ONE of the most important pieces of social legislation affecting refugees who arrive in Ireland is about to be made law with what appears to be unseemly and unnecessary haste.
It is barely two weeks since the International Protection Bill was laid before the Dáil and now it is to be rushed through the Seanad today by way of a ‘guillotined’ vote.
There are many good aspects to the bill but there are potential difficulties that require more reflection and a fuller debate.
In a measure aimed at reforming the asylum application process, it will establish a single procedure to ensure a person has to make one application only. This should go a long way to reducing the length of time asylum seekers spend in the direct provision system.
It also promises to ensure asylum seekers are treated with respect and humanity within a framework of more efficient immigration procedures and safeguards. That is a very lofty sentiment but one overshadowed by one of the main focuses of the bill, which is to increase the power of the gardaí and the immigration service.
Under the bill, an asylum seeker can be detained by a garda or an immigration officer if considered a threat to national security, if found to have committed a serious non-political crime in another country, or if they have not made reasonable efforts to establish their identity.
It is likely that the most deserving applicants will have made their way here through tortuous means and clandestine methods and will have great difficulty in producing identity documents. No other group of people currently in Ireland is subject to such draconian measures and it is this aspect of the bill which has raised particular concerns among human rights groups, many of whom believe the real intent is to establish a fast-track system of deportation.
Since its publication, the bill has attracted a staggering 400 proposed amendments which, in itself, suggests it may have been drafted in haste. A number of these amendments have come from the Government itself. According to Anti-Racism Network Ireland, this clearly indicates that it was published prematurely and is ‘not fit for purpose’. Sinn Féin tabled 40 amendments, claiming that the bill fails to embed the principle of the best interests of the child and fails in respecting the rights of refugees to obtain family reunification, essential if refugees are to be able to establish themselves in Ireland and settle into their new communities.
However, there is little doubt that the need to reform the system is long-standing. The number of asylum seekers is on the rise and, if the current rate continues, there will be 7,000 applications next year. It is important to realise that, while all applicants deserve to be treated humanely, there has to be an efficient process to deport those who are not genuine and who may be in the country for nefarious purposes.
Protection works both ways, but whether the International Protection Bill will achieve that is debatable. The pity of it is that it is not being properly debated where it should be — in the Oireachtas.
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