Successive WRC Decisions Highlight Continuing Race Discrimination by Drivers Licence Agency Against Asylum Seekers

 Mother is Second Asylum Seeker Subjected to Discrimination in Driver Licence Refusal – Commission Provided Legal Representation to Both.

Following a legal challenge by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) to the discriminatory approach of a drivers licence agency, a second legal ruling in less than a month finds the statutory agency guilty of discrimination on race grounds against asylum seekers.

Today’s WRC decision involves 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 moment she undertakes a costly and lengthy bus and rail commute from Munster to get to her work as a housekeeper in Dublin. The WRC decision also sets out that the woman’s current employers have offered to buy her a car in the event that she gets a full licence.

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.

As a result, the woman has been unable to access more employment opportunities, and continues her commute to work in Dublin with her infant.

In her decision published today, the WRC adjudicator ruled that by the end of February the driving license agency must meet with the woman to discuss whether she can exchange her full driver licence from her country of origin for an Irish one. If that is not possible, the agency must immediately give her a learner permit without additional cost. The WRC awarded the woman €5,000 in compensation and ordered the drivers licence agency to “immediately amend the 2018 Guidelines to take account of the revised status of the applicants for International Protection.”

Three weeks ago, the WRC awarded €2,500 to another asylum seeker who experienced discrimination on the grounds of race when he was refused a learner driving permit in similar circumstances. In that ruling, the WRC ordered the agency to process the man’s application for a learner, permit but the State agency appealed the ruling instead.

In both cases, the complainants were 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.

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

WRC adjudicator Patsy Doyle ruled that the woman has suffered “pronounced and obstructive” indirect discrimination and that “while this is a complaint advanced on race grounds, I feel that it is relevant to mention that I have observed a lingering political interest backdrop to this case”.

Salome Mbugua, Commission Member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“Public bodies such as this have a legal obligation to prevent discrimination, but this agency is clearly falling down in this duty, having now seen two rulings against it in less than a month for the same offence of race-based discrimination.

“The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission provided legal assistance to both of these people in their challenges to this discriminatory policy. The first was a man struggling to make a living as a delivery person on his bike who wants a licence to help boost his delivery work, and today we see a mother seeking to earn money for her and her child through part-time work, but who is similarly being blocked in securing her licence.

“Today’s WRC decision includes a clear deadline for a permit to be issued to this mother, and an order for these discriminatory Guidelines to be changed, as Ireland’s National Equality Body, the Commission expects this order to be followed.

“These two WRC decisions should also provide the legal momentum for Government to finally and emphatically address the issue of asylum seekers access to driving licenses.”


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

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Notes to Editor

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

The full decision of the Adjudication Officer in the other recent case is available at the following

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;

The Equal Status Acts state:

Section 5(1) ESA prohibits discrimination in the disposal of goods and provision of services:

A person shall not discriminate in disposing of goods to the public generally or a section of the public or in providing a service, whether the disposal or provision is for consideration or otherwise and whether the service provided can be availed of only by a section of the public.





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