Inadmissible Asylum Seekers - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:13 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP 4:13, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord German, on securing this timely debate. The asylum issue has been high on the national political agenda for a considerable period but, until recently, it was not a particularly prominent subject of debate or discussion in Northern Ireland. In common with the rest of the United Kingdom, there were frustrations with some hotels being unavailable to holidaymakers and others because they were being used to accommodate asylum seekers. Other than that, it was seen as an issue more relevant to Great Britain.

That has changed dramatically over the past two weeks. In one of his first acts, the new Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris asked his Justice Secretary to bring forward legislation to enable asylum seekers entering the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland to be sent back to the United Kingdom. It is the Irish Government’s view that 80% of recent asylum seekers arriving in the Republic have come across the Irish land border. The reason, according to the Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, is the deterrent effect of the United Kingdom Government’s Rwanda Act, with which your Lordships are all too familiar. These comments were seized on by our own Prime Minister as something akin to a cause for celebration. Other senior members of His Majesty’s Government have expressed similar views.

As noble Lords will be aware, we have an open border on the island of Ireland. The common travel area is an arrangement which began in 1922 and includes a basic right for United Kingdom and Irish citizens to travel freely between the two countries. While the major political parties in both jurisdictions have supported the open border concept, Sinn Féin/IRA had always been particularly adamant that everyone should be able to cross back and forth from north to south free of impediment.

However, the developments I have described have provoked something of a rethink from Sinn Féin supporters. In an opinion poll published last weekend in the Sunday Independent, 52% of Sinn Féin supporters said they now want checkpoints on the border to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving from Northern Ireland. That number is even higher than the 50% of respondents in the Republic of Ireland who said they hold the same view. According to a recent opinion poll, 82% of people in the Republic of Ireland also want immigrants who have travelled through Northern Ireland to be deported back to the United Kingdom.

The Irish Government’s initial response to this developing situation was to pledge to send 100 Gardai officers to police the border—the only land border between the United Kingdom and a member state of the EU. However, they now appear to have backed away from this. In the meantime, Rishi Sunak has made clear that His Majesty’s Government refuse to take back any refugees from the Republic of Ireland unless France agrees to take back refugees who crossed the English Channel to get to the United Kingdom in the first place. Put simply, the situation is nothing short of a mess.

Your Lordships will most probably be aware that a general election must take place in the Republic of Ireland no later than March 2025. The hardening of public opinion on immigration and asylum south of the border is quickly being reflected in changing policy stances taken by the political parties fighting for votes in the Republic of Ireland. It has served as a reminder that Sinn Féin’s capacity for hypocrisy and political opportunism knows no bounds. The party of open borders and unbridled immigration is undergoing a conversion.

But they are not alone in the hypocrisy stakes. One cannot but recall the recently departed Irish Prime Minster Leo Varadkar travelling to Brussels to brandish a photograph of a bombed customs post and insist that any border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was unthinkable. No doubt he was still intending to stand for re-election before embarking on that grossly irresponsible and offensive stunt.

One can only hope that, with the UK general election only months away, Rishi Sunak’s position on the border issue is not motivated by the shallow quest for votes in Great Britain over the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord German, asked several questions which need answering; I simply ask one more. What are His Majesty’s Government intending to do—in partnership with the Irish Government—to remedy this situation?

There is a time and place for politics; all of us in this House understand that. However, history tells us that playing politics with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is generally helpful to no one in the long run. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.