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Minister, and incoming Taoiseach, Simon Harris spoke to reporters ahead of his final cabinet meeting as Minister today. Alamy Stock Photo

Simon Harris says processing asylum applications in third country is 'worth considering'

The EU Migration pact allows some states the option to shift asylum applications to safe, third countries.


INCOMING TAOISEACH AND Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has stressed the need to improve asylum processing times ahead of his final Cabinet meeting today as Minister.

At the Cabinet meeting Justice Minister Helen McEntee is expected to seek government approval later for Ireland to opt into the EU’s Asylum and Migration pact, allowing some member states the option of paying a monetary contribution to the bloc rather than accepting migrants.

Ahead of the meeting this morning, Harris stressed the importance of improving the State’s current processing times to reporters. He added that all measures to do so must be “on the table”, including the possibility of shifting applications to a safe, third country.

Harris told reporters: “These are human beings and how you can provide, on a human rights basis, dignity to people in getting their application processed, I think we should have all options on the table in relation to this.

“The dignity of being able to be processed in another safe country, rather than coming to a country that perhaps can’t provide any accommodation. And it’s certainly something worth considering.”

It’s understood that McEntee will outline how she expects the reform to immigration law will lead to more effective processing of applications, which require shorter timeframes for applications for people seeking to stay here.

The measure is one of two significant proposals on the issue coming before Cabinet later today, as Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman will seek the green light to embark on a long-term strategy to use empty office space as accommodation for asylum applicants.

The pact will oblige states to conduct enhanced screening and security checks on those arriving at borders and will also provide more effective ways for countries to cut down hugely on ‘secondary movement’, that is, where people from the country in which they first arrived to Ireland.

There would also be plans for dedicated accommodation for those who are being processed in the border procedure or who are due to be returned to another country.

By opting in, McEntee would be committing Ireland to introducing a programme of legislation which will replace the International Protection Act of 2015 within the next two years.

Ahead of the meeting, the new leader of Fine Gael supported the measures. Simon Harris said the Government needs to move beyond its “emergency response” to what he called the “migration crisis” and instead opt-in to more sustainable measures.

Harris said the EU’s migration pact, and the secondary legislation to be tabled by Minister O’Gorman this morning, was an “important step in the right direction” towards lowering processing times and adapting a uniform, pan-European response to migration.

“The idea that Ireland can go at it alone, when it comes to migration, really misunderstands how migration works,” Harris said. “So many people who come to this country have been in a previous country before – what we call secondary movements.

“So there is absolute eminent sense in working at a European level.”

The move by McEntee is facing opposition from Mattie McGrath, leader of the Rural Independent Group in the Dáil, who said he would vehemently opposed the government’s potential endorsement of the EU Migration and Asylum Pact.

He urged Cabinet ministers to block attempts to “bind Ireland to its provisions”, and called for a national debate before making the commitment.

The Tipperary TD also warned that it would expose taxpayers to “very hefty fines” if it opts not to receive migrant people.

“We cannot trust a government that concealed information and manipulated the public during previous referendums to be honest about their intentions,” he said.

Contains reporting by Muiris O’Cearbhaill, additional reporting by Jane Matthews.