Simon Harris: ‘Legitimate expectation’ asylum seekers will be returned to UK

The Taoiseach called for a sense of calm and said everyone needed ‘to take a deep breath and just be very factual’.

Taoiseach Simon Harris
Taoiseach Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Simon Harris says his country has a “legitimate expectation” that a migration agreement with the UK will be honoured.

The Taoiseach said the post-Brexit deal was struck in 2020 and allows asylum seekers whose applications are “inadmissible” to be “returned” to the UK and vice versa.

A High Court ruling in March deemed the legal basis for designating the UK as a safe country to “return” asylum seekers to as unsound under EU law.

Legislation that ministers are to discuss on Tuesday aims to provide a legal basis for the agreement.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday, Mr Harris said: “Of course, this country is going to change our law to give practical legal effect to what is already agreed between Ireland and Britain and has been since 2020.”

He added: “It’s very important everybody understands that: there’s already an agreement in place between Ireland and Britain. What we’re doing is giving legal clarity in relation to that agreement, which will allow us to designate the UK as a safe country again.

“It’s also very important for people in Britain to understand that this is a two-way agreement. This is to ensure that refugees can be sent in both directions if their application is inadmissible.”

Justice Minister Helen McEntee
Justice Minister Helen McEntee (Liam McBurney/PA)

A row has developed between Ireland and the UK over the weekend after Justice Minister Helen McEntee said there was a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the Republic from across the border.

After it was suggested the increase could be driven by migrants fearing the UK’s Rwanda plan, British prime minister Rishi Sunak said that showed the plan’s effect.

The policy aims to send asylum seekers to the east African nation to deter others from crossing the English Channel.

Mr Harris said on Sunday that the Republic will not “provide a loophole” for other countries’ migration “challenges”, while Mr Sunak said it was “not interested” in any returns deal if the EU does not allow the UK to deport asylum seekers who had crossed the English Channel to France.

On Tuesday, Mr Harris said he does not “accept the narrative” that the Republic is waiting for another country to legislate on migration and that the Dublin government was working on migration from a “number of angles”.

He called for “a sense of calm” and said everyone needed “to take a deep breath and just be very factual”.

“I’m not getting involved in British politics, I’m very well aware of where the electoral cycle is at in Britain and it’s not for me to comment on that,” he said.

“But I do welcome the comments of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) yesterday about the importance of working together on the Common Travel Area, and the importance of the relationship. I must say I agree with everything that he said.”

There has been an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland in recent years, with up to 16,000 new arrivals projected to arrive every year, up from between 3,000-5,000 between 2015-2019.

As Ireland struggles to boost housing supply after falling behind during the economic crash, the influx has put more pressure on the State to house people as their asylum claim is processed.

The Irish government has implemented a number of migration policies in recent weeks, including paring back the offering to Ukrainian refugees who are automatically granted asylum.

A make-shift camp has sprung up at the International Protection Office in Dublin city as more than 1,700 asylum seekers have been left without an offer of accommodation from the Republic.

Mr Harris said that the country which the Republic is receiving the most asylum applications from at the moment is Nigeria, and those applications are now being fast-tracked.

He said: “If somebody comes here from Nigeria, and whether they’ve been to the UK or not, their application will be processed more quickly. And if they don’t have right to stay, they leave, whether that’s going back to the UK, or indeed back to Nigeria.

“We have every right to have our own migration policy. Our people have every expectation that it will be enforced, that it will be firm, that it will be rules-based. And I think we also will have a legitimate expectation that agreements between two countries are honoured.”