Reactions to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008

Yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Brian Lenihan T.D., introduced the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008. This Bill aims to consolidate Irish immigration and asylum legislation. In a press release explaining the rationale behind the Bill, Minister Lenihan stated that the aims of the Bill are inter alia to streamline the consideration of refugee and subsidiary protection applications; to prevent the abuse of the protection system by limiting appeal opportunities and restricting the right to judicial review. The Minister further noted that the Bill aims to regulate ‘regular migration’ into the State and to provide for a long term residence status to certain categories of migrants. Further to this, the Bill contains provisions on the removal of those who are not lawfully present in the State.

The 2008 Bill may be broken into nine Parts. Part 1 of the 2008 Bill deals with preliminary issues of commencement, interpretation and enforcement. Part 2 gives a definition of those who can be considered lawfully and unlawfully present, and prohibits those unlawfully within the State from accessing state services, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Part 3 of the Bill deals with issues relating to visas. Provisions dealing with entry into the State (Part 4), residence (Part 5) and removal from the State (Part 6) are also present in this Bill. Part 7 outlines the new procedures in place for the assessment of refugee and subsidiary protection applications are also in place. Further matters relating to the grant of refugee, subsidiary or other discretionary protection status are also outlined in the Bill. Part 7 further provides for the detention of certain protection applications, the issuing of protection permits and allows the Minister, after certain considerations are taken into account, to classify a country of origin or any other third country as ‘safe’. Part 8 makes further provisions, including allowing victims of trafficking a period of ‘reflection and recovery’, the extent of the powers of An Garda Siochána and Immigration Officers. The Bill also seeks to place restrictions on marriage for those who are foreign nationals. In addition, there are special and strict limits on judicial review including making legal representatives liable for costs where claims are regarded as ‘frivolous or vexatious’ by the High Court. Part 9 of the Bill deals with transitional provisions.

The reaction of political parties to the Bill is somewhat mixed. Coalition government partners, the Green Party welcomed the Bill. Fine Gael welcomed proposals to speed up the asylum process but were concerned with the continuing discriminatory effect the Bill would have in making it harder for Irish citizens to reside in Ireland with their non EU spouses. The Labour Party has criticised the large degree of discretion which the Bill places in the hands of the Minister for Justice. Sinn Fein raised concerns regarding the broad ministerial discretion within the Bill, family reunification and lack of regard to victims of trafficking.

The reaction of a number of relevant NGOs has been reported in the Irish Times [subscription required]. Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland has stated that the Bill fails to deal with the “delays in decision-making, inconsistent decisions [and] lack of clarity.” Such concerns were also raised by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. Both the ICI and MRCI also criticised the Bill for failing to provide a clear right of family reunion for migrants. Ken Murphy, Director General of the Law Society of Ireland has voiced concern over the provisions regarding the possible financial liability of legal representatives who bring immigration cases before the courts. Mr. Murphy noted how “Such a provision already exists in the rules of court. Its inclusion here is unnecessary and unjustified. It seems designed to discourage vulnerable people from fully exercising their right to the protection of the law.” Noeline Blackwell, Director of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), has criticised the emphasis on speed within the Bill and has stated that “[w]hile the Minister quite naturally wants to set up a fast, efficient immigration system, our concern is that a fair balance must be maintained between efficiency and rights”. FLAC further expressed concern for the restriction of access to the Courts and have highlighted the danger that “lawyers will be discouraged by the sheer weight of obstacles that impede access to the courts for immigrants.”

This post was submitted by PhD candidate, Liam Thornton.