Small Happy Family? An Analysis of Irish Family Reunification Law as it Applies to Beneficiaries of International Protection

AuthorKeire Murphy
PositionGraduate of Law and French from Trinity College Dublin
© 2019 Keire Murphy and Dublin University Law Society
The family is conventionally considered the basic unit of society and the
natural environment for the growth and development of children.
This has
engendered a commonly accepted right to family life and given rise to state
obligations under a number of international, regional, and domestic
instruments. For most families, the protection of family life entails
predominantly negative obligations: the requirement for the state not to
arbitrarily interfere with family life. However, in some situations, state
action is required to provide for the practical exercise of this right. Family
reunification is one of these situations.
Family reunification refers to a circumstance in which a family has
been separated generally with one member crossing an international
frontier and seeks to be reunited. This generally involves seeking
permission from the state of residence of one of the family members for the
entry and/or residence of the other family members. This article will focus
in particular on family reunification as it applies to recipients of international
protection, which has recently been reformed in Ireland to reduce the scope
of the right of family reunification a move which, it is submitted, warrants
more critical analysis than it has received to date. This area of the law will
be analysed from the perspective of the rights of the child, in order to better
understand how the reformed family reunification rules fare within the
context of Ireland’s international obligations under the United Nations
Graduate of Law and French from Trinity College Dublin. The author would like to dedicate
this article to all of the people affected by restrictive immigration policies, in particular the
Ouzai community in Saida, Lebanon. The author would also like to thank her parents for giving
her the opportunities she has had and her family and her friends for supporting her in everything
she does.
See Article 23(1) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966; Article 16(3)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948; Preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the
Child 1990; Article 41 of the Irish Constitution.
Trinity College Law Review [Vol 22
Section I of this article will provide some background to the concepts
of international protection and the rights of the child in Ireland. Section II
will briefly outline the law applying to family reunification for beneficiaries
of international protection in Ireland. Section III will then identify possible
issues with this law.
I. Background
A) International Protection
International protection is a term that covers the granting of refugee status
and the granting of subsidiary protection, both now regulated in Ireland by
the International Protection Act 2015 and in Europe by the Qualification
Recipients of international protection are a particularly
vulnerable class of individual, coming, by definition, from states in which
they face persecution or serious harm.
They have often endured a harrowing
journey to a safe country, and many leave behind family members who
cannot travel. This means that the families of these individuals are often in
especially vulnerable situations. Children in these contexts have either had
to make the perilous journey alone or with their parents, or have been left
behind in unstable and often war-torn countries.
B) The Rights of the Child in Ireland
This article will focus on how the myriad rules and policies that regulate the
family lives of these individuals incorporate (or fail to incorporate)
considerations of the rights of the child. The acknowledgement of children’s
rights has been one of the least controversial in the international community;
Directive 2004/83/EC (recast 2011/95/EU).
A well-founded fear of being persecuted for specific reasons is the qualifying factor for
refugee status, based on Article 1 of the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
1951 (transposed into EU law by Article 2 of the Qualification Directive, and into Irish law by
s 2 International Protection Act 2015); a real risk of serious harm if they should be returned to
their country of origin is the qualifying standard for subsidiary protection (Article 2(f)
Qualification Directive, transposed into Irish law by s 2 International Protection Act 2015).
It is worth noting that it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine those granted
humanitarian leave to remain (which can be viewed as a form of international protection), but
suffice to say that this is a population which is granted no rights to family reunification
whatsoever. See Christina Gotzelmann, ‘The Implementation and Administration of Family
Reunification Rights in Ireland’ (2016) 55 Irish Jurist 75, 102. For discussion of the problematic
growth in use of this status, see Keire Murphy, ‘International Protection and Human Rights:
Divergence, Protection Gaps, and their Peril’ (2018) 21 TCLR 349.

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