Simon Harris: Focus is on accelerating migration decisions for Nigeria applicants

Taoiseach hints that a reformed TV licence system could result in a cut to fee paid by householders

Faster processing times will be introduced for international protection applicants from Nigeria, Taoiseach Simon Harris said on Monday.

Mr Harris also said the Government is working on proposals around the planned locations for new accommodation centres.

In an interview on the Today with Claire Byrne programme on RTÉ radio, Mr Harris also indicated he will advance plans around hate speech legislation, and he suggested the TV licence-collection system could be reformed in such a way that it would see the fee reduced for households.

Speaking about migration, he responded to a report in The Irish Times about concern within the Coalition about high numbers of arrivals from Nigeria.


“I think what the Government needs to do is to respond in real time. The best way you tackle any potential abuse of a migration system or any potential concerns about rules not being implemented, the best way you address that is through faster processing times.

“We have to make sure that when people come to this country, they get a faster yes or no.”

He indicated that arrivals from Nigeria could be subjected to faster processing times. “What Minister Helen McEntee has done over the last period of time is identify a number of countries where we want to do faster processing times and Nigeria will now be the next such country,” Mr Harris said.

He also said the Government is “getting very close” to being able to detail the locations of proposed new accommodation centres.

“It’s so important that we maintain social cohesion in relation to this. Irish people are good and decent people who see the benefits of migration. They also like to see a bit of common sense when it comes to migration. They don’t like the idea of the Government rocking up to their town or village and taking the only hotel in the town or village out of circulation. We need to move beyond that emergency crisis response to be more planned response.”

Speaking about the TV licence fee, and his potential plans for reform, Mr Harris said he was hoping to address the issue before the Dáil’s summer recess.

“I do want to settle it in the lifetime of this Government and I’d like to do that by the summer recess. That involves a couple of things having to happen, including the two independent reports that Catherine Martin has commissioned into RTÉ being delivered to Government.

“I don’t think the difference between the different approaches to funding public service broadcasting is as dramatic as sometimes presented. There’s only two ways you can do this. You can either do it through a reformed TV licence, or an increased exchequer investment.

“I’ve an open mind on which is the better question. I would pose this question: if you do it through a reformed TV licence system could you have a more effective system that results in the TV licence not going up or perhaps being reduced. That is one option.”

The Fine Gael leader was also asked about his decision to prioritise law-and-order issues in the coming months.

He said he is aware there are people around the country “who do feel unsafe at times”, adding he wants to make sure there is a “critical number of gardaí available” at different times of the day.

He staunchly defended Ms McEntee and said he believes she is doing “a very good job”.

Mr Harris also said there is “nothing woke, whatever that means, in relation to placing a focus on issues that haven’t been looked at for a long number of years. And when I look at the work that’s been done by the Minister and by the Department of Justice around sexual- and gender-based violence, Minister McEntee has my full support in that zero-tolerance approach”.

Despite this, he said Fine Gael is “focused on” law-and-order issues.

“I think it’s absolutely clear right now that the biggest priorities that we must face when it comes to justice is garda numbers, helping recruit and retain gardaí. It is giving the gardaí equipment they need like body cams, and as legislators making sure that the laws of our land support the gardaí and aren’t in any way shape or form seen to be soft on criminality.”

Mr Harris also said he wants to know whether new laws are needed to stop people protesting outside people’s homes. His comments come after masked men erected signs and posters outside the home of Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman last week.

“Let’s be clear, this isn’t new. This is something that has been festering. It happened at my home, it happened at the home of the leader of the Opposition and it happened at Paul Murphy’s house. I am really concerned. What I want clarity on this week is a very simple question: Is this a matter of enforcement or a matter of law? In other words, are the laws that we have robust enough and therefore they just need to be enforced? Or do we need new laws? I really want that question answered.

“I am concerned that either the laws are there and aren’t being robustly enforced in all cases – perhaps gardaí are feeling disempowered. I talk to rank-and-file gardaí a lot, as you’d expect me to, and I want gardaí to have absolute clarity that when they get a call to an incident, that this State has their back in terms of the enforcement,” Mr Harris said.

“I’m a little frustrated here to put it mildly. I’m a little frustrated that this has been going on for too long. I worry that there’s a worsening of what we’re actually seeing.”

He said he will be speaking to the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner as well as Coalition party leaders on the issue.

In relation to the proposed hate crime legislation, Mr Harris said he has made a decision that he intends to proceed with the controversial legislation but that he wants to address the concerns raised around freedom of speech first.

“I have made a decision: we are going to pass a law in this space. I’m very clear on that. It’s a commitment in the Programme for Government. I find it a little unusual that all but 13 TDs voted in favour of it and now some are running around as if they never heard of the Bill.

“I do think there have been legitimate issues, or at least legitimate questions raised, in relation to freedom of speech, in relation to definitions, clarifications and the likes. So what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to make sure that hate crime is properly addressed. Hate crime is not a pretend crime. It is a very real thing. If I want to be tough on law and order and support the gardaí, that means supporting the gardaí in pursuing all crimes, including hate crimes,” the Taoiseach said.

“When the gardaí believe they need new laws in this area, it’d be a very irresponsible Taoiseach that wouldn’t take that seriously. So we will pass a Bill. The Bill will be amended and the Bill will seek to address significant concerns. I want to make sure that any unintended consequences that people have concerns about, around freedom of speech, that we seek to address that.

“We do need, I think, to be a little bit more humble in politics. When enough people are saying there’s a problem here, it’s not putting your fingers in your ears and saying lalala but actually trying to engage with people on the issue.”

The Taoiseach was also asked about Budget 2025, and he said he believes that too many people are paying the higher rate of tax on too low an income threshold.

“I want to see an increase at the point at which people enter the higher rate of tax. The second thing I want to see is that I want to see the burden of the USC decrease on lower- and middle-income earners.

“But the days of the only conversation being about tax, in terms of how you can help people – it’s a bit of a jaded one. I want to see tax reform. I want to see the burden of the USC reduced, but I also know this: childcare is a big cost. I think the public won’t be fooled by any political party thinking the totality of a debate around their household income is around tax, we have to look at a whole variety of different areas,” the Taoiseach said.

He was asked about comments made by Eamon Ryan after the Green Party leader at the weekend warned his Coalition colleagues about making easy promises that could be hard to deliver.

“Eamon is well able to spend a few bob as well. He’s a decent politician and a decent person and he had his party conference and people say things at their party conferences.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times