In 2023, Ireland is beginning to come to grips with some home truths about weaknesses in our country’s asylum system.
Multiple mainstream news outlets have begun to report how thousands of asylum seekers arriving to Ireland have illegally used false documents, ended up destroying their papers, or somehow “lost” them between the plane and Dublin Airport.
Naturally, this makes it significantly harder to look into the person’s background, which would be convenient if you’re a false claimant attempting to scam the system. The fact that this is being done by so many individuals clearly implies widespread fraud.
But while these problems are now being exposed to a wider audience, the question must be asked: are these issues new? Or has Ireland been dealing with this stuff for years?
Well, to answer that question, it may be worth looking at an old RTÉ Liveline interview from 2015, wherein barrister Seán Deegan spoke to Joe Duffy about his time on the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.
Deegan – who was appointed to the role by then-Justice Minister Michael McDowell – was tasked with hearing the cases of around 500 asylum claimants over 6 years, from 2004 to 2010.
However, of the 500 or so cases he heard, he only approved 2 – a woman from Nigeria, and a woman from Moldova.
When asked by Joe Duffy why he had rejected so many of the cases he heard, he simply replied: “Because the majority of them were economic migrants. They wanted a better life. And that’s not covered by refugee law.”
He later added: “The majority didn’t have any paperwork at all.”
Deegan explained that he was immediately dubious of the cases that did not apply for refugee status in the first safe country they arrived, which is required under the Dublin Convention.
“The majority [of applicants] were in the country for a long time,” he said.
“If someone doesn’t look for asylum immediately after coming into a safe country, it’s presumed, and probably correctly so, that they didn’t leave in fear.
“When they get to a safe country, if it’s any European country, why do they have to come to Ireland? Most of these countries haven’t direct flights to Ireland. The majority have to come through European countries.”
He went on to give examples of some of the “silly” stories he was presented with.
“There was one particular fella that was in here from Chile,” he said.
“He had overstayed his time here, and he was afraid to go back because of earthquakes.
“There was another fella when Romania was outside the EU, that told a story that he got on a truck in Romania, and didn’t get off the truck until he arrived in Dublin. He said that the driver didn’t even know he was there.
“There were arguments as silly as that put forward, that no one could credit.”
He added: “You had people afraid to go back because they were on the run from gangsters, and yet they paid more money than they owed to get here…I didn’t believe them.”
At this point Joe Duffy asked “Do you think he was a gangster?”
Deegan replied: “Well, he wasn’t a refugee.”
He also mentioned an individual who had been in the country ten years when he decided to apply for asylum.
“When the economic crash came he could no longer keep himself, so he had to apply for refugee asylum,” he said, adding that the asylum seeker had been “working in the black market economy.”
“Do you reckon a lot of them are?” asked Duffy.
“Oh they are,” the barrister replied.
“No doubt about that whatsoever. And the majority of them were trafficked in. They paid big money to get in.”
He added that in around 1 in 10 of the cases he heard, when he would fingerprint some refugees, and send the prints to the British authorities in London, the individual in question would turn up in the British database under a different name and backstory.
He then explained the way in which he would determine that an asylum seeker was not telling the truth during his time on the Tribunal.
“They get several chances to tell their story,” he said.
“They get the chance when they come in first, when they go to the commissioner, when they go to a solicitor they tell their story. And when you go through all the different stories told, most of the time you’ll find an awful lot of irregularities in them.
“There was one particular fella that had a hearing, who came up with a totally novel idea that his sister was going to burned out of her place. But he had never mentioned anything about this at any stage along the line. So it was obvious he was throwing out anything he could think of hoping to be believed.”
Reflecting on his time in the role, Deegan said: “There’s chancers in every walk of life, and they want to better themselves.”
Joe Duffy put it to him that “If you want to better yourself you’re not a chancer.”
Deegan shot back: “You are if you’re using refugee law, when there’s other ways to try and come into this country.”
“Are you saying the 99% that you said no to were chancers?” asked Duffy.
“They were chancing their arm, yeah. And I don’t blame them for that either. But the fact is they weren’t genuine refugees.”
The same year, in 2015, during an RTÉ Prime Time segment about Direct Provision, Deegan spoke about the trafficking situation in more detail.
“It is clear that the majority of people were actually trafficked into this country,” he said.
“And that these people then obviously had to have money to get this far. And that causes one to surmise that the real refugees are left back at home – those who can’t afford to pay the traffickers.”