Bill to reunite refugee families passes in the Seanad

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Bill to reunite refugee families passes in the Seanad

Wednesday 19th July 2017

A Private Members’ Bill to enable more refugee families living in Ireland to be reunited with their dependent loved ones has passed the second stage in Seanad Éireann tonight.

The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 was proposed by members of the Seanad Civil Engagement Group, Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Grace O'Sullivan and John Dolan, who worked with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council on the new legislation.

While opposed by Fine Gael, the Bill had cross-party support from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and a group of Independent Senators and passed with 24 votes to 17.

The Bill will now return to the Seanad for committee stage in the Autumn before proceeding to the Dáil. If passed in the Dáil, the Bill will amend the International Protection Act 2015 which makes it overly restrictive for refugees in Ireland to reunite with loved ones outside the nuclear family and enable a wider range of family members to apply for family reunification, including a grandparent, parent, sibling, grandchild or guardian.

Speaking after the vote passed the second stage, Senator Colette Kelleher said: "It is great that the bill has passed the second stage. We will take on board the comments made by the Minister and other Senators. Most importantly, we will make sure that this important piece of legislation works for refugees and their families."

ENDS

Press release from Monday 17th July 2017:

Seanad Group introduces bill to reunite refugee families 

Proposed amendment seeks to restore original definition of family provided in 1996 Act

On Wednesday (19th July) members of the Seanad Civil Engagement Group, Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Grace O'Sullivan and John Dolan will propose a Private Members’ Bill in Seanad Éireann to enable more refugee families to be reunited in Ireland.  

The bill seeks to amend the International Protection Act 2015 which makes it overly restrictive for refugees in Ireland to reunite with loved ones outside the nuclear family.

This has a devastating impact on the lives of refugees and people seeking protection as it separates children aged 18 and over from their parents and grandparents, divides siblings and destroys extended family networks.

Members of the Civil Engagement Group worked with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council on developing the legislation which would enable a wider range of family members to apply for family reunification, including a grandparent, parent, sibling, grandchild or guardian.

All three organisations have seen first-hand the additional trauma and anxiety caused when people fleeing conflict and disaster are separated from their loved ones, a vital source of solace and support in times of anguish and uncertainty. 

The 2015 Act changed Ireland’s family reunification policy by removing the category of dependents which existed under the Irish Refugee Act 1996. Amending the legislation restores and strengthens the provisions of the 1996 Irish Refugee Act, and offers Ireland an opportunity to show leadership by upholding fundamental rights.

Under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme the Government promised to welcome 4,000 refugees to Ireland by the end of 2017 – less than a third have arrived so far.

Speaking in advance of the bill’s introduction, Senator Colette Kelleher said:

“We are seeking to restore the old definition, which is more in tune with an Irish understanding of family. The International Protection Act 2015 was brought in in a hurry and may be having unintended consequences. It’s a timely moment to take stock and to reconsider the required rules for effective family reunifications.”

Frances Black, Independent Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel, said:

“This bill is about treating the small number of refugees who arrive in Ireland with compassion and understanding. These people have lost so much and are attempting to build a new life here – the best way to do that is with your family beside you.”

Alice-Mary Higgins, Independent Senator for National University of Ireland, said:

“This bill facilitates a more humane approach to family reunification, one consistent with the full understanding of family seen in other areas of public policy. I also believe most citizens want to see Ireland stepping up to its international responsibilities by responding in a compassionate and constructive way to the international crises which have forced so many to flee their homes. Further reform of our flawed asylum system is certainly needed, but this Bill is a step in the right direction’.

The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 will be proposed by members of the Seanad Civil Engagement Group, Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane and John Dolan, during their private members time on Wednesday 19th July. The bill will be debated in the Seanad from 17:00 to 19:00 and will be streamed live on Oireachtas TV.

ENDS

CONTACT:

For interviews or more information, please contact:

Oxfam Ireland: Alice Dawson, Communications Coordinator: +353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

Senator Kelleher’s Office: Pádraig Rice, Assistant to Senator Colette Kelleher: +(01) 6183642 / +353 (0) 85 748 7378 / Padraig.Rice@Oireachtas.ie

LINKS:

A copy of the bill can be viewed here: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=36718&&CatID=59 or https://www.oxfamireland.org/sites/default/files/upload/pdfs/seanad-bill.pdf

An explanatory memo for the bill can be viewed here.

Link to Oireachtas TV: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/watchlisten/watchlive/seanadeireann/

Notes to the Editor:

·         As of May 2017, 1,259 people have arrived under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme with over 2,700 people still to come.

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