Shatter’s U-Turn on Asylum Seekers’ Rights

In Interviews, rabble Updates!by Aisling Twomey9 Comments

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In 1999 Alan Shatter criticised the Department of Justice for it’s ‘disgraceful reputation’ in dealing with refugees and demanded a right to work for asylum seekers. Now he sings a very different tune. Aisling Twomey asks will the real Alan Shatter please stand up?

During the passage of the Immigration Act of 1999, questions arose as to the possibility of asylum seekers gaining employment. The Bill was rushed through the Dáil and little time was given for debate, but some opinions found their way into the Dáil record.

Alan Shatter was present in Dáil Éireann on that day. He stated that the Department of Justice had a “disgraceful reputation in dealing with refugees and deportation issues.” He also outlined his belief that people entering the state should be treated with “a degree of humanity and common sense in the manner we would like our people to be treated when they seek work outside the EU.”

The Director of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, Siobhán O Donoghue, shares the view posited by Shatter in 1999.

“When a group of people are systematically segregated, denied the right to an independent life, subjected to enforced destitution and allowed to be ridiculed through media and public channels the conditions for deep oppression are created,” she stated.

In 1999, Alan Shatter was very clear in his belief that asylum seekers should have the right to work.

“People who have come here seeking safety and asking to be allowed to stay should be allowed, within a reasonable period of coming here, to work while awaiting a decision to be made,” he said.

What a difference 14 years makes. The Alan Shatter of today believes nothing of the sort.

This year, as part of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Minister was a key part of negotiations to further develop an EU Directive from 2003, relating to the basic allowances and human rights of asylum seekers across the EU.

When Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald asked Mr. Shatter why his Department has never opted in to that Directive, the Minister said that this was because of the provision at Article 11 which deals with access to the labour market for asylum seekers.

Article 11 of the Directive provides that if a decision has not been taken within one year of an asylum claim, Member States shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant. This is contrary to the existing statutory position in Ireland which provides that an asylum seeker shall not seek or enter employment.

Mr. Shatter has promised a large immigration reform bill, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill of 2010, which has been working its way through Dáil Éireann with snail-like agility for an absurdly lengthy amount of time , and doesn’t seem likely to come back on the radar with any immediacy.

Mr. Shatter has alarmingly forgotten his 1999 commitment to human rights.

“Extending the right to work to asylum seekers would almost certainly have a profoundly negative impact on application numbers, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so. The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month, leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December 1999 compared with an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999.”

This is a phenomenally simplistic explanation of the rise in asylum figures in 1999. Minister Shatter should be able to recall the situation in Kosovo at the time, and the huge displacement of civilians in the area. Ireland actually invited 1,000 refugees from Kosovo, which would seem to put a slight dampener on Mr. Shatter’s figures.

Mr. Shatter also neglects to be entirely truthful about that right to work extended to asylum seekers in the 1999 Act. It allowed for a work permit scheme, which has widely been forgotten about, possibly because it was atrocious.

The Irish Refugee Council reported that just 67 work permits were issued to asylum seekers between July and December 1999. That number is insultingly small, when you consider that there were up to 6,000 asylum seekers, many of whom would have been eligible.

Of course, today, there is no right to work for asylum seekers in Ireland. Just 458 people claimed asylum in Ireland in 2012, out of 330,000 claiming asylum in the wider European Union. The average asylum seeker now waits in the Direct Provision system for over three years for a decision in their case. They cannot work, they cannot seek further education, they cannot settle. They are treated like dirt; in fact, they now have fewer rights than they had in 1999.

SIobhán O Donoghue remains certain that the right to work is a pivotal step to fair treatment of asylum seekers.

“They are amongst the most destitute members of society. Allowing the dwindling number of asylum seekers the right to work would be an important step towards recognising that enforced dependence has no place in a modern democracy.”

So the question is, what made Alan Shatter change his mind?


  1. well it’s not like he’ll last too much longer as sinister for justice anyway

  2. Here is all you need to know about Alan Shatter and his anti-irish programAlan Shatter Defence/Justice Minister (and therefore immigration) of the ROI of Fine Gael – a large property owner from fully non-irish immigrant background– who defended Nigerian scammer Pamala Isabeki and has created tens of thousands of new Irish citizens by waving his judicial wand.

    “Thus far, we have avoided the extreme racial tensions that have emerged in many parts of Europe. However, we are aware that we must remain vigilant in this regard and the Government is committed to combating and challenging any and all manifestations of racism.” – May 2013 – Although what Shatter means by “racism” is largely up to the imagination.

    Shatter has opened up new avenues to citizenship and immigration. You can now essentially buy entrance into Ireland for you and your family with €75,000. The reported on the scale of immigration just after Fine Gael took power. There was a six per cent rise in the number of foreigners applying for visas in 2012 compared to 2011. Out of the roughly 88,000 visa applications received, 91 per cent were approved, with the biggest number going to natives of India (16 per cent), followed by Russia, China, Nigeria, and Turkey. Over 25,000 applications for citizenship were decided in 2012 compared to 16,000 in 2011 and fewer than 8,000 in 2010. In 2012 115,000 people who are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) are currently registered and allowed to remain in the State.

    1. If you’re going to copy and paste from at least tell people that’s what you’re doing. This is racist tinfoil hat stuff. Rivers of Blood, floodgates etc. Keep it off here.

    2. Seamus, you entirely overestimate the number of immigration visas. Most of the visas that are issued by the Irish state are C stay visas, which are for holidays and family visits. They last no longer than ninety days.

      And over 25,000 applications for citizenship were decided- not all of them in the positive, and they had to be decided quickly because INIS had effectively been delaying, and continue to delay, applications for periods amounting to years. Applying for citizenship used to cost nothing at all, but now it costs €1000- a hugely prohibitive sum for a migrant family.

      115,000 people represents 0.03% of the population of the Republic of Ireland. We’ re not exactly wholly overrun by migrants.

      Alan Shatter is waving his Ministerial magic wand of Justice alright, just not at all in the way you think. Please investigate figures before you rely on them. They don’t always mean what they appear to mean at first glance.

      1. i dont undrstand why they do like that with asylum u stay in hostel like zoo for 6 to 10 years and then they give you deportations ?????!!!!!! how
        i think they forget they have irish refege in usa as well…….
        in australia ….. give this people chance look to them i was thinking what if they have refegi like uk over 2 millon hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh what they do ?

  3. There are no jobs for Irish citizens at present .To add to the problem allowing asylum seekers to work is lubricious.A person advocating the right to work has a secret agenda.

    1. hey del athin:
      if you say there are no job for irish cus they give it for est Europe for polish and …. and if the asylum they work they pay tax .its good .they pay rent and more and more or mybe in the hostel they living like zoo .dont be stuped

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