Ireland is preferred asylum destination as 'our system is broken' - McDowell

'We are on an exponentially rising graph - we're going to exceed asylum-seeking figures for the early 2000s'
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.59 10 Feb 2023

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Ireland is preferred asylum de...

Ireland is preferred asylum destination as 'our system is broken' - McDowell

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.59 10 Feb 2023

Share this article

A former Justice Minister has said Ireland is a preferred asylum-seeking destination "because our system is broken."

Senator Michael McDowell said he believes the Government is "finally waking up" to the issue.

It comes as tougher rules for asylum seekers whose refugee applications are denied have been drawn up by European Union leaders.


The agreement at an EU summit, attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, comes in response to growing concern among member states about a surge in people seeking asylum.

While the Government here is to speed up checks on those arriving in Ireland from so-called 'safe' countries.

Senator McDowell told The Hard Shoulder questions need to be asked as to why people are going out of their way to come here.

"In the case of Georgia, visa-free travel to the EU was negotiated with the Georgian government," he said.

"Right across the EU, there was a significant increase in the number of Georgians coming to member states, visa-free, and then claiming asylum."

Senator McDowell said Ireland still requires visas for Georgians coming here as we are not part of the Schengen area.

"Ireland ended up being one of the top four preferred destinations for asylum seekers," he said.

"There are no direct flights, and to be honest, it requires a very conscious decision to come to Ireland.

"We have to ask ourselves: why is Ireland a preferred destination for asylum seeking?

"If the answer isn't economic, it's because our system is broken and there are no real prospects of failure".

'Accommodation crisis'

Senator McDowell said a crisis is coming for those looking to be housed in the summer.

"There is an accommodation crisis and the Government, first of all, has to tackle it by making sure that people aren't actually sleeping on the streets," he said.

"They have to take whatever steps are necessary to put a roof - whatever kind of roof - over people's heads to stop that from happening.

"There are buildings, there are vacant hotels that I know of, vacant hospitals, vacant or underused seminaries and convents and the like.

"I feel there's a bit of inertia in relation to the Government's previous approach to this.

"They now are faced with a major problem on their hands; when places like Killarney go full tourist from March 17th onwards, there's going to be a real requirement for spaces."

'Economic migration'

Senator McDowell said the system has become "dysfunctional."

"There is a driver for asylum-seeking, which is really economic migration," he said.

"We have to have a system that distinguishes whether - if Michael McDowell presents himself at Dublin Airport and claims to be claiming asylum - whether I am really an economic migrant coming here for a job, or whether I am genuinely fleeing persecution.

"Two-year delays are the norm in [the system] before you arrive at a decision.

"During that period, of course, because of a Supreme Court decision, we accord people the right to work.

"Those people find it difficult to get out of Direct Provision because they can't rent places.

"We have an increasing problem with non-Ukranian asylum seeking, and it's getting seriously worse.

"The Government is finally waking up to it".

'We do not have resources'

He believes asylum numbers will surpass their previous peak.

"Back in 2000/2002, we had a record spike in asylum seeking," he said.

"An awful lot of it was coming from Nigeria at the time.

"When I became Minister for Justice we introduced a scheme whereby we regularised the status of the great majority of those people in order to get rid of the arrears.

"We bought in Direct Provision at that time as well; the result was there was a huge decline in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland.

"In the last couple of years, we are now on an exponentially rising graph - we're going to exceed asylum-seeking figures for the early 2000s.

"It's simply not sustainable, we do not have the resources to deal with between 13,000 and 20,000 people every year," he added.

Listen back to the full interview here:

Main image: Senator Michael McDowell at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle in 2018. Picture by: Leah Farrell/ RollingNews

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