High Court Rules that Asylum Seekers’ ‘Normal residence’ is in Ireland

Ruling Quashes RSA Decision Refusing Driver Licences to Asylum Seekers

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has welcomed as ‘very significant’ today’s High Court ruling on access to driving licences for people seeking international protection in Ireland.

In the Judicial Review case before the High Court, in which the Commission acted as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’), two asylum seekers challenged a decision by the Road Safety Authority (the ‘RSA’) to refuse them permission to exchange their full driver licences, issued by  their country of origin, for Irish ones. The RSA claimed that the two applicants were required to produce evidence that they were ‘normally resident’ in Ireland, that they had not done so and so were not entitled to driver licences.

In its written submissions to the Court, the Commission argued that the asylum seekers’ ‘normal residence’ was in fact in Ireland and that they satisfied the residency requirements of the Road Traffic Regulations (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 2006.

In today’s judgment, Mr. Justice Mark Heslin found that the applicants are lawfully resident in the State, and therefore eligible for a licence:

The applicants’ presence in this State has, at all material times, been, as a matter of fact, lawful. Their permission to remain may well be on very strict terms and for a specific purpose but it is nonetheless lawful. Thus, it is not unlawful and, to the extent that it is urged on the court, I feel obliged to reject the proposition that someone who, in fact, resides in this State month after month and with permission so to do and who complies with all conditions of that permission should not be considered, for the purposes of exchanging their driving licence, lawfully resident in the context of the legislative scheme at issue in the present proceedings.”

Mr. Justice Heslin concluded:

I am entirely satisfied that the applicants are entitled to declaratory relief that the 2006 Regulations do not require them to establish any further right of residence than they currently have. The applicants are also entitled to orders of certiorari quashing the decision of the first named respondent [the RSA] of 30 November 2019 refusing their applications to exchange their…driving licences for Irish ones.”

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, welcomed the High Court ruling:

 “A driving licence isn’t just a plastic document, it’s a tool for finding and getting to work, for bringing children to school and childcare, for visiting your friends and generally being part of society. It’s something many of us take for granted but in our work with asylum seekers on the issue over the past four years, we’ve seen the toll that being denied one has on people’s day to day lives.

This High Court ruling marks a significant moment for asylum seekers in Ireland, as it confirms that they are ‘normally resident’ and entitled to apply for driving licences.

“Despite commitments made by Government, these individuals and families have been left for too long, often in remote rural settings with limited public transport, their work, educational and social opportunities stifled. We hope that they will now be able to get on with their lives, and to pursue such opportunities without further interference.”


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

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Editor’s Note

The Commission’s written submissions to the High Court are available at the following link:


The Commission has significant experience of the issues arising, having intervened in the Supreme Court case of NHV, which vindicated the rights of asylums seekers to work. Since then it has been involved in significant policy work including appearing before the Advisory Group on Direct Provision chaired by Dr Catherine Day, where this issue was also addressed.

The amicus curiae function of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The Commission’s functions under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 include that of applying for liberty to appear as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the superior courts in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person.

Section 10 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act sets out the functions of the Commission and Section 10(2)(e) provides that the IHREC shall have a function:

“to apply to the High Court or the Supreme Court for liberty to appear before the High Court or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, as amicus curiae in proceedings before that Court that involve or are concerned with the human rights or equality rights of any person and to appear as such an amicus curiae on foot of such liberty being granted (which liberty each of the said courts is hereby empowered to grant in its absolute discretion).”

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.