Wednesday, 13 April 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mrs. Owen: I wish to ask the Minister about matters relating to the 1986 Act  and the transitional period. The Bill has been warmly welcomed by people who have been awaiting conferral of Irish citizenship. I have sought the amendment of this legislation for many years and I welcome the Minister's initiative in introducing this legislation. The transitional period covers children who may be three to five years old whose parents should have registered by 31 December 1986. During that period people living in countries with Embassy and Consul General representation, who were eligible to apply for citizenship would have had access to information about it because of publicity in local newspapers. However, people eligible to apply who were living in countries with no representation and where no information was available were not able to exercise their rights and avail of the transitional period. I know of a diplomat who lived in Cameroon who was not informed about this Bill and could not apply on the basis of his grandmother's citizenship. If people could prove they were not informed about this provision would they now be eligible under the legislation?
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn): Deputy Owen referred to the third aspect of the definitions, namely section 8 of the 1986 Act. People who lived in a country where there was no publicity about the legislation cannot be included now.
Mr. Rabbitte: I wish to raise some points about the section, which ostensibly ties up the loose ends of the Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 and 1986. Those two Acts, together with this Bill, form a neat but deceptive package of identity inasmuch as the Minister for Justice informed the House on 9 March it is for sale to anyone prepared to invest £1 million in this country. That infamous  statement summed up more than this Bill ever could our approach to basic civil liberties. By putting out to tender citizenship and the rights and privileges associated with it the Minister effectively sidelined the thousands of economically and politically dispossessed would-be refugees and potential immigrants fleeing persecution and want.
In the House on 9 March the Minister, in the context of the wider international community, effectively informed us that there is a price tag on Irish citizenship. This is welcome news to the South African millionaire seeking a safe haven for the assets of his Swiss bank account or the wealthy Hong Kong industrialist casting a wary eye on 1997 and beyond. However, the Minister's statement offers little comfort to the Albanians landing at Shannon with the few possessions they can carry, nor does it offer assurances to those who have lived here for years and who, while not the proud possessors of millions of pounds, may have made a substantial social, cultural and economic contribution to the life of their communities. Their only hope of gaining an Irish passport is to take their place in the Minister's arbitrary queues.
Irish citizenship as defined by the 1956 and 1986 Acts and this Bill is primarily a matter of genetics or blood. This limited view of nationality means that those of Irish descent who may never have set foot in this country and have few if any cultural or social links can acquire citizenship merely by descent. The 1986 Act restricted this provision to a limited extent but the genetic principle remains. This is the first problem with the Irish concept of citizenship and identity. It harks back to an age dominated by memories of the emigrant boat, in which a newly independent Government sought to make amends by granting citizenship to those emigrants' descendants for the tribulations of the past.
Today's age demands rather more imaginative concepts of identity, concepts which go beyond the narrow confines of blood and soil and which take into account factors such as increased mobility, new ways of working and the  unhindered flow of media information. Citizenship is not only about identity, even in the broadest sense; it is primarily about civil, political, economic and social rights. It is ironic that while we grant citizenship to third or fourth generation Irish descent, we fail to grant the most elementary right of citizenship, the right to vote, to the first generation of Irish emigrants.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I welcome Deputy Rabbitte, and I am sorry he was not here yesterday evening because his comments are more relevant to a Second Stage debate when we may talk about our nationality laws. We are discussing section 1, the definition section, which is not designed to deal with all the problems of emigration and nationality but with a specific problem that arose during a transitional period after the 1986 Act was passed.
Yesterday evening Deputy Mitchell and Deputy O'Donnell raised the point of refugees and asylum and we had a reasonably good debate on that issue. I gave a commitment then, as I did the last time I took Question Time, on a Refugee and Asylum Bill which is in the final stages of drafting in the Attorney General's Office and which I hope, will be through the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer. That is a matter to which Deputies Mitchell and O'Donnell, and I am sure Deputy Rabbitte, give high priority, as I do. It is important to have a system on refugees and asylum seekers that is open, at arm's length from the Minister and not just independent but seen to be so. It is important to have an appeals system in place and that is what I have set out to do.
I talked last night about the interdepartmental committee set up in this area. While I could not go into great detail on the provisions of the proposed Bill in advance of it being cleared by the Government, it follows very closely the lines of the recommendations of the indepartmental committee. We are dealing here with a very specific question, the transitional period and the difficulties that arose for almost 4,000 people of Irish  ancestry and we are trying to right a great wrong.
Mr. G. Mitchell: The issue of nationality and citizenship is tied in with the question of passports. There is a strong incentive for people in, for example, the United States — this also applies to people in Hong Kong, South Africa and elsewhere — to have an Irish passport. Many people want Irish citizenship out of a sense of pride but the value of the passport is relevant because it gives the holder the right to travel freely within the European Union and to settle there. The phenomenon of the passport arose in the early part of this century. Up to that time people travelled freely from place to place and there was no big deal about a passport. An indication of the way government has developed in the control of people's lives is that for each State there is now a very valuable document called a passport.
What progress has been made in terms of a single European Union passport and, if introduced, will it affect nationality and citizenship? Is European Union citizenship under discussion or what is the current status of that proposal? Can we look forward to having an Irish passport with “European Union” stamped on it or is the original idea of a European Union passport still being considered?
Mr. Rabbitte: I accept the Minister chiding me for not being here yesterday evening, I did not envisage the collapse of the debate so early. I would like to hear the Minister's views on a European Union passport. I was contacted last week by a businessman who was aware that the Bill was due to be taken this session and who claimed that on one visit last week to Brussels on business, on three separate occasions, including admision to the Commission building, he was  required to show his passport. The man was under the impression that having passed the Single Act, that requirement had been abolished. Is this document a security pass as distinct from a passport? Will this practice continue indefinitely for people who have regular business in Brussels? On the point raised by Deputy Mitchell about a European passport, what does the Minister envisage in that context?
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The maroon coloured passport now issued is a European Union passport. Under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, we are moving closer to European Union citizenship. At a number of Council of Ministers meetings which dealt with emigration and nationality issues, we dealt with the changes which need to be introduced. I am not sure we are as close to achieving this at European level as Deputies might expect.
On the question of the free movement of people, we have come up with a compromise known as the “Bangemann wave”, a blue channel at points of entry for EU citizens who only have to wave their passports and they go into the country. As Deputy Rabbitte said, a number of our EU partners have different ways of enforcing this decision by the Council of Ministers. My predecessors and successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs have been at pains to point out at Council of Ministers meetings, particularly at the General Affairs Council, the need to enforce this decision in a uniform way throughout the EU. Even though Ireland and a number of other countries have a blue channel, other countries strictly adhere to the requirement that passengers show their passports. They say they have internal reasons for doing this. However, this creates difficulties for Irish and other EU citizens to move about as freely as we said they would be able to. I will continue to raise this issue — I know the Tánaiste will do likewise — at Council of Minister's meetings.
I cannot comment on the specific point raised by Deputy Rabbitte about people  who are asked to show their passports when entering one of the European institutions. All I can say is that sometimes one can be asked for a form of identification — for example, a driver's licence, passport, credit card etc. I am not sure if the person to whom Deputy Rabbitte referred was specifically asked for his passport, but if the Deputy gives me the details, I will raise the matter at the Council of Ministers' meeting. It is not necessary for people to show their passports when entering an EU institution as most people who travel to Brussels, for example, civil servants, Ministers and business people, do so on a regular basis to do business with the institutions, etc. There is much confusion about this issue because the requirements differ in every country. Ireland is more advanced than some other EU countries in that we have a special channel at points of entry for EU passport holders. This channel is not available in all other EU countries and even in countries which have such a channel, passengers may still be asked for their passports from time to time.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Passengers travelling between Britain and Ireland can pass through the blue channel and there is no difficulty. However, given that we are now calling the European Community the European Union, it is absurd that passengers travelling to, say, Amsterdam or Paris are asked at the ticket desk in Dublin Airport if they have their passport with them. I cannot envisage this happening in the case of passengers flying from Texas to Massachusetts; it does not apply. Such a requirement runs contrary to the concept of a Union. Regardless of the reasons for it, this requirement should be done away with and Ireland should be to the forefront in doing this.
Ireland will hold the Presidency of the EU in 1996. We should set this date as a deadline for the removal of this requirement. If this requirement has not been removed by 1996 we should put it on the agenda of the Irish Presidency. It is absurd that citizens of the EU should have to produce their passports before travelling to another EU country. I  cannot imagine this requirement being imposed in the case of passengers travelling between the Netherlands and Belgium or between Germany and France.
Passengers at Dublin Airport have to show their passports before getting on a plane. There is a very good arrangement in operation between Ireland and Britain. Passengers may be required to show their passports for security reasons. However, one has only to look at the security arrangements between Ireland and Britain to see that there is no need to require passengers to show their passports. This requirement is a burden on the citizens of the European Union and should be discontinued. I hope the Minister will pursue vigorously the removal of this requirement by 1996. If it has not been removed before then we should put it on the agenda of the Irish Presidency.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: There is no legal requirement on an Irish citizen travelling to any European capital city to show their passport at Dublin Airport. This requirement has been put in place by Aer Lingus, and not by the Government. I cannot say for definite but I imagine the reason Aer Lingus does this is to ensure that it does not carry a passenger to Amsterdam or Brussels who will not be allowed enter that country. Aer Lingus is probably doing us a favour by asking people if they have their passports with them.
Members of the Government or civil servants who travel on the Government jet to Brussels to attend EU Council of Ministers meetings are not asked to produce their passports. However, if something happens and these people have to travel back to Ireland on a regular flight they will not be able to get through customs without their passports.
I feel as strongly as the Deputies opposite about the need for uniformity in this area. Since the Treaty was passed successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Justice have been pointing out the need for uniformity. The kind of uniformity introduced was the famous “Bangemann wave” where passengers held  their passports in their hands and walked through a blue channel. It would not be so bad if a similar system was introduced in all member states, but the internal structures within a number of countries have prevented this from happening. I am prepared to take on board Deputy Mitchell's suggestion that Ireland should push very strongly for uniformity in this matter and perhaps set 1996 for the introduction of a uniform system in the twelve EU member states.
Ms O'Donnell: I do not have copies of the Acts with me, but will the Minister say if any distinction is made in the 1956 or 1986 Acts which would prohibit a child born outside marriage in another country applying for Irish citizenship?
Mr. G. Mitchell: Will the Minister set out the precise position from 1986 onwards? Is it the case that great grandparents will no longer count in terms of applications for citizenship but grandparents will? Will it be sufficient for one grandparent to have Irish citizenship? One wonders if members of the Irish soccer team will qualify for passports. Leaving that facetious point aside, will the Minister explain the precise position from 1986 onwards?
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I am sure we will see much of the “Rabbitte wave” between now and 9 June. I am told one grandparent will suffice and once he or she and the grandchild are registered it follows through. There is no distinction.
Mr. Sheehan: What is the modus operandi available for an EU national who has been residing in this country for the past ten years and has a small holding? He cannot register for naturalisation because he is in receipt of unemployment assistance for small farmers. This man's wife is living with him and his two children have been attending school in Bantry for the past five years.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: That is a separate issue to the one we are dealing with here. We are talking about third and fourth generation Irish citizens who, for a transitional period in 1986, lost out because we could not deal with all of their applications before 31 December 1986. The question the Deputy is posing now is in relation to immigration and nationality issues generally as they are applied here by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice. Rather than getting into a debate on that here, Deputy Sheehan might give me the name and address of the individual concerned and I will examine his case within the Department. If there is a current application it can be dealt with within the Department.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Will the Minister assure the House that the passing of this Bill will mean that the arrears problem will be dealt with expeditiously? Will she tell the House the type of timescale she has in mind for the elimination of the arrears problem?
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: There is no commencement date on the Bill which means that it will come into force as soon as the President signs it. In relation to the administrative arrangements, they will be matters for the Department of Foreign Affairs and my understanding from the Department and the Tánaiste is that they will be processing them immediately.
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