After the President called in the Council of State for only the second time under his tenure over fears the new law could be unconstitutional, Mr Higgins yesterday accepted he can agree to add it to the statute.
The decision over the legislation was taken after the council met on Tuesday to examine the matter.
The bill was rushed through the Dáil and Seanad before Christmas. It is intended to speed up the verification process for refugees, but has been accused of doing little to address ongoing difficulties in the direct provision and family reunification systems,
The council, which includes Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, ex-taoisigh, chief justice Susan Denham, attorney general Maire Whelan, and others, was asked to consider whether the bill could be signed into law or needed to be sent to the Supreme Court for further examination.
After a week of debate & a rare council of state mtg, President Michael D Higgins has signed International Protection Bill into law #iestaff— Irish Examiner (@irishexaminer) December 30, 2015
Despite having concerns over the impact of the legislation, Mr Higgins was convinced about its legality after just one member of the powerful 20-person group agreed it should be sent for further legal testing.
However, migrant and children’s groups have warned the act could still face difficulties if any individual family chooses to take a case to test its constitutionality.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Irish Refugee Council chief executive Sue Conlan said that despite overcoming the constitutional hurdle “unfortunately there will be individual legal challenges” to the legislation, and that families who take the cases will be backed by the group.
Ms Conlan said she and other officials are “disappointed the Government saw fit to pass a law that is detrimental to refugees into law”, and is a “step back” from previous rules.
Ms Conlan said a member of a family who is refused entry to Ireland, even though a young relative they are responsible for is here, can be more easily blocked under the legislation and called it “a barrier in itself” to family reunification rights.
She added that despite Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin raising concerns about the direct provision system, the law “doesn’t even mention it”, and said claims it will reduce direct provision to six months are “pie in the sky”.
Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward, who had also called for the legislation to be sent to the Supreme Court, said last night the law is ultimately “good for refugees” and that President Higgins made a “wise choice” in not referring it to the higher court.
However, she added that individuals could take court cases and it is “best to test the constitutionality of legislation with individual cases”.
The legislation calls for a single application procedure for asylum and refugee status.
However, it has been criticised by Labour TD Michael McNamara and Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh for failing to address family reunification shortfalls and direct provision issues such as allowing individuals to work and giving greater rights to children in the system.