Ireland to overhaul asylum system with legally binding application time frames after EU vote

European Parliament vote opposed by Sinn Féin, which says it is opposed to ‘open borders’

Ireland is to overhaul its asylum system after the European Parliament approved a new policy to harden the bloc’s borders after years of deadlock.

The International Protection Act 2015 will be repealed, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said yesterday, and new, legally binding time frames for making decisions on international protection applications and appeals will be introduced.

There will be a greater focus on efficient returns for unsuccessful applicants and accelerated processing for those from safe countries or those with no documents or false papers.

The European Parliament vote, which was opposed by Sinn Féin, allows for more people to be detained in facilities at borders and allows countries to make financial contributions in lieu of taking in asylum seekers.

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Ms McEntee said the vote marked “a historic step, which provides a robust legislative framework to address migration and asylum across the EU”.

She described it as a “a shared European solution to a shared European challenge”.

Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus had called for Irish MEPs to vote against the measures, saying Sinn Féin was “opposed to open borders”.

Meanwhile, the number of Palestinians seeking asylum in Ireland has increased sharply in recent weeks, while charities working directly with homeless asylum seekers have reported a rise in Palestinian men living in tents on the streets of the capital.

Some 127 Palestinian refugees sought asylum in Ireland in March 2024, up from just 20 in February and 22 in January of this year. This brings to 169, including 30 children and 22 women, the total number of Palestinians who claimed asylum in Ireland during the first three months of 2024.

In comparison, just 22 Palestinians sought asylum in Ireland during the first three months of 2023, including three children.

A total of 148 Palestinians claimed asylum in Ireland between January and December last year.

Despite the rising number of arrivals from Gaza and plans to formally recognise the state of Palestine, the Government has no plans to establish a dedicated support programme for Palestinian refugees.

The Department of Justice said on Wednesday it did not plan to set up a relocation or resettlement programme for Palestinians fleeing the war in Gaza based on previous schemes established to support Syrian and Afghan refugees.

More than 28,400 applicants for international protection, including 6,755 children, are living in State-provided accommodation around the country, while another 1,700 male asylum seekers are homeless.

Asked to comment on plans for supporting Palestinian arrivals, a department spokesperson said the Minister was “acutely aware of the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and that the Department of Justice was working with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ensure “a co-ordinated national response to this volatile and evolving situation”.

A small number of “Irish citizens or immediate dependents of Irish citizens” remain in Gaza, and the DFA “continues to advocate with the authorities in relation to those who have not yet been able to leave”.

Palestinian nationals still require a valid Irish entry visa before entering the State, and “Ireland supports the entry of migrants through many legal pathways”, the spokesperson said.

“While all existing immigration arrangements and programmes are kept under ongoing review, the department has no plans to establish a dedicated programme along the lines suggested.”

More than 70 Irish citizens and dependents have been evacuated from Gaza with the assistance of the DFA. The department said it was continuing to work with a small number of citizens and dependents who wish to leave but have been able to do so.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said on Tuesday that Ireland’s approach of delaying recognition of the state of Palestine was “not credible or tenable any longer” and that he had been in discussions about recognition with other countries involved in peace initiatives in Gaza.

It is understood that Ireland and some other EU states will announce formal recognition of Palestine once a peace initiative – expected in the coming weeks – is under way.

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