Helen McEntee: New measures to speed up asylum applications designed to stop misuse of system

McEntee said people were using the system to come to Ireland ‘for economic reasons’.

NEW MEASURES TO speed up the processing of applications of people seeking International Protection in Ireland have been designed to crack down on those misusing the system.

Speaking to RTÉ’s The Week in Politics today, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said that measures to speed up the processing of applications of those coming from designated “safe countries”, as well as increasing staff at the International Protection Office, had been undertaken with this goal in mind.

The ‘safe countries’ designation applies to countries deemed to be safe for the purposes of asylum applications.

Eight were previously given the designation in Ireland: Albania; Bosnia and Herzegovina; North Macedonia; Georgia; Kosovo; Montenegro; Serbia; and South Africa. Algeria and Botswana were added to the list last month.

McEntee said today that the majority of people coming to Ireland from these countries to claim International Protection in the last two years had had their applications refused.

“But they’ve been refused because they’re coming for economic reasons,” she said.

“So everything that I’m doing – introducing the accelerated process for safe countries, more than doubling the staff that we have in the IPO, making sure that we move to electronic means so we can speed up the process – it’s to make sure that the people who shouldn’t be using the system are gotten out of it quickly, with the people who genuinely need it, that they can actually access support,” she said.

McEntee also referenced a recent Irish Times / B&A poll which found that the majority of people favoured a “more closed” immigration policy to reduce the number of people coming to Ireland.

The impact on local services such as health and education, a shortage of housing, and fears that refugees or asylum seekers may not be properly vetted, dominated the concerns that people had.

Speaking today, McEntee said that the poll showed that while people wanted “tighter rules”, that didn’t mean  “anybody wants us to stop helping people”.

“I don’t think anybody wants us to stop bringing people in or accepting people who are fleeing war and persecution, what they want to make sure is that we have a system that works, that functions and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing,” she said.

But it’s not in the last week or two weeks or three weeks. All of this work has been happening since I came into office, which is a number of years now.

Election issue

The Government has come in for sharp criticism for how it has handled the large increases in International Protection applicants over the last two years.

The increased numbers have put huge strains on the Ireland’s system for accommodating new arrivals as they wait to have their applications processed, leading to a large number of vacant and private buildings – such as hotels – being used.

This has in turn led to protests over the use of such buildings and the housing of people in certain communities. There are also increasing numbers of asylum seekers without shelter in Ireland.

The issue has also led to hardline anti-immigration rhetoric from right-wing and far right elements, who piggy back on local protests to increase their visibility.

There have also been a high number of arson attacks on buildings earmarked for use as asylum seeker accommodation. So far, no one has been charged in relation to these attacks.

McEntee said today that gardaí were “working painstakingly” at investigating the attacks.

“It can be difficult, particularly where you don’t have witnesses, where you don’t have CCTV,” she said.

There’s a huge amount of evidence to gather. And that’s work that the gardaí… they are doing. I do speak to the Garda commissioner on a weekly basis.