An Oireachtas committee could be established to look at immigration and international protection matters in detail, the Dáil has heard.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Rural Independent TD Mattie McGrath that he had no issue with a debate being held on the matter and a committee being set up as the Tipperary TD warned that the State could not sustain the high number of applications for asylum in the State.
During leaders’ questions, Mr McGrath highlighted the numbers of non-Ukrainian applications for asylum including from Georgia, from “where 2,300 applicants had come in the first 10 months of this year”, a 10-fold increase on last year’s figures.
He said there had been a “staggering” 2,000 per cent increase in asylum applications from Algeria, increasing from less than 100 last year to 1,318 since January this year. “And there are similar figures from Somalia, Nigeria and Albania,” he added.
The Taoiseach said “we are in unprecedented times”, adding: “The world is not in a good place.” Referring to the war in Ukraine the Taoiseach said the State had acted like other EU members to assist those fleeing the war, directly assisting 47,000 people of the 65,000 who have arrived thus far.
He rejected Mr McGrath’s claim that he was “obsessed with Ukraine” and told him, “I’m not obsessed with anything, but there is a reality of a war that’s on our doorsteps”.
The Taoiseach pointed out that there are 17,518 people accommodated through the international protection system. Before the Covid pandemic it averaged 3,500 applications annually but it had “increased significantly”.
He stressed that Ireland works within the EU framework. “We’re a country that believes in a multilateral rules-based system” that applies to people seeking international protection.
“They apply for asylum and it’s adjudicated.” Mr Martin added that “lots of resources have been allocated to speed up the arbitration of that decision” and “if their application is refused then people in that situation can be deported”.
Mr McGrath said he raised the issue with Minister for Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman and while the Minister mentioned wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, he did not mention countries like Georgia, Albania and Nigeria.
“I’m not sure though if the Minister didn’t know the figures or was he being deliberately misleading,” he said as he as he pointed to the “staggering 516 per cent increase in new arrivals seeking asylum, excluding those coming from Ukraine”.
Asking how the State could sustain such levels of asylum application, especially during an unprecedented housing and healthcare crisis, Mr McGrath also criticised the numbers of asylum applicants arriving in the State without identification.
“Shockingly 3,254 persons have arrived in the State, undocumented in the first eight months of this year,” he said, when they present documentation at their point of departure.
He said that “we can’t go anywhere” without a passport and would be sent back and “that’s the way it should be”.
This matter was “causing strife and will cause more strife and angst” and needed to be addressed, he said citing a senior medical consultant in Co Tipperary who called for a “pause” in immigration.
The Taoiseach said the war “certainly does create huge pressures on our services. But in my view, in a wartime situation like this I don’t think there’s a choice here. And I think we have to work with other European countries in respect of this.”
On international protection applications he acknowledged the significantly increased numbers and “I have no issue with a committee being formed, if that’s the desire of the House, to get more into the details on the specific issues. Maybe that’s something that can be worked on.”