Council of State concludes meeting over plans to overhaul asylum process

President Higgins asked the Council to consider whether the International Protection Bill should be referred to the Supreme Court

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The Council of State has concluded its meeting today to consider whether the Government’s plans to overhaul the asylum process are a breach of the Constitution.

It was just the second time that the council has been convened under President Michael D Higgins.

The meeting began at Áran an Uachtarain this morning, and after it concluded this afternoon President Higgins thanked the members of the Council of State and said he will take the decision on whether the Bill should be referred to the Supreme Court in the next day.

President Higgins asked the Council of State for its advice on three specific areas of the International Protection Bill, which aims to simplify the application process for asylum seekers.

The first area deals with the process by which families of asylum seekers are reunited - and the grounds under which the state can block any reunion, including on grounds of national security.

The second concerns the constitutional rights of children, and whether they are threatened by the bill.

The third and final area deals with the deportation process - and whether it amounts to adopting an international treaty by the back door, without the official approval of the Oireachtas.

The President requested the Council consider whether the Bill should be referred to the Supreme Court for a decision on whether the Bill or any of its provisions are repugnant to the Constitution.

None of those three issues were teased out when the Bill was going through the Dáil or Seanad as the legislation was rushed through by the Government so it could take effect over the Christmas break.

The only other Council meeting called by President Higgins was in relation to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Activist Ruairí McKiernan earlier welcomed the Council of State meeting, saying the rushed passing of the Bill "didn't allow proper time, debate or consideration for the many concerns expressed about the effects of the proposed legislation.

"The bill contains elements that are harsh and inhumane, it's missing necessary checks and balances, and it does nothing to end the cruel system of direct provision," he added.