There will be a "stay" on deportations from Ireland for as long as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the Taoiseach has indicated.
Micheal Martin told the Dáil today that he believes "... unless people represent a threat to national security they should not be deported at this present point in time".
Mr Martin was replying to a question from the Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.
The Wicklow deputy has said that a constituent of hers "... has to present himself tomorrow for deportation" - two weeks before Christmas and in the middle of a pandemic.
She said: "I think that it is inhumane to deport someone after 14 years of living somewhere."
In his answer, the Taoiseach said that deporting is part of our wider migration management programme.
But "in the context of Covid, I think we have obligations to the health of people - irrespective of status - in terms of sending someone back to a red area or a red zone with the prevalence of the virus," Mr Martin said.
In a statement afterwards, deputy Whitmore welcomed the Taoiseach's clarification.
Also today, Justice Minister Helen McEntee told the Seanad that no deportations of people who were unsuccessful in their application for international protection have occurred since March of this year.
She later said on Twitter there have been "only four deportations since March 2020, and three of these applied to deportation orders which were issued before March".
Ms McEntee told the Seanad: "I believe the low number of deportations since March reflects the discretionary approach which I am applying [as Minister] is working effectively."
I was glad to speak in the Seanad today and outline the compassionate and pragmatic approach we in government are taking toward deportation during the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/kQKcF650zy— Helen McEntee TD (@HMcEntee) December 9, 2020
The minister said she would "strongly advise" anyone in this country, regardless of their current status, to come forward to receive a vaccine when it is available, adding: "I can give a commitment today no information gathered as part of that process will be passed to the immigration authorities."
She was addressing a bill from Senators Alice Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Eileen Flynn and Frances Black which sought to legislate to ensure deportations did not happen, rather than relying on the Minister to exercise his/her discretion on any case.
Ms McEntee told them: "While I as Minister for Justice and An Garda Síochána must have the discretion to remove those who may be a threat to national security and whose presence in Ireland would be contrary to the public interest, that discretion is used in the rarest of circumstances – and only when absolutely necessary.
"Such cases arise where there are valid reasons in the interests of public security and the common good."