Republican News · Thursday 09 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Minister considers imprisonment of refugees, and suppresses report on EU standards.

Minister's proposals are Catalogue of Injustice - worse than standards in Fortress Europe says UCD Law report.

With mindboggling ineptitude and inhumanity, 26-County Justice Minister John O'Donoghue, has reiterated his refusal to allow refugees who seek asylum in Ireland the right to work, even as Mary Harney, Minister of Enterprise, announced her intent to import 200,000 workers from outside the EU to implement the National Development Plan.

The Justice minister's refusal is all the more reprehensible in the light of a 40,000 report, drawn up in the UCD Law faculty, which compares and contrasts refugee policy in other EU states and recommends that refugees should be allowed to work. The report was suppressed.

Report Suppressed

The Irish Times applied under the Freedom of Information Act on 20 January for access to the report, which on 22 February, using the maximum allowable time to reply to a Freedom of Information request, the minister refused on the grounds that its publication ``would interfere with the deliberative processes'' of the Department.

In fact, as the Irish Times discovered, the report had been published ``unbeknownst to the Department'' on 27 January, in a limited issue, without fanfare, directly to the Government Stationery Office, although according to the Department ``it was not intended to publish this report until the first week of March or next week at the earliest.'' This, despite that the department had sat on the report already for ten months.

On 10 February, the minister had released an entirely different report at a sumptuous smoked salmon and drinks gathering of NGOs. That report talked up the steps the department was taking to integrate refugees into society and guarantee the most humanitarian measures to implement a multicultural, open, humane and caring society for those who seek asylum here.

Degrading ideas

``It has been a policy of utter duplicity, and deception by a conniving Minister of Justice, with most lamentable results,'' says Dublin Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O'Toole. ``The minister has been promising a voucher scheme for asylum seekers, is virulently opposing their right to work and to education, and is restricting their access to judicial review. He is now talking of detention on `Flotels', or prison ships - a long line of degrading ideas from the Department of so-called `Justice, Equality and Law Reform,' which fly in the face of the stated policy of the integration of refugees into Irish society.''

The UCD report stresses that its recommendations are based on comparative analysis with other EU states. It complains about the lack of provision of interpreter services and calls for a requirement to publish the results of appeal decisions and advocates the incorporation into law of the power of the UNHCR to intervene on behalf of a refugee. The report slams the absence of a psychological counselling service for the many refugees who have been tortured. It deplores the voucher (direct payment) system, and points out that detention should never take place in prisons - exactly the plan the minister is floating this week.

Only this week, according to Sara McNeice of the Refugee Council, two young girls amongst the 87 unaccompanied minors who have fled to this country alone aged between 12 and 17, were shipped off (`dispersed') to Ennis, County Clare without any support from social workers. Lost and hopeless, they returned to Dublin, where they were punished by the withdrawal of the meagre 15 per week allowance given to refugees.

Minister's vitriolic attack

All the more disturbing then was Minister O'Donoghue's bitter accusations in Leinster House last Wednesday during the debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill, where, in an abysmal performance, he launched into a vitriolic outburst against his critics inside and outside of the Dail for their ``wild demonisation'', and allegations of ``raw fantasy''. He said that ``he had listened to enough nonsense, misrepresentation, misleading nudge wink and ulterior motive which had taken over inside the House and outside'' and extolled his ``outstanding record'' on the introduction of ``human rights leglislation''.

``Indeed,'' comments Larry O'Toole wryly, ``much legislation which takes human rights away. The government's continued backward approach to the asylum issue has done nothing but add to the atmosphere of racism that has grown from the mishandling of the issue.

``What possible justification is there for introducing policies that fall even below EU standards for those who seek asylum from persecution here in Ireland, when, as it is, we are looking to recruit 200,000 workers over the next four years?''

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