250. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a reply will issue to correspondence from a person (details supplied) in relation to the right of asylum seekers to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8624/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Government had two options to respond to the Supreme Court Judgment which acknowledges that a constitutional right to seek employment exists where no temporal limit is set for the processing of protection applications. It could have responded narrowly to this judgment by setting a temporal limit. Instead it decided to opt-in to the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive bringing Ireland into line with our EU partners and place the entire system on a legislative basis, which will be subject to EU oversight. This is a significant and important reform, not only in addressing the issue of labour market access but also extending to children’s rights, rights for unaccompanied minors, vulnerable people, new appeals processes, healthcare and education provision.
During the course of the debate in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice & Equality, and in both the Seanad and the Dáil, I outlined the proposal and rationale for opting into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive under the terms of Protocol 21, annexed to the EU Treaties. I also outlined the compliance process involved with the EU Commission which they require, and which will take four months to complete.
Because of this timeframe, it was necessary to address the situation that will exist from the 9 th February until the opt-in process is completed. During this interim period, those seeking international protection will have access to the labour market through the existing employment permit regime in the same manner as other Third County nationals. In addition to accessing the employment permits regime, the Government decided to offer early certainty to those seeking self-employment from February 9 th and prior to any confirmation of our opt-in. In this regard, I used my executive power to provide an additional access for qualified applicants to engage in self-employment on terms that can be mirrored in a permanent scheme once the process of compliance with the Directive is completed with the EU Commission.
I am satisfied that the interim arrangements, which removed the temporal limit of access to the workplace, is in keeping with the decision of the Supreme Court. My colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation has responsibility for the employment permits regime including the criteria, terms and applicable fees. I understand that generally, any fees accompanying such access are usually paid by the employer.
I would stress that the interim scheme is designed to be of very short duration until the opt-in process is completed. Once this happens, access to the labour market will be underpinned by EU law. I expect that this permanent scheme will provide for a broader access to the labour market for qualified applicants – the details of which will be worked out and announced in the coming months taking all factors into account.
I am confident that this progressive approach by Government, which for the first time will see many elements of our protection process subject to EU law and verification by the EU Commission, will be a further major effective and reforming step as we seek to improve the standards of our reception conditions for those seeking international protection in Ireland.