Seanad Éireann

13/Mar/1996

Prelude

Business of Seanad.

Order of Business.

Refugee Bill, 1995: Second Stage.

Beef Industry: Motion.

Adjournment Matters. - North Cork Community Radio Lottery.

Adjournment Matters. - Report on Death of Kelly Fitzgerald.

[1329] Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 2.30 p.m.

Paidir.

Prayer.

An Cathaoirleach:  I have notice from Senator Sherlock that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

To ask the Minister for Justice if she has taken any steps to hold an inquiry into the North Cork Community Radio lottery, after television claims that only 30 per cent of the overall take of £1.7 million raised through the lottery went to charities.

I have also received notice from Senator Honan on the following matter:

To ask the Minister for Health if he will publish the Western Health Board's report on the Kelly Fitzgerald case.

I have also received notice from Senator Enright on the following matter:

To ask the Minister for Justice when the proposed extensions, renovation and improvements required in Tullamore Garda station, County Offaly will be carried out, if she is aware of the current existing accommodation and the safety problems that exist at the station.

[1330] I have also received notice from Senator Neville on the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to make the representations to the British Government for a prisoner (details supplied) to be transferred to this State for medical reasons.

I regard the matters raised as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment. I have selected Senator Sherlock's and Senator Honan's matters and they will be taken at the conclusion of business. Senator Enright and Senator Neville may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Mr. Manning:  Today's business is item 1 and item 16, motion 28. On item 1 there will be not more than 30 minutes per speaker. The motion will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

On behalf of the House I wish to express sympathy for the parents of the children slaughtered today in the small Scottish town of Dunblane. It is inconceivable that horror on such a scale, so brutal and mindless, could take place in a small country town. Our hearts go out to the parents.

Mr. Finneran:  I join the Leader in extending sympathy to the parents of the unfortunate children in Scotland. We abhor what has happened. It was obviously done by someone who was deranged but that is of little consolation to the families.

This side of the House agrees with the Order of Business but I wish to raise a few matters. We must be conscious of the major protest outside by the farmers. This matter is of major concern nationally and we should——

An Cathaoirleach:  I do not wish to speak across the Senator but there is a motion in Private Members' time tonight so I ask him to refrain from comment on the matter.

[1331]Mr. Finneran:  My colleagues will be moving our motion tonight.

The next matter I wish to raise is the war games being played by China off the Taiwan coast. Amnesty International recently reported serious abuse of human rights and evidence of torture and oppression in China and Tibet. I ask the Leader to request the Tánaiste or a Minister of State from his Department to attend here because the Seanad should have an opportunity to debate the issue. The Chinese intention in this case is to influence the forthcoming elections in Taiwan. We all remember Tiananmen Square and are conscious of the——

An Cathaoirleach:  Senator, we are not discussing the matter know. I know you are seeking a debate.

Mr. Finneran:  Yes, a debate will be welcomed by Members because it would provide an opportunity to highlight many other issues, including Tibet. The Leader promised some time ago we would have a debate on the White Paper on mental health. I am extremely disappointed that it has not happened, as other Senators and I have sought this debate since the middle of 1995. The legislation governing the treatment of the mentally ill is 51 years old and in no way addresses the issues facing the psychiatric services today. As morale in the psychiatric service is at a low ebb it is important that we have a debate on the White Paper on mental health. If a case was taken Ireland would be found to be in breach of the European convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Mr. Farrelly:  When was that signed?

An Cathaoirleach:  I take it the Senator is looking for a debate on the matter. We cannot discuss it now.

Mr. Finneran:  Yes. I have been seeking a debate on this for 12 months.

[1332]Mr. Farrelly:  What about the 12 months before that?

Mr. Finneran:  This request has also been made by members of the Government parties. We must have an early debate on this matter.

Dr. Henry:  I join the Leader in his expression of sympathy on the tragic deaths which took place today in Scotland. I share Senator Finneran's desire for a short debate on the China-Taiwan situation. It is coincidental that we are discussing the Refugee Bill, 1995, because developments in the Taiwan Strait could lead to our receiving refugees from that area.

Mr. Dardis:  I share the sympathy expressed to the families affected by the events in Dunblane, Scotland. The RTE news coverage of the events at lunchtime displayed a certain voyeurism. The fact was that 12 children had been killed and the news programme was trying to trawl for details which were not available. I did not find it very edifying.

There were requests for a debate on Northern Ireland last week. In view of the statement made last week by the Combined Loyalist Military Command that there would be blow for blow retaliation for IRA atrocities, it would be appropriate for us to return to the issue of Northern Ireland. It is the failure of the IRA to restore the ceasefire that is making matters worse by the day. Many of its demands have been met by the arrangement for all-party talks and we should discuss the matter again.

A report was published with regard to the proposals for Seanad representation for emigrants. Without commenting on the detail of the report or the merits of the proposals and because it would be an appropriate matter for discussion, I ask the Leader to arrange debate on the report.

Ms O'Sullivan:  On behalf of the Labour Party I join in expressing sympathy to the families of the children killed in Scotland. Our sympathy also goes to all [1333] the other children in the school who have been traumatised by the event. It is the antithesis of what we expect for children and it will have long lasting traumatic effects on all involved.

I agree it would be appropriate for the House to debate the discussion document on Seanad representation for emigrants so that we can express our views at an early date. The issue affects this House closely.

It would also be appropriate to have a debate in the near future on Northern Ireland. The leadership of the two smaller Loyalist parties have been giving responsible leadership in relation to what the Combined Loyalist Military Command has said. I hope this leadership will make an impression on them and that it will continue to lead in the way it has done so to date. It may be appropriate to have a further debate on Northern Ireland in the near future.

Mr. Sherlock:  I join with the Leader and others in condemning the atrocity in the school in Scotland and in extending my sympathy.

Over the last few days bad news has hit my own town of Mallow. The electronics company, Mitsumi Ireland Limited, which has been in existence since 1990 and employs approximately 200 people, announced that it was making 80 redundancies and reducing the work-force to a very small number as a result of competition in the industry. Will the Leader impress upon the Minister and IDA Ireland the need to facilitate the company in a diversification programme?

Mr. Kelleher:  Could we have a debate here with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment present? The Minister stated that the Cork local authorities were at fault for EU funding not being provided. It is disingenuous for him to blame a local authority for not being able to provide details of plans regarding EU funds. Given that Apple Computer Limited has made 300 redundancies since Christmas, it is important that [1334] employment in my constituency be discussed.

With regard to emigrants voting in Seanad elections, do Ministers who are often abroad qualify for a vote?

An Cathaoirleach:  That hardly arises on the Order of Business.

Mr. Mooney:  My thunder has been stolen by other speakers with regard to the issue of voting in Seanad elections. I am not the only emigrant here. There are a few familiar faces I would have seen around London and Birmingham during my teen years. In endorsing the call for an early debate on this issue I am concerned about the decision of the Minister for the Environment to have a Dáil select committee, the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs, engage in the consultative process.

I welcome the document and the motives behind its publications in that it is to commence a consultative process leading to specific legislation. However, I fail to understand why the Minister considered it necessary to state that a Dáil select committee was to deal with this process when it is a matter that is of import to this House. I would have thought that, in the first instance, he would have consulted this House on a matter of such grave importance, not only for the future of the House but also for its constitutional implications.

A group of Deputies will not have any real interest in the matter; indeed it is they who have been responsible for delaying progress on this issue.

An Cathaoirleach:  A question to the Leader.

Mr. Dardis:  Some of them may be very interested.

Mr. Mooney:  Perhaps those Deputies who do not wish to see an extension of the voting franchise to Dáil elections are pursuing a specific agenda. This is what the emigrant groups want, and not simply a soft soap exercise of handing them three Seanad seats, which will cause [1335] enormous difficulties. However, it is another day's work whether the proposal will succeed.

An Cathaoirleach:  We are not discussing this issue now.

Mr. Mooney:  The Leader should arrange for an early debate, even if it means getting ahead of our Dáil colleagues. We may inform them of a couple of aspects they may not have considered.

Mr. Manning:  The debate on farming will take place this evening. Once again, Senator Kiely anticipated what would happen and put his motion down in good time. I am glad Senator Finneran raised the question of China and Taiwan, which was also raised by other Senators. Many of us view what is happening with great concern. We have very high regard for the attempts being made in Taiwan to move that country towards a full democracy and we would greatly resent the obvious intrusion in the internal affairs and the regime of terror which has been created. I will try to organise an early debate on that issue. I thank the Senators for raising the matter. Senator Henry also referred to the Chinese issue. The debate on the White Paper on health has been delayed and I will try to get a definite date for Senators.

Senator Dardis raised the question of a debate on Northern Ireland. If it is likely to be helpful, as all our debates have been, I will try to organise a debate in the near future. He and other Senators raised the question of the consultative document on emigrant representation. There will be an early debate in this House on that question. This is the obvious place to have a debate; virtually all Members will want to contribute. The Minister was showing courtesy to this House when he said “I expect that the Seanad would also wish to debate the issue”. The Minister was not telling us what to do, he was acknowledging our right to decide if we [1336] will debate the issue rather than imposing a debate on us. It is the wish of the House that we discuss this issue and we will do so very soon. I want to ensure that everyone will have time to read the document but once that is done the debate will not be hindered by time constraints.

Senator Sherlock raised the issue of the Mitsumi plant; I will pass on what he said to the Minister. Senator Kelleher asked that the Minister for Enterprise and Employment be present for a debate in this House. The Minister will be here within the next couple of weeks for a debate on the local enterprise boards as requested by a number of Senators and I am sure that will be a proper occasion to raise these matters.

Mr. Dardis:  He will not have to pay £100 to come in.

Order of Business agreed to.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Ms Burton):  I am pleased that the Refugee Bill, 1995, is before this House today. This Bill's predecessor, the Refugee Bill, 1994, was discussed in 1994 in the Dáil Select Committee on Legislation and Security and, of course, this Bill has been fully discussed and passed by Dáil Éireann.

The primary purposes of this Bill and of its predecessor are essentially the same, namely, to place our procedures for dealing with applications for refugee status on a statutory footing and to ensure that those procedures meet the highest standards in terms of fairness and impartiality towards applicants.

This is the first time that Members of this House have had an opportunity of discussing these procedures and I very much look forward to the issues being debated here particularly because I know many Senators have spoken about [1337] asylum seekers and refugees over a long period. Because this is the first opportunity Members of this House will have had to examine this Bill, it would be useful if I were to outline the background to the decision to introduce legislation to deal with asylum seekers and refugees.

Ireland acceded to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in November 1956 and became a party to the related 1967 New York Protocol in November 1968. Since our accession, we have fulfilled our obligations under both instruments, although the procedures to give effect to those obligations were administrative and were never placed on a statutory footing. In the mid 1980s, these administrative procedures were revised in consultation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, usually referred to as the UNHCR. The procedures were held to be legally binding by the Supreme Court in 1992.

However, it is generally accepted that these arrangements are in need of overhaul. There is a perception that the modern climate of opinion requires a transparent and formal procedure with clearly defined rights and duties for the various participants in the process. This is also my view. There is also a perception that, because asylum seekers are a particularly vulnerable group of people. it is in the interests of justice that their rights and entitlements should be clearly set out in a statute. Apart from that, the arrangements were put in place at a time when the State was receiving only a handful of applications for refugee status each year. The scale at which applications are made has increased at an ever faster rate in the 1990s. It has gone from 31 applications in 1991 to 355 in 1994 and 424 in 1995. In 1996, up to the end of last week, there have been 182 applications. The current procedures were not designed to handle. and are incapable of handling, these volumes.

In 1993, an interdepartmental committee was established to examine all [1338] aspects of policy and practice in relation to non-nationals. Due to the importance of the issue of political asylum, the committee gave priority to this subject and produced an interim report which recommended that the existing administrative arrangements be placed on a statutory footing with the important addition of an appeals authority. The committee also recommended that an independent body be established to examine and make recommendations on applications for refugee status. These recommendations were accepted by the previous Government and formed the basis of the Refugee Bill, 1994. That Bill was promoted by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, and had reached Committee Stage when the Government of which she was a member was dissolved.

An extensive range of amendments was proposed to the 1994 Bill, some of which were farreaching. When the new Government took office, I decided that, rather than proceed with the Bill as it then stood, it would be better to overhaul it thoroughly taking account of the proposed amendments and the points made in debate by Members on all sides. The then Minister for Justice had an open mind in relation to the many constructive suggestions made and the current Bill is the result of an exhaustive consultative process. It was most useful that the 1994 Bill went through the Select Committee process. Accordingly, this Bill is designed to give statutory effect to our international obligations with respect to refugees and to introduce an independent procedure for determining who is entitled to refugee status as well as providing for an appeals system.

Central to the Bill is the question, who constitutes a refugee? It is, therefore, important that we are clear as to what is meant by the term “refugee”. The internationally accepted definition of a refugee is set out in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol. This definition is used in section [1339] 2 of the Bill which provides that “a refugee” means:

. . . a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it . . .

When the 1994 Bill was before the Select Committee on Legislation and Security, amendments were tabled to include within the definition persecution for reasons of gender, sexual orientation or membership of a trade union. The previous Minister for Justice was sympathetic to the suggested amendments and promised to examine the matter in consultation with the parliamentary draftsman. I followed up that undertaking and the definition has been augmented in this Bill by an explanatory provision in the definition section to the effect that membership of a particular social group includes the membership of a trade union and also includes membership of a group of persons whose defining characteristic is their belonging to the female or male sex or having a particular sexual orientation. The inclusion of provisions on gender or sexual orientation discrimination in this Bill is a substantial advance by this country in broadening the definition of a refugee.

The first substantive issue addressed by the Bill is the question of the legal status of a person recognised as a refugee in this State. Section 3 sets out the statutory rights of a person who is declared to be a refugee. These rights will apply to all persons already recognised as refugees in the State as well as any persons recognised as refugees in the future. Section 18, which I will discuss [1340] later, provides that these rights will also apply to close relatives and other dependent relatives admitted to the State for family reunification purposes.

Articles 3 to 34 of the UN Convention set out a number of specific rights which should be afforded to recognised refugees admitted into a state. This aspect is addressed in section 3 of the Bill and the general approach taken is to give recognised refugees rights similar to those held by Irish citizens. Section 3, as is made clear from the first subsection, is not intended to be exhaustive. In other words, we give to refugees the rights we give to Irish citizens but we may give additional facilitation where there are special needs. It is only intended to cover issues which are particularly relevant to refugees, or where there might be a doubt as to the legal entitlement of a refugee because he or she is not an Irish citizen. Refugees will automatically have those legal rights which apply to all persons in this jurisdiction.

Article 33 of the UN Convention provides no contracting state shall expel or return a refugee to the frontiers of territories where his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. It goes on to state that a refugee who poses a danger to the security of the country, or who has been convicted of serious crime and who constitutes a danger to the community, cannot claim the benefit of this prohibition on expulsion or return.

Article 33 is given effect by section 5 of the Bill. Indeed, section 5 goes further than Article 33 in that it applies to all persons, not just refugees, and it has been decided not to apply the second paragraph of Article 33 which prevents certain categories of people from availing of its protection. The Government has decided no person will be expelled to the frontiers of a country where the life or freedom of that person would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or [1341] political opinion. The section is a matter of general immigration law; it is of general application and is not limited to applicants for refugee status.

Section 5 also incorporates a provision to put beyond doubt that a persons's freedom shall be regarded as being threatened if the person is likely to be the subject of a serious assault, including an assault of a sexual nature. This reflects concerns expressed during the debate on the 1994 Bill that sexual violence can be used as an instrument of persecution.

I will turn now to the procedures for determining whether a person is entitled to refugee status. The UN Convention defines the term refugee but the procedures to be adopted to determine who is entitled to be recognised as a refugee are left to the discretion of individual states.

One of the main purposes of the Bill is to provide for statutory procedures which are not only fair but are seen to be fair and which fully comply with our commitments under the UN Convention. To this end, the Bill goes to considerable lengths to ensure all valid applications are thoroughly examined, every applicant has the opportunity to put forward his or her case and there is a comprehensive appeals procedure. The primary purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to safeguard the rights of applicants and to see to it that no valid application is rejected. The State and the Government have an obligation to ensure all applicants are fairly treated. However, we also have a duty to make sure the interests and safety of Irish citizens are not jeopardised. In addition, as a member state of the European Union, we have obligations to the other member states in this area. The Bill has to take all these matters into account.

The Bill must also ensure that the refugee determination process is not abused. While we are all aware of the difficulties that can face genuine refugees fleeing and escaping persecution, it would be foolish and irresponsible if we did not also recognise that many applicants are seeking to escape from economic [1342] hardship rather than persecution. We may have every sympathy for such persons but it must be borne in mind that the primary purpose of the Bill is not to provide a solution to problems caused by economic hardship, but rather to offer protection to persons fleeing persecution. Of course, even cases involving economic hardship may not be clear-cut. There could be aspects of particular situations which would have to be examined to assess if genuine convention grounds for seeking the protection of the State exist; but such consideration must be undertaken in a way that ensures that the integrity of the asylum process is maintained.

There may also be people who apply for refugee status who pose a threat to the community. This category would include a hardened criminal, a terrorist, a drug trafficker, an ex-dictator or other person who has gained international notoriety and is seeking a country of refuge. The Government has an important responsibility to protect the public and the national interest against such threats and, accordingly, powers to detain such people and in certain cases to prevent them entering the country in the first place must be provided. As I pointed out in the Dáil, those powers have been used only twice: once in the case of a Nazi war criminal and once in the case of a member of the South African security forces who had a record.

I will now turn to the details of the application procedures provided for in the Bill. The first step for most applicants will arise when they arrive at Irish immigration controls at one of our airports or sea ports. The intention behind section 8 is that, if an immigration officer has reason to believe a person might be a refugee, he or she must be informed that they may apply for a declaration of refugee status. The person must also be told that he or she may consult a solicitor and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Persons will, therefore, have access to independent advice before deciding whether to apply for a declaration [1343] under the Bill. The situation will be slightly different for persons already in the State. Whether they are here legally or illegally, they will apply to the Minister for Justice and then be given an appointment for an interview with an immigration officer.

At this point I draw the attention of the House to the provision in section 8 (2), which provides for the assistance of interpreters where necessary and possible. I assure Senators that this wording has been devised not only to place the highest possible onus on the authorities to provide an interpreter but also to allow for the rare and exceptional case where a person refuses to co-operate with our authorities. I am satisfied that it means, in effect, that interpretation facilities must, for practical purposes, be provided as a matter of course.

Section 8 (5) is an important provision in that it ensures that procedures are put in place to safeguard the interests of unaccompanied children who arrive at our shores. That is a new phenomenon and we have had a small number of such children in the recent past. I am providing that a child in such circumstances is given assistance within the meaning of the Child Care Act, 1991, such as custody arrangements, accommodation and so forth. To ensure that the child's best interests are protected I am also providing that the health board concerned should decide whether an application for refugee status should be made and should appoint a person to make an application on behalf of the child.

If a person makes an application for refugee status, it will be referred to the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the UNHCR will be notified. However, before I elaborate on how applications will be processed, I should mention what will happen to the applicant while the application is being dealt with. This is governed by section 9 of the Bill. If the applicant has arrived from abroad, once he or she makes an application for a declaration regarding refugee status, the immigration officer [1344] will be obliged to give the applicant leave to enter the State. I must emphasise that the immigration officer is being given no discretion to refuse entry to any person who applies for a declaration. It is also important to note that, with the exception of Dublin Convention cases — I will explain the situation in relation to such cases later — once a person is given leave to enter under this section, he or she will be entitled to remain until either the application is withdrawn or finally determined. This is important for the applicant as it means that he or she can remain during the processing of an appeal.

However, under section 9 (15) entry will be refused to a person who is the subject of an exclusion order made for national security or public policy reasons. This provision is an essential safeguard to ensure that the public interest and national security are protected. However, such orders are not and will not be made frequently. I emphasise that they must be made by the Minister for Justice and they must be laid before and approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Subsection (15) will be a rare exception to the usual practice.

In general, however, all applicants will be admitted to the State and, as I have already mentioned, under section 9(2), will be entitled to remain until an application has been processed. Applicants who would not otherwise be entitled to enter and remain in the State will be subject to certain controls which are set out in section 9 (4) to (14).

One such control is that applicants will not be allowed to work or go into business while their applications are being considered. It must be remembered that asylum seekers are applicants for legal status in this country. If they are granted this status, of course they can work; but until such a determination is made it would be inappropriate that they should be allowed to work and establish themselves in the State. We must be careful not to create conditions which could make it attractive to abuse the asylum procedures. In most cases, as [1345] at present, the taxpayer, through the health boards, local authorities or central government Departments, will carry the cost of housing and maintaining asylum seekers. As I said, asylum seekers will have the same rights to education, social welfare and housing services as an Irish citizen.

As I mentioned, immigration officers will not have any discretion to refuse entry to asylum applicants and accordingly the general rule will be that such applicants will be given free entry into the country. However, if an immigration officer is clearly faced with a suspected foreign criminal or terrorist who is applying for asylum, we do not wish to see such a person free to walk our streets. Section 9 (8) provides that, in the particular circumstances listed in the subsection, an immigration officer or member of the Garda Síochána may detain the person in question.

Because depriving a person of his or her liberty is such a serious step, important safeguards have been included in this portion of the Bill. The principal protection for asylum seekers under these provisions lies in the role of the District Court. That court will have the responsibility of reviewing each such detention at ten day intervals and either releasing the detainee, subject to conditions if necessary, or satisfying itself that continued detention is proper in the circumstances.

I have also provided in section 10 an obligation on the commissioner and the Appeal Board to deal speedily with an application from a detained person. Obviously the intention is to ensure that a person should not be detained any longer than is absolutely necessary. I might add that in our experience of applicants for refugee status thus far, detention is a very rare occurrence and seldom lasts more than a few hours.

To return to the processing of applications for a declaration regarding refugee status, the question arises as to who will investigate the applications. To ensure that the process is not just fair but is also seen to be fair, the Bill proposes that applications will be considered [1346] by an independent commissioner who will investigate each case and make a recommendation. Section 6 and the First Schedule provide for the commissioner who will be called the Refugee Applications Commissioner. The commissioner will have had at least seven years' experience as a practising barrister or solicitor and is required by the Bill to be independent in the exercise of his or her functions. The commissioner will also have his or her own staff to assist in investigations and he or she will be in a position to provide an independent and objective assessment in each case as to whether the person concerned should be granted a declaration of refugee status.

Section 11 of the Bill deals with the investigation of applications by the commissioner. The first step taken by the commissioner will be the appointment of an authorised officer to interview the applicant and to report on the application to the commissioner. This section gives an applicant an automatic right to an interview with an authorised officer.

In addition to the interview, and the commissioner's own investigations, the commissioner may seek the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice or the UNHCR, in verifying the applicant's claim. The applicant will, of course, be free to submit material or representations to support his or her application. In every case the applicant must be supplied with the material and observations received relevant to the case so that he or she may rebut or explain any material which might not support his or her application.

While an applicant will be given every opportunity to present his or her case and to be aware of any material which might militate against his or her application, this is not an adversarial process. The commissioner's remit is not to come up with facts or arguments to counter an applicant's case to be treated as a refugee but rather to carry out research and investigation into all applications. Applicants are, of course, expected to co-operate to the best of their ability [1347] with the process of investigation but, of course, that ability will often be hampered by the difficulties of communication with the country of alleged persecution. The commissioner's role will be to establish whether there is sufficient information available to validate the applicant. The independence and objectivity of the commissioner's function will work in favour of all genuine asylum seekers.

However, experience has shown that investigations of this type can be time consuming as normally asylum seekers are from countries which are a considerable distance from Ireland. Our European partners have found that a significant proportion of applications are manifestly unfounded. This has led to considerable delay and expense in investigating such claims and has resulted in the investigation of genuine applications being delayed. The UNHCR is familiar with this problem, and the executive committee of the UNHCR Programme adopted a conclusion in 1983 to the effect that national procedures “may usefully include special provision for dealing in an expeditious manner with applications which are considered to be so obviously without foundation as not to merit full examination at every level of the procedure”. The Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs of the European Communities, who are responsible for immigration matters, adopted a resolution in 1992 on manifestly unfounded applications for asylum. In keeping with the UNHCR conclusion and the European Union resolution, section 12 provides for a special procedure for manifestly unfounded applications.

If the commissioner forms the opinion that an application is manifestly unfounded, he or she may stop the investigation and advise the applicant why the application is considered unfounded. The applicant will have an opportunity, which includes the facility of an interview, to put forward the case that the application is not manifestly unfounded. If the commissioner remains [1348] of the view that the application is manifestly unfounded, he or she will recommend that the applicant should not be granted a declaration. The applicant may, under section 16, appeal against that recommendation to the appeal board. I would point out that the applicant does not have to prove that he or she is a refugee. All that will have to be shown is that the application warrants a full investigation. I might add that section 12 (4) spells out just what constitutes a manifestly unfounded application so that applicants will be in no doubt as to what the law requires.

An application that is not dealt with as manifestly unfounded will be the subject of a full investigation under section 13 where the commissioner will submit a report and make a recommendation to the Minister. If the recommendation is negative, the applicant may appeal to the appeal board. The refugee first makes his initial application that he is a refugee, which will be heard by the Refugee Appeals Commissioner. If he is turned down, he will then have the right to a full appeal board hearing.

Section 15 and the Second Schedule provide for the establishment of the Refugee Appeal Board. It will comprise of a chairperson who will have had at least ten years experience as a practising barrister or solicitor, a representative of the Minister for Justice, a representative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and two other persons. The appeal board can, under section 16, either agree with a negative recommendation of the commissioner or reverse it. In a case where the commissioner did not fully investigate an applicant or an application because he or she considered it manifestly unfounded, the appeal board can direct the commissioner to carry out a full investigation.

An applicant, when making an appeal, may ask that it be heard orally. This was a major point of discussion in the 1994 Bill. One of the reasons I changed the structure of that Bill was to provide for a commissioner and the office of commissioner. If somebody was manifestly a refugee they could get [1349] a quick determination via the commissioner. On the other hand, a borderline case could go to an appeal, have a full oral hearing and have the right to have their case heard at length. For people who are clearly refugees there is effectively a fast track, whereas for those whose status is more questionable, we have a full appeals procedure with an oral hearing which was a major point for many of the agencies and NGOs who provide services to refugees and asylum seekers.

An applicant when making an appeal may ask that it be heard orally. The appeal board may direct any person to attend and produce documents for an oral hearing. It may also permit the applicant to present his or her case through a legal representative. The appeal board hearings will be held in private to protect the identity of applicants and their overall interests.

Section 17 deals with the giving of a declaration that a person is a refugee. The importance of a declaration is that it is a formal recognition that the person named in the declaration is a refugee under the UN Convention and, subject only to national security and public policy considerations, is entitled to the protection of the State. The Minister is obliged by this section to grant a declaration that a person is a refugee where the Refugee Applications Commissioner or the appeal board has recommended that the person should be declared to be a refugee.

Applicants who are refused a declaration are in the position they were in before they made their application. If, before their application was made, they had the right to enter the State then, once their application has been considered and rejected by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the appeal board, their right to be in the State lapses and provision can be made for their removal. I should point out, however, that the removal provision is not absolute: the Bill deals with the situation where, although a person is found not to be a refugee, there may be grounds for allowing him or her to [1350] remain in the State. Accordingly, it will be open to the Minister to give that person permission to stay here on humanitarian grounds.

However, where the person has been found to have neither a case for refugee status nor otherwise to have grounds to remain in the State, his or her removal from the State may be necessary. It may interest Senators to know that the UNHCR, as guardian of the 1951 Convention, considers that effective removal procedures for non-refugees at the end of the asylum process is as important as the process itself. I am anxious that the removal provision, no less than any of the other provisions of this Bill, should reflect the highest standards of natural justice and, accordingly, the Bill contains new provisions to ensure that the applicant is given ample notice of a proposed removal.

Subsection (2) deals with the very rare possibility that, even though a person is entitled to be classed as a refugee because of his or her circumstances in the country of origin, the interests of national security or public policy dictate that we cannot extend the normal rights and entitlements which would usually attach to such a person. In these circumstances, the Minister will give a declaration that the person is a refugee, but will also order that the normal entitlements, including the entitlement to remain here, will not apply. For example, somebody who committed war crimes in the former Yugoslavia or somebody who was involved in the genocide in Rwanda might be fleeing either country on well founded fears of persecution and they might be a refugee here and be entitled to be granted such status, but it might not be in our interests, in terms of national security or public policy, to allow such a refugee to remain in this country. That is the point there and is a point which I imagine would arise in very rare and exceptional cases.

This may at first sight seem a strange provision. In fact the Bill as initiated contained a provision that enabled the Minister to refuse a declaration to a person [1351] in the interests of national security or public policy even where his or her application was recommended by the commissioner or appeal board.

The UNHCR fully accepts that the convention envisages that a state might expel a refugee on national security or public policy grounds. However it was concerned that a refusal to recognise the refugee status of the person could result in effectively denying that person the international protection which other states might be in a position to offer. Accordingly, I agreed to amend the provision so that a person might be granted a declaration but denied the rights attaching to it on national security or public policy grounds.

It is important that a country like Ireland should be generous in relation to the provisions for reunification of families of refugees. The Bill provides in section 18 that, on application and verification of the family relationship by the commissioner, a close family member of a refugee, such as a spouse, parent or child, may be granted permission to enter and reside in the State. In addition to these relatives, we are providing for other family members where a dependency relationship exists between the refugee and the family member. Family members permitted to reside here will be entitled to rights similar to those which the Bill guarantees to persons granted refugee status.

A fundamental principle in dealing with asylum applications is the need to prevent the disclosure of the identity of an applicant. There are, of course, practical reasons for this. An applicant who has fled from persecution in a particular country may not want his or her whereabouts revealed to the authorities responsible for the persecution nor may the applicant want them to know of the asylum application, particularly if there are family or other connections in that country who could, as a consequence, be targets for persecution. Accordingly, section 19 has been specifically included in the Bill to protect the confidentiality of applications. It does this by requiring [1352] all persons dealing with an application, such as the commissioner and the appeal board, to ensure that the identity of applicants is protected. It also provides for measures to prevent the publication of the identity — not the case details — of applicants, in the interests of their privacy and the safety of their home connections.

The NUJ has expressed concern about section 19 of the Bill in relation to freedom of information. Freedom of information about a particular case is not at issue here, what is at issue is the right to, and protection of, privacy of a named individual. An analogous situation might relate to the reporting of certain cases involving sexual offences. The identity of the applicant, not details of the case or situation, cannot be reported.

Section 19 prevents the identification of an asylum seeker in published matter, unless consent is obtained from that asylum seeker and the Minister. This will not stop an applicant speaking to journalists nor will it prevent a journalist writing a story about an applicant by using the time honoured technique of identifying the individual involved as “Joe Bloggs”. The section prevents the publication of an applicant's name or of any other matter which might lead to their identification. I regret that the NUJ did not approach me directly about its concerns because I would have explained the matter fully. I spoke to many individual journalists about different aspects of the Bill, none of whom raised this issue with me. I would be happy to meet with representatives of the NUJ at any time to reassure them about their concerns on this matter.

I also explained this section in detail on Committee Stage in the Dáil where I outlined the main reasons for its inclusion. I will summarise the content of my contribution to that debate. Applicants for refugee status are vulnerable people. They may be subjected to pressures to reveal themselves from those more interested, for instance, in obtaining publicity, perhaps for a particular political line related to the home [1353] country than in the physical welfare of the person in question or of the family and relatives they left behind. It is important that the refugee application process be clear and transparent to the applicant. We are doing that in this Bill. It is equally important that we provide a safe environment for refugee applicants which respects their privacy and that of family members and other connections back home.

I believe this is important. I believe the NUJ would probably agree with the necessity of protecting the privacy of applicants, particularly as there can be complex family situations where an applicant may hope that family members may be reunited with an asylum seeker in this country when their asylum application has been successful. It might damage the prospects of family members leaving the home country if their names and identities — not the case details — or information about the town or region from where the application originated were fully disclosed and then communicated to the home country of persecution.

Section 20 provides for certain offences. For example, it will be an offence if, after making an application, an applicant misleads the commissioner. The section also provides for more serious offences which are not aimed at applicants but rather at racketeers who try to exploit the asylum procedures by providing false identity documents to support unfounded claims for refugee status. There has been a great deal of concern expressed particularly by NGOs, who deal with and assist asylum seekers, who have made the absolutely valid point that asylum seekers, in order to get out of the country which is persecuting them, often have to carry false documentation or they may have to destroy documentation and take on a false identity.

We understand that and it is not a difficulty. However, once they make an application for asylum and go before the commissioner to have their case examined and go before the appeal board, we want them to come clean about their [1354] identity because, at the heart of the application process, we must have the identity of the person making the application. There is no difficulty about somebody having travelled on false documentation or subsequently destroying that documentation provided they are able to explain their identity and why or when the question of false documentation arose and its context. If a successful applicant wants to make a new start in life, they must start with their identity. The hearing and the appeals process are confidential and there will be no disclosure of matters which could be damaging to them or their relatives in their country of origin.

Section 21 deals with the revocation of a declaration and subsection (1) essentially follows Article 1 (c) of the UN Convention which sets out the circumstances where the protection afforded by the convention shall cease to apply. The question of revoking the status of a refugee is unlikely to arise frequently in practice and in fact the Department of Justice has no record of any case in Ireland where refugee status has been revoked. Furthermore, as revocation can have very serious implications for the individual concerned, it is considered appropriate that the process should fall within the competence of the High Court. Accordingly if a person's declaration is revoked, that person can, under section 21 (5), appeal against the decision to the High Court.

Section 22 provides for the implementation of the Dublin Convention which has been signed by the member states of the European Union. It was signed by then Minister for Justice, Deputy Burke, during Ireland's last European Union Presidency. The primary purpose of the Dublin Convention is the protection of the rights of an asylum seeker to have his or her claim determined in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees. We are all aware that there have been cases where asylum seekers have been sent back and forth from one state to another. This is a phenomenon that has become known as “refugees in orbit”[1355] and it was precisely to cure that type of situation that the Dublin Convention was drawn up.

The stated aim of the convention is to guarantee that an applicant who makes an asylum claim in one EU member state will have his or her application examined in one of the member states in accordance with the terms of the UN Convention relating to Status of Refugees. In the Dublin Convention, member states specifically reaffirm their commitment to the UN Convention and undertake to co-operate with the UNHCR in its application.

It is important to bear in mind that the convention does not change asylum law or the obligations on member states of the European Union under the UN Convention. What it actually does is set out rules for determining the state responsible for examining an asylum claim. For example, if Ireland has issued a visa to a person who then travels to France and lodges an asylum claim there, Ireland would, under the convention, be responsible for examining the application for asylum. If the situation were reversed and France had issued a visa and the application were lodged in Ireland, then France would be responsible for the examination. Of course, the responsible state must accept responsibility before an applicant can be transferred. We have specifically provided in section 22 that an application cannot be transferred unless the other state has agreed to accept it. Furthermore, while a state is bound to accept an application for which it is responsible, a state is quite free to decide not to transfer an application to another member state and to assume responsibility for examining it.

I am aware that concern has been expressed in some quarters that if, under the Dublin Convention, we were to transfer an application to one of our European partners that country might send the applicant back to his or her country of origin. In that context I would point out that all EU states are parties to the UN Convention relating [1356] to the Status of Refugees. Indeed, the Dublin Convention's starting point is that it guarantees that the member states honour their obligations under the UN Convention which specifically provides that no contracting state shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. This is called the non-refoulement principle and is in force in all states which are parties to the UN Convention and the Dublin Convention. Senators will have heard me refer to this principle when discussing section 5 of this Bill which will put it into effect in our law.

It will not be open to any member state to return applicants to countries where they may face persecution. However, it is always open to any country, including this State, to return to the country of origin a person who has exhausted the entirety of the asylum process and at the end of the day has been found by that process not to be a refugee within the meaning of the 1951 Convention. The Dublin Convention in effect guarantees that an applicant will have the opportunity to exhaust those processes in one of the member states.

Our ratification of the Dublin Convention will enable us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners in Europe, many of whom have an exemplary record in dealing with asylum seekers. For example, the Netherlands and Sweden have a history and tradition in relation to the rights of asylum seekers which I do not think we can claim to match. Senators may be interested to know that the numbers of persons seeking asylum in western Europe has increased from about 30,000 per year in the 1970s to about 300,000 at the end of the 1980s and peaked at almost 700,000 in 1992. Germany, for example, in 1992 alone, at the peak of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, received over 430,000 applications for asylum and still has an annual intake in six figures.

[1357] It is ironic that the flow of asylum seekers is much more acute in these countries precisely because of this tradition and their humane approach to human rights issues, such as dealing with asylum seekers and refugees. They have had to meet these problems on a scale which is almost beyond our capacity to imagine. Our in-flow of refugees currently amounts to about 200 people per month. It is important to remember that the approach of our European partners is based on practical experience and on a belief that the asylum process must be upheld for those who really need it.

The 1951 Convention on refugees seeks only to protect asylum seekers and refugees. That does not mean that there are not many other people who have very valid reasons, including economic reasons, for seeking to move from one country to another. The 1951 Convention is there specifically to protect people who need asylum because of fear of persecution. It is important that we uphold that convention and that we do not dilute it and the protection it gives to genuine asylum seekers. There may be severe problems in relation to other people who legitimately wish to go from one country to another but that is not the same as saying they are asylum seekers or entitled to refugee status.

It is important to remember that for the Dublin Convention to be effectively implemented following ratification by the original twelve signatories, a number of implementing measures will still have to be adopted. As a general rule for implementation of the convention, member states have agreed that action should be pragmatic and taken on the basis of the principle of goodwill. A network of contacts, for example, needs to be built up which can speed up the allocation of responsibility and make it possible to continue practical co-operation. In addition, the possibility cannot be ruled out that certain concepts might be amenable to a more precise definition. That would have to be done in light of a specific need once the Dublin Convention has come into force. In this respect the Dublin Convention provides [1358] for the establishment of a committee made up of representatives of the member states to examine any question of a general nature concerning the application and interpretation of the convention. It is my intention to avail of this provision in the event that any particular difficulties or problems come to light after the entry into force of the convention.

Section 24 deals with what are referred to in the Bill as “programme refugees”. These are groups of people who are granted the protection of the State on foot of a Government decision as part of an internationally agreed programme, generally in response to a request from the UNHCR. Such groups are not necessarily limited to persons who would be deemed to be refugees under international law. There are no statutory provisions dealing with programme refugees and the opportunity is being taken in this Bill to clarify the legal status of such persons. For example, at present we have 500 people who came here as programme refugees from Vietnam, most of whom were boat people, and 500 people from the former Yugoslavia, mostly Muslims from different parts of Bosnia. The Bill gives these people, once they are accepted as programme refugees, the same entitlements as a refugee under the 1951 Convention. Although they have not come through the procedure of making an appeal, making an application or having a hearing, they are granted programme refugee status under a decision of the Government, in consultation with the UNHCR, before they arrive here. There are about 1,000 such people in the State.

I now turn to an issue which is not specifically provided for in the Bill. The provision of legal assistance to asylum seekers is seen as an essential feature of the refugee application process. I am pleased to tell the House the Government has agreed that funding for such legal assistance should be provided on an administrative basis to asylum seekers who require assistance in presenting their claims. The details of how such a scheme will operate have not been [1359] finalised but I can give the House an indication of the essential features of such a system as I perceive it and of the steps taken so far towards putting such a system in place.

The scheme should be independent. By this I mean that it should be, and should be perceived by its clients, the asylum-seekers, to be acting in their interests alone and not influenced by the State as an institution in the delivery of its service. It should have stability — in other words, whatever means is finally settled on to provide this service should have lasting structures designed to ensure that in years to come legal aid continues to be available, unaffected by changes in personnel or other such variables. As to the scheme's quality, in my view the best guarantee of a good service is the involvement of the UNHCR as part of the management or oversight of the operation. It is important also in this regard that local NGOs with an interest in this area can have a similar involvement. The scheme should also be accountable. Since public moneys are to be involved, it is important that controls are in place to ensure that there is no appropriation of funding to other purposes and that reasonable value is obtained by the taxpayer in providing a quality service. This is not by any means an exhaustive list and it is quite clear that these qualities are not exclusive of each other.

A number of possible models have been considered in the Department and we have had extensive consultations with the UNHCR's London representatives, who cover Ireland as part of their responsibilities. We have also kept in close touch with, among others, the Irish Refugee Council and the Irish Red Cross Society, who have made a number of valuable suggestions. The present position is that we have put a strategy for a possible legal framework for the scheme to the Chief State Solicitor, who has in turn consulted the Attorney General. In light of the complexities of the matter, the Attorney has decided that independent advice be obtained. We are [1360] in the process of getting that advice and I hope to be able to keep Senators abreast of developments as they arise.

Other items not dealt with in the Bill include welfare and other assistance for asylum seekers. No such provisions are included because they would only be necessary in the context of restricting the rights of asylum seekers. Such people who arrive in Ireland are treated under the relevant legislation equally with Irish citizens. They receive welfare assistance equal to that received by Irish people of similar means. They are entitled to supplementary welfare assistance and rent allowance and are usually housed in private rented accommodation.

It is important that we recognise the generosity of the Irish response not only to asylum seekers but also in the broader context of refugees abroad and those brought here under Government decision. Under the Irish development aid programme, about £5.5 million last year and a higher sum this year has been allocated for emergency humanitarian assistance, most of which will go to refugees or displaced persons. A further £2.5 million will go to rehabilitation programmes. In addition, this year we have given a grant in excess of £1 million to the UNHCR for its work for refugees and a further £350,000 to the UN Relief and Works Agency to support Palestinian refugees.

There are approximately 1,100 programme refugees admitted to Ireland under the terms of specific Government decisions, of which approximately 550 are Vietnamese and a similar number of Bosnians from the former Yugoslavia. By the end of 1996, we anticipate there will be more than 1,200 programme refugees in Ireland. It is clear from these figures that Ireland has adopted and continues to adopt a generous approach to the problems of persons who are threatened in or forced to leave their countries. This is also the policy that underlies this Bill, which when enacted will ensure that our procedures for dealing with applications for refugee status [1361] will meet the highest international standards.

I have mentioned these examples of Irish generosity not so that we can pat ourselves on the back. It is only just and morally right that we, as a relatively well off and peaceful country, should assist people in dire need in other countries. However, I think it is important to highlight this generosity in the interest of an informed and balanced view of the overall part which Ireland plays in assistance for the plight of peoples forced into refugee situations worldwide. Also, as we are commemorating the Irish Famine which caused so many people to leave this country, it is appropriate that we should be discussing refugees and giving them a statutory framework of protection. Many countries were generous to Irish people in their hour of need and it is historically appropriate that we remember that.

The full and generous fulfilment of our international obligations is also reflected in the Refugee Bill, 1995. It incorporates fair and transparent procedures, provides many safeguards for applicants and clearly sets out the rights of an asylum seeker or a refugee in this State. I am of the view that the Bill has benefited from having been debated so exhaustively already and that it represents a synthesis of the views of all areas of the political spectrum. I am convinced it is better legislation for that and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Mulcahy:  I thank the Minister for her comprehensive, almost mammoth speech on this topic, because this important legislation deserves such an address. Ireland should not clap itself on the back for a speedy response to the problems of refugees, because we acceded to the Geneva Convention as long ago as 1951 and it has taken us, as legislators, all this time to put this matter on a statutory footing. The Minister accepts our procedures were not what they should have been. In many cases before the High Court, people arrived in Ireland and it was attempted to put [1362] them “ar an gcéad bád eile”, in the words of my old headmaster on Inis Oir.

The issue of refugees is especially poignant for Irish people. The Famine is not a good example because it involved economic neglect primarily and, as the Minister of State mentioned, the Geneva Convention does not cover those suffering economic neglect. This Bill deals with cases which involve persecution.

There are two forms of refugees. Programme refugees are those who come to Ireland under a Government sponsored programme. The refugees from Vietnam or Bosnia would be examples. The Bill does not concern itself enough with programme refugees. Only one section deals specifically with them and it says they will have the same rights as those who obtain the refugee certificate. In my experience not all of the programme refugees are very happy with their treatment and rights. A complaint made to me on many occasions is that family members cannot come to this country. There must be a limit to the number of family members which any one person may bring to Ireland. However, I was recently informed of the case of a programme refugee from Vietnam who has been in touch with the Department of Justice to try to get his elderly father into Ireland. This person faces the possibility that unless his father gets into Ireland he will never see him again.

We have to admit that in the past the Irish administrative response has not been everything it should have been. We are sometimes lacking in sensitivity even now. That said, there will always have to be a balance between the rights of the members of a community and the rights of people coming into that community. One cannot expect the members of a community to share a disproportionate burden. If hundreds of thousands of refugees were seeking to come to Ireland there might be a negative public response because we have problems of unemployment and social deprivation. As it is, we have perhaps a couple of thousand refugees. However, for those who come to live here having [1363] been persecuted, our response should be open, transparent, fair and speedy.

We have nothing to be proud of in our response to refugees. It was only the 1992 case of Mr. Gutrani which forced the Legislature into action. The Gutrani case concerned a letter of understanding between the Government and the UNHCR which Mr. Gutrani sought to rely upon. The Department of Justice maintained that the letter did not have the force of law. Mr. Gutrani had to go to the Supreme Court to get a decision that the letter of understanding had the force of law. Why was there not an earlier recognition of that by the Oireachtas?

Ms Burton:  The Senator and I were not here.

Mr. Mulcahy:  We should all take responsibility for the situation since 1951. Nobody can escape blame for the lack of action.

I welcome the Bill. The original Bill presented by the then Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, was excellent. This Bill has some welcome improvements and refinements. We will now have a two stage procedure. Anyone who seeks refugee status here will have a right to this procedure. They will have a right to have their application examined by an independent commissioner who will be a practising solicitor or barrister. If they are not happy with that they will have a right of appeal to the Refugee Appeals Board. In general, the two stage procedure will ensure a degree of independence and integrity in the procedure for applications for asylum.

The Bill makes no mention of any special detention facilities for people who come to Ireland. Some may be hungry, tired and frightened, or they may have been the victims of torture. I hope the Minister of State has been cooperating with those dealing with the victims of torture. They have indicated that people may come to Ireland in a traumatised state. The Bill does not specifically address this issue or the general [1364] issues of detention or specialised medical facilities. The victims of torture require expert medical facilities.

There is a simple way to solve the legal aid problem — one could add refugee applicants to the list of categories for which legal aid is available under the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995. If the Attorney General does not have time to draft such an amendment I will do it free of charge. Refugee applicants should be an established category of the civil legal aid system. I will table an amendment on that matter which I hope will not be opposed.

No appeal mechanism on a point of law exists for decisions of the Refugee Appeals Board. Provision should be made for an appeal to the High Court on a point of law. With regard to tribunals such as the Valuation Appeals Tribunal or the Employment Appeals Tribunal and under the Arbitration Acts, appeals may be made to the High Court on a point of law. The Minister of State should consider making an amendment on Committee Stage to permit appeals to the High Court on points of law.

Ireland and the Netherlands have not yet ratified the Dublin Convention. What is the reason for the delay?

Ms Burton:  We do not have the legislation.

Mr. Mulcahy:  Perhaps the Minister of State would bring forward the necessary legislation.

The concept of persecution should be addressed. In this regard no mention is made in the Bill of non-state forces. The Minister of State will be aware that this issue was recently debated in the European Parliament. Algeria is the most cited example in this regard. A person may be persecuted by the Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria and cannot be properly protected by the Algerian Government. If they came here they would not be entitled to the protection provided by the Bill because the persecution was taking place not by [1365] the State but by a group within the State. While this has been debated in the European Parliament, it should be looked at very seriously.

The question of time limits has not been addressed in the Bill. How quickly can refugee applicants expect to have their cases determined, in the first instance by the commissioner and second, by the Refugee Appeals Board? There are no specific time limits within the Bill, which leaves open the possibility that some applicants could be left waiting for considerable periods. While it would not be possible for everybody to have their cases heard quickly — we too have limited resources and there will be waiting lists — it would not be unreasonable to impose some kind of ceiling. There should be a time limit, perhaps of one year, between the date of the commissioner's finding to the finding of the board. It would not be acceptable to this side of the House if the time limit was openended and it was, for example, taking several years for refugees to have a determination made as to their status. Perhaps the Minister will consider this on Committee Stage.

I have already mentioned family members of programme refugees and I am relatively happy with the provisions relating to family members of declaration refugees. However, again I hope these would be liberally interpreted. However, there does not appear to be any provisions regarding refugees applying for citizenship. Every refugee who obtains refugee status and lives in Ireland should, after a time, be entitled to apply for citizenship. Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts they can so apply after five continuous years residency in Ireland. There is specific mention of refugees in these Acts. However, given that the Bill provides a new statutory framework for applying for Irish citizenship, it would not be amiss to make a specific mention in the Bill to indicate that there is every possibility that those with five years residency under this scheme may apply.

[1366] The chairperson of the Refugee Appeals Board will be appointed by the Minister. The board will also have a representative of the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs in addition to two others. The Bill does not specify the qualifications or otherwise of these two other persons. They are appointed to hear refugee applications and should, therefore, be experienced in international law, human rights law or in dealing with refugees. I am considering putting down an amendment on Committee Stage to the effect that one of these persons would be nominated by the Irish Red Cross, with one of the others being represented by the refugees council. The Government has an in-built majority of three out of five on the board and, barring the independent person, it will have two out of five people on the board.

Ms Burton:  That is not a majority.

Mr. Mulcahy:  I know the Minister does not want a majority, which is why I hope she will accede to the request to have two independent people appointed as the fourth and fifth members of the board.

The Minister indicated that legislation has not been introduced to ratify the Dublin Convention. There must never be a conflict between the Dublin Convention and the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention is an international agreement, entered into by members of the UN in the wake of the Second World War to deal with the specific problem of refugees at that time. The Dublin Convention is completely different in nature. It is, at this stage, an informal arrangement between members of the EU as to how they will deal with applications under the Geneva Convention. It is a subsidiary agreement and there should be an unequivocal provision in the Bill that, in the event of a conflict between the Geneva Convention and the Dublin Convention, the Geneva Convention should be supreme. This is very important because it is possible [1367] that there could be conflicts between the two.

Internationally, this is a complex area of jurisprudence and it will become more so in the future. It raises another problem regarding the hearings of the Refugee Appeals Board. The identity of persons must be kept confidential. However, this is not the position with regard to some cases under English law where, essentially, a separate division of the High Court deals with immigration and refugee cases. There was a high profile case one or two weeks ago involving a man from one of the countries of the Middle East who was going to be deported to a country in Central America. The immigration court would not allow his deportation because it could not be sure he would be safe. The case illustrates the necessity for some method of reporting cases to build up a jurisprudence of cases before the board. If this is not built up, the law will not develop and the sharing of knowledge between those involved will not take place. By all means protect the identity of refugee applications, but devise a means where there can be anonymous reporting of cases.

Another criticism of the Refugee Appeals Board is that the applicant has no right to call witnesses, subpoena a witness or subpoena documents. The board has the right to call witnesses and documents. Where does the burden of proof lie? Is it on the applicants to show they are being persecuted, or on the board to show that they are not being persecuted? The burden of proof should be addressed. We must consider requests to the board by refugees that they must call witnesses, some of whom are reluctant and must be subpoenaed. In view of the rules of natural justice, one must give each side the equal right to be heard and to present their case and evidence. I will be putting down amendments allowing applicants to subpoena documents and witnesses. It is a common practice in other tribunals established by the State, most notably the Valuation Appeals Tribunal and the [1368] Employment Appeals Tribunal, where it is open to either side to subpoena witnesses or documents. I therefore ask the Minister to strongly consider this aspect.

I welcome the Bill without equivocation. It is a generous response on behalf of the Legislature to the refugee problem. Sadly, it is a growing problem, because more and more countries appear to be oppressing their people. If China invaded Taiwan quite a few million refugees might suddely be looking for asylum. This problem could grow, even in the modern world, which is sad to relate.

I thank the Minister for all the work she has done on the Bill. I know she accepted many amendments in the other House. I hope that, in the same constructive spirit, if we put down good amendments they will be accepted.

Mr. Neville:  I welcome the Bill to the House and thank the Minister for her comprehensive outlining of the issue and of the details of the Bill. This is not the first time this issue has been discussed in this House. On 10 November 1993, I introduced a Private Member's Bill which was not accepted by the House. We are pleased that some two and a half years later the Bill is now being enacted into law. It is a very important human rights issue.

There are over 19 million refugees in the world today. Many of these people have undergone horrendous torture and persecution and have fled their own countries out of fear for their personal safety. When they arrive at doorsteps of countries all over the world seeking refuge, how are they received? All Governments react differently. The reaction by the Irish Government in the past has been not only seriously inadequate but on many occasions both cruel and inhumane. In the past people were turned away, sometimes physically forced back onto an aeroplane, and sent away for another country to deal with. I come from the mid-west and I am only too familiar with what has happened to refugees who have come into the country through Shannon airport. They often [1369] did not come to anyone's notice but were deported without access to any assistance, or were alternatively lodged in Limerick jail.

In the past we have incarcerated refugees unnecessarily and denied them the protection they are guaranteed by the UNHCR. Those who were allowed to stay were neglected. They often did not receive proper medical care, no proper housing arrangements were made for them and their educational opportunities were inadequate. In simple terms, Ireland did not make them welcome.

At a time when we agreed to admit to this country a number of Bosnian refugees, a lone refugee from the former Yugoslavia who did not belong to the main group arrived unannounced and sought political asylum. He was flown to Paris before any consideration was given to his application, without any opportunity for him to present his case, even though 500 others were being accepted for similar reasons. In November 1990 four Sri Lankans arrived and sought political asylum, but they were deported within the week. Despite the civil difficulties and political unrest in their country, two others were deported within two days of their arrival. In one week the Department of Justice had returned these victims to India without taking any action to ensure that they would not be sent back to Sri Lanka from India or that their safety would be guaranteed.

In October 1990 a young Chinese student, Mr. Lau, who had joined a huge demonstration for democracy in China, arrived in Ireland having escaped arrest. He had been accused of treason and tortured. Instead of being humanely treated when he arrived in this state seeking asylum, he was detained for seven months in Mountjoy Prison. Subsequent to his release the then Minister of Justice determined that he did not qualify for recognition as a refugee. No public explanation was given for this decision.

It is of the utmost importance that this legislation guarantees that the great [1370] injustices of the past are not repeated in the future. It is therefore necessary to take every precaution to ensure that this Bill not only meets but exceeds the standards of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. We have the opportunity here to set our policies at the highest standard of international human rights protection.

I wish to acknowledge important steps the Minister has taken in this direction. It is important that the definition of refugee has been laid out in accordance with that established in the 1951 UN Geneva Convention. It is particularly significant that the Bill specifically includes persons who have been or are likely to be persecuted due to their gender, sexual orientation or their membership of a trade union. We have all been made painfully aware of the persecution of these groups, specifically in the area of gender. We all know of the violence that has been perpetrated against women in Bosnia, particularly. Unspeakable acts have been carried out against women there. The cases of sexual assault and abuse of women are countless, and this has sent large groups of victims fleeing for protection. These people need the assistance which this Bill provides.

It is important that once we admit asylum seekers to Ireland, we take the necessary measures to meet their needs. Concerns have been expressed by Amnesty International and other interested parties about the treatment of asylum seekers by State agencies. It is important that the policies for handling the welfare of asylum seekers be defined. In order to provide adequate support for asylum seekers organisations such as the Refugee Agency need sufficient funds to meet their growing needs. It is important that the Government responds to ensure that these agencies fulfil the important role they have carved out for themselves in this area.

These people, some of whom are victims of torture, have undergone severe psychological stress and need to have access to counselling and other social [1371] services. It is necessary that every action is taken to ensure that interpreters and free legal aid are provided to those seeking refuge. I welcome the Minister's statement about this today. While asylum seekers may speak enough of a European language to have travelled to Ireland, it is doubtful that they have acquired the skills to properly understand and comply with the application procedure for refugee status. They will need assistance to ensure that their rights are properly protected pending the hearing of their application.

The term “manifestly unfounded” has been addressed in section 12 of the Bill and great concern has also been expressed over this concept. It is important to remember that many refugees who arrive in Ireland are terrified and have been assaulted. They have been battered. They fear nothing more than being sent back to the country from which they are fleeing. The UNHCR handbook states that, “In most cases a person fleeing from persecution will have arrived with the barest necessities and very frequently without personal documents.” It has also been well documented that these people frequently carry forged documentation or have destroyed documentation in order to flee their own country. Specifications need to be made in order to ensure that these genuine applicants are not pushed away under this clause. To an extent the Minister has clarified this today. Perhaps provision could also be made to require the commissioner to make sufficient inquiries and take sufficient measures before an application is deemed to be manifestly unfounded.

It is important to emphasise that if we are going to take the steps to protect and assist refugees within Ireland, we also do not allow refoulement to take place. I am concerned that the implementation of the Dublin Convention could allow an asylum seeker to be returned to another EU country where the policies could allow deportation to eventually take place to the country from which the refugee fled.

[1372] Perhaps a provision needs to be included to ensure that people seeking refuge from persecution shall not be sent to a country which might return them to their country of origin. While Ireland does not get a large number of applications for refugee status in comparison to other countries, the number of people seeking such status is growing, as the Minister pointed out. In the past Ireland has been far below international law standards and this legislation gives us a chance, not just to catch up in terms of where we should have been for 45 years, but to exceed that point. Instead of constantly trying to keep up with the rest of the world, we should set standards which will encourage the world to keep up with us.

I wish to raise a matter of concern which has been brought to my attention in relation to section 9. The Minister referred to this section earlier. Section 9 (15) (b) states:

the order aforesaid is made, and is expressed to be made, because the Minister considers it necessary in the interest of national security or public policy . . .

This relates to a decision not to accept somebody as a refugee. Concern has been expressed about the term “public policy” and I ask the Minister to clarify it. I understand public policy to mean a policy Ireland adopts to ensure that its best position is put forward. For example, the policy might be to ensure that trade would not be affected by any decision taken by the State.

I have made many friends through the Muslim society in Dublin and some of my best friends are from Libya. Ireland has had trade relationships with Libya, such as the export of live cattle and meat to that country. Although it is not as important now, this was a large contributor to our economy at one stage. However, other countries are important in terms of our economy. Could public policy decide that, in the interest of trade, Ireland will not accept refugees from certain countries and that we would look differently at refugees from [1373] Eastern Europe and Libya? The term “public order” was also mentioned; this is different to public policy. In her reply, will the Minister specifically address the concerns drawn to my attention regarding this issue? Can public policy extend beyond humanitarian considerations into the areas of trade and economics?

The Minister and the previous speaker referred to the response Ireland received during the Famine; Senator Mulcahy said they were economic refugees. That is debatable; perhaps they were also political refugees. Most of these people are refugees for economic and political reasons, but the refugees from Ireland during the Famine were more political refugees than economic refugees. They were persecuted for race and political reasons given the policies of the occupying state at the time. This is why Ireland should be particularly concerned about and empathise with the difficulties experienced by refugees.

For generations, people have left our shores and become refugees in practically every state in the world. We rejoice and celebrate in the success of many such refugees and their families in their adopted countries. For example, one of the first things the most powerful politician in the world did was to seek his Irish ancestors. This is a positive aspect of one's political presence in that country, although that was not always the case. Many countries have been generous to Ireland over the centuries, but our record of generosity in this area since the foundation of the State has been bleak and shameful. It is difficult to understand the approach taken by the State.

I often suspect that a streak of racist bias is involved in our attitude to the problem. We have a smug idea that the Irish are incapable of racism, but this has never been fully tested. We do not have the racial mix of many of our European partners and, if we are ever faced with the issue, I hope we will be as progressive as many other European countries were towards the Irish. However, this does not mean that, in previous generations, the Irish abroad [1374] were not subject to racial bigotry. Social history books are littered with evidence of such bias against the Irish. Let us hope that we have learned from the prejudice faced by past generations abroad.

The Bill should enable people who live in fear of other jurisdictions to live in peace in Ireland. We must recognise that Ireland can play a valuable role in the provision of asylum to people persecuted elsewhere. We must do more than bemoan the inadequacies of others; we must play a positive role and address the problem of refugees who present themselves at our door seeking help and give them the traditional Irish greeting of one hundred thousand welcomes, céad mile fáilte.

We have been presented with a unique opportunity to reverse the general perception of our policy by introducing a sensitive and reasonable approach, the aim of which is to protect those who need it. We must not be thought of as a country to which it is impossible to gain entry. We must be tolerant and strengthen our intolerance of the violation of human rights throughout the world. It has taken us more than 40 years to honour our commitments to refugees under Article 14 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights to which Ireland is a party. This enshrines the basic right to seek and enjoy another country's asylum from persecution.

We have treated asylum seekers in a way which violates human rights and in an inhumane fashion. We have refused them the protection to which they are entitled under international law. They have been incarcerated in prison, often in appalling conditions, and have been denied access to justice. We have failed to meet the basic common needs of such people. I met a refugee who spent six months in Mountjoy Jail. He was incarcerated with sex offenders during his time there. Two years ago he spoke at length to me about his experience and I accompanied him to UCD where we had a discussion with students on the issue. It was most revealing to hear of [1375] his appalling, unacceptable and shameful experience.

The reluctance to provide proper asylum can perhaps be understood, but not condoned, if Ireland was faced with a refugee crisis and there was an avalanche of applications. For many years the average number of applications was fewer than 100. The Minister pointed out that this number has reached the moderate figure of 400 a year. However, in the context of the population of Ireland, this is minuscule and cannot be called a problem. It is only a trickle. One of the most disgraceful episodes occurred during the Second World War when Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Germany were turned away from this country by the Department of Justice on the grounds that they did not assimilate easily and posed a threat to public order.

I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that a commissioner will be appointed to decide on applications. He or she will carry out their function independently and this should instil confidence in the process. It is important that the person appointed is competent in his or her area. This will ensure that those who are genuinely concerned about the plight of refugees can be assured that they will receive fair treatment. I also welcome the Bill's provisions under which a person may be granted refugee status on humanitarian grounds. Having been refused by the commissioner in the first instance, there will always be cases in which the issues involved are not clear cut and where suspension of the procedures is justified in examining the application; circumstances can vary. At all costs, we must ensure that we avoid injustice.

I welcome the provision under which a person granted refugee status may be reunited with their family. The question of family reunification is often of great concern to people who are forced to leave their friends and family in their native country. This is a difficult situation. Many family members are often unable to leave the country and, given [1376] the strength of family ties, it is a cause of great distress to many people if they do not at least know where their families are. It would be of great support to these families if they knew that this State would do everything possible to assist in reuniting them. I am glad provisions to deal with this problem are included in the Bill.

It is very important that the Bill deals with attempts to mislead the commissioner, with which the Minister of State dealt adequately. It is very tempting for refugees seeking entry to this country to overstate their case. They will do everything they can — as would any of us — to ensure the acceptance of their applications. It would be only human for them to do this. We must be sensitive to that situation and understand it, while ensuring we obtain, and decide on, the true facts. The commissioner should be sensitive and look behind questions to ensure the full case is known.

I welcome the fact that refugees will be able to avail of legal aid in making an application. They will not, of course, be in a position to defend themselves in court, particularly if they do not speak English. It is important for them to be provided with solicitors, as we dealing here with people with little or no financial resources.

I welcome the fact also that we will have a clear basis in law to deal with refugees when the Bill is enacted. It sets out the rights of applicants, the protections which have to be granted to them and the assistance which is to be afforded to them when they look for that protection. I am particularly pleased this Bill contains provision for a refugee appeals board so we can be sure that, as far as possible, justice has been done in specific cases. This will be an important provision in the future because there is no area of law where we can always be sure matters will be properly done the first time around. Even if we can be 99 per cent certain that justice will be done if we apply the provisions of our law, it is very wise and [1377] necessary to provide for an appeals procedure.

In our debate on 10 November 1993 I was disappointed the then Minister of State in the Department of Justice, Deputy O'Dea, did not see fit to accept our Bill and, as I said at the time, amend it accordingly. Perhaps, with hindsight and the debate which has taken place on this Bill, the same opportunities might not have been there because of the circumstances which surrounded the change of Government. Therefore, I should temper my criticism of the nonacceptance of our Bill in 1993 as it was for the better in some ways. However, it did not help refugees seeking asylum in this country since 10 November 1993 until the signing into law of this Bill, because they had to deal with the present situation. Many of them would not have been incarcerated if the then Minister had been more generous in his response to the Bill which I introduced in 1993.

I congratulate the Minister of State on bringing such a good Bill before the House. I hope it will be fully debated on Committee Stage.

Dr. Henry:  I join with the two previous speakers in congratulating the Minister of State on this Bill. I also praise the work put into it by her predecessor, the officials in her Department and by Senator Neville in the Bill he brought forward. This Bill, which has taken quite some time, could be one of the best Bills dealing with refugees in Europe and the rest of the world.

It was rightly pointed out that we have not ratified the 1951 Convention, which is unfortunate. How are matters progressing with the 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Convention? It is approaching the third anniversary of the day when I asked for an Adjournment debate on that matter. At the end of last year I was unable to find out if they had been ratified. I would hate to have an anniversary Adjournment debate on the subject. Ireland and Liechtenstein are the only states in Europe without refugee [1378] legislation at the moment. This Bill is an important step forward in fulfilling our obligations under international law to ensure protection for individuals who are in flight from persecution.

Programme refugees are the main body of refugees we receive in this country. I am glad the Minister of State has brought them within the scope of this Bill because it is unfortunate they have been without legislative acceptance within this country for so long. Only a few hundred asylum seekers apply as individuals or groups to this country at ports or airports, particularly, as Senator Neville said, at Shannon Airport. The public found totally unacceptable tales of refugees being summarily expelled from this country, with the excuse that they thought they were in Gander being used to push them back onto aeroplanes. It is good that this legislation will prevent such bureaucratic mistakes being made in future.

The Irish Red Cross, of which I am a member, was always particularly resentful — not of the fact we were asked to care for refugees, in which we took great pride, in the refuges in Ennis and Dublin, but that refugees were too frequently incarcerated in prison. It would have been perfectly easy for them to be looked after by the Irish Red Cross, which was entrusted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to do so.

The Dublin Convention has already been covered very thoroughly. However, I wish to make a point in regard to the common travel area between Ireland and Britain. Refugees may have little knowledge of the Dublin Convention, and even less of the common travel arrangements within the British Isles. Could the situation arise where if refugees attempted to seek asylum here via Britain and it was suspected they might seek asylum here, they would not be allowed to land here? It is not clear from the Bill whether that situation could arise. This is important, due to the legislation regarding the return to third countries as a result of us being signatories to the Dublin Convention.

[1379] As was already said, the Dublin Convention allows for the return of individuals to other signatory states. That, effectively, means that when an asylum seeker arrives here, having travelled thorough another Dublin Convention state, they can be returned by the Minister for Justice without any right to appeal, as far as I can see in the Bill. I know the right to appeal is not guaranteed under the Dublin Convention, but it is extremely important we stress that our central obligations to non-refoulement in the 1951 Convention should supersede anything to do with the Dublin Convention.

Refugees should not be returned, either directly or indirectly, to countries where their life and freedom might be in jeopardy. If the authorities carry out removals of asylum seekers to Dublin Convention states under section 22 of this Bill, presumably based on a blanket assumption of safety and without any close examination of the procedures available in those jurisdictions, they will effectively breach Ireland's obligations under the 1951 Convention. This part should be uppermost in our minds when we apply this Bill.

This point is highlighted by current practices in other European states. I wish to quote from a recent study by Byrne and Shacknove, which is to be published in the Harvard Human Rights Journal shortly. It provides extensive evidence that the assumption asylum seekers can receive equal protection in all European states is deeply flawed. Consider the official statistics on asylum decisions in other European states. In 1992 over 70 per cent of Turks who applied for asylum in the UK were granted asylum or humanitarian leave to remain; in the Netherlands the percentage was 25 per cent, while in France it was less than 15 per cent. They are huge differences and there is no reason to believe that different types of asylum seekers would have come to those three countries. However, look at the differences — 70 per cent in the UK, 25 per cent in the Netherlands and 15 per cent [1380] in France. In the case of Chinese applicants — in view of the situation between China and Taiwan at present this could be important — over 85 per cent were allowed to remain in the UK while in France only 5 per cent were allowed to remain. These are incredible differences. The recognition rate for Iranians was over 90 per cent in the UK, under 20 per cent in the Netherlands and 55 per cent in France. These are just a few of the study results but they show that there is no uniform standard of protection throughout Europe. We must bear this carefully in mind.

Some individual cases are very worrying, particularly because minors were involved in the two cases I wish to quote. The first case involved two unaccompanied minors who were Turkish Kurds. They arrived in Munich Airport on 12 May 1994 and they applied for asylum. Their claim was refused on third country grounds as the two asylum seekers had spent some time in Rome Airport. They were removed to Rome where they intended to apply for asylum. According to a relative who later made contact the asylum seekers were deported to Turkey by the Italian authorities and they have now gone into hiding.

The second case involved one adult and five children from Somalia. They arrived in Brussels in May 1994 and they were put into detention for nearly six weeks. Their application was turned down under the accelerated procedure which can take place there. They were returned to Prague, through which they had travelled already, and were sent on to Bratislava, where they appear to have been kept in the most appalling conditions. The UNHCR discovered they had no access to a telephone or interpreter, were given one meal a day and had to sleep rough on the floor. In spite of the intervention of the UNHCR, Slovak authorities refused to hear their asylum application and they were deported back to the Ukraine. These people had been travelling between the Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Belgium.

[1381] Organisations such as Amnesty International and the European Council for Refugees and Exiles have well documented cases of asylum seekers who were moved to third countries within Europe, were then bounced back to other third countries and ultimately ended up in the country of origin. Effectively, through a series of deportations, no state ever seemed willing to assess the merits of their claims. The blanket assumption that our European neighbours are safe third countries will make Ireland yet another party to the practice which the Minister of State called “refugees in orbit” and which I have heard called “chain deportations”. We have seen a recent example of that with the case of the men who travelled back and forth six or seven times on the boat between Rosslare and Cherbourg. Perhaps it would have been a idea for them to have signed on as ship's hands and try to seek asylum in that manner.

This is an area in which we must be extraordinarily cautious and ensure that anything to do with the Dublin Convention is superseded by the 1951 Geneva Convention, which I hope we are about to ratify. The State may be tempted to dismiss the legal argument that blanket third country removals constitute a violation of international refugee law by attributing it to the convenient perspective of advocates. Yet the Byrne and Shacknove study reveals that this view is shared by senior appeals adjudicators in the United Kingdom as well as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In a staggering percentage of cases, when evaluating the evidence of asylum procedures in many European states and in light of the UK's obligations under the 1951 convention, immigration appeals adjudicators in the UK are unwilling to uphold Home Office decisions to remove asylum seekers to third countries considered safe. In the first nine months of 1995, over 40 per cent of Home Office safe third country declarations were not upheld upon review. Most of the countries which the UK appeals adjudicators did not consider to be safe third countries [1382] are signatories of the Dublin Convention.

Under the Refugee Bill asylum seekers, regardless of their circumstances, will automatically be returned to these states with no right of appeal. It may be more expedient for Irish authorities to prevent appeals and avoid the complications of seriously considering their obligations under the 1951 convention with respect to third country removals, but expediency should not be the paramount concern when fundamental rights of life and liberty are at stake. If there is going to be a genuine commitment to the principles of the 1951 convention, this Refugee Bill must ensure that all removals to third countries are based on careful scrutiny of the protection considerations for asylum seekers in the respective states, paying due regard to the treatment of asylum seekers of particular national and ethnic groups within those states.

It is not insignificant that this Bill does not even discuss removals to third countries in the context of safety. The extent of the commitment to protecting refugees who travel to Ireland via Dublin Convention countries extends not far beyond a perfunctory consultation with a Department of Foreign Affairs list of parties to the treaty and the reception of confirmation that an asylum seeker will have their claim processed in the receiving state. Furthermore, although the Refugee Bill is faithful in many respects to the language of the Dublin Convention, it ignores an important obligation contained in the treaty. It does not require that when an asylum claimant has family members who have been recognised as refugees in Ireland, the Minister for Justice should assume responsibility for examining the application, as required under article 4 of the Dublin Convention. Although there are provisions in the Bill for family reunification, there are and may be considerable time delays in proceeding with such requests. In these circumstances, removals to third countries should not be carried out as it causes undue and unnecessary stress and hardship to families [1383] who have already suffered considerably.

The Minister has explained why the word “possible” is inserted in the section of the Bill dealing with interpreters. People from 52 countries have arrived in this country in the last five years and we have not failed once, as far as I know, to find an adequate interpreter. Why include the word “possible” to allow for a failure in the future when we have not failed in the past? Even if one is obliged to communicate with a person by cartoon, there must be some method of communicating. To make the claim in the first place, the person will have had to have spoken in some known form of language. It is surreal to suggest that the person will then clamp up and decide to speak in a local dialect from Chechnya or some such language that is only spoken by a couple of hundred people. I wish the Minister would remove the word “possible” from the Bill.

I now understand more fully the situation regarding false documents. We must expect that many asylum seekers arriving in Ireland will have false documents. Indeed, how could they have the contrary? Following the Minister's explanation, I understand that they are not expected to give full explanations to the first immigration officer they meet, which is what I had originally thought the situation would be. Forgeries can be explained further into the process and this procedure can be provided for satisfactorily.

I share the Minister's concern about anonymity. This is extremely important because the problem involves not just the individual seeking asylum. The Minister may have seen a recent Channel 4 documentary in which refugees, including one from Zaire, explained that they could not give their names because of what might happen to their families. The NUJ must explain cases and I understand Senator Mulcahy's concerns about a level of jurisprudence being built up. An anonymity claim must be respected.

[1384] The appeals board is heavily regulated by the Minister. I wonder if it could not have been more broadly based. Like Senator Mulcahy, I would like to see people on the board, two independent members, with expertise in international or refuge law. The Minister may say it is hard to find such people but when one seeks them out one is surprised by how many there are. It would greatly enhance the commission if such people were the independent members, they would not be considered subservient to the Minister.

It is not expressly stated in the Bill that an appeal will operate to suspend a deportation order and that the applicant will have the right to remain in the State pending the result of the appeal. This should be included and Amnesty International, of which I am a member, is anxious about this. The absence of adequate structures in the Bill for a truly independent review of Government decisions calls into question a genuine commitment by the State to the basic principles of the 1951 Convention.

The Second Schedule relates to the composition of the commission and the voting procedures and section 22 authorises removal to states which have signed the Dublin Convention without the right to an appeal. The appeal board will comprise a chairperson with not less than ten years' experience as a practising barrister or solicitor, an officer of the Minister for Justice, an officer of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and two persons not being officers of the above mentioned Ministries but appointed by the Minister. The term of membership will be three years and in all but one of the appointments and in all the dismissals, the appointments will be made by the Minister for Justice.

Most detrimental to the ability of the tribunal to render impartial decisions are the provisions which establish the quorum for a meeting of the appeal board. Senator Mulcahy had a problem with the number on the appeal board but the real problem is that a quorum is three and for a majority of three, only the chairman and two members are [1385] needed. All questions before such a meeting could be determined by two people. As the appeal board stands, the Government's decision to deny an asylum application could be upheld by a majority vote at a meeting of three members of the board. It is within the bounds of possibility and the letter of the law that the two votes which would constitute a majority could be those of the officials from the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs — officials with the Ministries' interests at heart. These officials would sit in judgement on decisions made by their Ministries.

If anything has been learned from international refugee law since the 1951 Convention, it is that the greatest challenge to providing protection for refugees lies in creating fair and efficient procedures which are insulated from the pressures of foreign policy interests and immigration control. The experiences in North America and western Europe demonstrate that the protection of individual human rights under international refugee law will be compromised unless asylum seekers receive an impartial and independent review of governmental decisions. This requires that the appeals process must be designed with adequate safeguards. I do not know if this is happening here.

I wish to refer to the United Kingdom's appeals procedures. In the United Kingdom the Home Secretary plays no role in the appointment process and in the financing of Immigration Appeals Tribunal. When one considers the functions of the review board, one is hard pressed to identify any reasons a Justice Minister needs to be involved with appeals. In the UK the review process is strictly independent. Appeals adjudicators are recruited through the posting of public job announcements and are appointed and paid by the Lord Chancellor's Office. The design of the British model for asylum appeals provides a safeguard to ensure that asylum seekers will not fall victim to the conflict of institutional interests — something which this Bill does not achieve.

[1386] The removal of the inappropriate influence in the review process of the Minister for Justice and, to a lesser extent, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, would add considerably to the legitimacy of the determination process. This could be at negligible cost to the State. Even if the Minister has faith in the ability of officials to subordinate institutional concerns and prospectus, the legitimacy of the board will still come into question. As long as the legislation creates the potential scenario where the right to appeal amounts to Government representatives possessing the power to uphold the decision of State authorities through the exercise of a majority vote, it is inevitable that asylum seekers will feel that they are not receiving adequate procedural justice. The perception of fairness is an important component of an effective asylum determination system.

I am delighted with the inclusion of a section relating to minors, which is extremely important. Unfortunately, unaccompanied minors are turning up with monotonous regularity at airports and ports. I welcome the section which provides for their care and which places them under the Child Care Act. Great pride should be taken in the fact that this Bill will be the first refugee legislation enacted in the world which provides explicit recognition that persecution based on gender and sexual orientation are grounds for political asylum. This legislative commitment advances developments in Canada and in the United States, which have introduced administrative guidelines on gender persecution for asylum officers.

Although Canada and the United States have adopted gender specific guidelines, we must look at the circumstances which compelled them to do so. It is because of a series of tragic failures to protect female refugees in Canada and in the United States that we can prevent such a situation arising here. There were too many cases where women who had suffered the most atrocious human rights violations by their governments were unable to seek protection [1387] in their own countries and were turned away from countries to which they had fled because there was no consistent legal or policy criteria which obliged asylum officers to acknowledge that sexual violence can be a form of political persecution.

I refer to the case which galvanised the United States authorities into adopting these gender specific guidelines for asylum claims. In 1992 a Haitian woman, who had been an active supporter of Jean Bertrand Astride, fled to the United States seeking asylum. When in Haiti three soldiers came to her house and raped her in front of her mother, mocked her political work and beat her up. After fleeing to the United States, she was unable to convince an immigration judge that she was entitled to asylum on these grounds. She failed to prove that the sexual violence against her was because of her political beliefs. This decision was overturned by the US authorities and it led to guidelines for decision makers on gender specific persecution. The Canadian authorities followed suit.

It is good that the Minister has brought forward these measures to formally ensure that forms of sexual violence can constitute persecution under the law. While many fear that we could face a rush of claims from thousands of women who have suffered cultural repression, we can be reassured by the Canadian statistics, because since legislation was introduced there two years ago, only 2 per cent of claims for asylum were gender related.

I ask the Minister to ensure that if when asylum seekers make their claims, there is any suggestion that they have been tortured, physically or psychologically, they should be interviewed by a doctor with experience in this area. It is extremely important that such experiences are documented, that we clearly demonstrate our determination to expose these cases and that our detestation for these processes in other countries is publicly known.

[1388] I commend the Bill to the House and I congratulate the Minister on all she has done. Like Senator Mulcahy, I hope some amendments will be accepted on Committee Stage.

Ms Gallagher:  I congratulate the Minister and her officials on the amount of work which has gone into the preparation of this Bill. I appreciate her personal interest in refugees. This Bill has been long sought in the House and has been spoken of on several occasions. It is a technical Bill because it sets on a statutory basis what was an informal administrative system which linked up with our obligations under the convention and procedures set up through the UNHCR.

While the Bill does not make easy reading, it comprehensively deals with how Ireland, as a modern state, will treat refugees and those seeking help in the future. It is always welcome to see the belated ratification of conventions — this one dates back to 1951. Although we have been party to it since 1956, I am amazed at how slowly the wheels of power turn and that we are only dealing with it now. Be that as it may, it is better late than never.

I welcome that from now on people arriving in Shannon and elsewhere will not need to rely on the whim of an immigration officer as to their future. This legislation will provide procedures within which immigration officers must operate. They must follow a certain code and standard which is necessary not only in terms of legislation and our obligations under the convention, but in terms of humanity. These people are frightened and are fleeing from unfortunate circumstances. Whether those circumstances are political, social or economic, they have certainly come from deprived backgrounds and need assistance. This is a welcome procedure whereby the immigration officer is obliged to inform the person seeking assistance of their right to a solicitor, to notify the UNHCR of their claim or circumstances and to consult with the UNHCR or an appointed solicitor for [1389] that purpose. This is the start of a very practical line of assistance.

We must deal with what will happen pending an appeal. It is not specifically stated in the legislation that a deportation order would need to be held pending the procedure, something to which the previous speaker referred. It seems remiss not to specify this in the legislation which is comprehensive in all other aspects. Perhaps the Minister will come back to me on that. The right to enter the country and to remain pending the initial application, whatever about the subsequent appeal, is long overdue.

I appreciate the provision in relation to the travel document for those who do not have legal papers. The practicality of this is necessary if one is to allow a classified alien, without proper papers, travel throughout the country. The provisions in Article 33 of the UN Convention have been broadened in section 5 of this legislation, which I welcome. I appreciate the Minister's efforts to ensure that it went beyond what was in the original convention in that no contracting state to the convention could expel or return a refugee where his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. We have extended this to cover those suffering discrimination in their home countries because of trade union activity and sexual violence. The statistics speak for themselves in terms of refugees fleeing from countries like Bosnia. There was a need to extend this provision and by ratifying the convention we are right to extend it to cover what is necessary.

The setting up of a refugee commissioner is necessary to deal formally with applications. The fact that immigration officers must forward all dealings in relation to applications for refugee status to the commissioner will start the ball rolling. I also welcome the fact that the legislation requires the commissioner to present an annual report so that we can regularly monitor statistics. The report will contain such statistics as from where applicants have come, the [1390] number of successful applications, the number of appeals and how they are dealt with. Such statistical information will be necessary for future use. This is a very practical provision.

The right to be informed of the right to apply for refugee status is essential. It is important that a person be given procedural notification as to what will happen. The legislation states that an interpreter will be provided when necessary, something to which previous speakers referred. In most cases people will have difficulty in this regard and some sort of interpretation facility should be available to those applying for refugee status or to those seeking assistance. Although it would not be possible to provide this facility in respect of every language, it should be available in relation to the main languages. While the legislation states “where necessary” and that it will use its utmost endeavours to procure the attendance of an interpreter at the appeals stage, it is of little use if people cannot be informed of what is available to them. This facility should be provided at an earlier stage because those who arrive on our shores need that information.

The provision of a temporary residency certificate is another practical and welcome measure. In what circumstances will it be necessary that individuals can be required to remain within certain limited areas and that some may be required to report to the Garda pending their applications? I request further details on this matter. I appreciate that this is an implicit attempt to protect Irish citizens, in terms of national security, from major criminals entering the country. However, we must remember our obligations under the UN Convention in this area and not limit, without due cause, the right to movement in this country of individuals whose applications are pending. I ask the Minister of State to respond further on this point.

The Minister of State referred to the notice given with regard to deportation on failure of an application. In humane terms, it is crucially important that this [1391] be dealt with in an informal manner. People who have not found their bearings or are unsure of their future should not be sent a letter informing them that they must leave the country within a certain number of days. It must be remembered that we are dealing with human beings experiencing very difficult circumstances. In light of an individual being deported, I hope adequate notice will be provided in addition to basic information regarding possible future options. This should be done in a humane fashion.

Section 12 contains a provision which deals with manifestly unfounded applications. Other Members referred to the difficulty defining what is meant by “manifestly unfounded”. How can an application be deemed to be manifestly unfounded until a case has been properly heard? The legislation goes some way towards balancing this by allowing the applicant to respond to some of the matters referred to by the commissioner in refusing an application. In terms of natural justice, it seems correct that every applicant should have a hearing and I question the provision on that basis. If there is to be a two-tier system I do not see why this provision is necessary. We will not be dealing with large numbers of people in this regard. Problems will arise because the provision will lead to many automatic appeals.

With regard to the procedures involved. I appreciate the provisions in the Bill which are designed to fully inform applicants about what is taking place. I welcome the fact that an applicant can acquire a copy of the information — except confidential information provided by another state — available to the commissioner. In what circumstances will such information not be made available to an applicant? It is crucial that a copy of all information be given to the UNHCR for monitoring purposes.

The right of appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board is also required in terms of natural justice. Earlier speakers queried the membership of that board and [1392] I agree with Senator Henry's statement that a person could be faced with making an appeal to a board with only three members. In Northern Ireland the Diplock Courts operate on the basis of one person making a decision and, in terms of the appeals process and the membership of the appeal board in the Republic, it seems suspect that two officials from the Department might be responsible for making a crucial decision. It would be preferable if two independent members with experience in this area — toward which many people would not have a natural inclination — served on the board. The area is very technical and some knowledge of international law, specifically related to refugees, would also be essential.

I have not discovered whether the right to legal aid for people appearing before the board is specifically stated in the legislation. If not, why? Section 21 states that the Minister can revoke a declaration on certain grounds but it is unclear whether funding will be made available for an individual to appeal to the High Court. It is difficult enough for Irish citizens to afford a High Court appeal. What will happen to people, who have entered the country in difficult circumstances, making such appeals? It is almost laughable to state in section 21 that they have a right of appeal to the High Court when they might not have access to the necessary funds. Let us be blunt about this. How will such people avail of the provisions of the section when practicalities militate against them? Will legal aid be provided if a High Court appeal is necessary? Section 21 also states that the declaration of refugee might be withdrawn by the Minister in exceptional circumstances. Could the Minister of State outline the possible circumstances in which this might be necessary?

The legislation contains a very generous provision which empowers the Minister to allow close family relatives or dependent relations of refugees to enter the State. We should appreciate this in terms of Ireland's history of emigration which led to the break-up of [1393] many families. Families who have suffered should not be separated from each other or forced into isolation in a strange country. I welcome this provision because it deals with the problem in a humane fashion. For example, I know a woman living in County Monaghan who fled the former Yugoslavia. She was distraught because she had to leave her two daughters behind and did not know what happened to them. All she had left to remind her of them was a photograph. The pain she endured was heartrending. Therefore, in terms of our humanity, we must facilitate the reunification of families where possible.

Section 19 refers to the protection of the identity of the applicant. This provision has raised some eyebrows but it is very important because refugees are people who fled their home country out of fear or necessity. It would not be helpful to publish their identities because their right to privacy is paramount. I see no difficulty with that.

I am glad the Minister of State further explained the prohibition and penalties regarding false information provided for in section 20 because it would be common for people to use falsified papers to escape their home country. This is a necessity, given the fact that people will be provided with an opportunity to explain why they might be in possession of false papers. I welcome the Minister of State's explanation but it should be more clearly stated in the legislation.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is that of refugees of pogroms to whom we have been quite generous in the past. I also add a note of caution. Those we called “the boat people” and those who came from the former Yugoslavia speak about the difficulties they experienced settling in Ireland. I know I am going beyond the terms of this legislation but this cannot be underestimated. Their difficulties with language, in obtaining jobs, settling into communities, getting an education, etc. was overlooked in the past. We thought we only had to take them in but we did not deal comprehensively with the problems that went with that. Rescue Trust, an Irish [1394] based voluntary organisation, highlighted that problem to Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and showed gross breaches of natural justice which happened in the past — which is where I hope they will stay.

When we are taking in people in these numbers we should provide them with more than official refugee status and social welfare handouts. In many cases they need additional facilities that were not available in the past. A special programme should be established. When I asked a Department of Health representative not too long ago if the Department had a specific programme for dealing with traumatised refugees in Shannon he replied that it did not. Senator Henry's point about having a doctor specifically trained in dealing with traumatised refugees was answered by the fact that we do not have people in Ireland who are sufficiently qualified and expert to deal with that. That has been stated by Rescue Trust and, indirectly, by the Department of Health. This concerns me. I am not saying that every refugee will need that treatment, but some of them have, and will be, in need of counselling and additional services which might help them to live a normal life.

We will have to look further into providing a proper co-ordinated system. We should not be relying on the Red Cross to do this; the Department of Justice deals with refugee status. The other related issues for the individual concerned are not properly linked in this country. There should be more co-ordination between the Departments of Justice, Health, Social Welfare and, perhaps, Education, in dealing with this matter and in developing an overall programme to help our refugees start afresh; this is the least we can do for people who have suffered so much.

On the need for an interpreter, Amnesty International made the point that while we have received applications from 52 different countries, our refugee application forms come only in five languages. Maybe all these people have an [1395] amazing knowledge of these languages, but I would hazard a guess that many of them spoke only their native tongue, yet it would appear that there were no interpreters on hand. Since the refugees would be better able to voice their concerns and outline their history, circumstances, etc., in their native tongue, it seems essential that interpretation facilities should be provided as a matter of course, and not where necessary and possible. It should be part and parcel of the system.

I am also concerned with section 22 and the provisions relating to the Dublin Convention. It is well known that some countries take a certain attitude to particular nationalities. At different times in history, we might have done the same. However, in honouring the intent of that convention, we should keep in mind that it does, and can, allow for the applicant to be directly or indirectly sent back to their country of origin, obviously against their wishes, in a way that would breach the intent of the convention itself.

I welcome this provision. I have already stated the fact that the deportation order would be suspended pending an appeal needs to be written into the legislation. Otherwise we cannot fault it in terms of its comprehensiveness and the need it addresses. It is important when people use such words as “openness” and “transparency” that Ireland has an open, transparent and formal procedure system set up to deal with people entering our country.

I am told there have been 182 applications for refugee status this year. That figure may seem small but when one thinks of these people as individuals with families and backgrounds, it is important that each is treated properly when entering this country. That has not always happened. We have heard horrifying and dreadful stories of people being incarcerated for months on end without being given any information, advice, support or assistance. That cannot be allowed to happen in the future.

We are a racist nation. One only has [1396] to see how we have failed to deal with the itinerant issue to identify that fact. Irish people abroad tend to be no better, in spite of the fact that we have been glad to rely on the open welcomes given to us when we were, for various reasons, obliged to leave our shores. We cannot afford to forget that or to put ourselves on a pedestal. This attitude may be because we have not been open to other nationalities and races as much as many of our European partners but we cannot afford to ignore it. Our education system should show that people of different colours, nationalities and religions are all human beings and deserve equal treatment. This legislation grants that so far as refugee status is concerned and it is very much welcome. However, it is also important for us as a nation not to be seen to be forced to honour these commitments years after we signed the convention in question. We could afford to be more proactive on legislation dealing with racism and not forget that our problems regarding the equal status legislation deals with the same topic.

Mr. Roche:  I will be echoing some of the sentiments on which Senator Gallagher and Senator Henry touched.

I welcome this Bill and the opportunity it affords us to discuss the whole issue of refugees and the way in which Ireland has dealt with the matter. Like the previous speaker, I strongly take the view that Ireland's record in this matter has not been a distinguished one; it has been far from distinguished. We have, over generations, been willing to surrender our huddled masses to other shores but we have not been generous when it came to receiving the huddled masses from troubled countries.

Not only have we been less than generous with refugees but the way that Ireland, as a nation, has dealt with the question of immigration and refugee status can reasonably be characterised as craven, cowardly and — I share Senator Gallagher's view — frequently, it has been downright racist. We all know of occasions over the years when [1397] people, simply because they had a darker complexion than the rest of us, were put through extraordinary procedures by our immigration personnel, and that does not rebound favourably on us. At the point of entry into this country, we are and have been effectively operating policies which have been dictated by British immigration policy. It is a remarkable state of affairs for an independent nation.

The Bill is welcome and long overdue. It will bring a degree of certainty where there has been less than certainty. We have been far too conservative in the matter of refugees and there are a couple of points in this Bill where we are still being far too conservative. We have been conservative and lax in placing on the Statute Book a process for handling refugee cases. It is extraordinary that while we acceded to the 1951 UN Convention in 1956 and became a party to the related Protocol in 1968, we allowed the best part of 40 years to slip by since we first entered these waters before we put the issue of handling refugees on a statutory footing.

The administrative procedures surrounding the handling of refugee cases in Ireland have in my view been hidebound. They have been bound up with an unnecessary degree of red tape. They have been secretive and it has been difficult to find out precisely what is happening in specific cases. They have been indecisive and, in my view and that of other Senators, they have been tainted with occasional racist bias. They have been far from an adornment if we like to consider ourselves to be a civilised and welcoming nation.

The Bill is welcome because it addresses comprehensively many of the issues that have arisen on this thorny issue over the years. I welcome the certainty it creates. The Minister will understand that any questions I raise are not carping criticisms of the Bill. They should be seen in the light that I am personally strongly supportive of what is being done in this Bill but I [1398] would like to see it improved even further.

I welcome the opening provisions of the Bill, the definitions of refugee and the clear extension of rights to refugees. That is very important and it is stated clearly in the Bill. The people who drafted those provisions are to be complimented. However, I have queries and the first arises under section 5. Section 5 is interesting because it is brought into focus by something which is happening in Britain at the moment. I would never consider the British authorities or their approach to immigration or refugees as a model which we should follow. However, we should occasionally learn from their mistakes.

As both the Minister and the House will know, there are difficulties relating to a Saudi doctor, a dissident, in the UK at the moment. The UK authorities decided that while he is entitled to some form of refugee status, he will serve his refugee status on a Caribbean island because it has become a difficulty for the armaments industry, which is a powerful lobby there. The issues raised by this case, which came before the High Court in London last week, were how, if this refugee is moved to an island in the Caribbean, the British authorities can be certain he will enjoy freedom and, most importantly, how can they be certain he will be free from assassination.

Section 5 of the Bill suggests that we return people to other territories where we would be happy they would not undergo persecution. We would not necessarily send them back to the country of origin but we would send them to some third party. I am not sure how we can give effect to that or how we can afford protection to people. The only place we could guarantee a refugee protection would be in this country and that in itself would be difficult. Given the current case in the UK, is this an issue we should address? I would welcome the Minister's views, not specifically on section 5 but on whether the Minister is happy that if we move a refugee to another destination, we could guarantee [1399] his or her security and safety. I would not like to see any provision of this Bill becoming a means whereby we could dump people into a third country where they would not be protected. I know that is not the intention of the Bill.

Section 6 establishes a commissioner who shall be independent in the performance of his or her functions. This is, in effect, the same formula we use in other legislation. We use it in social welfare legislation when referring to appeals officers and there is case law which requires the appeals officers to operate independently in the performance of their task. There was one celebrated case where both an appeals officer and a Minister received some chastisement from the High Court for transgressions in this regard. While the social welfare appeals system and appeals officers are, by and large, independent, they are not necessarily perceived to be independent. I will make a parallel point in some more detail when I discuss the appeals board itself.

If the commissioner is to be an appendage of the Minister for Justice, it does not matter if he or she is an independent minded person — even as independent minded as Thomas More — the reality is they will be perceived as being joined inextricably to the Minister. I would like to see the independence established more clearly by separating the Minister and the commissioner and later the appeals board.

As far back as 1981 I wrote suggesting that we needed some independent appeals mechanism in this area of immigration and refugee appeals. I suggested the function should be vested in a special stand alone office or officer under the general office of the Ombudsman. The independence of that office would be accepted in those circumstances. I am not casting aspersions on any public servants who service appeals offices. By and large, they do an extremely good job and are as independent as they could possibly be in the performance of their task. However, in any appeals mechanism it is critically [1400] important that the mechanism is perceived and accepted to be independent.

Section 7 provides another umbilical cord between the Department of Justice, the Minister for Justice and the commissioner. This section deals with the report of the commissioner and provides that the commissioner shall, not later than three months after the end of each year, issue a report in writing to the Minister. This formula is also used widely in other legislation. I often wonder why the Houses of the Oireachtas enact legislation year in and year out which provides for this approach. It would be a good thing if the commissioner and any other commissioner were to report directly to both Houses of the Oireachtas and if a report was submitted to the Oireachtas and the Minister at the same time.

I do not accept there is any good reason why Ministers get reports. During my own years in the Civil Service we used to get reports which would sometimes cause a frisson of excitement about the Department if they were mildly critical. However, the reality was that we are never going to change or interfere with them because it would become a political cause célébre. The process of reporting to the Minister undermines the independence of these offices. The independence would be much better stated and established in the public view if the independent commissioners were requested to report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I ask the Minister to address that issue when replying and tell us what argument can be advanced to persuade us that the report must always be made to the Minister, who then decides to pass it on to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Section 9 of the Bill has caused a number of speakers here and in the Dáil to indicate some concern. This section deals with the general issue of leave to enter or remain in the State. I cannot understand the restriction in section 9. If a refugee comes into this country and has business to perform elsewhere, possibly to examine the possibility of taking up residence in another country, why [1401] not allow him or her to transit? One could keep in contact with the authorities in the other country. There might be worries that such freedom here could operate as a backdoor to countries like the UK and there would be some administrative difficulties, but I cannot understand why we should effectively incarcerate a refugee on a portion of this island while the case is administered. Others have raised a query on this point so I will not labour it, but I would like an explanation at the end of Second Stage. I have a question, prompted by this and other sections, about the way we deal with people who come into the country but do not seek refugee status, slipping in by some method. These people are usually frightened; how adequately will the legislation deal with them?

Section 9 (5) and other provisions refer to the Garda. The person will be required to report at specified intervals to an immigrant officer or a member of the Garda Síochána specified in the notice. I understand why this is in the Bill, because this country requests immigrants to report to gardaí; but, as Senator Gallagher said, all too often these people come from a totally different culture and are frightened. They do not understand our culture, that we are proud of the Garda Síochána or that it is a people's police force. Refugees may not share the Irish public's benign view of the Garda. For example, a person fleeing from a country where he or she has been subject to oppression by a repressive police force might have difficulty dealing with the gardaí. I do not know how to address this without putting into place a different form of administration, but this problem is worth bearing in mind.

I experienced another aspect of this matter last night when I had to go to Bray Garda station to have a passport document signed. Our police force's primary task, as the Minister has said many times, is to be on the street protecting the peace, not stuck in the barracks administering various schemes. All too often we offload administrative details [1402] of important schemes on the Garda, because it is easy to do so. We did that when there was a problem with passports — Garda stations now record details of every passport inquiry which arises and occasionally receive telephone calls from the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is an exercise in futility, as gardaí seldom refuse to sign the necessary documentation.

Section 12 also causes concern; it is clearly not intended to be preventive but it could be subject to that interpretation. A number of Members raised this on Second Stage in the Dáil and received assurances from the Minister, but I ask that this point be addressed again.

The issue of language was raised; it always fascinates me and there is a classic oxymoron in section 10. The draftsman could have done better than this:

The immigration officer or, as the case may be, the member of the Garda Síochána concerned shall, without delay, inform a person detained pursuant to subsection (8) or (13) of section 9 or cause him or her to be informed, where possible in a language that the person understands . . .

This is nonsense because one cannot have meaningful communication with a person in a language he or she does not understand. This is not a pedantic point — we are enacting legislation and it should be clear. There will be no communication under this provision and the draftsman should re-examine it. I know what he means — in a world with several thousand dialects, it may be difficult to communicate in the right language. The Swiss authorities have an interesting way of doing this. They roughly establish what part of the world the refugee comes from and have a series of language indicators, whereby the people point out the language they most approximately understand and are given information in writing. However, this also presupposes that the person can read. The Minister should look at this [1403] wording because it could cause a legal difficulty. If we are going to inform a refugee it must be in a language he or she can understand, otherwise no information will be imparted.

I agree with the appeals board mechanism. There must be a further appeals system and this is as good as any. However, this is not an independent appeals board, which is what it purports to be. We would expect to find a number of criteria or characteristics in an independent appeals mechanism. First, it must be psychologically, physically and financially accessible — there are no great difficulties on that point. Second, it must be independent and perceived to be so, and I do see problems there. Third, it must be capable in the sense of possessing the capacity, manpower, training and back-up staff to fulfil the mission of the appeals mechanism — there should be no difficulty on that point. Fourth, it should be powerful in the sense of having the capacity to enforce its judgments and to seek enforcement of them. There are other criteria for an appeals mechanism, but I will not delay the House.

The board established and detailed in the Second Schedule does not fulfil the most important of this criteria and the Minister should explain why. The chairperson of the board will be a solicitor. That is a worthy profession; and although this House has raised questions about them from time to time, I will not dwell on that because I might offend some colleagues. It is stipulated that the chairperson will have some experience as a solicitor but he or she could come from a departmental background. The second member of the board will be an officer of the Department of Justice; the third member, an officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs; and two other persons not from either Department but possibly from another Department. The board is further tied to the Minister in that the terms of their appointment and through which they keep and hold office are determined by him or her. This is bad. [1404] As I said earlier about the appeals commissioner, if one establishes an agency and suggests it is independent, not just in the exercise of its function but in its composition, it must be seen to be independent. Both the commissioner and the board fail the acid test in both those regards. Between now and the later stages, the Minister should give some time to this point.

This is a good and timely Bill. I welcome it and will be pleased to support it. However, I will be listening anxiously to the Minister's answers to the few queries I raised.

Mr. Sherlock:  This Bill will ensure, for the first time, that refugees are guaranteed minimum rights and fair procedure. This Bill is not perfect and I will deal later with some elements which I would like to see improved. However, it is a credible attempt to provide for current and future refugees and, perhaps, to make amends for historical wrongs.

Ireland has an abysmal record with regard to our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Just a few years ago refugees were regularly incarcerated in Mountjoy. Incarceration without charge or trial was an improvement on the State's actions during the 1930s, when Jewish refugees fleeing from the horror of Nazi Germany were turned away by the Department of Justice on the grounds that they did not assimilate easily and posed a threat to public order. I was extremely disappointed that last year, when the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the concentration camps was being commemorated, the opportunity was not taken to make a formal apology.

The Refugee Bill has a sorry history. For many years those calling for comprehensive asylum legislation were greeted with persistent cries of “The Bill is in the post”. Deputy Shatter's Private Members' Bill was rejected by the Fianna Fáil led Administration with the excuse that it was preparing a better Bill. When it finally arrived, the 1994 Refugee Bill introduced by the previous [1405] Administration proved to be a deeply flawed instrument which, if it had been enacted, would have provided asylum seekers with the bare minimum of safeguards. The reluctance on the part of successive Administrations to provide proper asylum procedures could, perhaps, be understood, but certainly not condoned, if Ireland was faced with a refugee crisis such as that which confronted Germany some years ago.

Ireland has never been and is never likely to be a favourite destination for refugees. At the end of last year there were 564 applications awaiting determination, and for many years the average number of applications was under 100. That scarcely constitutes an avalanche. It is little more than a trickle.

The Bill we are debating is a vast improvement on the 1994 Bill and the Minister is to be congratulated on the efforts she has made to ensure that procedures will be fair and transparent. However, I have residual concerns, some of which were addressed by my Democratic Left colleague, Deputy Lynch, when the Dáil discussed the Bill on Committee Stage. While I understand the legal reasoning behind the decision not to accept amendments put forward in respect of, for example, the definition of “public policy”, I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that restrictive terminology in the Bill will only be invoked where absolutely necessary.

I am also concerned about the implications of “fortress Europe” for our national asylum policy. In recent years national initiatives have been increasingly constrained by the parameters set down by the European Union and in many cases, especially with regard to social and employment legislation, this has been a force for social progress. However, I am extremely concerned that national human rights initiatives, such as asylum legislation, should be forced by instruments such as the Dublin Convention to conform to the lowest human rights standards in the EU. The implications of this are especially worrying given the possibility that in the [1406] future the EU and the Dublin Convention will be expanded to include countries which have questionable human rights records.

The Bill includes a provision whereby the Dublin Convention can be introduced by ministerial order and the legislation draws throughout on the EU's so-called “third country” provisions. Asylum laws in jurisdictions such as Germany and France are extremely restrictive, and it is highly likely that a person who would be granted refugee status under the proposed Irish legislation would be refused were they forced by the third country rule to apply in the country where they first arrived. Despite the fact that their basic rights might not be guaranteed, Ireland may be bound under the Dublin Convention to return an asylum seeker who arrived from any other EU member state to that jurisdiction — from where they might well be returned to their country of origin.

In effect, the Dublin Convention means that, in certain circumstances, an asylum seeker may be returned to a jurisdiction from which they may be returned to a country where they may face persecution. In this regard, I welcome the provisions in section 22 (2) (h), which provide that an asylum application may be referred to the commissioner notwithstanding the fact that a convention country has responsibility for the application. This provision is the only faint chink of light with regard to the Dublin Convention. I am also concerned at the provisions in the Bill regarding manifestly unfounded applications. In particular, I am concerned that persons travelling with false, forged or stolen identity documents may be treated as manifestly unfounded. Refugees, by definition, do not travel in the normal way. They do not queue up in the passport offices of their countries of origin to get travel documents. In many cases they flee with little more than the clothes on their backs, having stripped themselves of all they possess in return for forged or stolen documents with which to escape. That is the reality of [1407] asylum seekers and our asylum laws should recognise that reality.

I accept the provisions in this regard are a vast improvement on those in the 1994 Bill in that an element of reasonable cause has been introduced. However, all the evidence shows that a large percentage of refugees will be travelling with irregular documentation. The onus should be on the State to show that they did not have reasonable cause for so doing rather than the other way round. In general, the conditions which may cause an application to be regarded as manifestly unfounded are too broad and may well lead to a genuine refugee being fast-tracked and then refused.

I am also concerned that a declaration, once granted, may be revoked if, for example, the conditions in the refugee's country of origin have changed. We know that a week is a long time in politics and in countries where persecution is rife change may be very short lived. A refugee whose declaration has been revoked may be forced to return to a country on the basis that the political situation has changed, only to find themselves the victim of persecution some months or years later. It is also unreasonable to expect a refugee who has made his or her life here — established a career and perhaps a family — to simply up stakes and return to a country which they may not have seen for ten or 20 years.

I am also concerned about the provisions for asylum seekers to be detained pending determination of their application. Admittedly, the provisions in this legislation are a huge improvement on the 1994 Bill which provided for infinitely repeatable 21 day detention orders. Nevertheless, if the provisions in this legislation are applied in their most stringent form, an applicant could find himself detained from the moment of arrival until his or her application is determined at some future date. In effect, a person who has neither been charged nor been convicted of any crime may find themselves indefinitely imprisoned. I urge the Minister to look [1408] at this section again with a view to further limiting the circumstances in which an asylum seeker may be detained and defining the conditions under which they may be held.

The issue of interpretation is also one which has given rise to considerable concern. In some cases asylum seekers will speak a European language, probably English, French or Portuguese. In many cases, however, they will speak only their native tongue, or will have insufficient command of another language to enable them to put their case effectively. While I appreciate the difficulty of obtaining the services of an interpreter in all cases, the sections governing the provision of interpreters should be strengthened throughout the Bill and any information conveyed to an asylum seeker orally or in writing should be in a language and a form that he or she understands.

We are legislating not just for today or tomorrow but for ten or 20 years down the road. In finalising this legislation we have a chance to set down a clear marker, nationally and internationally. We can ensure Ireland is not part of “fortress Europe”. We can ensure that those who have been denied the most basic rights in another jurisdiction may find a safe haven in this jurisdiction. The 1995 Refugee Bill goes a long way towards achieving that objective. Many of its provisions — such as the absolute right to social welfare and other entitlements — are unique and set a new standard in international human rights practices. I appreciate the efforts the Minister and her officials have made to cover all the eventualities.

Mr. Hayes:  I thank my colleagues for co-operating in such an open and transparent manner. I welcome this Bill.

Debate adjourned.

Mr. R. Kiely:  I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the Government's neglect of the cattle [1409] and beef industry; calls on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to secure the restoration in full of export refunds; and calls on him to fulfil his long standing commitment to institute a package of measures to sustain the sector in the face of the deepening crisis in the beef sector.

I appeal to the House to adopt this motion and to reject amendment No. 1 in the name of the Leader of the House which reads:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: “Seanad Éireann endorses the measures which have already been taken by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to address the difficulties being experienced by beef producers, commends efforts by the Minister to secure a full restoration of export refunds and welcomes the measures contained in the Structural Fund Food Sub-Programme and in the recent budget to improve the competitiveness of the beef industry.”

Is the other side of the House serious about this? A headline in the Farmers' Journal of 6 February 1996 referred to “special breed premium shocks”, another headline on 24 February spoke of a “crunch approaching on beef” and a further headline of 10 March refers to the “beef crisis deepening”. As these matters are very serious for the beef industry, I fail to see how the other side expects its amendment to be accepted.

Since last autumn export funds have been cut by 35 per cent with devastating results for cattle farmers. Cattle bought last September at 106p and 107p per lb. are being sold at 98p per lb. After months of winter feeding this represents a loss of up to £70 per head of cattle. Figures from Teagasc show that a price of 105p or 106p is required to break even. To make a profit of £30 per head, farmers would need to get approximately 109p per lb. As late as last Monday I took bullocks to Galtee [1410] Meats in Charleville and was told I would get only 98p per lb. I was very bitter about this. I am sure that many farmers who have suffered losses of this kind are nearly suicidal. To spread this loss over the spring at £70 per head on 460,000 steers would amount to £32 million, a staggering figure, and this assumes that situation does not get worse.

There is no prospect of matters getting any better, indeed they will probably get worse. Farmers have held back stock hoping that matters will improve, and there is now a glut of cattle that will have to be sent to mart. With lower export funds in operation and no competition from the live trade, there are realistic fears that prices will fall even further.

The Minister has political responsibility for this calamity. He is out of touch with what is happening in Brussels and out of tune with how business is done there. His eye is off the ball. He was repeatedly warned of the effect the successive reductions in export refunds would have on the price of cattle but he ignored it. According to the Farmers' Journal of 28 January 1995, bullocks were quoted at 107p per lb. They are now quoted at 98p per lb. A bullock at 107p per lb. last year would have made £900, whereas now a similar bullock at 98p per lb. will only make £824. This represents a loss of £1,520 on 20 cattle and a loss of £3,040 on 40 cattle.

This illustrates what farmers have lost to date. Would any other section of the community lose such money? Yet we are now expected to pay levies for the beef industry. This is a burden on the farmers. The Government could make other sections liable, but it is the farmers who will be made to pay. The Minister is responsible for this.

This year prices came down. In January prices were 100p per lb.; they are now 98p per lb. In March 1995 prices were 109p per lb. A bullock sold at 109p per lb. would have made £900 last year; this year the same bullock will make £809, a loss of £91, or £1,820 on 20 cattle or £3,040 on 40 cattle. These are the [1411] kind of losses farmers are enduring during the Minister's stewardship.

Under parliamentary privilege, the Minister launched an attack in the Dáil on the largest participant in the Irish beef industry. This attack, which the Minister was not prepared to repeat outside the House and which he has been unable to support, is outrageous. In attacking Mr. Goodman, he has deliberately and unnecessarily undermined the entire beef sector.

The attack by the Minister on Mr. Goodman was, perhaps, most notable for its timing. It coincided with a period of growing embarrassment over the Minister's handling of the beef fine. From last autumn he repeatedly made it known that the fine could be negotiated downwards to £50 million. It has become apparent that this is not possible. The Minister's deteriorating relationship with the EU Agriculture Commissioner and with other officials has placed him in a dilemma. If it was possible to reduce the fine, as he claimed months ago, this is not the position now.

There are serious political questions to be answered by the Minister as to how and why relations with the EU Commission on this and other issues have deteriorated. Clearly his relations with the Commission have not been helped by the series of attacks he has made on it over the last few months on a number of issues — once on the Agriculture Commissioner at the Berlin Food Fair. This attack, with other comments he made, have been badly received by the Commission. If the Minister is in a hole it is one of his own making.

Given this, it is possible to see the context of the Minister's attack on Mr. Goodman. It reveals that the Minister is unable to handle his own business and is searching desperately for a scapegoat. The farming organisations are disappointed with the Minister's attack on Mr. Goodman. My colleague, Senator Quinn, who is not in the House, said last [1412] week when speaking on the bovine disease legislation:

I would like to address directly a remark made in the other House last week by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry when he said he would shed no tears if Larry Goodman left the industry.

Senator Quinn, who is very much involved in the retail business, said

Let me speak from the experience of a major buyer of Irish beef. As one who is part of a European group and who has introduced supermarket groups right across Europe to Irish suppliers of beef in both those capacities, I would be very sorry indeed to see Larry Goodman leave the Irish beef industry.

He said that in his experience and in the experience of his European colleagues, Mr. Goodman's company provides a level of professionalism and an ability to address the concerns of the customer that is quite exceptional in industry. He said that nobody likes irregularities. I will not condone irregularities or what happened in Rathkeale, the plant nearest to me; but we had the beef tribunal and nobody has been charged. People just want a scapegoat. There are irregularities in other countries in the EU, I understand, and there are irregularities in other areas of life. We do not tackle social welfare irregularities, on which the Government loses a lot more finance, as vigorously as we tackled these irregularities.

An Cathaoirleach:  The Senator has one minute left.

Mr. R. Kiely:  That was the shortest ten minutes I ever spoke for.

An Cathaoirleach:  The Senator has had eleven minutes.

Mr. O'Brien:  I will give Senator Kiely a few minutes of my time.

[1413]Mr. R. Kiely:  I had better get my house in order if that is the case.

Some weeks ago, attending the launch of the Teagasc annual report, the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Yates, used the occasion to announce that the “cheque in the post” era had ended for farmers. The president of the IFA, Mr. John Donnelly, said this was a terrible political blunder by the Minister. The Minister has no good news to deliver but he seems to be most anxious to deliver the bad news.

The Minister also took the opportunity to say that if Irish farmers were more efficient inside their own farm gates, up to £200 million could be saved. He pledged that Teagasc would work with farmers to deliver these efficiencies and provide consequent extra profit for farmers. However, the Minister did not say how he would address the growing staff crisis in Teagasc. It has now become apparent that even as he was announcing the campaign for efficiency, he already knew that he could not and would not deliver the staff Teagasc needs if it is to work with farmers to create greater efficiencies. There is a shortage of staff all over the country, especially in the farm development programme. Farmers have to wait over two years to get grants and all that time they are paying interest on the money they had to borrow to invest.

Some 44 jobs were sanctioned to Teagasc last week. Of those 44 positions, only three are permanent. The remaining 41 are temporary and will last only for the duration of these structural funds. None of the ten positions that Teagasc sought in the area of training and education was sanctioned. This is disgraceful, as the main reason for the existence of Teagasc is to train and educate young farmers. This is necessarily the core of any drive towards greater farm efficiency. The Minister for Agriculture's campaign for greater farm efficiency is a bottle of smoke.

The Minister has not been able to tackle the short term crisis in relation to the beef export refunds. It is also apparent from his attitude to providing [1414] resources for Teagasc that he is not able or interested in tackling the long term underlying issues that Irish farmers need to face if they are to come up to speed at the end of this round of CAP. I wish to refer to the slaughter premium and to the 40 per cent that need to be killed. We were not able to meet the 40 per cent threshold last year; we were looking at 35 per cent. Now the Minister says he will accept 38 per cent, which will not suffice if Ireland is to qualify for the slaughter premium.

We have another beef sector which normally does not qualify for either of the special beef premia. Mature store cattle are bought in the autumn and sold in the spring. The essential point seems to have escaped the politicians. It is not the absolute price that matters in this sector but the difference between the buying and selling price. Let us examine the difference between the November and January prices over the last two years. In both 1993-4 and 1994-5 there was a rise of at least 4p per lb. This year there has been a fall of up to 7p per lb. The basic sums are that simple. Should finishers simply be told that these are the vagaries of the market and must be lived with? This does not wash.

Ireland has been pushed by deliberate EU policy into reliance on third country markets. In 1995 over 80 per cent of our steers went to third countries. Russia was our most important individual market in 1995 for the full mix of beef products, steers, heifers and cows, as An Bord Bia has pointed out. The UK and France were our next most important market, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. We have a crisis in the beef industry. The farmers who assembled outside that gate today did not do it lightly. They are very worried.

Mr. O'Brien:  I second Senator Kiely's motion. I welcome the Minister to the House. I am delighted he is in the House for this very important motion.

The crisis facing the beef and live cattle sector is very serious. The future of 100,000 cattle farmers and 10,000 workers is at stake and the Government [1415] and the Minister are doing nothing to assist this vital sector, worth £1.7 billion to the country annually. Indeed, the Minister is at every opportunity attacking the industry and destroying confidence in this sector. Farmers should not have to suffer for the mistakes or mismanagement of others. Farmers have over the last decade invested heavily in their business, with new facilities for better production in the market place. Why should they have to bear the 35 per cent cut in refunds by the EU commission because the EU mismanaged the GATT quota? It is an outrage that refunds have been cut by £100 per animal and by £120 per animal for the live exports on last September. This will lead to the financial ruin of the farmers of this country.

The live export trade brought competition to the cattle sales and was a very welcome boost to the sector, yet today our live export trade to Egypt has collapsed and the Australians are filling the orders to Ireland's loss. The Government and the Minister do nothing but talk of imposing further penalties on farmers with their beef fines. No matter how the Minister dresses this up, it will be imposed on farmers. Labour and Democratic Left have run in and out of the beef tribunal, which cost the taxpayers £30 million. They must not be allowed to make farmers pay the beef fines. The European Commission's threat to cut the £60 per head slaughter premium would be the final nail in the coffin for our winter finishers. This cannot be allowed.

I urge the Taoiseach and the Minister to immediately take up the crisis facing the beef sector and ensure the EU restores export refunds and removes the threat to the slaughter premium. Farmers have done nothing wrong and must not have to pay fines on behalf of others. It is time the Minister and his Government colleagues accepted the seriousness of the crisis and faced up to their responsibilities.

I urge the Minister, the Taoiseach and their colleagues to do everything in their [1416] power to help beef producers and live exports, even at this late stage. Senator Kiely mentioned that farmers did not decide lightly to come to Dublin to protest today. The Minister is aware of that and the farmers' action should be taken on board. Everybody knows they had to do it because their lives and families are at stake.

Mr. D'Arcy:  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

Seanad Éireann endorses the measures which have already been taken by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to address the difficulties being experienced by beef producers, commends efforts by the Minister to secure a full restoration of export refunds and welcomes the measures contained in the Structural Fund Food Sub-Programme and in the recent budget to improve the competitiveness of the beef industry.

This subject has been aired in the House many times, particularly in recent months, and nobody needs to be convinced about the difficult income situation faced by beef producers, particularly regarding winter fatteners. This has arisen following various reductions in export refunds, particularly since last autumn. The role played by the winter fatteners to ensure an orderly flow of beef during the year is most important as it keeps employment in the factories and also keeps the supply of meat, particularly for export, going throughout the year.

The origin of the problem is the GATT agreement which was concluded in 1993 and which came into force on 1 July 1995. In these proposals export refunds were to be reduced by 36 per cent over a six year period. This means a cut of approximately 24p per lb. in the price of beef. In addition, in practical terms the GATT agreement means that the export of beef from the European Union must be reduced from 1.3 million [1417] tonnes in 1993 to less than 1.2 million tonnes in the first year of the agreement, which runs until 30 June 1996. This is a serious reduction in terms of volume. On top of these two issues, there has been, particularly in the last six months, the BSE scare in the UK, which has seriously affected the consumer and reduced considerably the consumption of beef across Europe. By and large, these three items together have created the present serious problem in the Irish beef industry.

The GATT negotiations were protracted. They started in 1986 and were scheduled to conclude by December 1990. However, this did not happen because sufficient progress had not been made in many areas, including agriculture. The negotiations did not conclude until 1993 and the United States, New Zealand and Canada found themselves in a far more favourable position than the EU at that point. Indeed, as a result of the negotiations, several areas of agriculture in the EU will deteriorate. In addition, in the negotiations the EU was asked to give guarantees of access to its partners to its market without receiving any similar guarantees itself. This was a very bad mistake.

The GATT agreement came into operation on 1 July 1995 and the beef industry was managed by the EU beef management committee and not by the Minister. Its actions and decisions proved very negative for this country and its beef producers. I cannot understand why the price of cattle was kept artificially high from July to December. It then proceeded to cut the export refunds in November, particularly for the live cattle trade. This created an imbalance and also a situation where there was no competition in the market place. As a result, the price of beef was reduced by approximately 6p a lb. These are the hard facts of the decisions taken in the latter half of 1995.

I am critical of the decisions taken by the EU beef management committee in view of what has happened over the past six months. The GATT proposal is that over six years export refunds [1418] should be reduced by 36 per cent. However, there was a 35 per cent reduction in the first year. This does not make any sense to me and it is a warning to the entire. Community that the actions and decisions of this committee must be monitored closely on a regular basis.

I welcome the initiative taken by An Bord Bia in devising a market strategy for the UK. This market is most valuable and it is on our doorstep. I have always argued and will continue to do so that the steps taken, particularly by the meat factories, have been inadequate in terms of securing the maximum share of this market. Irish beef has a special place with consumers in England and I have no doubt that if our beef was properly processed, packaged and marketed, there would be a huge increase in our share of that market. I accept that market conditions are difficult at present, but there is strong support and always has been for Irish beef in Britain and we should take every step to ensure we exploit that market to its full potential.

There is keen competition from the white meat sector, particularly pork and chicken. However, in terms of consumers, nothing compares to Irish beef when it is properly processed and presented. The issue involves not just the UK market, but also the markets of Europe in general and the German market in particular. The quality of our beef is far superior than most European products. I have no doubt there is possible further percentage gain there and particularly in Italy. For example, a supermarket there was not prepared to put anything other than Irish beef on its shelves. This is great news for Irish beef producers, and numerous other markets are also available across Europe. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that marketing and processing is a priority as far as the beef industry is concerned. The Department, through An Bord Bia, should take a particular interest in securing these markets. The Irish beef industry can gain market share in Europe.

[1419] I ask the Minister to ensure that the GATT agreement, and particularly the beef management committee, is monitored on a weekly or monthly basis. We cannot in the future accept similar decisions to those made this year. I am glad the Minister has taken a serious initiative regarding research and development, because production is just one aspect. We must present what the consumer requires. Unfortunately, our meat has not gained prestige in that regard although we probably have the best meat in the world. I have visited practically every country in the world and conditions are difficult, like those in Ireland. I commend the Minister for taking this initiative, but it must continue.

Mr. Kelleher:  This is a timely motion as thousands of farmers have protested on the streets of Dublin today at the crisis facing beef producers, particularly winter fatteners. Many farmers would not shed any tears if the Minister left the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, because they feel annoyed and let down by him. I spoke to members of the IFA today who feel that very little is being done for them. It is too late at this stage for some of the winter fatteners who have sold cattle at a loss of up to £150 per head.

This was well known in advance and something should have been done about it. We talk about beef management committees in Europe and how export refunds have been slashed, but the Minister must bat for the Irish farmer abroad. The Minister said there is not a crisis in the beef industry but farmers indicated in Molesworth Street today that their livelihoods are in jeopardy because of the inactivity of the Minister and the European beef management committee.

I am very concerned about the whole area of live exports. It is getting a great deal of bad press and does not seem to be supported by the Minister——

Mr. Farrelly:  That is unfair.

[1420]Mr. Kelleher:  ——in the sense that a proper policy must be followed to ensure that regulations and proper procedures are adhered to. The Minister should ensure that happens.

Mr. Farrelly:  That is what he did.

Mr. Kelleher:  A boat from this country can be anchored off Tripoli for two or three days before having to travel to another port.

Mr. Farrelly:  Is the Senator blaming the Minister for that?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock):  Senator Kelleher, without interruption, as the time is very limited.

Mr. Farrelly:  He must be fair.

Mr. Kelleher:  If we are serious about live exports, a conduit will have to be available to ensure such events do not happen in the future. Live exports are coming under threat from Compassion in World Farming and other lobby groups. Their arguments are unfair and are doing a great deal of damage to the world beef industry, particularly the Irish industry.

In regard to marketing, An Bord Bia has been quite successful in the short time since its establishment. However, that is of no consolation to farmers, who are at present facing a drop of up to £120 per animal this year. That is why they came to Dublin to protest today.

We are great at talking ourselves down. The beef tribunal was one of the most embarrassing times to try to market Irish beef abroad. I said a couple of weeks ago in this Chamber that I was in Wales at a young farmers' discussion group meeting when the beef tribunal was set up. They said to me, quite genuinely, that they found it almost unbelievable we would spend up to £30 million on trying to damage our beef industry. A couple of years later, we face EU fines of up to £100 million which will be levied on farmers. I totally object to the levying of any of these [1421] fines on beef farmers. It was not the fault of any particular farmer.

Mr. Farrelly:  Tell us who is going to pay.

Mr. Kelleher:  If the Senator is suggesting we levy the beef farmers, that is fine.

Mr. Farrelly:  Give an answer.

Mr. Kelleher:  The Senator should stand up in this Chamber and say that and tell it to the 5,000 farmers in Molesworth Street today. Perhaps, the Minister will tell them.

Mr. R. Kiely:  Bring him to his knees.

Acting Chairman:  This crossfire is unacceptable.

Mr. Kelleher:  Individual farmers should not have to bear the burden of paying beef fines for which they were not responsible. We can point the finger at the beef processors and producers. We can also point the finger at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Mr. Farrelly:  Yes, who was in charge of that Department at the time?

Mr. Kelleher:  However, we cannot point the finger at——

Mr. Farrelly:  The Senator's colleague was in charge.

Acting Chairman:  Senator Kelleher, without interruption.

Mr. Kelleher:  I hope the Senator will respect the Chair.

Acting Chairman:  Senator Kelleher should address his remarks through the Chair. He is being somewhat provocative.

Mr. Kelleher:  That is the idea of debate. The farmers protesting on the [1422] street today have asked for two things. The first is for no fine to be levied on them and the second is for the Minister to ensure an increase in export refunds so that our beef producers will have a reasonable standard of income in the future. My concern and that of the farmers is shared by many people in the industry — workers in meat factories, haulage companies and so on. This is not just about farmers, because this industry has a huge impact on the economy. The Members opposite have more or less suggested that if the money to pay the fine cannot be found, the farmers should be levied instead. I totally reject that.

Mr. Farrelly:  We can speak for ourselves. We were always able to do so.

Mr. Kelleher:  We will check the record later.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I regret to say I have rarely heard such a poor series of contributions from any Opposition spokespersons as I heard this evening. Senator D'Arcy was the only speaker who addressed some of the real issues involved. It is a rich irony that the sins of seven years of Fianna Fáil administration, which are now being visited on us in the form of beef fines and other issues, should be blamed on me and that such misinformation should be put out in a debate. There is no proposal to levy farmers. A monthly billing system is being put in place for meat processors and it will not be possible for them to invoice it on the slaughter of animals. Some of the remarks made by Senator Rory Kiely in relation to Rathkeale were quite incredible, given there have been convictions in the courts. The alacrity with which Fianna Fáil seems to step forward to defend malpractice in the beef industry never ceases to amaze me.

Be that as it may, I know the damage which has been done——

[1423]Mr. R. Kiely:  We are not defending any malpractice.

Mr. Yates:  ——in Brussels to Ireland's beef reputation, which I am determined to restore. The steps we announced yesterday, in terms of the new anti-fraud legislation and the reorganisation of the Department, will ensure a basis will be found for a reduction in the fines because of the decisive action we have taken to restore our good name. I greatly regret that some of the decisions taken by the Government in the last few weeks were not decided ten years ago. Such action would have served this country very well.

I am the first to admit that winter fatteners, in particular, have had a very difficult time. I am not responsible for the price of cattle. Senator D'Arcy rightly pinpointed the fact that the difficulties currently prevailing in the beef sector are directly attributable to the first year of managing the GATT deal. Under the GATT deal the quota for volumes of beef which can be exported to third countries had to be reduced from 1.3 million tonnes in 1993 to 1.1 million tonnes. Over the period between now and the year 2000 we must cut the volume of those export refunds by 21 per cent and the value by 36 per cent, which will cause difficulties.

These issues are now decided not at a political level but a technical level. That was agreed by my predecessors, which was a mistake because we could have secured a much better political deal at the time. The GATT deal was most unfortunate. However, we have been on our own on this issue because at recent meetings of the beef management committee no other member state, apart from France, was prepared to give us the level of support I would have liked. They have not experienced a drop in prices. The devaluation of the slaughter premium was absorbed by the meat factories and they could have paid a higher price throughout the period.

The real difficulty in the management of the export refunds was that by mid-November, [1424] 60 per cent of the annual quota, namely, 650,000 tonnes, had been prefixed. The Commission saw a situation arising whereby in April or May, before the end of the GATT year in July, there would simply be no prefixations left, so they decided to cut them by 25 per cent. In December we succeeded in getting a restoration of 14 per cent and in February we secured a further increase of 5 and 7.5 per cent. The 7.5 per cent was on fresh male hindquarter cuts which are particularly important to Ireland.

I have been unrelenting in my discussions. Senator Kiely trotted out his remarks as if he had been in Berlin.

Mr. Farrelly:  Maybe he was.

Mr. Yates:  I had a most friendly conversation with Commissioner Fischler in Berlin. To say that I had a row with him is an untruth.

Mr. Farrelly:  Was it he who told Mark O'Connell?

Mr. Yates:  Commission sources were active on Monday ringing my office to assure me that the story Deputy Cowen was telling about a rift between Commissioner Fischler and myself was untrue, disingenuous, insidious, mischievous and damaging to the national interest.

Mr. R. Kiely:  That was to do with beef export refunds.

Mr. Yates:  I am still of the view that, despite the beef fines mess I inherited, we will get a more favourable deal than any other member state in terms of mitigation. That will be decided next week. I am glad to have the opportunity to rectify these matters.

References have been made to the live trade. I am pleased to inform the House about two matters in this regard. The Egyptian market has been very significant. We were kept out of that market because Australian cattle were more competitive. The problem is that Australian [1425] farmers get no premia and they can sell cattle at £30 per cwt. live weight out of Australia. The Egyptian experience with Australian cattle has been unsatisfactory. The cattle are over-fat, so we are now back in the Egyptian market and prefixations have been taken out in the last few weeks for 9,000 cattle. Business with Libya is excellent and we have now agreed with the Turkish authorities in Ankara on the opening of the Turkish market and on a veterinary certificate procedure. I have put in place a series of proactive measures with regard to Libya.

Members of the Opposition spoke about animal transport, but I was the only Minister in the last ten years to do anything about it. We were the first to introduce new rules at national level and within the Union. We also adopted the Australian rules to provide a credible basis for the safeguarding of animals. I cannot be held responsible if an individual exporter does not pay levies to the Libyan authorities and then seeks to blame the Department. I will take swift action to preserve the good name of the bona fide exporters by ensuring that such malpractices will result in delisting. Thus we will have serious people in the business who will provide for the market that exists, especially for plainer types of animals.

When CAP reform was agreed by my predecessor the value of the various premia was extremely beneficial to Ireland; we get a better draw down than anybody else. The rule of thumb is that the price of beef now and the price in 1992 is roughly the same — 98p or 99p per lb. — but the increase in premia is now 25p per lb. Do not think that the Commissioners are fools. They know £370 million is being paid out by my Department in direct income aids and that the sum was agreed at the time on the basis that there would be a fall in the price of beef. Please do not pretend to be unaware of this. That is where the Commission is coming from.

Mr. Farrelly:  They only woke up today.

[1426]Mr. Yates:  We have taken strenuous steps in relation to consumption. Senator D'Arcy referred to this. An Bord Bia had undertaken a strong drive in Britain and Germany and we have established direct links with supermarkets.

I have also taken more rigorous action than any previous Minister in guaranteeing food safety. I have introduced new checks for BSE by depopulating herds, having skull tests carried out on those herds and ensuring that such meat does not get into the food chain. I have taken rigorous action on illegal substances through screening and raids on factories and the publication of details from factories. There is a small coterie of factories which tend to have a higher proportion of residual levels of growth promoters in meat. As a result of these measures we can now give assurances, which could not be given previously, about the quality of Irish beef.

Reference has also been made to the slaughter premium. That is an element of the price proposals we will be discussing in Brussels next Monday and Tuesday under the Italian Presidency. The trigger has been 40 per cent — 40 per cent of a country's kill must take place in the months of September, October and November. We dropped to 35.8 percent in those months of 1995 so we do not qualify. The Commission has proposed to lower the trigger to 38 per cent which means that we still will not qualify. I have made it clear that I will not vote for the broad thrust of the price proposals, although I welcome elements such as abolishing the 22 months premium and so forth. However, I will make my vote in support of the price package contingent on the slaughter premium continuing to be available to Ireland. I assure the House I will be very vigorous in that regard.

The Government has also been supportive through the budget to changes in PRSI and other measures specifically designed to help the food industry. The changes apply not only to the thresholds but also to the rates of PRSI. We also [1427] have given significant FEOGA grant aid under the national food strategy, with a total public investment in the food industry of almost £300 million and, between the private and public sector, and investment of £640 million in new product development, technology and so forth. The big weakness of the Irish beef industry — and my predecessors Deputy Joe Walsh and Senator O'Kennedy did nothing about this — is that 70 per cent of our exports go to third countries. That is why we are so dependent on export refunds. We are in the commodity business and we need to develop a value added food industry that will mean we will be essentially dependent on the supermarket shelves of Europe.

I need no lectures from Senator Kiely or other Members of the Opposition about the beef sector. There are 100,000 cattle farmers in this country and between 13,000 and 14,000 farmers are involved in the winter fattening business. With regard to future increases in income. I never said the day of the cheque in the post is over; I said it had peaked. There is a significant difference. My point, and it applies regardless of who is Minister, is that the increases in incomes over the last three years arising from CAP reform are the result of premium increases. That is now finishing. There are no scheduled further increases. There might be nominal green pound devaluations, but if Teagasc tell me that there are efficiency gains to the value 10p per gallon of milk or 10p per kilogram for sheep and beef production through better grassland management, we must take that very seriously. Future income growth will come from that direction.

The reason winter fatteners had a particularly bad time was the prevailing price of store cattle. At present that price means that those who are in the business of finishing off summer grazing will be in a similar difficulty. Brussels does not regard the prevailing price to be a crisis price. It is regarded as a likely price which will continue for some time. [1428] People should factor that into the price of calves and store cattle.

It behoves me as Minister to give as accurate information as possible so that people know where they stand and not to subsequently point out these difficulties. With regard to prevailing prices. I caution farmers to be careful. I acknowledge that the nature of the premium system is such that some people may receive it and others may not. The system is designed to maximise the draw down for Ireland. If it were altered it could have the effect of reducing the total net transfers from Brussels to the Irish beef sector.

I thank Senators from the Government side for their support on this matter and I assure the House I am continuing to give the beef sector priority attention. When I became Minister there was a crisis in the pig sector. This has been more than adequately resolved and prices of pig meat have increased by 20p per kilo. There was a crisis in the sheep meat sector but we obtained a unique package of £26 million last year which was exclusive to Ireland. We will continue to work assiduously to ensure that the beef sector is protected.

Mr. Townsend:  I welcome the Minister. As the Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important topic. The problem in the beef industry arose because the EU Commission cut beef export refunds by 12p in the £ and live export refunds by £8.58 per £100. This was completely unexpected by farmers. If anybody else knew it was going to happen, farmers did not know. It came at the worse possible time for fatteners. The reduction started in September when most fatteners would have had their yards full. The EU action has greater effect in this country because we export 85 per cent of our steers and all our live exports benefit from export refunds. The episode was handled in the worst possible way by the EU. This industry is worth approximately £1,700 million to the economy and provides many thousands of jobs.

[1429] I have a copy of the five demands made by the IFA. They seem reasonable and there is little between them and what the Minister is trying to do. The IFA demands immediate restoration of export refunds for beef and live cattle in order to return cattle prices to viable levels and to protect our third country market share. The Government amendment takes care of this.

The second demand is that the balance between carcase beef and live cattle refunds be restored, taking account of the slaughter premium, in order to return competition to the trade. What the Minister has said he will do will go some way towards achieving this. When there were few live exports, meat plants took advantage of farmers and paid them low prices; plants robbed farmers in many cases.

The third demand is that the figure of 40 per cent should be reduced to 35 per cent in order to retain the winter slaughter premium. As the Minister said, this autumn there will be a reduction to 35 per cent and he has already taken measures to have this resolved.

The fourth demand is for full protection of the ten months and 22 months special beef premia. I understand the EU has proposed to alter this and I am sure the Minister will act in the best interests of producers.

The fifth demand is for total rejection of any industry levy to pay for the beef fines. This is important and has been the main topic of conversation in my part of the country recently, especially last weekend. It is no harm to recall that when the Department of Social Welfare screwed up the social welfare system and would not pay women their entitlements, the present Minister for Social Welfare was left with a bill for £240 million.

Mr. Farrelly:  Fianna Fáil did not deal with this.

Mr. Townsend:  Who paid the £240 million? It was the general taxpayer, including farmers, the PAYE sector and the self-employed. Who will pay the [1430] more than £60 million which will result from the Blood Transfusion Service Board having screwed up the blood transfusion system? The Minister for Health was left with this Bill. Again, it will be paid by the general body of taxpayers. There is no doubt that some of the beef factories screwed up the intervention system. At the beef tribunal a representative of one of the factory owners was asked why beef was taken out of intervention. He replied that all plants were doing this. What were they doing? They stole container loads of beef from intervention stores.

Mr. Dardis:  I feel another beef tribunal coming on.

Mr. Belton:  Senator Dardis's party called for the beef tribunal.

Mr. Townsend:  Workers in these factories would have been dealt with if they were caught bringing a few chops home in their lunch boxes. There is a similarity between the social welfare, blood transfusion and beef issues. We cannot cod farmers, the PAYE sector or the self-employed. There is no other way these fines can be paid except by the general body of taxpayers. Some meat factories were not in production when the robbery of beef was taking place. They should not be asked to pay and it is not practical to ask them to do so.

Mr. Dardis:  When Democratic left was referred to, you, Sir, showed admirable restraint and impartiality. The importance of the beef industry is well known and I will not catalogue it. The House is bored hearing figures being quoted. The Minister knows them upside down and inside out. We can take the importance of the industry as read.

We must acknowledge the consequences for the economy as a whole when, as in this case, we are looking at a loss to the Exchequer, through farmers, of £100 million. If it were not for the fines, this amount would come into [1431] the country, find its way into farmers' pockets and benefit the rural economy.

It is disappointing that people were actively encouraged by the State, its agencies and advisory services to invest in capital expenditure in the beef industry by, for example, constructing slatted sheds and investing in winter fattening facilities. They did this well but now they are getting a slap in the face. This investment is seen as not beneficial in many ways because of what was done with regard to export refunds and the abandonment of this industry.

People put cattle in their sheds in good faith. It was only after they put the cattle in the sheds last autumn that many of these difficulties arose; that is the real scandal. Where are the guarantees people were given when the CAP reform package was being debated so vigorously and boisterously? Where are the guarantees about the maintenance of income and compensation? They have been abandoned. I want to know how a beef management committee in Brussels can unilaterally decide, without reference to anybody, that these refunds should be removed.

I make the call the farming organisations and others have made to the Minister to do what he can to ensure that those refunds are restored and I know he will do so to the best of his ability. He has spoken in the past about his commitment to the industry and about this matter being a priority. I accept that, but we must ask how will we do this. I am disturbed by something I read in the Irish Farmer's Journal. It said that recent IFA and ICMSA delegations to Brussels got strong indications that there will be some increase in export refunds, but only for live cattle exports to Egypt this month — possibly at the 15 March meeting of the management committee. It also stated that the Minister told the Dáil last week that the EU Commission was unlikely to increase beef export refunds because of the high level of prefixation in recent weeks. Who is right? Am I to assume [1432] that the IFA and the ICMSA are getting better information from the Commission than the Minister because that is the inference from what I read.

Mr. Farrelly:  Did Mark O'Connell write that also?

Mr. Dardis:  To the best of my knowledge, he does not write for the Irish Farmer's Journal.

The Minister mentioned the trigger. How can we institute a scheme which says there should be a slaughter premium to encourage winter fattening and then pull the rug from under the industry we are trying to promote? It does not make sense and I am sure the Minister accepts that.

As regards abuses in the industry, we must be perfectly clear about what is going on. There is a whispering campaign abroad that it is anti-national to talk of these abuses and that we should not mention them because it is damaging our industry globally. I believe this matter should be nailed on the head. The people responsible for the abuses are damaging the industry, not those highlighting them. There seems to be some confusion about that.

This afternoon the president of the IFA spoke about the spin doctors and what they were capable of doing. We must be clear about this: the tribunal found abuses. According to Mr. Justice Hamilton's findings, not everybody was vindicated. Some tax was paid and further tax was not paid because of the amnesty which my party, among others, opposed. The report highlights abuses as regards reboxing, stamps and harvesting beef out of intervention. To what extent are the people responsible for those abuses being pursued? Is it possible after this length of time to pursue them successfully? If there were no abuses, why did the Minister announce yesterday that he was setting up a unit in his Department to deal with fraud?

Another question which must be dealt with is who will pay? It was stated again today by that “we committed no crime and we will pay no fine” and that [1433] farmers did not benefit, which I accept. If a fine is levied on the factories, it will find its way into the farmer's pocket. That is a commercial reality about which there is nothing we can do.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Food was culpable in this as it was the intervention agency and it was charged with administering these schemes properly and ensuring that people did not defraud them. That is at the core of the reason this fine is being levied on us. If the Department had done its job properly, this fine would not have to be paid. I believe I am correct in saying that article 8 of regulation 729/70 states that the Community shall bear all losses — from FEOGA funds and so on — except where it is satisfied that the intervention authority is remiss or negligent in suspending, supervising or recovering EU funds.

The situation has improved since the findings of the tribunal report and Mr. Justice Hamilton acknowledged this. I commend the Minister on anything he does to ensure that those procedures are correct, transparent and are seen to work. Was the European Union kept informed of the progress in terms of recovering the losses? The Department is acting on my behalf and that of taxpayers and it has serious responsibilities.

The Minister put proposals before Cabinet yesterday, which I understand were accepted, relating to the black listing of meat companies that “break the law”. I agree this should be done, but we come back to the problem of how we prove they broke the law which seems to be a central issue. If there were no abuses, there would be no need to establish the Minister's anti-fraud unit. The Minister dealt with the question of food safety and traceability. I ask him to do what he can to ensure that the refunds are restored and get the trigger reduced from the 40 per cent to the 35 per cent level. The Minister will be commended by all sides of the House if he is successful.

[1434]Mr. Farrelly:  I listened to some Opposition colleagues speak about where this problem arose and the fact that farmers would not be too upset if the Minister was no longer in office tomorrow. I spoke to farmers today who had already got their slaughter premiums for cattle killed in early January. If they had had to depend on the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Joe Walsh, they would not have got them until next year.

The GATT reform is the reason for the present position. Some Members may have forgotten who was the main instigator in reforming GATT — the former Commissioner Ray MacSharry.

Mr. R. Kiely:  He did a good job.

Mr. Farrelly:  At the time there were no objections to the proposals he made because we were receiving in the region of £370 million in compensation. The Minister informed us that the Minister of the day did not object to the formation of a beef management committee in Brussels which could make such decisions without any consultation with the countries concerned. That decision has left Ministers and countries in a vulnerable position.

On 1 July last the GATT scheme came into operation and in November the decision was made to reduce export refunds when farmers' yards were 75 per cent full. That was grossly unfair to this country given the dependency on beef finishers. Given that many farmers and the beef industry depend on those 14,000 finishers, the scheme is not fair to them because the two subsidies on most animals are gone before farmers buy them. That was not what was intended. Farmers who buy on average 100 animals will find that they can only claim a second subsidy on 25 to 30 animals. The only way to keep these farmers in the business for the long term is to have an area aid scheme for those who are finishers, giving them a certain amount of money per acre. Since a high number of farmers have suckling cows, there may not be enough finishers to buy the store [1435] cattle. I would not like to see what happened to our beef industry in 1974 occurring again. I ask the Minister and his colleagues — I have sent some information to him — to look at the possibility of examining how the people in that sector will be affected and how many of them will be left in this business in the long term if something positive is not done for them.

I found Mark O'Connell's article last Sunday most disingenuous. He made up stories of how the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry was no longer wanted in Europe and that he was at loggerheads with the Commissioner.

Mr. Byrne:  If you do not hurry, you will not get any money.

Mr. Farrelly:  I wonder who informed that individual because, with all due respect, he would not know a bullock from a steer. The person who informed him may have known even less.

Mr. R. Kiely:  On a point of order, what is the difference between a bullock and a steer?

Mr. Farrelly:  It may have been the Opposition spokesperson on Agriculture. He would want to learn a little more about the business.

Mr. R. Kiely:  What is the difference between a bullock and a steer?

Mr. Farrelly:  In connection with who should pay for the fine, the point has been adequately made in this debate that the taxpayer at the end of the day had to pay for all the other problems that took place. I ask Peter Cassells if he objected to the taxpayer paying for the problems that occurred in the Blood Transfusion Board or the social welfare payments made to many women throughout the country? There was no objection. The Minister's proposal will not end up with farmers having to pay. If farmers keep saying they will have to [1436] pay, no doubt the beef processors will say they are talking themselves into paying.

Mr. R. Kiely:  It always happens.

Mr. Farrelly:  The message I gave to those farmers demonstrating outside this House today was that if they kept talking in this way, they would be sure of getting the bill. I know, as they do, the way matters work in Ireland.

Mr. R. Kiely:  They are of the same opinion.

Mr. Farrelly:  It is not in the interest of our beef producers to hear the farming organisations talk in this way in connection with this fine. Unfortunately, the taxpayer has had to foot the bill when major payments had to be made because of problems in the past. However, because of the beef tribunal, a substantial amount of money, which was not paid heretofore, is now being paid in tax. It is also known that all these cash payments which were made across the board are no longer being made. People are now being paid in the normal way and, as a result, the tax take has increased. If we got a figure from the Department of Finance for the amount of money paid last year as compared to that paid in previous years, we would find that it had increased substantially. I have no doubt the beef tribunal will pay for itself in a short number of years, with the systems that have been put in place and the regulations that have been brought into being.

Mr. Byrne:  I support the motion. We are facing a crisis in our cattle industry similar to that in 1974, when farmers left calves in cattle marts. This is more serious than the Minister seems to realise and we should not be trying to deal with it at this late stage. Members from different parties in this Chamber sent out warning signs last autumn but little action was taken by the Minister and his officials. The message has become clouded.

[1437] Is the Minister spending too much energy on who will pay the £100 million? I know who should pay. The Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry has over many years — we have had enough experience of EU regulations since 1973 — failed miserably to stop irregularities in our beef industry. The Minister is now saying that the farmers must pay because of the failure of his Department. Official A and official B brought down a Government a year and a half ago and nearly brought down the present Government six months later. We have too much bureaucracy and nobody is responsible. The buck must stop somewhere. The taxpayer or the farmer will be saddled with this payment and this is wrong. We had a beef tribunal. There should be a tribunal in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to find out what is happening there.

Senator Farrelly spoke about EU cheques being sent in the post to farmers. Thank God they are coming because thousands of farmers would be on the breadline if it was not for Commissioner MacSharry and ex-Ministers O'Kennedy and Walsh, who fought hard for these payments and were criticised in the process.

I am disappointed that the Minister, a man who comes from a farming background, suggested over the last few weeks that these funds will end. Is he tempting the EU to do this? I am sure we have heard of lack of faith. The Minister should be fighting at EU level to get the last shilling for our farming community so as to keep as many of them on the land as possible. More attention seems to have been paid to this fine, although the Minister did not make much progress in getting it lowered. I have no qualms about laying the blame where it should be put. Irregularities were occurring even during the beef tribunal. Where were the inspectorate then? The buck must stop some place, or will this go on for another 20 years? Is it any wonder we have a national debt? It seems that nobody cares. These people should be made [1438] responsible to the taxpayer if they fail in their duties and it looks like they failed miserably.

There is a crisis in our cattle industry and the Minister is suggesting that farmers will have to pay a levy. This is a little too much. The farmers are angry and they have good reason to be. We are facing a similar situation to that in 1974. Meat factories ripped off farmers during that time as soon as there was a slide in beef prices. That was reflected in fewer jobs being available because it had a negative effect along the line.

Senator Dardis rightly said that many farmers, particularly the younger ones, invested heavily in their holdings, especially in the beef area. They are now being told that this is not a good trade to be in because of the lack of faith on the Government's part. This motion, like the protest that took place outside the House this morning, is trying to strengthen the Minister's hand and let the bureaucrats in Brussels know that we are serious about this because it is an important industry for us.

When we were in Opposition in 1982 and the Government of the day was under Garret FitzGerald, we had to fight hard for up to four weeks to have a debate on the milk super levy. We only wanted it to strengthen the hand of the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, at the time. However, the Department let us down again. It went to Brussels with its sums wrong and nobody was found to blame. If someone working in a co-operative did this, he would be fired without a pension. The Department let down the Minister of the day, the country and the farmers; it may even have cost us dearly in our negotiations. We were the laughing stock of Europe. The Department could not get its sums right when we negotiated the milk super levy.

Agricultural schemes have been badly affected by irregularities. The blame for this lies in Agriculture House and has done for many years. It is a national scandal. People who committed no sin are to be penalised as a result. The [1439] finger should be pointed at those who broke the law and also the Department.

In recent years much has been stated about the introduction of new technology to manage headage payments. Thank God it is being introduced. I hope the Minister will not repeat his recent statement that finance will not be made available in this regard. Is it the purpose of such statements to build up confidence or blow it out of the window? I am surprised at the Minister's stop/go attitude, because he is a farmer. We have not yet seen the worst of this problem. Everyone thought that action would be taken in the past two months but very little has been done. There were many flashy, crisp statements from the spindoctors within the Department. These people are employed by every Department and represent a growth industry.

Mr. Belton:  Many of them attended the beef tribunal.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator has one minute remaining.

Mr. Byrne:  I wish the Government had only one minute remaining because people are beginning to see its members for what they are. The different strands of Government are like goats jumping over a hedge, they do not know which way to go. It is very sad.

Mr. Belton:  None of them has been locked out yet.

Mr. Byrne:  I am a member of the IFA and I support the demands it made today. That organisation, the ICMSA and the beef producers are all doing their bit for an industry which is one of our most important. The Minister may not think so, but we know it is important. The Minister is devoting his energy to covering up a mess within his own Department and this represents a national scandal. To quote a former Minister, “It is a thundering disgrace”.

[1440]Mr. Belton:  I welcome the opportunity to inform the Minister that he was given a poisoned chalice on entering office. Like a sheriff in the wild west, he has been asked to clean up the town. The Minister is doing this job and has introduced various regulations that were not heretofore in place. Senator Byrne stated that the Minister is covering up. What is he covering up? What other Minister was involved in a cover-up?

Mr. Byrne:  I did not accuse the Minister of being involved in a cover-up.

Mr. Belton:  The Senator accused him of being involved in a cover-up within his Department.

Mr. Byrne:  I did not accuse him. I did not make that statement. The Senator should withdraw that comment. I did not accuse the Minister of a cover-up; it would be very unfair if I did.

Acting Chairman:  Senator Byrne will resume his seat.

Mr. Belton:  Accusations were made against the Minister with regard to how he is doing his job and what is happening in his Department. If former Fianna Fáil Ministers had done their jobs correctly, these problems would not exist. Everybody is aware of that fact.

Mr. Byrne:  Which problems?

Mr. Belton:  People huffing, puffing, roaring or whispering will not change——

Acting Chairman:  The Senator is being provocative.

Mr. Belton:  I am being provocative?

Acting Chairman:  Yes.

Mr. Dardis:  The Senator should return to the sheriff.

[1441]Mr. Belton:  I thought that provocation was the order of the day. One Senator stated that he supported the Minister while the remainder of his statement was designed to criticise the Minister.

Members are aware of the fact that the role of producers and finishers in the beef industry has always been a difficult one. With the intricacies of the system in this country, stock are turned over perhaps four to five times from calf to weanling, store and forward store and finally finishers. The Irish system is very peculiar and contains various pitfalls. In other countries an animal might never change location before being slaughtered for beef. This problem relates at all times to Ireland. The events of last year occurred as a result of arrangements put in place by GATT reforms. When the moment of truth arrived, people were caught out because they bought expensive store cattle. It is outrageous to blame the Minister for this because the engine was already running and the pilot was directing operations on the aeroplane before the Minister came on board.

Mr. Byrne:  The Tánaiste has that plane all the time. I do not know how the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry could get a look in.

Mr. Dardis:  I would have thought he travelled on horseback.

Mr. Belton:  Much has been said in relation to fines and that the EU will withhold moneys which could and should have come to this country. Those fines relate to a previous Fianna Fáil Government's term of office.

Mr. Byrne:  What did Fine Gael do in 1974? They hung them out to dry.

Mr. Belton:  We are discussing a specific issue. I understand that Senator Byrne must interrupt me because he is under orders to do so. Fianna Fáil's only hope of saving political face is to interrupt. That has been its strategy since the [1442] beef tribunal. The only winner from that tribunal was Saddam Hussein, who obtained £100 million of free beef from Ireland.

Mr. Dardis:  Surely Mr. Gleeson should be included in that.

Mr. Belton:  Saddam Hussein was the real winner. Everyone has forgotten this fact. However, we must wait and see because there may be more trouble in store for Irish taxpayers. The Minister cannot be blamed if this happens.

Mr. R. Kiely:  I welcome the Minister. It was reported in a weekend newspaper that he would be in Cheltenham. His priorities are correct. Some of the farmers who protested today in Molesworth St. could not travel to Cheltenham. With current beef prices, they will be lucky if they can afford to travel to the Listowel races in September.

I was disappointed with the Minister's contribution.

Mr. Byrne:  The spin doctors were at work.

Mr. R. Kiely:  The Minister stated that there was no proposal to levy farmers, but yesterday he suggested that a levy be placed on beef processing factories. This caused great concern to farmers because the levy will be passed on to them. During yesterday's debate on the Bovine Diseases Eradication Bill I stated that farmers will have to pay veterinarians for annual testing who in turn must pay VAT on their earnings.

Mr. Yates:  They are getting over £18 billion on the levies.

Mr. R. Kiely:  Last week I stated that I have no difficulty paying levies or increased levies, but that is false economy for farmers. It is my honest opinion that this represents a bluff. A vet must pay VAT on his earnings, but it is not the vet who is paying; it is the farmer. It is passed on to farmer just as this levy will be passed on to the farmer. I [1443] agree with Senator Townsend. When it was found that women were entitled to social welfare payments, the taxpayer and farmers' taxes paid for it. The taxpayers should also pay for this.

The Minister said I was defending malpractice. I never defend malpractice nor would I dare to defend it. I know some of my own farming colleagues were involved in malpractice. Last year we debated a Bill banning the growth promoters being used by farmers. I mentioned my surprise that one farming organisation was silent and did not support that measure. That is a malpractice with which I do not agree and I do not agree with any malpractice regardless of who is involved.

The Minister also said that most factories could pay a higher price than they are paying at present. It is his duty, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, to ensure they pay a just price and do not make an unreasonable profit at the expense of the farmers. I am surprised at the naiveté of Senator Farrelly's remarks about the levy. He said it would not be passed on to the farmers. There is no doubt it will be the farmers who pay it.

The IFA made five demands today. Senator Townsend is of the opinion that the Minister addressed them adequately, but I do not share his view. The IFA asked for the immediate restoration of export refunds for beef and live cattle to return cattle prices to viable levels and to protect our third country market share. The Minister mentioned they were reduced by 25 per cent last November and increased since then. However, the Minister led us to hope there would be an increase on 1 [1444] March and that they would be restored to previous levels. That did not happen. What will happen at the next meeting of the beef management committee? Can the Minister be confident that export refunds will be restored to their previous levels?

Senator D'Arcy mentioned the trigger. The Minister said it would be brought down to 38 per cent, which is not enough. Giving a slaughtering premium to encourage farmers to fatten cattle for the winter months seems to be a contradiction. It is not logical that one has to kill so many cattle in non-winter months to qualify for this slaughtering premium. This must be addressed. There is concern about the full protection of the ten and 22 month special beef premium. I was disappointed that the Minister did not deal adequately with that matter.

The beef industry is in a crisis which must be addressed. The odd exercise will never satisfy the farmers. We want action on price to ensure beef farmers will have a decent standard of living. I mentioned some figures earlier. Farmers could lose over £3,000 on 40 cattle which is a large sum of money. Other sections of the community are looking for salary increases while the beef farmers are losing money.

I agree with Senator Farrelly that there should be a scheme or aid for the finishers who buy in the autumn and fatten to sell in the spring. There is no doubt they were let down badly this year. He suggested some area aid. I would like to hear the Minister say he will introduce a scheme to help winter finishers because they are in a bad state this year.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 17.

Belton, Louis J.
Burke, Paddy.
Calnan, Michael.
Cashin, Bill.
Cotter, Bill.
Cregan, Denis (Dino). [1445]McAughtry, Sam.
Maloney, Seán.
Manning, Maurice.
Neville, Daniel.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Enright, Thomas W.
Farrelly, John V.
Gallagher, Ann.
Hayes, Brian.
Howard, Michael. [1446]Sherlock, Joe.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Townsend, Jim.
Wall, Jack.

Níl

Byrne, Seán.
Cassidy, Donie.
Dardis, John.
Farrell, Willie.
Finneran, Michael.
Honan, Cathy.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kiely, Dan.
Kiely, Rory.
Lydon, Don.
McGennis, Marian.
Mooney, Paschal.
Mulcahy, Michael.
O'Brien, Francis.
O'Toole, Joe.
Ormonde, Ann.
Roche, Dick.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Wall; Níl, Senators Ormonde and Finneran.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion, as amended, put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Manning:  At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

Mr. Sherlock:  I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me raise this matter. Last October the Minister took on board my concerns and I look forward to his continuing interest in this matter. This issue affects not only the people of north Cork but local communities throughout the country who support local charitable lotteries.

According to the available figures, North Cork Community Radio collected a total of £1.7 million in the local lottery from 1990 to 1995. However, £49,559 — a mere 3 per cent of the total — was donated to local charities. This pittance contrasts with the remaining expenditure which was as follows: £542,807 or 32.3 per cent was paid in commission; £582,644 or 34.7 per cent was paid in prizes; £72,275 or 4.3 per cent was spent on printing and £264,000 or 15.7 per cent went to community broadcasting. The community broadcasting element was paid to a private company, Radio County Sound Limited, which received £7,000 per month during the years the lottery was operating.

North Cork Community Radio used Mallow General Hospital as a focus point for the lottery promotion over a six month period in 1992-93, yet the hospital received only £16,000, a tiny amount compared to the lottery's takings and the benefit the lottery gained by exploiting the hospital as a marketing tool. At the end of 1995 North Cork Community Radio decided through its management committee to sell its shares in Radio County Sound Limited as part of a management buy out — the shares held constituted about 9.7 per cent. North Cork Community Radio subsequently received a letter from the legal representatives of a company involved in the buy out informing it that certain difficulties had arisen in connection with the financing of the proposed management buy out of Radio County Sound Limited. It is significant that its venture capital partners pulled out [1447] because of concern over “due diligence”.

These concerns arose primarily over the exposure of £350,000 in royalties due and the potential tax exposure in respect of income paid to senior employees and to the parent company. This arose as a result of agents refusing to sign an agreement that they were agents rather than employees. As a result, considerable unpaid income tax accumulated. It appears that some of those acting as agents for the lottery failed to sign an agreement with the co-operative and, as a result, they were deemed to be employees for whom the co-operative carried income tax and PRSI liability.

It has come to light that the names of five prominent people were publicly nominated to supervise the distribution of lottery funds. This appeared in a local newspaper which discussed the matter with three of them and it emerged they were never consulted about any distribution of funds. In addition, the applicant for the licence also acted as a manager in respect of which he was paid £200 per week.

I am advised the group has decided to discontinue the draw with effect from this week. The licence for the draw was granted last November. I am aware some Garda investigations have taken place locally into this matter. I raise the issue to find out what progress is being made in this regard. I would also like to know whether the Revenue Commissioners are investigating matters relevant to its remit. I do not doubt the Minister of State shares my concerns and I trust the regulations relative to the operation of charitable lotteries will be reviewed to ensure the goodwill of local communities is not exploited purely for commercial purposes.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. Currie):  I thank Senator Sherlock for giving me an opportunity [1448] to inform the House about the situation relating to the North Cork Community Radio lottery. I am present on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Owen, who cannot be here.

I acknowledge this is a matter of concern to Senator Sherlock, particularly as the case in question occurred in his home town. The Minister is aware of this case. Arising from the last occasion when the Senator raised this issue in the House, the Minister requested a report from the Garda about this case. The Garda has informed the Minister the matter is now the subject of a Garda investigation. The case has been investigated locally and due to the complexity of the affair the matter has been referred to the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation. In view of this it would be improper for me to make any further comment on this case until the Garda investigation is complete. I assure the House I will arrange that the points made by Senator Sherlock will be brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice.

Ms Honan:  The report on the death of Kelly Fitzgerald indicates a frightening litany of inaction on the part of those entrusted to protect children from abuse. Why have the Minister for Health and the Western Health Board refused to publish the full report? In the five months between her arrival in Ireland in autumn 1992 and her death Kelly Fitzgerald fell through every gap in the care structure. Despite being on an at risk register in Britain and being identified by the British authorities to the Western Health Board as a child in danger of suffering abuse, nothing was done to protect her. Kelly Fitzgerald is now dead and we are not allowed to know why. She was neglected during her life and the account of her death is now to be hidden.

[1449] The stark fact is that nobody in this country did anything to assist Kelly Fitzgerald. She was 15 years old when she died of blood poisoning in St. Thomas's Hospital in London. We know from evidence given at the trial of her parents and from excerpts from the report as published last week by the Irish Independent, that she had been systematically beaten and starved by her parents at her home in County Mayo. Following an inquest in London, the chief executive of the Western Health Board appointed an independent team to examine the Western Health Board's involvement with Kelly Fitzgerald and her family because she had lived with them in County Mayo for five months prior to her death.

The Western Health Board had been sent files in 1990 from the West Lambeth Health Authority informing it, among other things, that Kelly Fitzgerald was at risk and that it had concerns about another Fitzgerald child. Her parents were prosecuted and sentenced to 18 months in prison having pleaded guilty to the wilful neglect of Kelly.

The report of the inquiry into the health board's management of the matter which was published in a newspaper last week is said to have been completed almost five months ago. The Minister for Health has been asked repeatedly to publish the findings of the report but has given the excuse that the chief executive officer of the health board was taking legal advice as to its publication. The inquiry team who investigated the case strongly recommended the publication of the report. What is being hidden? Is the Minister trying to assist in the cover up of the gross inefficiencies in the Western Health Board that led to Kelly Fitzgerald's death?

This report must be published. What is the point of establishing an inquiry if its findings cannot be made public? A contingent threat of legal proceedings makes a nonsense of establishing an [1450] inquiry in the first place. Who is being called to account for the failures of the health board to undertake the statutory duties to protect children? It is outrageous that selective leaks of the report can appear in the pages of a daily newspaper before the Minister of State or the Minister for Health has seen it. The Minister of State has admitted that he did not request to see the report because he was advised by the chief executive officer that there were legal difficulties. I realise that after the report was leaked to the papers last week, he received a copy.

Under a heading in the Irish Independent entitled “A Tragedy of Inaction”, selected details of the report were published. These represent an indictment of maladministration on behalf of the Western Health Board in dealing with the Fitzgerald family. It was against this background of maladministration and a failure of systems that Kelly Fitzgerald died and another child was not adequately protected, despite the knowledge of physical abuse of her by her parents. The report found a lack of leadership and direction on behalf of the Western Health Board which led to inconsistencies in the board's intervention with the family.

Rather than placing children first, as the Minister of State has stated in his discussion document on mandatory reporting, the Government is placing them last. After the legal rights of those who might sue if the report was published is considered, there has been a distancing by the Minister for Health from involvement in this affair from the outset, culminating in the fact that he never sought to see the report even though it has been completed for over five months. This contrasts with the fact that those implicated, and who might sue if the report was published, had sight of it in advance of the health board.

Last October the Minister of State said he was seeking the urgent advice [1451] of the Attorney General with regard to changes in the law to allow such report findings to be published. What has happened in the meantime? This House is a privileged forum, allowing matters to be debated without the threat of legal proceedings from any quarter. Why can the report not be debated in this House and in the other House?

Where rights conflict, as they do in this case as between the rights of a dead child and the public interest in child protection by the health board on the one hand, and the rights of persons implicated by a breach of duty on the other hand, the paramount right is that of the child. The decision of the health board to place the rights of persons implicated by the independent inquiry above the rights of a dead child is a convenient vehicle for a cover up. It is wrong to make a choice in favour of a potential litigant against the overriding public interest in publishing this report.

When answering parliamentary questions on Health in the Dáil today, the Minister of State said he did not consider it appropriate to seek a copy of the report pending the outcome between the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board and the legal advisers. He acknowledged the difficult task undertaken by the inquiry team in good faith and went on to say that there were valuable lessons to be learned from this tragic case, reflected in certain recommendations of the report which his Department is studying and that he would consult the Western Health Board on what action needs to be taken. He also said that there is sufficient experience to determine that the current format of inquiries into child abuse cases is unsatisfactory. This is an understatement.

The Minister of State went on to say that it is becomingly increasingly clear that a change in the law is required to overcome the difficulties encountered in publishing reports of this nature and [1452] that for this reason it has been decided to establish on a statutory basis, an inspectorate of social services within the Department of Health. He also said that this inspectorate would have responsibility for quality assurance and audit of childcare practise and would be charged with undertaking inquiries on behalf of the Minister and that enabling legislation would provide for the privileged publication by the Minister of any report made to him by the proposed inspectorate.

This inspectorate should not be under the Department of Health. It should be independent and be seen to be independent. If the Minister is going to provide for the privileged publication of any report made to him by the proposed inspectorate, why can we not have privileged publication of existing reports?

How many children must suffer abuse and death, as in the case of Kelly Fitzgerald? There has been the Kilkenny incest case, the Brendan Smyth case and an inquiry into the west of Ireland farmer case, which I understand is not ongoing at present. Indeed, there has case after case of child abuse in this country. We talk about Goldenbridge and what happened in the past and about the way things have changed. However, looking at what is happening today, not much has changed.

Why can this report not be published under privilege in the Houses of the Oireachtas? Will the Minister of State give a firm commitment that the Government will make it a priority to ensure that never again will a child be left to suffer such abuse while the State stands idly by?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Currie):  I have listened with interest to Senator Honan. She expressed some harsh and unfair words. I will not thank her for trying to deliver my speech for me. She might bear in mind that privilege has responsibilities. The report of the investigation into the [1453] tragic case of the child, Kelly Fitzgerald, was commissioned by the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board. The terms of reference of the inquiry team appointed by the chief executive officer were in the first instance to inquire into the circumstances of the late Kelly Fitzgerald and her family and, having regard thereto, to examine the Western Health Board's child protection practises and procedures and to make such recommendations as are deemed necessary; second, to make such other recommendations as were considered relevant; and third, to report to the chief executive officer of the board in the matter as soon as possible for presentation by him to the board.

The inquiry team submitted its report to the chief executive officer on 14 November 1995. He then sought legal advice with regard to the publication of the report. The opinion of the board's legal advisers was received on 6 February 1996. Further clarification of certain aspects of the legal opinion was sought from the legal advisers and this was received on 5 March 1996. I did not consider it appropriate to seek a copy of the report pending the outcome of the consultations between the chief executive officer and the board's legal advisers.

In anticipation of a special meeting of the board, copies of the report were issued to members, together with the legal opinion received and a report to the board from the chief executive officer on 6 March 1996. Parts of the report were published in the Irish Independent on 7 March 1996 in advance of the special meeting of the board. In the light of this development, the chief executive officer provided a copy of the report to my Department, together with a copy of the legal advice regarding it. This was received in the Department on 8 March 1996.

The Senator will be aware that at a special meeting of the board on 11 March 1996, the board decided, having [1454] considered the legal advice from senior counsel, to publish the general recommendations of the report. The board also decided to refer the recommendations to the community care committee and the childcare advisory committee of the board for consideration.

I acknowledge the difficult task undertaken by the inquiry team in good faith. There are valuable lessons to be learned from this tragic case and these are reflected in certain recommendations of the report. My Department is studying the report in detail and will consult with the Western Health Board on all actions that need to be taken on foot of the report.

I reiterate that both the Minister for Health and myself are extremely concerned about the difficulties impeding the publication of reports of inquiries into child abuse cases. It has been our unequivocal position since we took up office that as much information as possible should be put into the public domain. Above all, we are most anxious to avoid suggestions of a cover up in any case involving a health board or child care agency such as has been suggested by Senator Honan.

At this stage, there is sufficient experience to determine that the current format of inquiries into child abuse cases is unsatisfactory. It has become increasingly clear that a change in the law is required to overcome the difficulties encountered in publishing recent reports of this nature. It was for this reason that we have decided to establish on a statutory basis an inspectorate of social services within the Department of Health.

This is not the only initiative that needs to be taken and I will be making an announcement in due course on an additional range of measures. It is proposed that this inspectorate would have responsibility for quality assurance and audit of child care practice. Moreover, it would be charged with undertaking inquiries on behalf of the Minister. It is [1455] our firm intention that the enabling legislation will provide for the privileged publication by the Minister of any report made to him by the proposed inspectorate. I assure the House that my primary objective is to ensure that all the lessons that can be learned from this and other unfortunate cases are taken [1456] on board and that our policies, priorities and management arrangements are influenced positively by these lessons now and in the future.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 March 1996.