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Off the Road

Asylum seekers in Ireland can finally work, but it doesn't look like they're allowed drive to that work

There is a lack of clarity as to whether or not asylum seekers in Ireland are legally allowed to obtain a driving licence.


IT HAS EMERGED that there is a lack of clarity as to whether or not asylum seekers in Ireland are legally allowed to obtain a driving licence.

Last month, the Supreme Court gave a formal legal declaration that the ban on asylum seekers holding employment would no longer stand.

This came nine months after the court found that ban to be unconstitutional in principle. Last November, the cabinet agreed to lift the ban in line with the EU’s reception directive on the rights of asylum seekers.

Prior to last month, the ban on employment reduced asylum seekers to subsisting on a payment of €21.60 per week.

However, it has now come to light that those seeking asylum may not have a legal basis for seeking either a driving licence or a learner permit. In many cases, particularly in rural Ireland, an inability to drive would make sustainable employment more than a little problematic.

The National Drivers Licence Service (NDLS), in response to a query from the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), has declared asylum seekers may not apply for a theory test or driving licence.

No longer exists

Significantly however, the body the NDLS cites in its response no longer exists, and in fact hasn’t done for the past 14 months. The fact that the main bodies associated with the state driving licence are unfamiliar with the situation raises questions as to how well thought-out the response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision has been.

“Communication between the RSA and the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) has confirmed that Asylum Seekers cannot apply for a driver theory test and or driving licence,” that response reads.

It suggests that an asylum seeker may only apply for a driving licence once refugee status has been conferred upon them.

However, ORAC no longer exists – it was replaced, per the International Protection Act, by the International Protection Office (IPO) in December 2016.

How ORAC came to be referenced in the NDLS response is not clear – the service had not responded to a query prior to publication.

In an attempt to establish clarity regarding the situation, queried the various bodies which appear to have a vested interest in the issue.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), of which the NDLS is a function, stated that “to apply for a licence or permit you must be able to demonstrate that you are normally resident in Ireland”.

Occupational ties

“Normal residence means the place where a person usually lives for at least 185 days in each calendar year, because of personal and occupational ties, or, in the case of a person with no occupational ties, because of personal ties which show close links between that person and the place where they are living,” the authority said in a statement.

If any applicant is not able to provide the evidence required to prove normal residency they do not qualify to hold a licence or permit.

Both the IPO and the Department of Justice (the state agency against which the Supreme Court found last May in its initial ruling on the subject) suggested that the matter is one for the Department of Transport.

No response had been received from that department as at close of business on Friday.

“We’re querying this because the response we received clearly hasn’t been updated since December 2016,” said Pippa Woolnough, communications and advocacy manager with the ICI.

We want to know if that’s still the case. As yet we have heard nothing back.

Read: You’re going to need a PSC to get any kind of driving licence or learner permit from April

Read: Glenda Gilson’s parents lose Dublin home due to debt

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