Airline fines have caused major fall in undocumented asylum arrivals – Justice Minister Simon Harris

Minister for Justice Simon Harris.

Senan Molony, political correspondent

There has been a very significant reduction in airport arrivals by asylum seekers without documents — after fines were handed out to airlines, the Minister for Justice has said.

“We've seen 175 fines this year for airlines where people have gotten off without documents,” Mr Harris told Clare Brock on the Tonight Show on Virgin Media One.

He said there were Gardaí working abroad with airlines to stop such embarkations, and there had been “a lot of big changes” to the asylum process.

“We've gone from a situation where 4,700 people were seeking protection annually in our country in the years before Covid to over 100,000 people over the course of just last year.

“No asylum system in the world, in my view, could be prepared overnight for that level of change. However, there are changes being made in relation to the asylum system.

“So for example, if you come to work from a country that’s deemed to be of safe origin, you will get your interview within two weeks and then your decision (on the right to remain) within three months,” he said.

This compares to 17 months just a year and a half ago, he said. “We’re back using deportation orders and I don't say this to mean a crackdown on migration, I say this to fill the vacuum of the Far Right, which does exist.

“There’s a rules-based system here — if you've a right to stay, you get that right quicker. If you don't have that right, you get to leave quicker.

“We've almost an extra 100 staff in the International Protection office since December, but we need to get to over 450 staff by 2024. And we need to continue that work around making sure the rules are enforced very efficiently.

“I do believe we've seen very significant strides in recent months in that area,” Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris also suggested however that road blockages over asylum locations would not be tolerated in future.

“I think it is important that we have a very, very clear understanding where the lines ends for each protest, and where the line starts in relation to an overall activity.”

Speaking about tensions within the Coalition over October’s Budget, with Finance Minister Michael McGrath pushing back after several Fine Gael TDs pushed for income tax cuts, Mr Harris said politicians can’t be silent on issues like tax reform.

“I do think it's perfectly appropriate for politicians of all political views to give their views, and the cost of living is one of the biggest challenges families are facing,” Mr Harris said.

“We’re hearing it on a daily basis and you can't be silent on these issues either.”

Mr Harris told Clare Brock: I’m not looking to be disagreeable. I'm just saying that I am of the view that it is perfectly appropriate for a party to articulate policy.

“I hope it's not annoying. There certainly isn't dissension in Government. I sit around the Cabinet table on a weekly basis. I engage very closely with colleagues in all three parties. The Government is working well.

“We already know that the budget will contain a package that will reduce tax. We know that the budget will have a package of welfare supports, for instance the pension.

“And of course, we ultimately have to come together around the Cabinet table to sign off on the budget, and the exact detail. But I do believe the budget will contain measures that will reduce the tax burden on working families.”