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Legislation needed to ‘fix’ NI asylum situation

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said he believes that legislation is necessary to “fix” the situation where people seek asylum in Ireland having previously been granted it in the UK.

Mr Harris was asked about the comments on Tuesday by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee who told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that more than 80% of people seeking asylum in the Republic cross the land border with Northern Ireland.

“If you’ve been in the UK, and you’ve had status, why are you coming to Ireland, looking for immigration status? There needs to be a legal mechanism in place and I believe this will require primary legislation to be able to return people to the UK,” Mr Harris said.

He added: “This is all about fairness. Our migration system is about people fleeing persecution. It’s not about a situation where you can be living safely in another country, have status potentially in that country, and then come to our country and seek immigration status. That’s the piece we have to fix.”

The Taoiseach acknowledged the difficulties posed by the porous border, but said the open border absolutely had to be protected.

The number of people crossing the border had increased significantly in recent months, he said, describing it as “a relatively new reality”.

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He said it required: “Better cooperation and collaboration between the two police forces on the island and better legal clarity in relation to it. That’s where I think the focus needs to be.”

Mr Harris criticised members of the Opposition for making “flippant remarks on social media about borders.”

“What we don’t need is right wing Tory rhetoric. What we do need is effective solutions. And what that means is … greater cooperation and collaboration between the gardaí and the PSNI. It means greater cooperation and collaboration between the justice minister and the British home secretary. My colleague, the minister of justice is due to meet the home secretary next week,” he added.

Mr Harris expressed confidence in Ms McEntee, saying that she is working “in an extraordinarily demanding situation”.

“I’m working very closely with her and supporting her and her work in any way that I can because I do think that there is a real need for the migration debate in Ireland not just to be one about accommodation, though it’s important, but it can’t just be one about accommodation.

“It also has to be one about borders, about the rules, about the borders of the European Union and about how there’s faster processing times and I think Minister McEntee has done a lot in this space,” he said.

Concern expressed over McEntee migrant comments

Meanwhile, a coalition of migrant and refugee rights organisations have expressed concern over Ms McEntee’s comment that 80% of recent asylum seekers are coming here through Northern Ireland.

The STAD coalition has said Ms McEntee’s statement did not appear to be backed by clear data, because the numbers coming across the border are not routinely monitored.

It said the minister’s correlation between the numbers who do not apply for international protection at a port of entry with numbers arriving through the border with Northern Ireland was “unsound”.

In a statement STAD said that as the Oireachtas considers the EU Migration Pact, and with local and European elections approaching, it was “more important than ever that conversations around international protection are careful, accurate and reasoned”.

It described the statement from the minister as “worrying” and likely to further inflame anti-migrant sentiment.

“We urge all political representatives to move away from damaging, sensationalist rhetoric and to prioritise humane, evidence-based conversations and policies regarding immigration in Ireland,” it said.

STAD’s founding organisations include Amnesty International Ireland, Crosscare Refugee Project, Cultúr, Doras, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Irish Refugee Council, Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) and Nasc, Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre.

Additional reporting Ailbhe Conneely

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