High Court Decision Against Asylum Seeker Builds Pressure on Government for Driver Licence Solution

Appeal by Mother Seeking to Secure Driving Licence to Access Work and Childcare Rejected by High Court

The High Court has rejected an appeal by an Asylum Seeker, supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’), that she had been discriminated against by the Road Safety Authority (‘the RSA’) when they refused her application for a driver licence.

The case involved a single mother living in a rural direct provision centre. A holder of a full driver licence in her country of origin, she applied for a learner driver permit so that she could learn to drive with a view to accessing better employment opportunities and childcare facilities.  At the time she was undertaking a costly and lengthy bus and rail commute from Munster to get to her work as a housekeeper in Dublin. The woman’s employers had offered to buy her a car in the event that she could secure a full licence.

The High Court decision issued on Thursday upholds the Circuit Court’s overturning of a ruling delivered by the Workplace Relations Commission in January 2020 which found that the woman had been discriminated against on the grounds of race under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 (‘the ESA’) and which awarded the woman €5,000 in compensation and ordered the drivers licence agency (the RSA) to “immediately amend the 2018 Guidelines to take account of the revised status of the applicants for International Protection.”

The High Court decision sets out that the RSA had not discriminated against the woman under the ESA when it applied the provisions of the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations as its actions were required by legislative enactment and, as such, exempt from challenge under s.14(1)(a) of the ESA.

The woman passed her driver theory test and her eye sight exam at a cost of over €100. When she applied for her learner permit, however, the statutory body responsible for issuing driver licences informed her that she needed to provide evidence of full or “permanent” residency permission, which as an asylum seeker by definition she could not possibly provide. When she was unable to provide the requested documentation, the agency refused her application in October 2018.

The woman was applying for a learner driving license permit to improve access to work opportunities following the landmark ‘NHV’ Supreme Court decision which found that an indefinite ban on asylum seekers applying for work was unconstitutional. The woman had been unable to access more employment opportunities, and was forced to continue her commute to work in Dublin with her infant.

On being refused during the original application process, the woman declared she “was disappointed and fearful of [refusal] as she was struggling to manage transport for her and her baby”.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“The Commission has been proud to provide legal representation to this brave woman in her legal challenge through the Workplace Relations Commission, the Circuit Court and now the High Court to secure a drivers licence so that she can provide for herself and her family.

“We are obviously disappointed with this unsuccessful appeal. The Commission and the woman involved will consider the decision and the options open to her in more detail in the coming days.

“However, the Commission reiterates its call to the Minister for Transport to take action without further delay to lift this State built barrier to asylum seekers accessing employment as is their Constitutional right.

“Blocked access to driver’s licences for Asylum Seekers has been a chronic issue over years, impacting on people’s ability to find work, to attend education, and to live in independence and dignity.”


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095


Visit our website www.ihrec.ie or follow us on twitter and Instagram @_IHREC

Notes to Editor

The full January 2020 decision of the Adjudication Officer in this case is available at the following link:


The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

Under its legal functions set out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the Courts or the Workplace Relations Commission.

Assistance under Section 40 of the Act means any or all of the following

  1. the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal advice to the applicant;
  2. the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal representation to the applicant
  3. the provision of such other assistance to the applicant as the Commission deems appropriate in the circumstances;