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Taoiseach Simon Harris flanked by government colleagues. Alamy Stock Photo
Rwanda Plan

Harris does not intend to provide 'loophole' for UK's migration challenges after Sunak comments

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will bring the legislation to Cabinet on Tuesday.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Apr

EMERGENCY LEGISLATION IS set to be brought before Cabinet on Tuesday that would enable the Government to send International Protection applicants back to the UK. 

It comes after Minister for Justice Helen McEntee confirmed at an Oireachtas Committee last week that over 80% of people seeking asylum in the Republic are arriving here via the border with Northern Ireland.

It also follows comments made by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said claims that his country’s controversial Rwanda Bill is causing migrants who fear being deported to cross the border into the Republic shows that it is having the desired deterrent effect.

The UK’s controversial Rwanda Bill became law last Thursday following weeks of deadlock. It aims to deter asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel from Europe by deporting them to Rwanda. 

Sunak was responding to a claim made by Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin, who said he did not agree with the policy and that Ireland had “clearly” seen an increase in the number of people arriving from the UK . 

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said that he does not intend to allow Ireland to “provide a loophole for anybody else’s migration challenges”.

“Every country is entitled to have its own migration policy, but I certainly don’t intend to allow anybody else’s migration policy to affect the integrity of our own one,” he said in Co Monaghan today.

“This country will not in any way, shape or form provide a loophole for anybody else’s migration challenges. That’s very clear. Other countries can decide how they wish to advance migration.”

He said that more co-operation will be needed between the Gardaí and PSNI on migration issues.

Asked whether there would be checks carried out, Harris said: “In relation to checks, it is, again, a statement of fact that the PSNI and the Gardaí already collaborate and work together, I do certainly think there’s going to need to be much more of that in terms of collaboration.

“So, I do know, my colleague, the minister (for Justice Helen McEntee) is meeting the British Home Secretary (James Cleverly) tomorrow, I very much welcome that.

“Any scenario, in relation to any loophole perceived or otherwise, will be responded to by this Government.”

A spokesman for Harris said earlier that he is “very clear about the importance of protecting the integrity” of Ireland’s migration system.

“Ireland has a rules-based system that must always be applied firmly and fairly.

“In that context, the Taoiseach has asked the Minister for Justice to bring proposals to Cabinet next week to amend existing law regarding the designation of safe ‘third countries’ and allowing the return of inadmissible international protection applicants to the UK.

“This is one of a number of measures we are taking to strengthen our system and ensure that it is strong, effective and agile. Rules and the integrity of our migration system will be to the fore of our actions.”

The Minister for Justice is set to discuss the matter during a meeting with UK Home Secretary James Cleverly on Monday. 

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has said neither Harris, Micheal Martin nor McEntee had yet been in contact with her about planned legislation on asylum seekers arriving in Ireland from the UK.

“I am the First Minister in the north and I have yet to hear from the Taoiseach or the Tanaiste or the Justice Minister,” she said in Dublin today.

“To me, that highlights, maybe even underlines, how disorganised they are in dealing with this issue.”

‘Huge challenge’

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics this afternoon, Enterprise Minister Peter Burke said the Government would work with authorities in Northern Ireland to address the phenomenon of migrants crossing from the UK into the Republic.

Burke said that while he has not seen the legislation, there would have to be “a lot of” joint operations with the PSNI in order to respond to what he called “a huge challenge”.

“What we’re seeing here is the Irish State trying to respond to the issue of secondary movements, those who have claimed asylum in the UK,” he said.

“Obviously, we have an open border. We fought so hard for that ability during Brexit because it is so important to our country for the free movement of people, of goods, of services.

“That’s critical to our success as an island economy. We have to protect that. But we will work trying to respond to this issue with the Minister for Justice on Tuesday.”

Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh said the Government was “once again behind the curve”. 

“We have a Common Travel Area. That didn’t just happen in the last week,” she said, adding that “robust discussions” with the British government are needed. 

She said the Rwanda Bill is the UK’s “own business”, and that Ireland’s business was to have “a very firm but fair, robust” policy for asylum seekers. 

“I welcome the fact that they’re bringing emergency legislation this week, and obviously we will be examining that and supporting it if it’s right for us to do so.”

Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín said he believes there should be an Irish Sea border, whereby “a person coming on to the island of Ireland simply has to use the same passport controls in the north of Ireland as they would use in the south of Ireland”. 

He said the idea of checkpoints on the border is “not possible”. 

Independent TD Marian Harkin said Ireland’s asylum system “just isn’t working”, and called for a “fair and robust” system to be put in place.

‘Fast processing’

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News on Saturday, McEntee said there are many reasons why there has been an increase in migration toward Ireland.

“What’s clear in the decision that the UK have taken in choosing Brexit, they have actually seen an increase in people seeking asylum in their country,” she said.

“The way that they deal with that, it’s there policy. My focus as Minister for Justice is making sure that we have an effective immigration structure and system.

“That’s why I’m introducing fast processing, that’s why I’ll have emergency legislation at Cabinet this week to make sure that we can effectively return people to the UK and that’s why I’ll be meeting with the Home Secretary to raise these issues on Monday.”

Downing Street had last week rebuffed claims made by the Tánaiste that the country’s Rwanda Bill was seeing more asylum seekers arriving in the Republic from Northern Ireland.

Micheál Martin said: “Clearly, we’ve had an increase in the numbers coming UK into Northern Ireland into the Republic. And it’s fairly obvious that a Rwanda policy, if you’re a person in a given situation in the UK and well, then you don’t want to go to Rwanda – not that anybody has gone yet, I hasten to add.

“So I think it’s a fair comment of mine. There are many other issues – it’s not in any way trying to blame anything or anything like that.”

He said that migration is “a national phenomenon” that is happening all over Europe.

“Part of the EU asylum pact is that we develop proper policies so that we can return people who’ve already been granted asylum in one country, that if they come to Ireland, they can be returned to the country where they were granted asylum in the first place.

“And the United Kingdom are outside of European Union.  But it hasn’t worked in the UK in terms of the numbers coming into the UK.

In response, a spokesperson for No 10 said: “It is too early to jump to specific conclusions about the impact of the Act and treaty in terms of migrant behaviour.

“Of course, we will monitor this very closely and we already work very closely as you would expect with the Irish government, including on matters relating to asylum,” she said.

“But of course, the intention behind the Act is to have it serve as a deterrent and that is why we are working to get flights off the ground as swiftly as possible.”

With reporting from Press Association

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