Five of the country's main banks, AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, KBC, and Ulster Bank have agreed on a joint approach to allow asylum seekers in Ireland to set up a bank account.
This follows years of campaigning and criticism from representative bodies that persons seeking international protection have been unable to access financial services due to an inability to provide identification documents.
A person opening a bank account needs to provide proof of ID such as a passport or driver's license as well as a record of where they reside such as a utility bill.
However, a person seeking asylum must surrender their passport meaning they do not have proof of ID. As well, asylum seekers are unable to apply for a driver's license another common form of identification. The Irish Residency Permit issued to asylum seekers is also not considered a document of identification.
From today, however, the five banks have agreed to accept alternative documentation including state-issued documents for bank account applicants who are seeking international protection.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has welcomed the agreement and said access to financial services is essential for asylum seekers to live with dignity.
"This is an extremely welcome joint step from Ireland’s high street banks," said Sinéad Gibney, IHREC's Chief Commissioner, “Access to a bank account is an essential service to live in our society and one which most of us take for granted.
“This is not just about having a bank account with your name on it. For asylum seekers and refugees, this is about the impact that holding your own account has on your ability to get work, to avoid exploitation, to use public services, to safely provide for your family, and to live with dignity in our society."
The Chief Commissioner paid tribute to the individual campaigners who challenged the existing application process.
“I would like to pay particular credit to those individual asylum seekers and refugees and representative organisations who have challenged their refusals, and sought and campaigned for this access over years.
“Bank accounts are an essential societal service that must be available to all, including asylum seekers, in accordance with the law. Today’s news marks a significant and welcome step forward,” she said.
Just last month the human rights body had written to the country's five main banks calling on this step to be taken along with the industry representative body, Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI).
In 2014, an EU directive set out an asylum seeker's right to access a bank account however many have been unable to do so, even after a 2016 EU Payment Accounts Regulations brought the directive into Irish law.
Now under the new scheme agreed by banks operating in the Irish market, the following documents have been agreed as suitable proof of identity:
- Irish Government Travel Document (UN Issued)
- Temporary Residence Certificate
- Irish Residence Permit
With regards to proof of address, the following have been accepted:
- Labour Market Access Permission letter
- A letter from the applicant's Direct Provision Centre
- A letter from the International Protection Office or Government department confirming their address and their asylum seeker status.