CEO of the Irish Refugee Council Sue Conlan has resigned from from the Government Working Group on the asylum-seeker protection process, which includes the direct provision system.
In her letter of resignation to the Department of Justice, Ms Conlan cited the publication of the Heads of the International Protection Bill by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on March 25, which she said happened "without allowing the working group to have sight of or discuss the most significant changes in refugee law in Ireland for almost 20 years".
In her letter of resignation, published in the Irish Refugee Council website, Ms Conlan said: "The decision not to allow the Working Group, which contains experts on international protection law as well as lay people, to have sight of and indeed comment upon the Heads of the Bill is regrettable.
"Unfortunately, from a first reading of the Heads of the Bill, my sense of it is that it is too much of an enforcement measure.
"Given the importance of the Bill, which contains much more than a single protection procedure, it is difficult to understand why the decision was taken to withhold it from the Working Group.
"It is an opportunity lost and may well make passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas more difficult as matters that could have been ironed out in the Working Group will now need to be brought in to the party political arena."
She adds: "Any attempt within the Working Group to propose change which involves legislation, such as putting accommodation and support in a Bill or changing legislation to extend the role of the Ombudsman or Children’s Ombudsman has been resisted by the Department of Justice.
"Coupled with the decision to then proceed with publication of the heads of the International Protection Bill without allowing discussion at the Working Group, makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Working Group is being used to rubber stamp administrative changes that the Department of Justice can then continue to control without parliamentary oversight."
She concludes: "We entered into this process in good faith and did everything possible to make it work. We feel that to carry on with the process goes against the best interests of the people in the protection system now and those who will come to Ireland seeking protection in the future.
"We have real concerns about the direction of the new Bill and need to work to ensure that its main emphasis is protection and not deterrence."
'Unfortunate and regrettable'
Chair of the working group Dr Bryan McMahon said the group regretted Ms Conlon's resignation.
In a statement, he said: "The deliberations of the Working Group are at a crucial stage with a number of Sub Groups developing their proposals for submission to the Plenary over the next number of weeks.
"It is unfortunate that the Irish Refugee Council could not continue to work within the Group and contribute to a final set of recommendations to Government aimed at showing greater respect for the dignity of those in the protection system and improving the quality of their lives as required by our terms of reference.
"Over the course of the extensive consultation process undertaken by the Working Group during January and February including visits to accommodation centres we have heard eloquent testimony from protection applicants as to their experiences in the system.
"These contributions have informed the sense of urgency that has underpinned our work.
"Almost 40 meetings at Plenary and Sub Group level have taken place since I convened the first meeting on November 10 last. Our work has also been informed by oral submissions from experts including The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon among others.
"There are of course views of varying shades among the membership but I am more than satisfied that all members are genuinely engaged in the task at hand, namely identifying a set of recommendations to Government for improvements that will bring tangible benefits to existing and future applicants."