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Ireland Rwanda report more satire than news, Harris says

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Jayne McCormack,Gareth Gordon

PA Media Simon HarrisPA Media

Simon Harris dismisses claims Ireland had been approached about joining the UK’s Rwanda scheme

Simon Harris has dismissed a newspaper report that Downing Street has offered Ireland the opportunity to join the Rwanda migrant scheme as “more satire than news”.

On his first visit to Belfast since succeeding Leo Varadkar as taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Mr Harris said Ireland “has its own policy in relation to migration”.

A report in the Daily Telegraph claimed Ireland had been offered a chance to join the UK’s Rwanda scheme.

Flanked by the first and deputy first ministers at Stormont Castle, he said: “We’ve every right to have our own policy and indeed we will seek to advance our migration policy through our membership of the European Union.”

Calling for calm around the migration issue, Mr Harris added: “We have a Common Travel Area between the two islands.

“It’s been in place for a very long time when both countries were in the European Union and it’s still in place now that when one country has left the European Union.”

He said that as taoiseach he pledged to work “constructively” on the issue.

Mr Harris also condemned a protest last night outside his home, which police are investigating, as “inappropriate”.

“I always think people’s families and houses should be out of bounds,” he told media at Stormont.

“It was bedtime for my kids last night when this situation arose. I don’t think it’s appropriate and I don’t want to comment any further.”

PA Media Queen's University Belfast PA Media

Mr Harris will visit Queen’s University later, to meet academics involved in all-island research

UK asylum policy row

Earlier this week, First Minister Michelle O’Neill said officials needed to “get to grips” with recent issues between the UK and Ireland concerning asylum seeker policy.

It followed a move by the Irish government to bring in legislation that will redesignate the UK as a “safe country” to which asylum seekers can be returned.

Irish government ministers collectively approved the plan brought to the cabinet by Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

Last week she claimed more than 80% of recent asylum claims in Ireland were from people who arrived in the state by crossing the border with Northern Ireland.

PA Media Emma Little-Pengelly and Michelle O'Neill PA Media

Mr Harris discussed the asylum policy with Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly

The Irish government is struggling to deal with the number of asylum seekers who have arrived in the state in recent years.

But the British government has said it will decide who it accepts into the UK.

On Wednesday, the Tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) Micheál Martin spoke to the Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris about illegal migration.

In a statement released by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), it said Mr Martin confirmed there would be no deployment of Irish police officers to the Irish border and that the Irish government shared a “steadfast commitment” to securing the external border of the Common Travel Area.

What is the Common Travel Area?

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a special travel zone covering the United Kingdom; Republic of Ireland; Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Under its rules, UK and Irish citizens can travel freely into each other’s countries.

It also gives them special residential rights under which they can set up home and access public services in each other’s states without immigration restrictions.

These free movement arrangements, in various forms, date back to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.

However, CTA rights do not extend to migrants, even if they hold lawful residency in the UK or Ireland.

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