Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
The Irish Times is reporting this morning that the Government will establish a working group next month to review Ireland’s direct provision system.
The matters to be examined will include the weekly payments (€19.10 for adults, €9.60 for children, which have remained unchanged since 2000) and access to college. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald also promises to introduce a system which would streamline the processing asylum applications.
It should be noted that this streamlined approach has been promised several times by several previous justice ministers.
The Irish Times article adds:
“However, [Justice Minister France Fitzgerald] ruled out extending the right to work for asylum seekers who have been in the system for long periods, due to the high level of unemployment in the State.”
Readers may recall that, although asylum seekers are banned from working under the Refugee Act 1996, there was an exception to the rule in 1999 when – following widespread calls from business groups, trade unions and advocacy groups – the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats coalition allowed asylees work, under certain conditions.
The move was seen as a significant U-turn by the main government party, Fianna Fáil, as it had publically clashed with its coalition partner, the PDs, on the matter for almost a year prior to the changing of its stance on the issue.
The work initiative allowed for asylees, who had applied for protection before July 26, 1999, and who had been waiting on a decision on their application for over 12 months, to apply for work. By the end of June 2000, 1,032 out of 3,241 asylees entitled to work had either found a job or had stopped claiming social welfare.
Readers may wish to recall a few things that happened in the run-up to the work ban being lifted, albeit briefly.
In May 1998, at its annual conference, the trade union IMPACT called for asylees to be allowed work, while also calling for a Charter on Asylum Rights in Ireland.
Two months later, a campaign specifically calling for asylees to be allowed work was led by advocacy group Asylum Rights Alliance.
It was endorsed by more than 100 organisations – including ICTU and the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed. The late former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, of FG, supported the campaign, calling the ban “ill-conceived” and “incomprehensible”.
In July 1998, a survey in the Irish Times showed more than 80% of people believed asylees should be allowed work while.
In November 1998, the Economic and Social Research Institute produced a report stating Ireland was facing a labour shortage and needed to find 285,000 extra employees between 1995 and 2003.
Further evidence of an economic interest in allowing asylees work came in February 1999, when the then Governor of the Bank of Ireland Howard Kilroy also called for asylees to work, in order to help meet labour shortages.
In July 1999, CSO figures showed Ireland’s unemployment figure was below 100,000 for the first time in 19 years.
In an Irish Times editorial on July 22, 1999, the work ban was branded “perverse”.
Before the ban was lifted, but reading the change in sentiment, an Irish Times editorial in 1999, foretold:
“Where humanitarian considerations failed to move the heart of this Government on the issue of asylum seekers, it seems that economic self-interest may do the job.”
In the Dàil, there were debates about the then labour shortage and desires of Ireland’s main employers’ group IBEC.
On Thursday, June 24, 1999, then Labour TD Michael D Higgins noted:
“Considerable weight has been added to the argument for allowing asylum seekers to work by the support of IBEC. The employers’ organisation has identified a skills shortage which is threatening the economy and which must be addressed. Meanwhile, a skills bank which could make a net contribution to the State lies untapped because someone decided that asylum seekers should not be allowed to work, under any circumstances, pending the determination of their applications. I understand that the ICTU has also supported the argument… Given the weight of these combined arguments, I cannot see why a decision cannot be made.”
On the same day, FF TD Marian McGennis also noted:
“Our decision should not be based on a request by IBEC or any employers’ group that because there are skills shortages, a right to work should be granted to a person to whom we would not have granted it two years ago when unemployment was at 240,000. The decision must be based on granting the right to work to asylum seekers after a certain period of time. When we have no skills shortages we may claim we will employ only our own people, and that would be racist. We should grant it because it is a human right.”