Wednesday, 31 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Members were discussing amendments Nos. 1, 22 and 25 together with amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, to amendment No. 25 together on recommital. Deputy Howlin reported progress.
Mr. Howlin: I am not sure that I was accurate in reporting progress. The Minister will be pleased to know that I will not repeat my arguments again. I made a number of points this morning in relation to the amendments tabled by the Minister, particularly amendment No. 25. I hope I put forward a coherent case in relation to my amendments to those amendments and I welcome the Minister's observations in the matter. Given that we are in Committee, I will have an opportunity to revisit these matters.
While no one on this side of the House is opposed to the concept of deportation, we have recognised in all our contributions here and elsewhere that this is a natural and necessary part of any sensible immigration policy. We wish to ensure that we do not deal with the issues facing society in a way which breaches the normal high standards in relation to personal rights which the courts and the Oireachtas have long and jealously guarded. Aspects of the Minister's proposals trespass upon those. I welcome his observations on the points I made and I hope we can make progress on amendment No. 25 if he is minded to  accept the modifications I am suggesting. This would be a useful signal to groups outside this House who are anxious to make submissions on this issue but who will not have an opportunity to do so because of the procedures which are being adopted.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): This Bill began its life as the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999. The Minister is seeking to amend the Bill by including the word “immigration” in the title. He is trying to subvert the English language and the proper procedures which should be observed in the Dáil when dealing with the legislation. This is an extremely chaotic way to deal with the legislation. We began with an Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, the purpose of which is to make it an offence to exploit vulnerable people. There is a possibility that criminal gangs of no morality and no respect for human rights use poor and desperate people in this way. However, to turn this into a type of immigration Bill is a procedure which subverts the way in which we should deal with the legislation. The Minister's actions are prejudicial to innocent people seeking asylum in this country and making their case to the authorities. The way in which the Minister is circumscribing people's rights in the Bill and lumping those in with a Bill which is primarily supposed to deal with the criminal trafficking of human beings is prejudicing the rights of the victims of traffickers. This matter should be given serious consideration.
I was surprised at the Minister's language this morning on deportation. He used the phrase, “. people go through the procedures” and “Send them back to where they belong”. This portrays enormous contempt for people who 99% of the time were forced to flee their own country for reasons of persecution of one kind or other. When the Minister used such language this morning, he portrayed a certain contempt which has informed many of his and the Minister of State's speeches in the Dáil. Soon after this Dáil came to power, they made assertions that 90% of asylum seekers were bogus, a word they used on many occasions. This is very prejudicial to people seeking asylum who do so in the understanding that their case is correct and justified. The fact that a tribunal or authority of the State finds they are not to be granted asylum does not mean their claim was bogus. The Minister and his Department should change their language and approach. The words used in the amendment to give the Garda new powers to deport people should not be used in that context. The words “Send them back where they belong” is the language of every xenophobe and racist in Europe in relation to people of different racial origins and different colour skin from the majority of white people in the EU. This begs the question, should the 100,000 or 120,000 illegal Irish youths in the United States have been sent back to where they belong?
Amendment No. 25 is extremely sinister given  that the Minister is inviting police representatives from Nigeria, a country from which people come to seek asylum, to be part of the deportation process in relation to people who are refused permission to stay in this country. This is incredible given that Nigeria is an extremely repressive regime, rather than a normal democratic State, with a police force which is known to be repressive, reckless and extremely heavy-handed in relation to political dissent.
Amendment No. 25 provides a mechanism by which the Garda will co-operate directly with the police, in this instance from Nigeria, to return people who have fled from that country, many in fear of their lives and certainly of their safety. To give the Garda the power of summary arrest under amendment No. 25 in the way outlined is intolerable and makes it very difficult for people in an extremely vulnerable situation. We saw shades of what can happen with the early morning raid of a house in west Dublin by the Garda with the family, barring one member who was staying with relatives, being incarcerated in the Bridewell. Will we have a situation where an adult member of a family who goes to a Garda station to fulfil one of the requirements laid down by the Minister will be arrested there and then without warning, because a garda forms the opinion that the person may not obey a deportation order? That is the power being given to the Garda through this amendment. It would create an intolerable situation in terms of human rights and the welfare of individuals and their families.
It is wrong for the Minister to take this approach. It is not acceptable for him to insert into a Bill, which is supposed to deal with criminal activity, mechanisms to deal with immigration. If immigration legislation is necessary then it should be drafted and there should be a full discussion on it. It should not be done through overnight notification of substantial, far-reaching and serious amendments which have human rights connotations. As was said by other Deputies, it is very wrong that many Irish people – not that nationality should be of critical importance – who deal with the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees have not had an opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion. Laws should evolve from wide-ranging discussions between Deputies and experts and those most au fait with the subject matter. By not allowing such a discussion to take place a very important voice is missing from the debate. That voice could either be heard directly by committees of the Houses or, at least, indirectly, provided there was time for a comprehensive briefing of Members by organisations which cater for the human welfare and legal and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
It is a bad day's work and all I can do is alert people to that and oppose what is being put forward. I hope the Minister will reconsider his approach and acknowledge it is mistaken and damaging to those who are vulnerable and in need of support and assistance rather than repres sive legislation which is opposed to the process of creating a democratic society informed by human rights and humanitarian concerns.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): At the risk of being accused of making long speeches, I will deal with the amendments tabled by Deputy Howlin and then with the contributions of the three Opposition Deputies. It will then be open to each of those Deputies to make further contributions as the Bill has been recommitted. I have always wanted a full and frank discussion and have always tried to facilitate this irrespective of what people might say to the contrary.
Amendment No. 1 to the amendment is opposed. The purpose of this provision and new section 10 is to provide a clear declaration in statute of the factual legal situation, namely, that a deportee is liable to be detained on foot of a deportation order, that detention is in accordance with the very detailed provisions set out in the Act and that such detention is solely for the purpose of the deportee's removal from the State. Detention will only arise where a deportee fails to co-operate in his or her removal from the State in circumstances set out in section 5(1) of the Immigration Act as amended by my amendment.
The power of detention in cases of deportation is a feature of immigration systems across the world and the Irish system is no exception. Given that deportation is an Executive function, as recognised by the courts on many occasions, the power to detain in pursuit of securing compliance with a properly made deportation order is also a function of the Executive. This provision makes it crystal clear, in line with ECHR requirements, that a detention power should be transparently prescribed, that the power to detain exists, that it should be exercised in line with the policy and procedures set out in the Act and that it exists to achieve the aim of ensuring the deportation of a person from the State and for no other purpose.
Amendment No. 2 to the amendment is opposed. Section 5 of the Immigration Act, 1999 already contains detailed provisions in relation to the detention of persons who are the subject of a deportation order, including the non-detention of minors in these cases under section 5(4) and that no person shall be detained for a period or periods exceeding eight weeks in aggregate. This amendment imposes a stop on those endeavouring to execute a deportation order which can be of no constructive purpose. An order signed by a Minister is valid and can only be made after the processes set out in section 3 of the Immigration Act have been gone through. The subject of the order always has the right to institute judicial review proceedings regarding the correctness of the procedures leading to the making of an order. Section 5(5) of the Immigration Act provides for court review of detention where a deportation order is under challenge and section 5 of this Bill provides a specific statutory basis for  judicial review in immigration and asylum cases, tailored to the needs of such cases.
In relation to detention in a prison or Garda station, there are well enshrined processes for obtaining legal assistance on demand: the 1987 custody regulations in relation to Garda stations are an example. There is, accordingly, ample opportunity after detention to invoke the jurisdiction of the High Court to initiate habeas corpus proceedings or an application for judicial review. There is little point in providing an alternative process here which would simply serve to impose an unnecessary procedural hindrance to the execution of a deportation order lawfully made which is not being complied with by the deportee. It would impose a huge burden on Garda time, soak up court resources, consume resources in our Department and would be a drain on the Exchequer in the form of barristers' fees, all for no productive purpose. It would advance the interests of the deportee not one jot or tittle beyond the already perfectly adequate protections which exist under the Constitution and otherwise in our laws in the form of habeas corpus and judicial review remedies.
Deputy Howlin's amendment No. 3 to the Government amendment is also opposed. This provision is a common sense proposal to allow for the making of practical arrangements for the deportation of a person, requiring of him or her that he or she do certain things necessary to secure the departure of the person. No more than the making of a business trip or organising a family package holiday, the supervised departure of a deportee does not happen miraculously. In each case it is necessary to put a series of very practical mundane arrangements in place, making sure that flights are booked, bags are packed, documentation is in order, and so forth.
For the supervised departure there may be other special needs such as secure transit arrangements in an airport en route which do not arise in the normal journey. These arrangements take time, effort and the co-operation of the person involved before they fall into place. Yet, the Deputy proposes to excise from my amendment the provision that will ease the making of these arrangements and encourage the co-operation of the deportee, but he offers no constructive alternative as to how this might happen.
Make no mistake, that is precisely the purpose of the Government amendment. The existing provisions in section 3(9)(a) of the Act are not sufficiently broad to cater for the making of these arrangements.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I gave the example of the person arriving in a Garda station without travel documents and being required to return, perhaps several times, so that the practical business of obtaining such documents can be completed with minimum inconvenience to the deportee. These  are the types of circumstances envisaged by subparagraph (ii).
The requirement in subparagraph (iii) to convey these requirements in a language the person understands is hardly seriously opposed by the Deputy. To delete these provisions would effectively leave in place the current difficulties being encountered daily in securing compliance with the requirement to leave the State. The alternative would be automatic detention in every case to ensure implementation of the deportation order, hardly an alternative for which the Deputy would wish to argue. In the circumstances he might consider withdrawing the amendment.
The effect of the provision which the Deputy wishes to delete by amendment No. 4 to amendment No. 25, which is opposed, is one which addresses principally the protection of the common travel area arrangements which exist between this State and the United Kingdom. The State has an obligation in the public interest to protect and maintain these arrangements. I quoted the comments of the High Court in the Kweder case in which Mr. Justice Geoghegan recognised the fundamental public policy aspects of the need to act in every case to ensure these arrangements are not threatened.
The effect of this provision is to enable a garda or an immigration officer to prevent the abuse of the common travel area arrangements by a deportee seeking to evade deportation to the country of origin. It will also be effective in ensuring the immigration laws of our EU partners are not similarly abused by someone who wishes to avoid being sent home. It is hardly the aim of the Deputy to facilitate such abuse; that would be the effect of accepting his amendment to the Government proposal. I hope he will agree and see fit to withdraw his amendment.
Figures for multiple asylum claims in the State are naturally incomplete since the current means of detecting such claimants, based primarily on comparison of photographs of each applicant taken when they apply, are unreliable and impractical when dealing with the current volume of applicants. There have been detections, largely fortuitous or the result of admissions volunteered by the individual in question, of double, triple and sometimes quadruple or higher applications. I will endeavour to obtain more detailed figures and communicate them to Deputy Higgins later.
What exactly is wrong with requiring a person the subject of a properly and lawfully made deportation order to do whatever is necessary to ensure the order is complied with? What is being proposed is a series of practical measures to ensure the deportation process works better. The figures clearly demonstrate that rates of compliance with the law of the land, not some aspiration, are low. This is not fair on society. It seems that it brings the law of the land into disrepute. As legislators, we have a duty to make changes to the law of the land if it is the case that the system does not work. There is nothing mysterious or wrong with this.
 On the arguments advanced regarding the procedures used, the amendments are in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House. If they were not it is clear that we would not be here. They are being discussed in a democratic way in a democratic forum. That is as it should be. The amendments are needed now to deal with high levels of non-compliance with deportation orders and the deportation process generally. I do not exactly relish deporting people but it is the law of the land and of most other lands also. There is no great mystery about it. I would prefer to be bringing forward these proposals in the context of the comprehensive framework of the immigration and residence Bill being developed in the Department, but unfortunately the amendments cannot wait.
Deputy Higgins appears to cavil at the provisions set out in paragraph (a) of amendment No. 25. It is important to remember that these provisions are practical and designed to facilitate deportation. They may be used singly or in any combination and will clearly operate to the benefit of the person who wishes to comply with a deportation order.
There is no question of a person the subject of a deportation order being sent to a place in which he or she will be persecuted as Deputy Higgins suggested. If an individual is an asylum seeker he or she will have gone through the entire process which is both detailed and has regard to full consideration of his or her case. There is an independent appeals mechanism and legal aid is provided throughout. Section 3(1) of the Immigration Act requires that each deportation order be made subject to section 5 of the Refugee Act which relates to the prohibition on refoulement; in other words, not alone can an individual not be sent back to a country where he or she may be persecuted, neither can an individual be sent back to a country if that country can deport the individual to a place in which he or she may be persecuted. I cannot see how it could be much fairer than that.
Deputy Jim Higgins mentioned that a huge raft of amendments were tabled to the Immigration Bill, 1999, following Committee Stage. They were tabled on Committee Stage for the purpose of making the Refugee Act, 1996, workable. They were tabled by me because it had become perfectly clear on Second Stage that Deputies on all sides of the House were in favour of such an approach. There was full consideration of the amendments on Committee Stage.
Deputy Joe Higgins betrays his contempt for and ignorance of international law on refugees by speaking as if all asylum seekers are refugees. How many more times does it have to be explained that an asylum seeker can either be an illegal immigrant or a refugee but cannot be both? This is not something I have made up; it has been common to international law for generations. I sometimes wonder why people continue to apply the phrase “refugee” to those who have been deemed to be illegal immigrants? This does  not make sense and it does not serve the Geneva Convention or the system well.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has made it clear on numerous occasions that it finds itself in a most difficult position when illegal immigrants clog up the system. If an illegal immigrant applies for asylum it must be clear that such an individual is abusing the asylum process. Abuse of the asylum process is undesirable for the following reason. The concept of sanctuary for an individual in a state is predicated on the person being in flight from persecution. If others who are not in flight from persecution seek to use and abuse this system it must be clear to everybody that it can only mean interminable delays for those who are in flight from persecution.
I would be the first to accept that some people who come to this country to seek asylum are in need of the protection of this State and, in that context, Ireland has honoured, is honouring and will honour its international and humanitarian obligations. However, there is no doubt that some people who come here to seek asylum are not refugees. From our experience of processing claims, such people are in the majority and do not need the protection of the State. To that extent, they do not belong here but somewhere else.
I hope Deputy Joe Higgins is not suggesting these people should be deported to some place they do not belong, because I have made it clear from the outset that such a step cannot be countenanced. For example, a person who makes an application for asylum in Britain, France or Germany belongs in one of those countries if he or she makes a second application in Ireland for the simple reason the Dublin Convention, which is part of international and Irish law, stipulates that such a person should proceed with an application in the State in which the first application was made. That is why such a person would belong in that member state and that has to be clear.
Mr. O'Donoghue: A deportee is not a refugee by the time a deportation order is made and, therefore, should be sent to where he or she made his or her first application, or sent home. That is not just me putting forward a proposition in the House, it is what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees thinks. It is also recognised by Trócaire and the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace. However, it is not recognised by Deputy Joe Higgins, but that is a matter for the Deputy.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The Socialist Party – I am being respectful to the Deputy and always will be – erected placards in Dublin stating that refugees are welcome here. I agree entirely and that is the law we operate. However, I do not agree with the party's placards which call for no deportations as that is a contraction in terms. If there are no deportations there cannot be any refugees. It would mean an illegal immigrant and a person fleeing persecution, in the lexicon of the Socialist Party, would be one. In those circumstances, since there would be no sanction or deportation against those who are not refugees, people who are refugees would have precisely the same status as those who are not refugees. This does not make sense.
Deputy Joe Higgins said I betrayed contempt by my use of language. I have never done so, but I have noted a tendency in some quarters to misrepresent my language and my position to bolster an argument which is built on sand. I do not recall ever saying, for example, that 90% of refugees are bogus. I do not believe I ever said so and I invite Deputy Joe Higgins to indicate where and when I made such a comment.
Neither I nor my officials, nor anyone acting on behalf of the Government, has entered negotiations with any representative of the Nigerian authorities with a view to bringing Nigerian police to Ireland. There have been negotiations with the Nigerian authorities regarding a re-admission agreement similar to that I signed with the Romanian Government. I would not be doing my duty if I did not address the issue of re-admission.
Mr. O'Donoghue: We are working with the Nigerian authorities with a view to agreeing a re-admission agreement, as we are with Poland. I also intend to visit Britain and France in the not too distant future to see what assistance they can provide regarding immigration problems.
What does Deputy Joe Higgins want? It appears he wants me to open the borders of this country and allow in every individual, irrespective of from where he or she comes or of his or her status in international law. While that would be an achievable ideal in Utopia, it is not an achievable ideal, nor is it even an ideal, in the Ireland of today. Such a policy would be unfair on the people of this country and on those coming into the country, and the system could not cope. With the greatest respect, it is not a realistic position to hold and I strongly disagree this is a bad day's work. I am only trying to introduce procedures to ensure the law of the land is respected.
I already rejected Deputy Jim Higgins's allegation to the effect that this is undemocratic, unfair and disgraceful as these proposals are before the House in accordance with Standing Orders. The Deputy spoke of major problems. There are and have been problems concerning the number of people seeking asylum and the number of staff dealing with applications. It is a matter of historical record that when I came to  office 22 staff were dealing with thousands of applications and most people did not know if their application would ever be heard.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The number of staff is increasing and we are quickly getting to the stage where applications will be dealt with as expeditiously as, and even more expeditiously than, in other states. Deputy Jim Higgins rightly said that asylum seekers are not allowed to work, a policy with which he disagrees. A recent opinion poll appeared to suggest that 75% of people agree with the Deputy. However, I strongly hold the view that the introduction of a concession on the right to work would result in a major increase in the number of applicants coming into the State.
The system is doing its best to cope. However, if the numbers were to increase appreciably, which would result from a concession on the right to work, I have no doubt the system would be put under such strain it might not be able to cope in the future. I am not trying to be impractical, I am trying to be as practical and honest as I can.
Deputy Jim Higgins also raised the case of an individual who is the subject of a deportation order having to report to “his executioner”. That is emotive language but it is not true. The deportation process is predicated upon all the systems having been gone through and due process having been observed. Each individual's application is considered at first instance, it is considered on appeal and, if the individual wishes, he or she can make an application to the Minister of the day to seek to remain in the State on humanitarian grounds. When all of the processes have been gone through, an individual is served with a deportation order. There is no question of anyone being detained provided the individual complies with the order, but after all of the processes have been gone through, if an individual refuses to comply with the law of the land, I ask Deputy Jim Higgins what are we to do? There is no alternative but to deport the individual concerned. Once an individual has failed to comply with the law of the land, detention becomes necessary. I accept that is not  a pleasant picture to paint but, nonetheless, it is true.
Deputy Higgins asked how will we know if a person will go unlawfully to another state. If a Romanian person who has been refused asylum here was found walking up the gangway of a ship headed for Holyhead, it would be fairly apparent he was not heading to Romania. There is an obligation to protect the common travel area.
Mr. O'Donoghue: It is a serious and onerous obligation that must be met because Irish and British people avail of the common travel area every day and it has been eminently suitable for both societies.
Deputy Higgins said that sending a registered letter and assuming after three days it has been served is an unsafe way to proceed. Legal documents are served by registered post every day and the presumption of service is accepted. It is not as if the letters are sent by carrier pigeon. A letter is being sent by registered post, a person signs for it and therefore we must assume such a letter has arrived.
Mr. O'Donoghue: With regard to Deputy Howlin's contribution, I explained, and have been explaining all day, how I disagree with him on the unfairness of the procedure being used. I sense this debate might continue another day. The arrangements for this debate could not be fairer. All Members have an opportunity to make their views known and I would not have it any other way.
Mr. O'Donoghue: With regard to Deputy Howlin's assertion that my legislative attempts in the immigration area are similar to a patchwork quilt, I strongly suggest that far from being like a patchwork quilt they make up a tapestry.
Mr. O'Donoghue: —and I am linking them together. While the Deputies opposite might criticise this legislation, have criticised other legislation yesterday and more on this area the previous day, history will reveal that they are completely and utterly mistaken.
Mr. O'Donoghue: —illegal immigrants in this context, coming into this State, 80% of whom have been shown from past experience to be illegal immigrants, increase to a certain level, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the State to cope with them.
We must try to live in the real world. I have said on numerous occasions that any person who is a refugee is welcome in the State. I have said that so often that I feel I must repeat it again because I have been misrepresented every time I said it.
Deputy Howlin said he never heard any person in his party say deportation was wrong and he  castigated me for stating that Deputy De Rossa was president of the Labour Party for life, although I understood he was.
Mr. O'Donoghue: During the negotiations leading to the merger between the former Democratic Left and the Labour Party there was a considerable amount of comment in the media that he was the president of the Labour Party for life.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Howlin objected to my referring to Deputy De Rossa as being president for life of the Labour Party, but I did not hear Deputy Callely object to his reference. In that same article Deputy Howlin did not object to—
Mr. Howlin: On a point of order, it is not right for the Minister to speak disparagingly about another Member who is not present and jokingly refer to his office in a party of this House. It is typical of the Minister but it is not good enough.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I did not say that in a disparaging way. At most Fianna Fáil cumann meetings I attend, many people are elected presidents for life. There is nothing wrong with being a president for life, particularly of the Labour Party, which has a long and honourable tradition. Surely it is an honour to be president for life of the Lab our Party. I am not saying that in a disparaging way.
Irrespective of whether Deputy De Rossa is president for life of Labour Party, he said in this House that he was against deportations. That is on the record of the House. Deputy Howlin said he is for deportations—
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy De Rossa said in this House when I was present that he was against deportations and, if he wishes, he can come into the House to clarify that. There is no doubt in my mind about that If I am wrong, I can be corrected, but that is my clear recollection of what he said.
Mr. O'Donoghue: While I will not misquote Deputy Howlin, he said he recognised the necessity for deportations. However, all his amendments seem to suggest the opposite. If I were to implement the amendments tabled by him, the deportation process would become inoperable. I stress that deportation orders are the culmination, not the origin, of a process. Deputy Howlin referred to the rights of unsuccessful asylum seekers. I asked if he could enumerate those rights but he would not give way. That is why I would not give way to him.
My understanding of the rights of unsuccessful asylum seekers is that they have a right to make an application to the Minister of the day for the right to stay on humanitarian grounds. They have the right to go to the High Court by way of habeas corpus. They have the right to seek judicial review to see if the procedures were applied properly throughout their case. All these rights are extraneous to and above and beyond the earlier procedures of due process where there is a substantive hearing and an appeal hearing and where translation facilities and legal aid are available. Nothing could be fairer than that. I cannot see how anything could be fairer than that.
Mr. Howlin: I genuinely tried to approach these matters with some level of co-operation to try to build consensus in this House. It is difficult when the Minister deals with them in the way he has done by publishing amendments on the eve of a debate and adopting a belligerent tone on every amendment.
The Minister made great play of the requirement to comply with our international obligations and applying the highest human rights standards. He is no doubt aware of the content of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing in a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. I contend the Minister has failed in that responsibility because some people whose entitlement and status has yet to be determined are here four years. He is in breach of his obligations to ensure a fair and public hearing in a reasonable time. His much vaunted regard and respect for our international obligations are threadbare. He will be familiar with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states: “The enjoyment of rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground.”
Under the provisions of amendment No. 25, once a deportation order is served on an individual, the power will be vested in that garda or immigration officer to take that person into custody forthwith if he has suspicions as outlined in the Act. If that power was to be put in place for any other breach of an Act there would be a significant outcry. There is discrimination in regard to how the law will apply to those who are determined to be subject to deportation orders and other citizens. I am surprised and disappointed the Minister did not take more care in looking at my amendments. While I did not expect they would all be accepted I thought he might find some merit in the arguments put forward about putting a time limit on the period in which an individual who is subject to a deportation order can be incarcerated.
The Minister said that under section 5 of the Immigration Act, 1999, the aggregate time a person can be held is eight weeks. To avoid confusion will the Minister confirm that that eight weeks aggregate applies to detentions under the amendment proposed, that it fits into section 3 of the 1999 Act and the aggregate time refers to section 5 of the 1999 Act? I presume the aggregate time limit, because there is some confusion even among those who are advising and trying to read it, applies to that proposal. That one can be detained for eight weeks pending deportation is wrong. That somebody can be taken into custody on suspicion that he or she will not comply with a deportation order is wrong. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the timeframe in the 1999 Act and whether it will hold sway in this Bill.
 The Minister's proposed amendment introduces Garda powers for the detention of unsuccessful asylum seekers – the Minister prefers to classify them as illegal emigrants. That is the phraseology he chooses. Under the earlier Act a Garda had to show a reasonable suspicion that a person had not complied with a deportation order. The new amendment suggests the Garda may detain an individual whom it suspects will in the future avoid removal from the State. That is a big jump. It gives the garda or immigration officer, who forms the view that somebody will not comply with the terms of a deportation order, the power to detain a person at a whim. I genuinely think that is wrong.
A reading of the amendment suggests that any unsuccessful asylum seeker, the subject of a deportation order, can have the deportation order and a detention order served on him at the same time, without warrant, or the opportunity to appear before any judicial authority. They may then be detained until such time as they are deported out of the State or for an aggregate of eight weeks. There we have it simpliciter. The Minister said this is the normal corpus of law that exists throughout the rest of the European Union. Is there a power in other EU states to bring persons into custody as soon as a deportation order is issued, when they come to the end of the process? It is not the end of the process, as the Minister has rightly said. He pointed out that there are other processes, whether it is an application for judicial review, an application to the High Court for habeas corpus or an appeal to the clemency of the Minister on humanitarian grounds. How is somebody supposed to do all these in custody? What instruments and supports will be available to a person in custody to vindicate those rights?
What has the Minister in mind and how will it happen? Where are people to be detained? Is it his intention once he begins to sign this raft of deportation orders that they will be detained in our new remand prison or in local Garda stations? In communities such as mine, if he follows through on deportation orders, there is precious little room in Garda stations to meet that requirement. Where will they be detained? Has he calculated how many gardaí will be involved in the process and the logistics of finding and incarcerating those people and processing all the deportation orders that will be signed in the comings weeks and months when this measure is enacted? I would like to hear the specifics of the measure because we have talked about the principle of it. Has it been thought out? How many gardaí will be allocated to this duty? Will it be co-ordinated centrally? Will there be a designated officer to co-ordinate it, and of what rank? Where will they be placed? What rights will they have to legal advice? Who will provide that legal advice? Will it be provided across the country? These technical matters are extremely important. They  are far more than technical because they weigh on human rights.
Mr. Howlin: I am not ascribing those words to the Minister. I am saying they are in common usage. I saw them as headlines in newspapers. Everybody who comes to this country and claims asylum is unfortunate. Many of them do not comply with the requirements for asylum status and will not, under the laws of this State, be allowed to stay here. However, very few are blackguards. I have talked to scores of them in my clinics and have worked with them directly in my constituency. I spoke to very honourable people. I had an individual in my clinic in Wexford a couple of weeks ago who, in the context of a newspaper headline about thievery among a particular ethnic group, said to me that he wanted to be a model citizen. Because of the nature of the country from which he came, he will probably not be allowed to stay here, but if he were allowed to stay here he would add immeasurably to the wealth of the country because he was a grafter who wanted to work and to contribute. We need a parallel process to be put in place for economic migrants to have some other recourse. Perhaps the Minister's promised immigration Act will allow for that.
All these good people who will be deported do not deserve to be vilified. Most of them are unfortunate. I can see them in my mind's eye because I talk to them. One individual who came to see me said he would be deported back to a place in Romania but that there is nothing there for him, that he could not live on the wages there, and that he will come back if he is deported because there is no life for him otherwise. That is an unfortunate case.
When the people know these cases on an individual basis, it will not be an easy job for the Minister or for the agents of the State to carry out these deportations. Valid and all as they will be under the law, they will each be heart-rending and difficult, and no bullishness from anybody is merited when talking about this entirely unfortunate area.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I refute the Minister's allegation that Deputy Howlin and I are seeking to emasculate the Bill. This Minister has two Bills to his credit in relation to asylum issues. The first is the Immigration Bill, 1999. The second is the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill. Both were published and promulgated by the Minister, and both were emasculated by him and by him alone. The first Bill was substantially changed to inject into it unimplemented sections of the Refugee Act, 1996. In regard to this Bill we had assumed that we had seen the finished text, having dealt with it on Committee Stage in March. Yesterday  we were given another set of amendments, without notification, dialogue, or discussion between Department officials and Deputies Howlin, Joe Higgins and myself in order to arrive at some kind of agreement, with the result that we are having this debate today. The situation is entirely of the Minister's making. The Minister is the only person who is seeking to emasculate the Bill. We are seeking to improve it.
The Minister makes the point that these refinements, as he calls them, are necessary because of difficulties with the deportation procedures. He told the House today that there have been 1,218 notifications of deportation orders. Deputy Howlin and I believe the legislation we enacted prior to this and that we debated at length was adequate and sufficient and that the Minister, in introducing these Draconian measures, is going too far. The Minister makes the point that of the 1,218 notifications for deportation, there was a problem in relation to 715. Of the number invited to make representations as to why a deportation order should not be made, 715, or 60%, did not make any representations. In about half of those cases the letter was not delivered or not received. In other words, there was no one at the last known address.
How many of these people, so far as the Minister can determine, have voluntarily left the State, having decided to go rather than be subjected to the indignity of being taken, body and bones and by the scruff of the neck and forcibly put on a boat or plane out of the country? How many of the 715 are still here? How many of these people, who are the subject of deportation orders, are covered by Dublin Convention countries? How many are people who have a right to asylum and refugee status but are in the wrong country? These statistics are very important because if we are to introduce additional strictures here in procedures for deportation, we need to know the breakdown of the different categories and where are people who are the subject of deportation orders.
I agree with Deputy Howlin that what we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. As soon as this is enacted, we will be into an era of mass deportation. I fully agree with the importance of determining what kind of accommodation we are talking about. These immigrants are not common criminals. They are people who came, in many cases, from alien environments where the social and economic circumstances, apart altogether from humanitarian considerations, were not to their liking or where their safety was genuinely impaired. The vast majority are good upstanding people. Many have adequate qualifications which would considerably enhance this economy, but they are in the wrong channel, because we still do not have an immigration policy, despite the fact that we have had two separate press conferences, by this Minister and by the Tánaiste, one talking about an asylum policy and the other talking about an immigration policy which we have not yet seen.
 These immigrants are people who, if they applied for visas to work here, would be given them because they have the necessary skills to fill the skills vacuum that we have. These people are not common criminals, and they will now be put in jail pending deportation. They came here and threw themselves upon the mercy of the Government and of the people, just as so many thousands of young Irish people, in the past decade alone, went to the United States and threw themselves upon the mercy of the American people and Government. However, in the vast majority of cases, even though technically they were illegal in the context of United States immigration policy, they were not subjected to a punitive regime such as we are implementing here. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the points I have raised.
Mr. Callely: I have listened with interest to the debate on this issue. I appreciate the Minister's attempt to put in place fair and appropriate procedures in relation to asylum applications. As regards the deportation orders made to date, has the Minister any information on issues that have been brought to his or his Department's attention concerning illegal immigrants who have gone through due process and, a deportation order having been made, fail to meet that order? Will he indicate how much time is given to this, the arrangements made and so on? Do I understand that a number of people who applied and failed to get refugee status now claim right of residency and so on?
There is benefit to be gained for the country from those who are genuine refugees but I differ from Deputy Higgins when he compares this to Irish people going to America in years gone by. There is a huge difference and no like comparison.
Mr. Callely: If we recognise and honour our UN obligations, the UNHCR and the various conventions, the Dublin Convention, the 51 Geneva Convention and so on and take out of the system, the illegal immigrant coming from a safe haven who abuses and blatantly disregards the law of the land, we will be in a position to accommodate and integrate the genuine refugee at an earlier stage. The Minister put on record that it is known there is official trafficking in people and he related that to the years of slavery. If we remove all that from the system surely it will be in the best interests of all of us who are concerned with ensuring we have an efficient policy and fair, speedy and due process for those who deserve it. As regards those who may have an application in another country but decide to come here and see what they can apply for and who are intent on abusing or mis-using the system, it is right that there be a clear deportation mechanism in place and that they be deported  accordingly. I am happy to support the Minister's proposal in this regard.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): I am extremely disappointed Deputy Callely did not spell out the difference between people coming here looking for refuge and the right to stay and the millions of Irish people who went to the United States and other countries. I suspect that no sooner were the words out of his mouth than he realised he was going down a very dangerous path.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said that 90% of asylum seekers in this country were bogus. The Minister of State repeated that some time later. The Minister intends to give draconian power to the Garda that, at any stage, someone served with a deportation order can be taken into custody. In reality what he is doing, and he raised it again now, is going on an alarmist binge about the hordes who are waiting in the shadows to invade this fair island of Ireland only for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who stands in their way with the resolute measures he has taken. What nonsense. What a basis on which to predicate legislation. In case anyone forgets, we are talking somewhere in the region of between 12,000 and 14,000 people who are seeking to right to remain in this country. This is described by certain Fianna Fáil Deputies as a crisis. It is incredible. The Episcopal Commission on Emigration, in a very interesting and good report last year, calculated that between 1.2 and 1.3 million Irish born people were residing in countries outside of this island, and 14,000 souls looking for a place to rest is a crisis. It is pathetic.
There are more people, going from Miltown to Cahirciveen, in a few States in the US than there are in this State looking for refuge and the right to remain here. It is a pity Deputy Callely did not continue on because the reality is that the Minister and certain right wing Deputies want to interpret the concept of asylum seekers in the narrowest possible fashion quite deliberately. The question that will be asked increasingly over the next years as we come to grips with the reality that the world is changing rapidly with regard to  the movement of people is, is there such a massive chasm between economic deprivation or the persecution deriving from it and poverty and hardship and persecution deriving from a democratic deficit in certain countries. What drove millions of Irish people abroad? Was it economic deprivation, political persecution or a combination of both? At different times it was all of those reasons. What is the difference between the 100,000 plus Irish youths who finished up in the streets of New York and Boston in the 1980s, fleeing mass unemployment, poverty and no future in this State, and the several thousand people who are seeking refuge in the State?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): The Deputy should tell us. There is absolutely no difference. One would be hard put to find a difference, in fact one could not do so. They are driven by deprivation, poverty, hopelessness and the quest for a new life.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Perhaps we are hearing something Deputy Callely has not come out with so far. Perhaps he thinks there is another agenda behind sending these 14,000 people to our shores. Is he hinting there is something underhand going on? I do not know if the Minister did so, but in the 1980s many of his colleagues sent representations to Washington and jetted back and forth across the Atlantic to beg for more than 100,000 of our youths to be given the right to remain in the United States, a right I fully support.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Even by Deputy Callely's standards of judgment, the similarities are so clear as to be absolutely undeniable. Of course, Fianna Fáil must try to deny this because of the different ways it has approached the various groups. On the one hand, it begs the American Administration to give legal status to our youth – which was correct, they should have been given legal status – and, on the other, it comes into the Dáil to give police powers to ensure people who need refuge cannot escape the net.
Let us hear what the difference is. I hope Fianna Fáil will not take the despicable line of reasoning – not that one could call it reasoning – of a colleague of the Minister's in South Kerry, Deputy Healy-Rae, who said the Irish abroad worked for everything they got, while completely ignoring the fact that those seeking asylum here are refused the right to work. That is a specious argument. I have no doubt Fianna Fáil people feel guilty about what is going on.
Only a few weeks ago, I was at the same location as the Minister in Ionad an Bhlascaod  Mhór, Dún Chaoin, when he opened a weekend organised by Fondúireacht an Bhlascaod. One of the events there was the launch of a book entitled Hungry for Home. I hope the Minister has a copy. I recommend that both he and Deputy Callely read that interesting book which traces the history of the Ó Cearnaigh family from the Blasket Islands. It traces the circumstances that gave rise to their emigration to Springfield, Massachusetts, and their subsequent life there. The author paints an interesting picture of an American city, a large area of which, nicknamed “Hungry Hill”, was settled entirely by thousands of Kerry people from Anascaul to the Blasket Islands and from Cahirciveen and other parts of south Kerry. On certain streets of that city Irish was a spoken language in the 1930s and 1940s.
It is pathetic that public representatives from areas with a history of people who had to flee to find new lives abroad should adopt a mean-minded exclusivist attitude towards a few thousand refugees. The only difference between the Irish youths who emigrated in the 1980s and those people who have come here is the colour of their skin and, in many cases, a different racial basis. I am afraid that is what it comes down to; a racial policy is being implemented.
The Minister is wrong to categorise people as either asylum seekers or illegal immigrants. People who seek asylum do so because they need refuge from what they are fleeing. That there is an appeals mechanism is an acknowledgement, even by this State and the Government, that wrong decisions can be made. That decisions have been reversed on appeal shows that wrong decisions have been made. This allows for the possibility that further wrong decisions can be made on appeal, which should be rectified.
The only answer the Minister has is to boot people out of the country. Does he understand what his mass deportation policy will mean in reality? People who have been in Dublin for several years have sought refuge in this country. Their children are attending school and speak with Irish accents. They are integrated into the community. The Minister has in his files many letters from their Irish neighbours asking the Minister to allow them to stay. If the Minister thinks he can implement a policy of mass deportation in the quiet of the night, by granting some of these new powers, he is seriously mistaken.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): What happened to the Costinas family, Deputy Callely? There was a pre-dawn raid. That is what happened and it was a disgraceful episode. Yahoos – some of them from the Minister's constituency – have stirred up hatred, although I cannot hold the Minister responsible for their actions. The Minister should have slapped them down but I did not hear such a public statement from him criticising the political  cavemen and the incitement to hatred that came from certain elements there.
Many Irish citizens will strongly object to the heartless implementation of mass deportations of families, particularly those who have been here for a period of time. They will support the right of those people to remain here and continue the new lives they have made. They are an addition to this society.
It is ironic that one of the most popular come-all-ye songs which was sung throughout the country, but particularly popular in Kerry – the Minister may have attended some singsongs where it was spun out – went as follows: “The crops are all in and the peaches are gathered . all they will call you will be deportees”. It was a song called Deportees which tells the sad and tragic tale of migrants from Mexico fleeing poverty and persecution in that country and being shunted back across the border after their labours had been used in the Californian lettuce and fruit fields, only to return illegally to be used by the same people in the same cynical way. It is ironic that a country which, by the popularity of that song, sympathised and empathised with people who are strangers in a foreign land seeking a home and shelter should now seek to implement policies to have the same effect as the subject of that song.
We are not talking about hordes of people. The Minister talked about open borders and all the rest of it, but nobody will take that seriously. We are talking about a maximum of 14,000 people or less than that in the sense that many people have already moved on. The Minister would be much better bringing in regulations to allow those people to fit into society and take up the jobs that are being advertised left, right and centre. The small and medium enterprises organisation appeared before the committee chaired by Deputy Callely yesterday and cried out for 65,000 workers. There are thousands of people who want to work yet the Minister is wasting the time of the Dáil to have them forcibly deported. It is absolutely incredible.
Mr. O'Donoghue: To deal with Deputy Howlin's comment regarding the powers of arrest without warrant and detention, powers of arrest without warrant and subsequent detention also exist in relation to suspected breach of a wide variety of lawfully made orders. One example would be the question of such detention occurring without a warrant where there is, for example, a barring order or a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act.
Mr. O'Donoghue: On the question of people being detained, it is true that section 5 of the legislation deals with the question of detention and it is true that, for the purposes of the section, the maximum detention period is five weeks.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Eight weeks, but Deputy Howlin will be aware that I have, for example, entered into a re-admission agreement with Romania and the intention is that people would be brought back to Romania by plane and that humane arrangements would be made in order to ensure people are accommodated on a plane, treated with dignity, as befits their status as human beings, and returned home because of the fact that they are not legally in this jurisdiction following on due process. There is nothing wrong with that. That is the position in every other country. Obviously, the objective of the exercise would be to ensure that detention of any such person will be for the minimum period possible. I can assure the House of that. I have no intention, nor does the Government, of simply picking up people to detain them for the maximum period of time. That would be a rather futile and crazy exercise. The objective of the exercise will be to try to ensure that people are brought back to their home countries as quickly as possible.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I have no wish, nor has the Government, to detain people for long periods and we have no intention of detaining people in accommodation which is completely unsuited or which is not up to the highest standards. That is not the objective. The objective is to ensure that people are accommodated properly and to ensure they comply with the law of the land. I want to stress that it is open to any person who is detained for the purposes of deportation to agree to leave the State immediately. Arrangements can be made for that. The detention process is not for people who agree to comply—
Mr. O'Donoghue: —with the detention orders. The deportation process is for people who, having been through due process, will not obey the law of the land. The central question is, if people will not obey the law of the land, what  am I supposed to do? If I will not enforce the law of the land, will the Deputy tell me who will?
With regard to the number of gardaí and the structures, I have already announced that the Government approved my proposal for the establishment of a new national immigration bureau, which will be headed by a detective chief superintendent of the Garda Síochána, and significant additional resources are being allocated to that bureau, including a detective superintendent, two detective inspectors and a significant number of additional detective sergeants and detective gardaí. The detective garda chief superintendent will consequently have direct control of 37 Garda personnel and, in addition to that, he will have indirect responsibility for members who are allocated full-time to immigration duties at points of entry as well as persons who are allocated to immigration duties as the need arises. The bureau will, of course, absorb the existing immigration registration office.
The bureau will have national functions in relation to the monitoring and tracking of non-nationals who are the subject of deportation orders. The effective co-ordination of activities leading to the execution of deportation orders; the effective co-ordination of operational strategies and resources from points of entry into the State – the airports, ports and Border crossings; co-ordination and direction of strategies to combat trafficking in illegal immigrants; the strengthening of international liaison arrangements on relevant immigration issue, including liaison with Garda officers based abroad; the provision of a non-national registration service and the enforcement of immigration law generally.
The leadership of the bureau at detective chief superintendent level will facilitate full co-ordination of Garda activities including point of entry controls, the monitoring of non-nationals and the effective execution of the deportation process. It will also facilitate the deployment of additional Garda resources to critical areas or at critical times as the need arises.
With regard to the question of people in detention for the purposes of deportation, there are well enshrined processes for obtaining legal assistance on demand. The 1987 custody regulations in relation to Garda stations are an example of that.
Mr. O'Donoghue: There is little point in providing an alternative process which would only serve to impose an unnecessary procedural hindrance. Legal aid will be available to people. I  have always indicated that that was the position. It is perfectly fair. I agree with Deputy Howlin that, in the main, the people who come here are unfortunate. I am not denying that for one moment. Immigration law is a tough business and nobody relishes deporting human beings. I do not think any minister for justice or the interior across Europe or anywhere else relishes it and neither do I. However, I have to enforce the law. If the law is not enforced there is no respect for it, the consequences of which I outlined earlier. I also completely accept and agree that the people concerned do not deserve to be vilified. I agree this should not be the case and, as I have stated on a number of occasions in the past, this is not an easy business.
However, irrespective of the quality of the individuals concerned, it comes down to whether an individual is a refugee or an illegal immigrant in terms of immigration law. A person who is an illegal immigrant has to leave the State. That is what happens in every other jurisdiction of which I am aware. That is the absolute truth. Deputy Howlin wondered if other jurisdictions had the same detention powers. As far as I am aware, there is detention before the deportation order in some jurisdictions. Ireland's regime is by no means the toughest in Europe, and certainly not the toughest in the world. However, it is, unfortunately, necessary at this point to amend immigration law to effect the deportation process.
The present position is that an individual has to be written to and told the date, time and place of his or her deportation. It will not come as a surprise to anybody that most people do not accept that invitation. In those circumstances, it must be apparent that the law has to be amended. In reply to Deputy Howlin, it will be co-ordinated centrally by the bureau which I mentioned. I do not believe there is, to quote the Deputy, a “big jump”, but that this is just a pragmatic, practical step which is being taken to ensure the law is respected and enforced.
I do not agree with Deputy Jim Higgins that this is a draconian measure. As far as I recall, Draco was a lawyer. To disobey his laws led to immediate execution. Nobody was executed – all I am doing is enforcing the law by arranging for the deportation process to be streamlined so that the law can be enforced by the Garda authorities. Dramatic language to the effect that this is a draconian measure is not merited, when this is merely a measure equivalent to other measures in civilised jurisdictions across the world.
Questions on how many have left the State, how many are still here and how many are covered by Dublin Convention countries are very difficult to answer. It is not possible, at this remove, to give Deputy Higgins a precise answer on how many are in any of those categories.
One could speculate that a proportion of those who have fallen out of the system at the various stages along the way may have already left for unknown destinations. About 3,000 asylum appli cants have abandoned their applications and are no longer in the social welfare system. It is possible that some of those who have not availed, for example, of the invitation to make representations on why they should not be deported, or who have failed to comply with the requirements of a deportation order when made, may have assumed fresh identities and reapplied for asylum or are otherwise still in the State and making a living here by working illegally. These factors may all be the case. It is very difficult, at this remove to be specific in this regard.
Deputy Higgins rightly pointed out that people who turn out to be illegal immigrants are in the wrong channel. If people want to work here, there is a legal channel through which they can, by making an application to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Many thousands of such applications are received every year and, for the most part, are rubber stamped by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is open to any person to make an application to work legally in the State. That is the way I wish people would proceed.
It is a matter of no moment to me, where people come from or their ethnic background, race, colour or creed. What is of importance is that people who wish to work in this State and who are not refugees come here legally. I reject any insinuation by Deputy Joe Higgins, which I will come to later, that I would be less than fair in that respect.
Deputy Callely asked us to address the issue of the number of illegal immigrants who have remained in the State after deportation orders have been made and asked if people are failing to turn up. As I explained, it will come as no surprise that most people do not accept the invitation to be deported, which is why I have had to bring proposals before the House today to change the system. In all, I have made 396 orders so far. In 198 of those cases arrangements were made. There were 30 supervised departures, seven left before deportation, there are 60 judicial reviews, ten are being revoked on the advice of the Attorney General, 49 have experienced technical difficulties, 32 are being arranged, 91 did not turn up at all and 117 are not at their last known addresses. That is the system we have.
Mr. O'Donoghue: It can be seen that the procedures in existence today, based on the 1935 Aliens Act and up along, are clearly deficient and I have had to change them. Otherwise, I could not at the culmination of the immigration process deport anybody. The reason for that brings me back to what I said earlier.
When I took over this brief, immigration was a green field site for the most part. There were no structures and little legislation, except the Refu gee Act, 1996, which was not implemented by the rainbow coalition Government.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I will also try to tell Deputy Joe Higgins the truth. In the earlier days of immigration when I was in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, my recollection is that the actual numbers were in the region of 90%. That was also the international experience.
Mr. O'Donoghue: That was the experience. I have dealt with other arguments that Deputy Higgins put forward. However, to suggest I am on an alarmist binge would be to underestimate my intelligence, such as it is. I am not on any alarmist binge – I am merely doing what is practical, logical, sensible and reasonable. I am doing my duty under the Constitution, which I take quite seriously.
Mr. O'Donoghue: It is quite disingenuous of anybody to make comparisons between the Irish in America in the late 18th and 19th centuries and most parts of the 20th century and what is occurring here at present.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The vast majority of the Irish who went to America were legal immigrants. I am not aware that Irish people went to America – unless Deputy Joe Higgins is – and applied for asylum and pretended they were in flight from persecution on the island of Ireland. If Deputy Joe Higgins has the names of such people I would be glad to hear from him.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I am aware that during the 1980s and perhaps a little earlier there were young Irish people who went to the United States and subsequently became illegal immigrants there. I am also aware that it is true that representations were made on their behalf but these are matters of which I read.
Mr. O'Donoghue: We have dealt with the issue of the vast majority of immigrants to the United States and we now accept, perhaps for the first time, that these people were not illegal immigrants. In regard to the small number who were illegal immigrants—
Mr. O'Donoghue: —it is not a valid comparison. The truth is one cannot make a comparison between a small island nation on the periphery of Europe which is subject to the vagaries of economic fluctuations and the economic powerhouse of the world, no more than one can make the argument that the geographic size of this country can be compared with the large mass that is the United States of America. That is not a valid comparison. In any event, I have indicated, as has the Tánaiste, that there is no difficulty with people making an application to come to this State to work legally. It is something which, in respect of the many disciplines in the country at present, I would be prepared to actively encourage. However, what cannot be countenanced is the abuse of the asylum process by people who turn out to be illegal immigrants. The abuse of the asylum process is to the detriment of people who are refugees and also the State which is requested to take such people on the basis that they are refugees when they are illegal immigrants.
I do not accept for one moment and I reject contemptuously any allegation by Deputy Higgins or anybody else, inside or outside this House,  who would seek to suggest that I am not evenhanded or fair in my dealings in this respect or any other. It is entirely wrong, unfair and black propaganda of the worst kind to suggest that I would discriminate against any human being on the basis of his race, colour, ethnic origin, creed, political beliefs or any other reason. I remind the House that my function here is to ensure that the law of this land under the Constitution is enforced. I make no apology for that. It will be enforced in a balanced, fair and reasonable way, but enforced it must be. There is no other alternative to that.
I hear cries of “There is no policy”. Deputies Howlin and Higgins have recently said that policy is in a state of collapse and does not exist. What is really wrong is that people are actually saying, “I do not like the policy”. Not liking the policy does not mean there is none. There is and has been a consistent policy, which I have spelled out on numerous occasions.
Mr. O'Donoghue: If someone is a refugee within the meaning of the convention, he will get sanctuary in this State. If someone is not a refugee but an illegal immigrant, he must leave this State. Deputy Higgins says this problem is being exaggerated and that there are perhaps at most 14,000 asylum seekers in the State. My understanding is that there are in the region of 12,000 asylum seekers in the State at present. The difficulty is that there are in the region of 60,000 applicants in the United Kingdom every year and there is a common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom. There is a large number of applicants – running into many thousands – in France and the same applies in Germany. This is a feature of all member states of the European Union.
If I relax the rules in the manner suggested by Deputy Higgins and others and act on the basis that I am not living in the real world but in some kind of Utopia, the result would be a grossly disproportionate number of illegal immigrants in the State within a very short period. That is not something I am making up or dreamed about last night, it is something I know about, have read about and have studied over a long period of time. People may not agree with what I am doing and they have the right to object to it. I respect diversity and every man's right to have an opinion. However, I ask, for one final time, please do not misrepresent the position for cheap political advantage.
Mr. Howlin: I will begin where the Minister concluded, with an appeal not to misrepresent anybody's position for cheap political advantage. On two consecutive weekends, I have read the propaganda machine of the Minister misrepresenting my party's position and that of the Opposition, consistently and deliberately. I have  already pointed out the truth of the position to the Minister and I hope he will heed his admonition and desist from issuing soundbites.
It is about time the Minister stopped peddling the untruth about the greenfield site he inherited. He inherited a situation where there was a tiny fraction of the asylum seekers who are currently in the country. The figures are there – 85% of the asylum seekers currently here arrived on the Minister's watch. He cannot deny that, the figures are there. I will read them into the record again if that is what the Minister wants but he knows that to be the truth. He also knows that the previous Administration, which was in office for two and a half years, less than the Minister's three years, enacted the Refugee Act. It was not the fault of that Administration that the Act was not implemented in its term of office because it was challenged by the High Court.
What was said of this Act? An article on the sliding scales of justice in Refugees and Asylum Seekers – A Challenge to Solidarity, a joint policy document of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and Trócaire, stated that the Refugee Act, 1996, “is noteworthy and some of its sections distinguish it as one of the most progressive models of refugee legislation in Europe”. That was the green field the Minister had, a perfectly good model designed for the needs of the time. He sat on his hands for the bulk of his three years in office and allowed the situation to get progressively worse. He allowed peculiar elements of this society to whip up public agitation and concern, as a consequence of which we have heard the most despicable xenophobic and racist comments. All that falls on his head and history will judge him harshly for his inaction in this regard. No amount of restating his fictional view of the record of the previous Administration will salve his conscience in that regard.
The Minister's other point relates to the Irish illegals of the 1980s. That is not ancient history – it is not the 17th or 18th centuries. It is estimated in a document from the United States Embassy in Dublin that between 1987 and 1997 75,000 Irish people were given visas under the lottery programme. We appealed for those lottery programmes to enable undocumented people to stay in the United States. We were all involved in those appeals. I had plenty of letters in my postbag at the time from undocumented Irish people in America who were desperately anxious. We all made representations for those visas. What was the difference with those Irish people, from our constituencies, seeking an economic future for themselves? I am not saying it is quite analogous to seeking refugee status, but it should make us more compassionate and understanding than is indicated by some of the Minister's rhetoric.
The Minister is also wrong to exude this fortress Europe mentality. We have 12,000 asylum seekers here and we are not sure how many of them will meet the criteria laid down by law to enable them to be granted asylum status and to become residents of the State. It is wrong to look  at Britain or France, as the Minister suggests. There is a suggestion that a huge mass of people is coming towards developed Europe and we must man our barricades lest they arrive here. Earlier today the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights met a delegation from the defence and security committee of the Czech Republic which told us that there are 250,000 illegals in that country and that a further 250,000 legalised non-Czech nationals who have been given permission to stay there. That is the attitude of an applicant country which is considerably poorer than Ireland – it has absorbed some portion of those people into its society.
That is a European country, but what about the bulk of refugees in the world? The bulk of refugees are not in France or Britain. I quoted earlier from the document, Refugees and Asylum Seekers: A Challenge to Solidarity. On page 6 it states:
. the disproportionately high contribution of the least developed countries and of sub-Saharan Africa as host countries, where refugee numbers represent 0.9 to 1% of the resident population is even more striking. Relative to population, these particularly impoverished countries do three times as much for refugees as the industrialised countries, despite having a much smaller absorbative capacity. Their average income per head is only one third to one half even of those of the developing countries as a whole . The situation for some individual countries is even more stark. Malawi, Burundi and Rwanda have hosted refugee populations equivalent to 7%, 4.5% and 3.9% of their populations respectively. [Malawi, Burundi and Rwanda are some of the poorest countries on earth.] Tanzania, a priority Irish aid country with an average income per person of little more than 4% of Ireland's, hosts a refugee population equivalent to 2% of its own population. Relative to population, this is 20 times the contribution currently made by Ireland.
That dispels the myth that there is a mass of humanity ready to march on fortress Europe. Refugees and the movement of population is an international phenomenon and it is a burden being carried disproportionately by the poorest of the poor already. We are being asked to carry our measure and the Minister's comments sit poorly in that regard.
In a way, however, that brings us away from the net issue, which is that we believe these amendments go too far. I ask the Minister to reflect again on this and to modify the detention powers he is giving the gardaí in these matters. It is clear that this policy is not thought out, as by the Minister's own admission he does not know and cannot tell the House where detainees are to be detained. He does not know or, if he does know, he has not told this House. Frankly, he has no right to propose detention until this has been  thought out and he knows where people are to be detained.
Deputy Joe Higgins is right. The Irish people are civilised, compassionate and caring. If the Minister starts detaining families and children in Garda stations, remand prisons or secure units there will be a public outcry and many Opposition Members will be involved in that. Where will the Minister detain these women and children who do not meet the requirements of Irish law in relation to asylum status. Where will he put them? We have a right to know that before he pushes this measure through the House.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Unfortunately, within six months of its passage it was overtaken by the sheer size of the numbers seeking asylum. Therefore, the Act was not workable. There was only one appeals commissioner provided for under the legislation and it was not possible for such a person to deal with thousands of claims. The Act, therefore, stayed in an unimplemented state from June 1996 through to the general election of 1997. In September 1997 I started to implement the Act when I brought the provisions dealing with the Dublin Convention into force.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The 1996 Act was not implemented because it was simply not workable. It was open to the rainbow coalition Government to amend the legislation and do something, but as I have often said in the past, it did not know what to do so it did nothing.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Howlin has said that I sat on my hands and did nothing about the asylum process and the immigration area. That is an extraordinary statement. I did more about that issue than many other issues.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I put in place deportation procedures recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, among others, as an essential corollary to replace those struck down by the Supreme Court.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I am not a contortionist. I could not have done these things while sitting on my hands. There is no doubt that I put in place a refugee integration policy in respect of people who have been given refugee status. I also ensured that the committee on racism and interculturalism continued its work and I have funded it—
Mr. O'Donoghue: —through the Department each year. Deputy Howlin betrays his lack of knowledge of the minutiae of this subject when he asserts that because 75,000 visas were issued to Irish people to go to the United States of America, I should issue visas to people seeking asylum in this State.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I have made it abundantly clear on more than one occasion that I and the Government are willing to accept applications from whatever source to work in this State. I have stated that any such applications will be considered sympathetically in the context of the many disciplines where people are required. That is what the United States of America did. It gave visas to people to work in that country. I am willing to do that here when people come through the legal channels. There is no difficulty with that.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Well, 250,000 illegal immigrants. He also suggests there are 250,000 people who have been granted some legal status by the Government there. That represents approximately 5% of the entire population of that country. It must be remembered that the Czech Republic is located in the centre of Europe. A total of 80 million people transit that country each year. Eighty million people do not transit the Republic of Ireland each year.
This brings me to the most salient matter in regard to the points raised by Deputy Howlin. He attempted to make a comparison between the number of visas granted in the United States of America to young Irish people with the number of legal status applications granted in the Czech Republic and the number of asylum seekers in the Republic of Ireland. That is not a valid comparison. I have outlined the reasons relating to the geography and economy of this country but there is another fundamental reason that it is not a valid comparison. As a proportion of the population of this small island, Ireland is now second from the top of the EU list in terms of the number of asylum seekers in the country. We are heading quickly for pole position according to the statistics for the first quarter of this year.
Mr. O'Donoghue: In terms of applicants for asylum as a proportion of the population, our best calculation is that Ireland is second from the top of the European Union and was third in the previous year. That is based on the figures for the first quarter of this year.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Why is this so? Why is it that despite there being no direct flights of which I am aware between Nigeria and Ireland, a large proportion of the applicants for asylum are from Nigeria? Why is it that until recently and despite the fact that there is only one flight per week from Romania to Ireland which does not ever cause a problem, we appear to have more applicants for asylum from Romania than any other member state in the EU? Why are a large proportion of asylum applicants from Poland? Again, there are no regular flights of which I am aware between the two states.
Mr. O'Donoghue: It suggests that most of the people applying for asylum in this country are transiting other European states. Why? Regardless of the answer, however, the central point is that every individual's application will be dealt with fairly and as expeditiously as possible. At the end of the day, people who are deemed to be refugees will be given sanctuary and people who are deemed not to be refugees but illegal immigrants will be asked to leave. If they do not leave, they will be deported in accordance with the law.
Mr. O'Donoghue: —in great detail and I understand it perfectly. I know what the Deputy is against but he should tell me what he is for. He should tell me what he wants and what he wants me to do because all I know is what the Deputy is against. I do not know what he is for.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): The Minister has outlined many statistics and facts. He should have circulated them to the Deputies participating in this debate and allowed them to absorb and understand them. It is not fair of the Minister to blind us with facts and figures on the many aspects of this issue and to expect an informed discussion to ensue. We will have to trawl through the Official Record on the computer tonight or tomorrow to get those figures when they should be available for the discussion now.
If I heard him correctly, the Minister said that 37 gardaí are to be diverted to a unit to deal with deportations. It will deal with the deportation of people drawn from a cohort of approximately 12,000. The figure is less than I suggested earlier, which simply makes the attitude being adopted more pathetic. By coincidence, that figure is almost the same as the number of heroin addicts in the State, most of whom live in Dublin. There are no accurate assessments of the number but people working in the field assess it at approximately 12,000.
Is it not criminal that instead of the 37 gardaí being deployed to prevent the gangsters and drug barons, who have blighted neighbourhoods and destroyed working class communities, bringing their merchandise of death to the youth of this country, they will be sent on the highways and byways to chase a few thousand or, possibly, a few hundred unfortunate people who are to be deported by order of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform? Nothing could speak more loudly of the priorities of this Government. It is shameful beyond words and the Minister should be called to account.
If the resources the Minister is now diverting,  which along with this cohort of gardaí encompass officials, civil servants, paper and time, were diverted in a positive direction towards ensuring that the people who are in this country can become involved in the life of this country and can work in and contribute to it, we would be a thousand times better off. It would be a good use of resources. However, using them in this way is shameful.
The Minister tries to justify this untenable position and fortress Europe is invariably invoked. The Minister was invoking the spectre of those who have penetrated the fortress. God between us and all harm, they are already inside the fortress and might make an extra move in the direction of this fair country. It is pathetic for the Minister to attempt to make a lame argument in relation to the numbers of illegal Irish youths in the United States in the 1980s by referring to the size of the population of America. There were not just 120,000 Irish youths in the United States, there were hundreds of thousands from Mexico, other areas in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Even though it is a big country, the numbers are absolutely incomparable with 12,000 souls looking for a place to call home, and the Minister turns them out of the stable.
The Minister has a great responsibility in this regard. Can he guarantee that everyone who is sent back to his or her country of origin will have safety of life and limb? He had better answer that question. A colleague of his, Deputy O'Malley, stated in this House that people left planes at Shannon in the course of the last 30 years or so, sought refuge in this country, were not heard – this is true, there is a difference there – and were bundled unceremoniously back onto the planes. These may have been Russian planes at a time when Stalinism held sway there. When the Minister gets an opportunity he should take a history lesson on the difference between the monstrous totalitarian regime known as Stalinism and democratic socialism, particularly the tradition of democratic socialism as represented by people who believe in the genuine ideals of people like Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxembourg, Leon Trotsky and so on. Socialism is not Stalinism.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): There is more chance of my finding the Minister's condemnation of 90% of asylum seekers than there is of finding that quote. An ice pick was put through the back of Trotsky's head because he was a  champion of the democratic rights within the socialist state and socialist society.
Deputy O'Malley said he had no doubt people were sent to their deaths from this island. It is absolutely shameful that a former Government Minister would say this about the record of this country in the past three decades or so. Will the Minister guarantee the safety of people detained at the whim of a garda?
He raises the question of why people come here from Nigeria as if it is a major mystery and seems to be building a theory around this. It might be the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of Irish priests and nuns went to Nigeria and other African countries over the past 90 years or more and perhaps spoke about the fair and welcoming country from which they came and the Christian values and welcome that was here for people who were poor and in need of refuge, succour and support. Perhaps they came to this country because they had a picture of a land where they could perhaps escape from some of the trauma, hardship, difficulties and suffering they had in their own country.
Nigeria has an extremely repressive regime and it is disgraceful that the Minister should have any dealings with that regime which is corrupt at all levels. Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and it is shameful that the Minister should have any dealings with it in order to effect deportations. I await the details of these dealings.
Another export of ours to Nigeria was Guinness, which made an enormous amount of money from the people of Nigeria. Perhaps another reason people are coming to this country is that the stout originated here.
The Minister is trying to batten down the hatches for fortress Europe. He should get real because, in the globalised economy in which we now operate, European companies and personnel, big major capitalist concerns, are operating in all the countries from which refugees are coming. They are making masses of money by exploiting the raw materials, resources and in some cases the labour of the countries from which people are seeking refuge here. It is not surprising that this is happening but we were totally unprepared for it.
 The Minister attacked Deputy Howlin for referring to the Czech Republic and the fact that millions of people pass through that country. Last year 1.3 million people visited the Minister's native county of Kerry from all over the world. Therefore, the fact that thousands of people wish to remain in this country is not a surprise.
The State does not enforce the laws of this country equally. There are different laws for different categories of people. There is summary justice if one is poor. If one is alleged to be in breach of the law, one is summarily dealt with and may end up in jail. If one is a rich, a corrupt businessman for example, one will be dealt with in an entirely different fashion. A tribunal will be set up to deal with the matter and one's identity will be protected for years, as happened with the Ansbacher men. The Minister should examine what happens at the points of entry to the country in relation to the different categories of people. Will the Minister say that if a white American businessman obtains access to Ireland for a holiday he will be treated in exactly the same way as if he were a poor black person from Rwanda? One only needs to go to the points of entry to know that is not the case. The fact is that different categories of people are treated differently.
It is sad that the Minister is spending an entire day in this House to bring in this repressive legislation for 12,000 people when these resources should be diverted to the real needs and problems of society. This certainly does not relate to a few thousand people seeking to live and work here.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Seldom does one see such consensus across the political divide on the Opposition benches. We are virtually ad idem on every aspect of this matter. The amendments would not have been necessary if the Minister took the procedural options open to him. The Dublin Convention, an international agreement between EU member states which was signed in 1996 during our Presidency of the EU, should have diffused much of the situation about which the Minister has such paranoia, namely, the flood tide, influx or invasion of people who, according to the Minister, are not entitled to be here.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): The Dublin Convention is obviously not working. A few moments ago the Minister spoke about there being no direct flights to various parts of the world, particularly central Africa, and that these people are coming here through other EU countries. He says that as a result he must introduce this punitive measure and the attendant strictures and penalties.
Given that the Minister travels to Europe on a regular basis and liaises with his ministerial colleagues, why does he not work out a common EU immigration policy? If the Dublin Convention is not working and if we have been hoodwinked by our fellow EU partners, particularly the French,  why has the Minister not taken it up at EU level? If it is obvious the convention is not working and is being flouted by others, with people being assisted in getting onto lorries in order to come to Ireland and thereby contributing to what the Minister sees as a problem, why has the Minister not revisited the convention in an EU context? Does the Minister intend taking this matter up with his fellow EU Ministers in order to remind them of their obligations and to put in place another feasible option, given that the Dublin Convention is manifestly not working?
With regard to today's deliberations, if the Minister had not taken up 70% of the time filibustering in response to the various points raised we might have concluded by now. Had the decent thing been done, as we requested, of discussing this in a committee we might have been able to resolve matters far more amicably.
I fully subscribe to the contention by Deputies Joe Higgins and Howlin that to say there is no comparison between the US and here because the US has such absorption powers is not a valid contention. I make this point in the context of getting things in perspective. The Minister is again sounding the alarm bells, and we can imagine the headlines in tomorrow's newspapers which will report that we are now heading for pole position in the European league. We are talking about a paltry, measly 12,000 people. They could be corralled, as may be done if the Minister goes down the road of detention and custody, into the canal end of Croke Park. That is the extent of the influx or invasion.
We are now talking about mass deportations. Deputy Howlin is correct in saying that before we can agree to further measures we must know what logistical, humanitarian and accommodation or detention centre arrangements will be put in place. If the Minister continues to contend that 90% of the people concerned are bogus, then 10,800 will be deported. The Minister said it is his view they should be shifted and shafted as quickly as possible. What will happen? Where will they be put? The prison system is already in chaos and Garda stations in this city are overcrowded on a nightly basis with homeless people. Yet the Minister is asking the House to adopt a new regime to detain people as soon as they are the subject of a deportation order. A garda who suspects a person will move away can automatically detain them for up to eight weeks. We are not talking about arranging documentation and other practical issues to facilitate them leaving the State. Rather it will involve three or four flights before they are delivered to the regime from which they fled.
A number of years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Iowa and of addressing both houses of state on St. Patrick's Day. Before going I read a very salutary book called Farewell to Famine about the people of Wexford who went in great numbers to the US in anticipation of the Great  Famine. The title comes from an initiative by a local priest who had the foresight to foresee the Famine and who decided to make alternative arrangements for the people before it arrived. At the back of the chamber of the state house in Des Moines I saw the very Irish names of the various members 160 or 170 years later – Morrisey, Codd and Foley – all of Wexford and Irish origin. I recall this in light of Ireland effectively bringing down an iron curtain rather than embracing the right of 12,000 people to a dignified existence, a tiny paltry fraction of the number we need in order to sustain the economic growth of the Celtic tiger. Yet we cannot find it in our hearts to make provision for these people.
The Minister said he was faced with an impossible situation. As Deputy Howlin correctly pointed out, it was not a green-field situation. We tried to provide him with a green field situation when in March 1998 Fine Gael gave Private Members' time to Democratic Left to enable Deputy McManus table the Regularisation of Asylum Seekers Bill which provided for an amnesty for those who were in the country prior to 1 January 1998 and who had not had their asylum application processed. That would have given the Minister a green-field situation and would have enabled him get his house in order and start again. It would have allowed him make a fresh beginning and to ensure applications were dealt with in an orderly, structured and timely fashion, but the Minister refused to accept the Bill.
I know the Minister has a thing about amnesties, but this was an attempt to bring into being an arrangement which would enable him to start afresh with all the applications after 1 January 1998. However, he turned it down as he has turned down all the reasonable initiatives we have put forward by way of amendment. As a result the perception among the public is that there is a marked absence of leadership on the issue. Consequently, we have xenophobia, about which Deputy Joe Higgins spoke, which is rampant in the Minister's constituency with nobody being brought to book. Racism, which we never suspected was latent, has been given full vent because we have no Government leadership in terms of getting a sensible perspective on the issue.
By putting further measures in place we are sending out the clear message that Ireland is a no go area for asylum seekers. That is the clear intention of the legislation which is being delivered on an instalment, ad hoc basis on top of the other measures introduced by the Minister and his sound bites. We are in a very sorry state as regards our attempt to deal with an issue which is manageable and certainly within the competence of an organised regime to structure. All one has to do is marry the two issues.
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