Wednesday, 15 December 1993
Seanad Éireann Debate
An Cathaoirleach: I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.
The reason I tabled this amendment is that since this Bill was initially drafted the Maastricht Treaty has come into force and we are now part of the European Union. As such, certain questions can be raised under this Bill in relation to residents from various member states in third countries which would not have consular representatives from their particular state. Under the Treaty of European Union they would now be entitled to consular services from other member states. In that regard the question arises of Irish people paying fees to other member states' consular services, or in the case of our acting on behalf of citizens of other member states, their paying fees to our consular services.
It is important to ensure that at all times our citizens have access to consular services, wherever they may go in the world. We appreciate there is an international dimension under the Diplomatic and Consular Fees Act, 1939, whereby we have international obligations and, in turn, other countries have international obligations to us. There is an opportunity here for us to tie up this matter. On Committee Stage of this Bill the Minister talked about the issue of sovereignty. I felt then, and I repeat the point today, that the question of sovereignty was dealt with in the Maastricht Treaty and now that it is in force it is a false premise on which to make an argument in relation to the details of section 1.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. T. Kitt): In the section as it stands it is clear that “career consular officer” and “honorary consular  officer” have the meaning given to them in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Section 2 of the Bill states that it applies to certain civil servants and other officers appointed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, all, obviously, officers and representatives of the State. If the amendment were accepted it would mean that “career consular officer” and “honorary consular officer” would be interpreted in accordance with Article 8c of the Treaty on European Union. This would be unclear. It could conceivably be interpreted as meaning that consular officers of other EU states would have powers under the Act equal to those of Irish officers. That is not the intention of this Bill or of Article 8c of the Treaty.
It is not necessary for officers of other EU states to have such powers to put Article 8c into effect. Each state applies its own law and regulations concerning diplomatic and consular protection to all EU citizens in countries outside the Union, without distinction. Article 8c is about equality of treatment of EU citizens to whom certain diplomatic and consular services are rendered. This Bill is about Irish officials entitled to provide diplomatic and consular services and the two matters should not be confused. The services which are the subject of the Bill are available to people of all nationalities and this is an important point. A possible effect of amending section 1 as proposed would be to restrict the application of the Act to EU citizens, which nobody wants.
I appreciate that in proposing this amendment Senator Taylor-Quinn was concerned with acknowledging in the Bill that European union is now a reality with a diplomatic and consular dimension. Much as we sympathise with that, we have found no way of putting in a reference to Article 8c of the Treaty on European Union which would not adversely affect the substance of what is essentially a simple Bill to tidy up outdated legislation from the 1930s. Although I cannot accept the amendment for the reasons outlined, I appreciate the  Senator's intentions but the amendment could have an adverse effect on the application of legislation for citizens outside the European Union. I do not think anybody would like that. We have guidelines for the protection of unrepresented EU nationals by EU missions in third countries under Article 8c of the treaty. I would be glad to give the Senator details of the guidelines but I cannot accept the amendment.
I hope there will be further discussion in relation to the guidelines and that they will be put on a more formal basis at European Union level. If I could get an assurance on that from the Minister and that there would be a uniformity of action and approach within the foreign ministries in the EU, I would be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. T. Kitt: We discussed this amendment in detail in the lower House. I was sympathetic to the view of the Deputy there and I am also sympathetic to the views of the Senator in this instance. However, we must take advice from the parliamentary draftsman. Whereas the  amendment would make section 2 look tidier, the meaning of the last part of the section would be less clear. It is a drafting issue. There would be consequential effects if the present wording were altered. We had detailed discussions on this in the presence of the Senator in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. On the advice of the parliamentary draftsman, I cannot accept the amendment.
“(d) where fees have been collected for a particular service (including applications for registration in the Foreign Births Register in the Department of Foreign Affairs, or in the Foreign Births Entry Book kept in missions abroad), the restriction on the delivery of such service arising from statutory time limits shall not apply.”.
Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986, citizenship and passports were to be issued to people who had applied and had their applications processed by 31 December 1986. A number of people applied and, unfortunately, by the expiry date, perhaps because there was such an enormous response to the offer, 3,000 of the 7,000 applications were unprocessed. The bulk of unprocessed applications are in the Consulate General's offices in New York and Johannesburg in South Africa and have been lying there for the past seven years. The fees have been paid and have not been refunded. Passports have not been issued to the applicants. This is a serious situation which should not be allowed to continue. Legislation should be introduced and this amendment should be included in the Bill to allow these applications to be processed so that citizenship and passports may be given to the applicants.
 We are aware of the tremendous goodwill and support we receive from Irish Americans in the United States, the general public, business people and politicians. Numerous requests and representations have been made to various Ministers in the Governments of the last seven years seeking to have this matter resolved. Unfortunately, it has not been to date. It is time that we showed goodwill towards these people.
The situation in South Africa is possibly more serious as the political scene there is very unstable at present. We hope that the democratic process will be established without huge difficulties in the months ahead but one does not know what political crisis may arise. We have a responsibility to anybody who is entitled to Irish citizenship under our laws to process and issue passports to applicants.
We realise that third and fourth generation Irish people are entitled to passports. However, it is disgraceful that this situation has continued over the past seven years. The Department and consecutive Governments have been remiss in not seeing the fine opportunity to not only extend this facility but to provide that opportunity to many other people of Irish extraction.
Over 44 million people in the United States are of Irish extraction. In Australia almost 6.5 million people — about one third of the Australian population — are of Irish extraction. There is a glorious opportunity for the Government to recognise the potential for Irish tourism by opening up this facility. I urge the Minister to do so. Only a small change in the legislation is necessary. I hope the Minister can reiterate what he said on Report Stage in the Dáil that the Minister for Justice would be prepared to introduce a citizenship Bill shortly to allow that facility and I hope the Government can act expeditiously on the issue.
Mr. T. Kitt: What is at issue is the timing of the presentation of a Bill by the Minister for Justice to amend the Irish  Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986. Such new legislation is necessary to enable the registration of the births abroad of about 4,000 people whose applications for citizenship could not be processed by the deadline of 31 December 1986. It is inappropriate to try to deal with that issue by means of this amendment. The problem must and will be addressed in another nationality and citizenship Bill. This amendment would cause more legal difficulties than it would resolve.
As promised on 11 November in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, I wrote to the Minister for Justice expressing the concerns of the committee about the negative implications for our reputation abroad due to this problem remaining unresolved after nearly seven years. She informed me that whereas she had hoped to address a number of citizenship issues in one comprehensive Bill, to avoid further delay she has now instructed her officials to prepare a short Bill dealing solely with the applications for registration outstanding since 1986. The Bill will be introduced as soon as possible. The House cannot expect any clearer commitment from the Minister for Justice. In the circumstances I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I thank the Minister for informing the House of the intention of the Minister for Justice to present a short Bill dealing specifically with issues that arise under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986. I welcome this announcement and I depend on the Minister of State and his fellow Galwegian to ensure that prompt action is taken on this matter and to recognise, in particular, the urgency of the situation in South Africa. We should not underestimate or diminish this in any way. I look forward to the publication of this Bill early in the New Year.
The Bill before the House is slightly different from the Bill as initiated. Section 5 (2), which relates to the powers of officers abroad to take oaths and declarations and to do notarial acts, lacked a degree of clarity. The section stated that a document which had affixed or impressed thereon or thereto the seal of any person to whom the section applied should be admitted in evidence. However, the seal used in most cases is the official seal of the embassy. Accordingly, additional words were added to remove any doubt about the matter. Consequential change had to be made in section 1, in the definition “head of mission”.
|Last Updated: 22/05/2011 05:20:56||Page of 14|