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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Minister tells asylum appeals tribunal to 'act urgently' after member addressed Dublin anti-mask rally

Minister Helen McEntee has asked the chair of IPAT to prepare a report after Una McGurk addressed the anti-mask rally.
Aug 24th 2020, 10:40 AM 63,103 119

Updated Aug 24th 2020, 10:55 AM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that the messages being expressed at an anti-mask protest in Dublin at the weekend contained “dangerous nonsense”.

He also indicated that he didn’t think the attendance and speech from a barrister at that event was “compatible with membership” of an independent asylum appeals tribunal. 

Last night, it emerged that Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has asked the chair of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) to “act urgently” and prepare a report after one of the barristers on the Tribunal spoke at the anti-mask rally on Saturday.

Una McGurk addressed attendees at the rally, which was organised by a group called Health Freedom Ireland. The group believes that wearing a face covering should not be mandatory and has also has called for “no mandatory Covid-19 testing” and “no mandatory Covid-19 vaccination”.

In her speech, she said that an “alleged” spike in cases has led to further “draconian” measures being introduced. She said that “masks should be a choice, not a mandate”. 

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1′s Today With Claire Byrne this morning, the Taoiseach said he was “very disturbed” by the protest.

Martin said: “People are entitled to protest in Ireland, we are a democracy. But there’s aspects of it that concern me. Why is the tricolour at all of these protests?

Some of the language is way out there. This idea that the whole thing is a conspiracy by the State to suppress people, it’s just inexplicable nonsense, but dangerous nonsense. Masks have come in because of public health advice. People are complying with that.

He added that the comments from McGurk at the protest weren’t compatible with membership of IPAT. 

McGurk is one of 70 barristers listed as a member of IPAT. The Tribunal is an independent, statutory body set up to hear and determine appeals on decisions made on applications for protection status – for asylum – in the State. 

Other attendees at the protest included members of the Irish Freedom Party, who also addressed the crowd that had gathered at the Custom House in Dublin city. 

A small number of people were involved in clashes with counter protesters at the event, and four people were later arrested by gardaí

Questions were immediately asked by the opposition and a government minister in the wake of McGurk’s address to the rally on Saturday.

Minister for Children, and Green Party TD, Roderic O’Gorman said: “It is vital that all members of the IPAT are objective in their work and that they are seen to be objective. I’ve raised my concerns over yesterday’s protest with Minister McEntee and I’ll be keeping in contact with her about this issue.”

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said that it was with “great concern” that he learned that a State appointee to IPAT spoke at a rally in Dublin which denied “that there is a pandemic and to encourage people not to wear masks”. 

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Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy said: “At a time when we need to build solidarity and cohesion in society, the reported comments and appearance at the rally of a government-appointed member of the IPAT tribunal raises serious questions.

“The Minister for Justice needs to investigate this issue to ensure that confidence in the impartiality of members of this tribunal is maintained.”

Labour’s justice spokesperson Brendan Howlin also called on the Minister for Justice to act. 

In a statement last night, the Department of Justice said the IPAT is run independently of the department. 

“The part-time members are appointed following a recommendation by the Public Appointments Service,” it said.

“It is expected that the code of conduct that applies to part time members of the Tribunal will apply. The Minister has statutory powers to remove a part time member of the IPAT but obviously can only act in a considered fashion, following a report by the Tribunal itself.

The Minister has asked the Chair of the IPAT to act urgently on this matter. It would not be appropriate to comment further before any report has been prepared.
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