Monday 26 September 2016

Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern pulled back from Christmas holidays early

Taoiseach and Tánaiste also called to Council of State meeting

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

Published 29/12/2015 | 13:14

President Higgins convened a meeting of the Council of State at Áras an Uachtaráin today. Pic Tony Maxwell
President Higgins convened a meeting of the Council of State at Áras an Uachtaráin today. Pic Tony Maxwell

President Michael D Higgins has pulled the Taoiseach and Tánaiste back from their Christmas holidays early, along with ex-taoisigh Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern and John Bruton.

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The President called only his second ever meeting of the Council of State today to consider legislation aimed at streamlining the application process for asylum seekers.

The Council of State is an advisory group made up of politicians, legal experts and a select group of people hand-picked by the president. It includes ex-taoisigh and presidents.

Shortly before Christmas the Oireachtas passed the International Protection Bill which the Government says will reduce the length of time asylum applicants spend in the direct provision system.

However, the President has sought advice on whether it is “repugnant” to the Constitution. If he remains unsure after today’s meeting he can refer the Bill to the Supreme Court.

In a statement after the meeting concluded this afternoon, Aras an Uachtarain said: “The President has thanked the members of the Council of State and will take the decision on whether the Bill should be referred to the Supreme Court in the next 24 hours.”

Today’s meeting in Áras an Uachtarain was attended by Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen, John Bruton, former president Mary McAleese as well as Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, Attorney General Maire Whelan and retired judge Catherine McGuiness.

This is only the second time that Mr Higgins has convened the Counsel since taking office. The other occasion was for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Among the issues to be considered by the group today is whether the definition of the “family” used in the Bill is too narrow and whether the rights of children could be infringed.

The decision as to whether the Bill should be referred to the Supreme Courts rests solely with the president.

He must make a decision by tomorrow.

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