The much needed reformation of the Irish Asylum system has once again been thrust into the spotlight with the recent decision of M.M v Minister for Justice, Equality and Reform, Attorney General.
Under current legislation, the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, when an unsuccessful asylum applicant is informed that his or her application for refugee status has been refused, s/he will be informed that the Minster proposes to make a deportation order. S/he will have the opportunity to apply to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for permission to remain in the State on the grounds that he or she is eligible for 'subsidiary protection'. Subsidiary protection is available to a person who does not qualify as a refugee but if returned to his or her country of origin, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm as defined for the purpose of the Directive.
On 22nd November the European Court of Justice held in the case of M.M v Minster for Justice, Equality and Reform, Attorney General, that Ireland’s system of subsidiary protection does not comply with the right to be heard, a fundamental principle of European Union Law.
Applicants for subsidiary protection make a paper application to the minister, who on the basis of this application and asylum makes a decision. The government argued as the applicant has a right to be heard in the application process, it is unnecessary to hear the applicant again in the subsidiary protection procedure.
The Court of Justice firmly rejected this argumentation. The Court noted as Ireland has established two separate procedures for dealing with asylum and subsidiary protection, an applicant has the right to be heard in the context of both procedures.
Ireland is in fact the only EU country not to have a single asylum and subsidiary protection procedure. In Ireland, an applicant must first apply for asylum – a process which may take years, and receive a firm rejection of their asylum before qualifying as eligible to apply for subsidiary protection.
The complicated and cumbersome nature of the Irish Asylum application process was also recently highlighted in the decision last month in the Supreme Court case Okunade v Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform & the Attorney General,  IESC 49 (2012). The Supreme Court granted injunctions restraining the deportation of a Nigerian woman and her five year old Irish-born son while they challenged their deportation order and a ministerial decision refusing them subsidiary protection. Overturning the decision of the High Court, the Supreme Court found that the deportation order constituted a disproportionate interference in the family life of the young boy who knew no other country than Ireland. The Asylum process of this country was held to be the blame for the amount of time the family had resided here.