Wednesday, 31 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
That, pursuant to Standing Order 120 of the Standing Orders relative to public business, the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999, be recommitted to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights.
Mr. Howlin: The convention is that I have approximately five minutes. I move this motion with a very strong sense of the rights of this House and its Members. I believe fervently that those rights are being trampled upon by the mechanisms being employed by the Minister. I am disappointed that he will not accept a very reasonable proposal, although he has grafted in amendments that have moved very far from the urgent Bill that was presented almost a year ago, in June of last year, to deal with the issue of illegal trafficking in immigrants. The Minister presented the case that this is an emergency measure that needed the support of the House to be quickly enacted. He has used it now like a wanderly wagon to graft extraneous bits of legislation amending the Refugee Act and the Immigration Act – the Immigration Act, 1999, was itself subject to a motion like this because of the contempt the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has for this House. That seems to be copperfastened by the Minister's attitude today.
It is not right and proper that fundamental legislation that has implications for human rights – we are in the process of setting up a Human Rights Commission in this State in accordance with our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement – should be brought to the House as if the Members were ciphers to rubber-stamp decisions of the Executive. There is a separation of powers. It is up to the Executive to propose legislation, but it is the right and prerogative of the democratic Assembly of the people to parse and analyse those proposals for the betterment of the people. To bring in, as the Minister did yesterday, three and a half pages of amendments which fundamentally alter the nature of the pro vision that we are debating is wrong. We have established in this House a select committee system where the great majority of people who have a view on any legislative measure have the right to make submissions. It is a deliberate policy to circumvent that right to allow those submissions to take place and then, when the people making the submissions have gone, present substantive amendments to this House on Report Stage.
The Minister has said that he is somehow giving us a half-way house by allowing his new amendments to be recommitted. He knows he has no choice in that matter. The advice he has is that because they alter the nature of the Bill he cannot just drop them in here on Report Stage. They are required to be brought back into committee. That is the least the Minister can do and is required to do. Because this will be a committee of the whole House, no external body has the right to make submissions.
I would like the Minister in his response to this motion to explain the procedure he is proposing to adopt. What mechanism will he give to outside groups such as the Refugee Council, which faxed me this morning with very strong concerns about the amendments the Minister circulated yesterday, to be heard in this democratic Assembly? What mechanism will the Minister provide for those submissions to be heard in advance of the committee dealing with these amendments? Surely the only way is for the select committee which dealt with Committee Stage of this Bill to be instructed to deal with these amendments again and to allow submissions. Otherwise we will have bad law.
I have much to say on this matter, but I will conclude. I genuinely believe that the Minister and his officials will be dissatisfied with this mechanism. I said this morning on the Order of Business that the whole area of law dealing with asylum seekers and immigration matters has become a bad patchwork quilt with bits and pieces being grafted on as needs arise. It is a bad way to bring in legislation of this type. I ask the Minister to think again.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I can see no merit whatsoever in recommitting the entire Bill to committee. There has been extensive consideration of this Bill in committee already. It is proposed that the new amendments will be recommitted.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The provisions in the Bill deal with matters of pressing concern that need to  be addressed urgently in legislation. There exists under the rules of the House procedures for dealing with these issues. Further delay would be counterproductive.
Mr. O'Donoghue: There is no question of my trying to subvert the wishes of Members of the House. The issue here relates to immigration law which requires urgent amendment. The Dáil will go into recess at the end of June and it is imperative that this House, in the interim, enacts the necessary measures which are required.
Mr. O'Donoghue: In this context, we have had great difficulty in getting dates for legislation at select committee in particular and in the House. That is due to pressure of business on the committee. It is certainly due to pressure of business in the House. I cannot be expected to delay these measures in the manner Deputy Howlin suggests. If I were to do so, there is no way the legislation could be completed prior to the summer recess. If I were to accede to the Deputy's request, I would be in dereliction of my duty. It is imperative that we proceed with this legislation. It is not as if I am in any way attempting to muzzle Deputies. I would have no part of that. Deputies will have ample opportunity to make their views known throughout what will be essentially a Committee Stage in relation to the amendments. I have not proposed that there should be any time limit in that respect. We have been as fair as we possibly could have been.
I strongly reject Deputy Howlin's allegation that I am showing contempt for this House. That has not been my record and it is not my intention. It is true that the legislation before the House impinges upon the whole question of deportation in immigration law. However, it would be grossly misleading of anybody to imply that we are seeking to damage people's human rights. That is not the case. All I am doing is introducing measures which are deemed necessary for the effective implementation and enforcement of immigration law. In this respect, the measures which I am proposing are in no way unique. They are commonplace across Europe and the world. There is no point in pretending that what is being brought in here is some form of draconian mechanism to deal with human beings. That is not the position. Our deportation laws date back to 1935 when the Aliens Act was passed. It has been abundantly clear for a protracted period of time that we cannot operate immigration law under the Aliens Act, 1935.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Therefore, I have sought, in an evolving situation, to bring forward modern  legislation. I have done so conscientiously, in the full knowledge that I am operating for the most part in what could be described as a greenfield site where immigration is concerned.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Many of the people who said three years ago that I was too hard on the question of immigration are today saying that I am too soft on it. All I have been trying to do all along is to be fair, reasonable and balanced. I ask Deputies to treat me in the same fashion.
Acting Chairman: The question is: “That pursuant to Standing Order 120 of the Standing Orders relative to public business, the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999, be recommitted to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights.”
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Yates, Ivan. 
de Valera, Síle.
| Keaveney, Cecilia.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
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