled in law to most of those entitlements if the State can provide them. They are also afforded temporary rights to remain during complex and lengthy adjudication processes and the right to seek judicial review in the Irish superior courts to challenge refusal of recognition.

If, as Government concedes, we face 30,000 claims for international protection each year though highly permeable borders, we should ask why Ireland, on the geographical periphery of the EU, is chosen for such claims. We should also ask whether our legal, administrative and housing resources can possibly cope that volume. No system like ours can sustain such uncontrolled migratory flows.

The question also arises as to whether a Georgian or Filipino national is more likely to get permission to come to Ireland and enter the workplace as a visa applicant or as an asylum seeker.

Irish plan for implementing EU migration pact, including new accommodation centres, expected by NovemberOpens in new window ]

The pact imagines accelerated procedures to vet asylum applications. In Ireland’s case, that will be largely illusory. We hear of Government tendering for deportation flight operators. We attempted deportation flights with minimal impact 20 years ago when I was a minister. They are costly, ineffective and liable to last-minute injunctions.

The entirely new element of the migration pact is the creation of mandatory obligations on EU member states to share migration flows coupled with financial penalties which can be increased by qualified majority decisions. This is a bad idea and will, if implemented, seriously damage the EU’s cohesion, and play into the hands of fringe right-wing groups. The EU must face up to the need to reconsider the international refugee conventions.

Ireland’s capacity to deal with the pact is deeply suspect and will need primary legislation that we won’t see enacted – you’ve guessed it – until after the next election. Surprised?