Row over plans to opt in to EU pact on migration breaks out at Oireachtas justice committee

Independent Senator Michael McDowell said he was ‘most anxious’ that the ‘very serious constitutional consequences’ of the pact be investigated

A row has broken out at the Oireachtas justice committee over contentious Government plans to opt in to a new EU pact on migration.

Independent Senator Michael McDowell has objected to a plan to allocate three hours of committee time for a briefing on the pact, which would overhaul Irish immigration law and has been criticised by both liberal and conservative voices.

In an email sent last week, Mr McDowell told Fianna Fáil TD and committee chair James Lawless that he has been “most anxious” that the “very serious constitutional consequences” of the pact be investigated, warning that the pact represented a “surrendering of sovereign rights in respect of migration and asylum seeking”.

In the Seanad, Mr McDowell described plans to hear from the Minister and not from her officials as an “absolute whitewash”.


Asked for comment, Mr Lawless said that “Recent complaints about the committee procedure made in both the Dáil and Seanad appear to me to be not only inappropriate but premature – how can members object to a debate that hasn’t even happened yet – methinks they doth protest too much – it very much has the appearance of politicking”.

In his email, Mr McDowell said that following promises from Taoiseach Simon Harris that the committee would tease through the pact in “painstaking detail”, “it is absolutely obvious that a single three hour session of our Committee cannot remotely hope to carry out that level of scrutiny”.

“It is very clear that the public scrutiny of the pact and the regulations envisaged for the committee simply cannot occur to any acceptable standard,” Mr McDowell wrote. Mr Harris has said that Ireland stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries from the EU pact, saying it is “good for the country and for Europe” which would be a “significant overhaul in the rules and would result in a fair but firmer migration system”.

The controversial pact provides for faster decision-making on asylum seekers’ applications and for member states to share responsibility for applications, allowing for them to be relocated. Member states would make financial contributions where they do not wish to accept asylum seekers.

It also provides for facial images and fingerprints being taken from children as young as six years old and the detention of asylum seekers in border centres near or in airports, while they are being screened.

The former minister for justice, whose arguments mirror those he made in an Irish Times column last week and in the Seanad, had sought a private meeting to discuss the matter and whether witnesses should be called in on the constitutional and legal implications of opting in.

However, Mr Lawless responded saying that the committee was “conducting the maximum available study on this topic” by inviting Ms McEntee to engage over three hours, and that this would be accompanied by a full debate on the pact in the Dáil and Seanad.

Asked for comment, the Kildare North TD said that Mr McDowell had not requested a debate on the topic of immigration controls, and “while the pact may be a recent development the topic itself is not”.

He added: “We will do our utmost to scrutinise the pact and facilitate a comprehensive engagement with the minister and between the members. But we are only one part of a wider system. It is my understanding that debates will also be held on the Dáil and Seanad. My own view is that this should be given consideration and there is no need to rush it through the houses.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times