Driving Licences for Asylum Seekers
Asylum seekers in Ireland are not allowed to apply for driving licences. As many direct provision centres are based in rural areas, this has a profound impact on their ability to find work, attend education courses and become independent.
This is a policy that has been consistently raised by TDs in parliamentary questions to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport over several years since 2018. The former Minister for Transport stated as early as July 2018, that he was seeking “legal advice” on the question of whether it would be possible to issue driving licences. In September 2018, then-Minister, Deputy Shane Ross confirmed that he had received legal advice that it was possible to issue asylum seekers with driving licence “once other matters had been resolved”.
Litigation: High Court Decision March 2021
In 2019, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) represented two asylum seekers who had been refused learner permits. The Workplace Relations Commission found that the refusal to grant a leaner driver permit to an asylum seeker constitutes indirect discrimination. A copy of that decision is available here. However the Road Safety Authority appealed that decision and in July 2020, the Circuit Court in Dublin overturned that decision. Judge O' Connor ruled that the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS), which is run by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), does not discriminate against asylum seekers on account of race. This case was appealed to the High Court. On the 25th March 2021 Judge Creedon issued a judgment which upheld the Circuit Court decision.
This is very disappointing to asylum seekers across the country. Ireland, particularly rural Ireland, continues to rely predominantly on private vehicles for transport and barring asylum seekers from the opportunity to drive limits their ability to become involved in the communities in which they live and to take advantage of employment opportunities outside of their immediate locales.
The prohibition has been criticised by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in their Report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process published last year. The Programme for Government included a clear commitment to permit asylum seekers to access driving licences.
The Day Report called for "immediate action" on access to driving licences and identified it as one of the areas where change should be made quickly. The White Paper on Ending Direct Provision committed to introducing legislation before summer 2021 which would allow international protection applicants to apply for driving permits.
This matter is now within the remit of the Minister for Transport. We are now calling on Deputy Eamon Ryan, Minister for Transport, to remove these restrictions.