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Government aiming for 'successful conclusion' to asylum seeker driver licence question after WRC ruling

The Workplace Relations Commission found that a man suffered “indirect discrimination” after being denied a licence.

Image: RSA.ie

GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE aiming for a “successful conclusion” to the issue of asylum seekers obtaining Driver Licences after the Workplace Relations Commission ruled in favour of a man refused one based on “indirect discrimination”. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told TheJournal.ie that it will meet with officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport next week to examine workable solutions. 

Yesterday, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found that a man – who has lived in Ireland since June 2015 – suffered “indirect discrimination” under the Equal Status Act as he was “being asked to produce documentation that it was impossible for him to obtain” when applying for a Learner’s Driver’s Licence. 

The man applied for and was granted a self-employment permit in March 2018 after Ireland’s Supreme Court decided an indefinite ban on asylum seekers applying for work was unconstitutional. 

The man worked as a delivery driver. He applied for a Learner Driver Permit from the National Driver Licence Service to enable him to increase his income by using a car instead of a bicycle. 

Applying for his permit, the man provided his asylum seeker’s ‘Temporary Residence Certificate’, Public Services Card, a copy of his passport and permission from Minister for Justice to access the Labour Market.  

His application, however, was refused by the NDLS. It said he had failed to produce a Stamp 4 GNIB Card or an EU Passport to establish he was “normally resident” in Ireland.

The Road Safety Authority argued its refusal to issue a Learner Driver’s Licence didn’t amount to discrimination.  It did not accept it acted in any way in breach of Equal Status legislation. 

It has appealed The WRC’s decision. 

The man was legally represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) which said the ban on asylum seekers obtaining Drivers Licences was an “administrative barrier” to work following 2018′s High Court ruling. 

‘A Basic Thing’

The Road Safety Authority has said that “to apply for a licence or permit you must be able to demonstrate that you are normally resident in Ireland”.

In other words, resident in Ireland for 185 days. 

The RSA has said this rule is based on its interpretation of the European Driver Licencing Directive.

The issue for asylum seekers hoping to obtain driver’s licences is one of both EU and National Law. 

A number of EU countries allow asylum seekers to obtain driver’s licences. Ireland does not. 

“Ireland has taken the view…that asylum seekers are not ‘normally resident’ here,” Minister for Transport Shane Ross told the Dáil in May 2019. 

Firstly, Ross said, the Government is examining the interpretation of “normally resident” as laid out under RSA rules. 

Secondly, there is an issue of “identity verification”, he said, which is a “key difficulty”.

Ireland has determined that people must have SAFE 2 level of identification – a Public Services Card, for instance. 

Said Ross: “Asylum seekers come to the jurisdiction with a variety of documentation. Or potentially no documentation.”

Following the ruling, and its appeal, the man at the centre of the case said: “I really can’t understand how the State can say it is happy for people to seek work, but then block their way by the denial of such a basic thing as a Driver’s Licence.”

‘Key Barrier’

In 2018, Minister Ross said, based on legal advice he’d received, it is possible to issue driver licences to asylum seekers and that he’d “be happy to do so once other matters are resolved.”

For several months, The Department of Justice & Equality has been in contact with The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to discuss this matter. 

So far, the detail of these discussions has been light. 

In April 2019, a Justice Department spokesperson said that both Minister Charlie Flanagan and Minister David Stanton support the introduction of driver licences for asylum seekers.

However, “there are complex factors of EU law interpretation to be considered,” the spokesperson said. 

In late December, Flanagan said it is “not straightforward and requires careful consideration of both EU and National Driver Licencing law.”

He added his Department had received information from The European Migration Network regarding interpretation and implementation of relevant EU law.

“Officials in our Departments will be meeting shortly to seek to advance this matter,” said Flanagan. 

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It’s understood officials from The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have examined this information and identified a number of issues which require further clarification.

Nick Henderson of the Irish Refugee Council has said yesterday’s WRC ruling is “a very significant decision, adding that ineligibility for a Driver’s Licence is a “key barrier” for asylum seekers hoping to work in Ireland. 

“The Department of Transport needs to act with greater urgency and amend the existing system to allow people to be eligible to apply for a licence,” he said. 

Fiona Finn of Cork-based Migrant Rights Centre NASC, meanwhile, said it is “regrettable” that the WRC decision has been appealed, adding it is a frequent source of frustration for asylum seekers in Ireland not being able to drive. 

“With people in Emergency Accommodation and Direct Provision centres located in rural towns…the reality is that people need to be able to travel to find work,” said Finn. 

“There is widespread political support for allowing asylum seekers to access driving licences…and we call on all political parties to commit to reversing this RSA policy as a priority,” she added. 

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