Former High Court Judge Bryan McMahon, second pic, and Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, at the Oireachtas Justice Committee this morning
Retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon – as former chairman of the Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision which produced a report in June 2015 making 173 recommendations – appeared before the Oireachtas justice committee to talk about direct provision.
Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, also attended the meeting.
Mr McMahon told the committee that the most recent figures show a total of 702 people have been living in Direct Provision for four years or more.
Breaking down these figures he said 346 people have been living in direct provision for at least four years – 75 of whom have their status granted, 41 of whom have deportation orders and 230 whose applications are under consideration.
He also explained there are:
141 people who are waiting five years or more
66 who are waiting six years or more,
63 who are waiting seven years or more,
16 who are waiting eight years or more,
19 who are waiting nine years or more,
26 waiting 10 years or more,
13 who are waiting 11 years or more,
Eight waiting 12 years or more,
One waiting 13 years or more,
Three waiting 14 years or more.
In his June 2015 report, Mr McMahon recommended that asylum seekers be given the right to work.
Almost three years after this report, in February 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that Ireland’s asylum seeker work ban was unconstitutional. This followed a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court, in June 2017.
Today, asylum seekers who have not received a first instance recommendation within nine months of applying for protection are allowed to apply for an employment permit.
But the process is very restrictive and requires people to have secured employment in specific sectors with a salary of a minimum of €30,000 per year.
This morning, Mr Killoran said, in respect of asylum seekers working, significant issues acting as barriers to employment including banking – in terms of asylum seekers being able to open an account into which they can be paid – and the current inability for asylum seekers to obtain driving licences.
Mr Killoran also pointed out that the level of knowledge among asylum seekers that they can work is “incredibly low”.
Mr McMahon told the committee that, according to the Department of Justice, approximately 2,300 applications for work have been made with 1,600 having been approved.
He also said there were 632 employment declaration forms have been returned, suggesting that, in total, around 25-30% of employment applications are being approved.
Mr McMahon said when he was carrying out his work for his 2015 report, he and his team met architects, economists, university lecturers and tradespeople living in direct provision centres.
“There’s work for everyone, we’re told by the economists now, and if you come for a small town or a local provincial town, you will hear people complaining that they can’t get someone to tend their garden or to do handiwork or to paint the house of whatever it is – which you might imagine might be in some of the direct provision centres.
“…I’m surprised to hear that it’s [the right to work] not that publicised in direct provision centres that much. That of course is a crying shame if it’s not posted in all these direct provision centres that, after nine months, you’re entitled to work. And that should be promoted.”
“…The one thing I’d mention is, when we did our report, we came across a phenomenon which was quite depressing. If these people remain in direct provision centres for five and six and seven years – they lost the will to work. And they became deskilled. Their skills atrophied.
“And they became institutionalised.
“…One man said to me, I asked him one time in one of the centres ‘how are you getting on?’, I was inquiring about his legal papers. And he said to me, ‘Forget about my legal status. Just let me get up in the morning, have my breakfast, go to work, come back in the evening. I’ll work for nothing. Come back in the evening, sit down with my wife and children and say ‘today, I worked’.”
“…There’s a missed opportunity somewhere there.”
Mr Killoran also spoke to the committee about trafficking and sexual exploitation – led by Irish and international “organised crime gangs” who often work in collaboration.
He said there needs to be a change in looking at trafficking as an immigration issue – pointing out that many victims are from EU countries who enjoy freedom of movement – and for it to be viewed more as a gender-based violence issue.
He said in 2016, the State engaged in 19 investigations concerning victims of trafficking and in 2017 this figure rose to 115. These investigation related to both labour exploitation and sexual exploitation.
Mr Killoran said the official figures for 2018 have yet to be released but it’s expected that there will be an increase on the 2017 figure.
He pointed out:
“It’s something that’s increasing in prevalence and increasing in detection but what we’re not seeing I suppose is an increase level of conviction of traffickers which is the biggest single issue.”
“…we haven’t convicted a trafficker in Ireland yet. And that’s a hugely, massive area.”
Watch back in full here