48. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will use his discretionary powers in a humanitarian manner to allow relatives of Syrian residents here, who may be in equally dangerous situations as those of refugees, apply for family reunification under the family reunification humanitarian admission programme; his plans to redefine “family member” using the broader terms proposed in the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017; and if he will consider setting aside a budget to pay the administration and travel costs of bringing the family members of refugees that often have no means here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 51496/17 asked on 05 Dec 2017)

Acting Chairman (Deputy Frank O’Rourke): Deputy Kenny has 30 seconds to introduce his question.

Deputy Gino Kenny: I am happy for the Minister to answer the question.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for raising this issue. On 14 November last, together with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, I announced the new scheme of family reunification in support of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and their families. This new family reunification humanitarian admission programme will form part of the Government’s commitment under the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP. The family reunification humanitarian admission programme will see, over a two year period, up to 530 immediate family members of refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection from established conflict zones, including Syria, come to Ireland as part of our overall commitment to accept 4,000 persons under the IRPP.

I will operate this humanitarian admission programme under my ministerial discretionary powers and it will be in addition to the family reunification provisions provided for in the International Protection Act 2015.  Officials in my Department are in consultation with the UNHCR and other stakeholders on developing the full operational details of the programme.

To allow the maximum number of families to benefit from the scheme, sponsors may be asked to prioritise a small number of family members for admission. I am conscious that the measure is being introduced at a time when our national housing supply is under strain and, to expedite the impact of the programme, priority may be given to sponsors whose eligible family members are in a position to reside with them.

As this new initiative falls within our IRPP commitment, I will examine if some limited IRPP funding can be made available to assist with the travel arrangements for eligible family members to Ireland in co-operation with the International Organisation for Migration and the Red Cross or Red Crescent.

Deputy Gino Kenny: I am sure the Minister is aware and that everyone in this House is cognisant of the human catastrophe that is the Syrian civil war which seems to be unabating. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled Syria in search of refuge. In some cases, families have been split apart not by the chaos of war but the chaos of escaping it. The family reunification humanitarian admission programme is very prescriptive as it does not encompass family members such as brothers or sisters. I welcome the Minister’s statement that he would consider providing for some costs of those seeking refuge here. The scheme should be widened, however.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The scheme is aimed specifically at the families of those in Ireland who are in receipt of international protection and come from areas of current conflict, including Syria, as has been mentioned specifically in the question. Residents in Ireland who are not beneficiaries of international protection may apply to have family members join them under the guidelines set out in the policy document on non-EEA family reunification under the terms of the scheme operated by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to apply my discretion in the area of family reunification for those outside of the international protection process. My initiative under the programme is specifically aimed at those most in need and, in doing so, it will address many of the motivating concerns of Members of the House, including Deputy Gino Kenny.

Deputy Gino Kenny: The new scheme is very prescriptive. It does not include grandparents, parents or brothers or sisters of a Syrian refugee trying to make a new life for himself or herself here. I welcome the Minister’s statement on the costs of relatives of those seeking refuge here. The Minister was correct when he said that we have a housing crisis. However, consider what we are doing about the arms trade and our budget under the PESCO agreement. A lot of money is going into fighting different people’s wars, yet we cannot give people who are seeking to get away from war refuge in this country.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: As we approach the end of the year, I am keen to ensure that we meet our commitment to accept 4,000 people under the Irish refugee protection programme. It was with regard to addressing the balance of approximately 1,800 under the scheme, which arises largely due to the smaller number of asylum seekers eligible and registered under the EU programme, that I announced the establishment of a new family reunification humanitarian admission programme. The resettlement pledges are the largest commitments for resettlement that we have made in a calendar year since our programme began almost 18 years ago.

My priority is to ensure we can support the maximum number of families rather than having a smaller number of families being able to admit larger numbers of extended family members, which could well work to the disadvantage of others.

Additional details on the operation of the programme will be announced on my website. I will be happy to engage with the Deputy directly if he requires any further information or if he has any specific concerns.