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By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - A ban on asylum seekers working in Ireland is unconstitutional, the country's Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, and it gave lawmakers six months to consider how to address a law it said damages the self-worth of those seeking refugee status.
Ireland is one of two European Union countries - along with Lithuania - that explicitly prohibits employment during the asylum procedure, according to campaigners. With no limitation on application times, the procedure can last years.
Before a decision on their application, asylum seekers in Ireland are required to live in state-provided accommodation known as direct provision centres, where adults are provided with an allowance of 19 euros per week.
The Supreme Court's unanimous ruling involved a Burmese native who arrived in Ireland almost a decade ago. He spent eight years in the system before being granted refugee status and subsequently joining the workforce.
"In my view, the point has been reached when it cannot be said that the legitimate differences between an asylum seeker and a citizen can continue to justify the exclusion of an asylum seeker from the possibility of employment," Justice Donal O'Donnell said in the judgement.
"The damage to the individual's self worth, and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right seeks to guard against ... If this provision were applied to a citizen, it would be difficult if not impossible to justify."
Irish support for asylum seekers has been heavily criticised in recent years, and the government is implementing a series of recommendations made two years ago by a judge-led review of the direct provision system.
The review found that most of the near 8,000 residents in direct provision in 2015 did not have access to cooking facilities and that the financial allowance was inadequate to cover essential items such as health care costs, prescription charges and clothing, including school uniforms.
The government has increased the additional allowance per child to 15.60 euros from 9.60, still only half the rate recommended by the review.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said the ruling was "unqualified good news" and would remove a key barrier to the integration of asylum seekers in Ireland.
"The impact of the work ban goes much further than simply being denied the right to get a job. It affects self-esteem, mental health, their children, limits them to a life lived in poverty and affects their opportunity to integrate into Irish society," Immigrant Council of Ireland CEO Brian Killoran said,
(Editing by Larry King)