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Surely to God we can fix a few things for asylum seekers

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

THE plea was an impassioned one.

Yesterday in New York, Taoiseach Enda Kenny implored US politicians to make changes to American immigration laws, changes that could benefit an estimated 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants living there.

US President Barack Obama is reportedly planning to take executive action to lift the threat of deportation hanging over as many as five million of America's 11 million "illegal aliens".

The Taoiseach told attendees at the annual dinner of the Ireland-US Council that undocumented Irish emigrants should be able to travel home freely and not have to endure the trauma of only being able to watch loved one's funerals remotely over the internet. "Rosetta has landed on the comet 300 million miles out," said Mr Kenny, referring to this week's historic - if uncertain - landing of a spacecraft which will die unless it moves to a sunnier position. "Surely to God we can fix a few things at home?"

We surely can, Taoiseach, especially when it comes to the plight of some 4,300 asylum seekers housed in the controversial system of direct provision - which critics say could be contemporary Ireland's Magdalene Laundries within 20 years.

As the Taoiseach won plaudits in New York for championing the undocumented in America, the High Court in Dublin ruled that the system of direct provision and the minute sums asylum seekers and their children receive every week are lawful. In truth, it was highly unlikely that the High Court was going to strike down the system of direct provision, not least because of the strong judicial respect for the separation of powers doctrine.

The High Court action by a mother and her six-year-old son who have been living in a direct provision centre in Galway since seeking asylum three years ago was "doomed" in any event, according to Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh.

This was not because the proposition that their human rights had been breached was necessarily wrong, but because the mother and son had pursued their claim without presenting any oral evidence to the High Court or cross-examining the Ministers of Justice and Social Protection.

This raises the interesting question of whether they could have succeeded in whole or in part had they sued the Government directly in a High Court plenary action rather than seeking a judicial review of direct provision as it related to them.

While the Government avoided a major cosmic collision on the operation of direct provision, it must still deal with the comet-style debris of Judge Mac Eochaidh's ruling in respect of some of the "house rules" that asylum seekers living in direct provision must abide by.

The judge declared that some of the rules operated by the Reception and Integration Agency - as well as its complaints-handling mechanism - were unlawful.

These include the requirement that asylum seekers living in direct provision - who are prevented from participating in paid work - sign in on a daily basis, notify centre managers of any absences, and must be subject to unannounced inspections and a ban on guests.

Judge Mac Eochaidh found, in a highly-anticipated ruling, that the mother and son had failed to establish proof of harm or negative effects from the lengthy periods in which residents must stay in these centres while their asylum applications are received.

Yet it is precisely these lengthy delays - up to 10 years for some asylum seekers - that have raised serious humanitarian concerns for the individuals and families waiting for decisions.

The delays lie primarily with a dysfunctional dual legal system asylum seekers must traverse in the event that they are turned down for refugee or subsidiary protection status by the State.

We will be dealing with a 900-strong court backlog for years as plans for a new streamlined system can not be applied retrospectively.

But we can seriously reform the living conditions for those waiting for the applications to be processed.

If humanity can land a robot on a comet, surely to God we can fix a few things at home, including our broken asylum system?

Irish Independent