Implementation of Refugee Act: Motion.

Wednesday, 22 October 1997

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 152 No. 6

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Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government as a matter of urgency to implement all outstanding sections of the Refugee Bill and initiate a public debate on the question of refugees, immigrants and asylum policy in Ireland, so that by placing clear and non-sensational information before the public the spread of the scourge of racism here may be halted.

I apologise for the incorrect order of speakers, which was our fault and not intended to mislead you, a Chathaoirligh. There is also a technical error in the motion: we have a Refugee Act, not a Refugee Bill. I apologise again as it is not my usual standard to miss something like that. I also sympathise with the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, on his bereavement.

I have had a problem with the Department of Justice, immigration and visas for many years. I have collided with them about what could be called ludicrous situations if human beings were not involved. There is a college outside Bradford in Britain where many Asians attend. The college tried to bring 15-year old students on an educational trip to Dublin two years in a row during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first year they tried to come here, two students with legal status in Britain were refused visas to enter Ireland by the Department of Justice. The Department apparently suspected the 15 year olds would abandon family, friends and education to stay in Ireland if they were admitted. After some fuss with the then Minister for Justice, visas were issued. The following year, the college returned and I am sure it was coincidental that two members of the party were again refused visas by the Department of Justice. At that stage things became even more ludicrous because, by the time we got the Minister to intervene to change the decision, the rest of the party were on their way to Dublin. The two “offending” young people were put on a plane to Dublin, they arrived without visas or passports and they were admitted to the country without any papers.

I have also run into this problem in a professional context. Delegates to the International Association of Social Workers were refused visas to enter Ireland this year. In 1992 an eminent Peruvian [426] development economist was held in Dublin Airport for two hours by immigration officials. There is a problem and we do not know what the Department of Justice is doing.

To add to the confusion, we now have an increased number of immigrants and people seeking refugee status in the State. The creaking State administration system is behind the problem. Whenever there is a problem, a variety of simple solutions are provided, and these are always wrong. After 150 years, Ireland has had its first wave of immigration. We are not in a position to strike poses about immigrants. If it were not for other countries' generosity on immigration, Ireland would have collapsed in a mess ten years ago, not to mention 150 years ago.

However, we have struck poses. There have been disgraceful media and political responses. We are not in a position to strike poses but we have done so. We have had media and political responses which can only be described as disgraceful. One headline in the Irish Independent of 7 June reads: “Crackdown on 2,000 ‘sponging’ refugees”, and in The Examiner 3 October, it states: “More free rides on the tiger's back”. What can be said about that apart from the fact that applicants for refugee status are not allowed to work and, therefore, must rely on welfare because it was decided there would be even more public hostility if they were allowed to work? In a country that has increasing shortages in the unskilled labour area it seems daft to impose such a condition on people and then to join a bandwagon when they are accused of sponging off the welfare system. That was the media response: the usual, unfortunately predictable, headlines and fomenting of prejudice almost reminiscent of Enoch Powell's rivers of blood.

The political response has not been much better. We had the Refugee Act which was as much a consequence of the decision of the courts to bring to an end the outrageous act of locking up applicants for refugee status in prison and keeping them there until we got round to doing something about it. How anybody was surprised the courts ruled against this practice is beyond me.

Our political response is to introduce the strictest border controls on immigration within the European Union. Does it dawn on the party opposite, who have a particular commitment to Irish unity, that there is a certain irony in having the strictest controls on cross Border movement between this State and Northern Ireland?

The aliens order, which fortunately expired at the end of August, was a particularly nasty piece of work which did no credit to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or those who enforced it and raised serious questions about whether there was a serious racist element in the understanding of how illegal immigrants are identified.

The Dublin convention , one of the small number of sections of the Refugee Act which has been implemented, contains a procedure for repatriating asylum seekers if it is felt that they [427] have come from another EU country and should make their application there. We have not yet been enlightened by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the procedures adopted, perhaps the mind reading skills of those who make the initial decisions at our borders, on our buses and trains and at various transit points to fathom the validity of a claim to refugee status of the misfortunates who are at the receiving end of this new Irish crackdown. However, we know the powers are being used. There are straws in the wind: employees of Irish Rail asking if there are any blacks aboard trains, Irish citizens who happen to have dark skin have run into problems. A black citizen of the United Kingdom, from Manchester, was sent back on the grounds he was an illegal immigrant. In a peculiar convolution of this nonsense, a queue of people stand in the rain on the tarmac at Cork Airport because immigration procedures have slowed down so much. There is no space for the queue inside the airport building. If you arrive at the airport and immigration control is in its macho phase you queue in the rain, Irish or not. It is time we asked what precisely is happening.

What happens when an individual is suspected of being an illegal immigrant? We do not know as no one will tell us. What happens to suspected illegal immigrants who cannot speak English? We do not know. Have the 40 gardaí who have been deployed in this area done a crash course in seven or eight languages? If someone cannot speak English, are they a suspect? How are they admitted? We do not know how many people have been turned away since this new procedure was introduced.

Under the previous procedure people were sent back immediately. Now it is incorrect to turn away anybody seeking refugee status. We are to allow them in and allow a decision to be made against which they can appeal within. Do we always do that or have we changed the guidelines so more people are sent back for other reasons? Is it convenient that some immigrants cannot understand English or people pretend not to understand their language? What training has been given to the people responsible? How do they decide if a Romanian is fleeing because he was a member of a trade union or because of his sexual orientation? Is it a State secret? Can we told? I doubt it. I suspect it is an ad hoc arrangement based on the gut feelings of whatever garda happens to be on this rather unpleasant duty at the time.

There is a straight forward remedy which is to implement the Refugee Act in full. It is not perfect legislation. It continues the ridiculous requirement that applicants for refugee status may not work which means they will be accused of sponging off the State and we will happily sit back and allow that to happen. However, the Act would be a huge improvement on the present position. Why is the rest of the Act not being implemented? The Government amendment [428] states the Minister is effectively prevented by a court injunction from implementing the remaining provisions of the Act.

Taken at face value you would imagine there was a huge civil liberties issue involved, or some profound constitutional case. The reality is that a 66 year old man has taken exception to an age limit of 65 for the position of commissioner and this man has been granted an injunction.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is a thundering disgrace.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  That is not what the previous Minister said and I cannot repeat in this House what was said on that occasion.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  It was much more amusing.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  It was much more Joycean. The truth is that if the Government wished to deal with this matter it could do so at any time. It is a convenient excuse. I am worried about suggestions that people will be detained while investigations are carried out under the Dublin convention. The Minister should confirm there are no proposals before the Government to detain people.

How many people have been turned away since 1 September with no chance of appeal? What criteria are used for suspects? How are claims investigated or adjudicated under our generous definition of refugees given the lack of training? How do they communicate with non English speakers? Does the Minister have proposals for a holding centre for applicants while they are investigated under the Dublin convention?

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I am very glad to have the opportunity to second this motion which I had originally tabled. When Senator Brendan Ryan asked if he could table it I was extremely pleased and I am impressed by the way he argued the case. I welcome his return to this House to make precisely this kind of case. I also compliment the previous Minister, Joan Burton. She had a very difficult job introducing this Bill and was not thanked for it by the electorate.

I tabled this motion because I was increasingly concerned at what I heard in the streets, the shops, the gym I go to, where they are again calling people niggers. They say people get free housing and social welfare. I thought begrudgery was finished in this country. It is in the sense we no longer appear to begrudge people who make immense wealth but we begrudge anybody getting a free ride on the Celtic tiger. I deplore that mean attitude, particularly in light of our history. Recently at an event sponsored by the Irish Refugee Council, President Mary Robinson referred to a dinner in New York when a distinguished American historian drew attention to the fact that in the last century Irish refugees were targeted in exactly the same way. They were seen as dirty, diseased and dishonest and among those who targeted them were a previous wave of Irish immigrants [429] who had made it good. I would hate to think we would reflect this kind of attitude in this country. We have absolutely no right to do so. I am old enough to remember when it was a common sentence in the Dublin District Court to get six months imprisonment or go to England. We were prepared to use the English social welfare system to cater for our criminal classes. We spoke in this House about the plight of Irish refugees who are our illegals in New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia and we used every political muscle to legalise and sanction them retrospectively.

I am also on the side of economic refugees. By our alliance with economic blocs and forces, by signing various treaties, we, willy-nilly, as part of the EU, have joined in the exploitation of weaker countries throughout the globe. So what if somebody from eastern Europe decides to come to this country? It seems a perfectly rational family decision. If one is living in a place that is polluted by nuclear and industrial waste, which is the reverse of democracy despite the changes, where there are no real wages even on the part of some State services, where the safety net that used be provided by socialism has been whipped away and there is very little by way of decent education for children, what responsible person would not want to get out of that system?

I tabled the motion originally so that the Government would have the opportunity to put the facts on record. I believe a comparatively small number of people seek to enter this country. I would like to know why this amendment was tabled because I do not think the motion is confrontational. The original motion offered the Government the opportunity to place the facts on the record. I am glad additional staff are being recruited. I see from the amendment that we welcome the implementation by the Minister of the Refugee Act to the fullest degree possible. I would like the application of the entire Act. I call on the person involved in taking that injunction to withdraw it at once. Does this question of principle he seems to be involved in, or his own self-interest, justify clogging the whole refugee operation?

An appalling situation arose recently of trying to flush out the numbers of refugees in the country by making them apply for special cards. They were subsequently kept waiting in the rain for four hours, and apparently 1,000 people are now missing. The targeting of certain groups is unfortunate and regrettable. During the last election there was a newspaper heading “McGrath Demands Action on Illegal Immigrants”. There were further headlines, for example, “Garda Purge on Bogus Refugees”, “Our Lunatic Asylum Policy”, “Eleven Asylum seekers Held by Gardaí in One Night”. They were lifted for theft, attacks and prostitution. I live in the north inner city and I have never come across one of these crimes committed by an asylum seeker. I have come across plenty of theft — in fact, last week I was a victim of it, and I know the person involved [430] was not an asylum seeker — attacks and prostitution. Other headlines included “Bogus Refugees Face the Boot”, “Refugees Call Girl Market”— they would have some stiff local opposition there —“Slam the Door on the Scroungers” and there was a wonderful cartoon by Martyn Turner. It said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled multi-millionaires with a few quid to invest in local businesses”. The contrast is plain for everyone to see.

I have assisted a small number of people to get asylum in this country. I am not ashamed of that and I wish it were more. One was a woman from the Congo who witnessed her family being butchered. Another, which is currently in progress, is a Syrian who bucked the system, he is an extremely well qualified scientist but he is not allowed work in this country. Another person who contacted me was a man from the Sudan whose uncle was a very prominent person in attempting to push people towards a progressive view in that country. He was waiting at least six months for a decision. He is the clearest case of a refugee I have come across and, if he is sent back, God knows what will happen to him.

We have a lot of information and we should have a more broad ranging debate in another forum because we can instance so many people who have been sent back under arrangements such as the Dublin Convention. People were sent back to places such as Algeria, detained, put on television for a forced interview and then murdered in custody. There are sanctions against airlines who carry refugees. We have every right to be very concerned about this matter. I am delighted Senator Ryan, in a characteristic act of humanity, chose this subject and I look forward to the Government detailing what it proposes doing in this area. I ask that we get facts and figures because there are reports of 5,000 people getting off a boat at Arklow every week-end. We know this is all rubbish, and it is the responsibility of the Minister to place the real numbers in the public forum and allay this hysteria. The Minister must also give a timetable for the full implemention of legislation which we all welcomed.

I am pleased that the question of sexual orientation is included. If one looks at countries like Iran, the attitude there is bloodcurdling. I can assure Members one does not have to be gay to be butchered by these people. All they need is the finger of suspicion; anybody can be found guilty just by accusation.

Mr. O'Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  I move amendment No. 1:

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

“(a) welcomes the measures taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform since taking up office to deal with the backing of asylum applications including:

— recruiting additional staff to process applications; [431]

— obtaining suitable office premises so that the State services to which asylumseekers are entitled can be provided under one roof; and

— restarting the asylum appeals process;

(b) acknowledges the continuing liaison between the Minister and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and notes the acceptance by UNHCR of the Minister's offer of funding for the placement of a member of UNHCR staff in Dublin for a year in order to assist his Department in dealing with the situation;

(c) welcomes the implementation by the Minister in August, 1997 of the Refugee Act, 1996, to the fullest degree possible;

(d) recognises that the Minister is effectively prevented by court injunction from implementing the remaining provisions of the Act at present;

(e) recognises that the problem of illegal immigration into the State is growing, as evidenced by the detection of 1,339 persons seeking to enter the State illegally this year to date, compared with 452 for the same period last year;

(f) looks forward to the outcome of the review of the entire situation regarding non-nationals generally being undertaken at present by the Minister;

(g) notes that the Minister's Department, together with other Government Departments and non-governmental organisations, is involved in the committee which co-ordinates activities relating to European Year against racism 1997; and

(h) agrees that comment on the issues of immigration (both legal and illegal), asylum and refugee matters needs to be balanced, accurate and responsible.”

It is important to put this serious problem in perspective. In 1996 there were 425 reports of illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. That figure has more than trebled this year so far. If that trend continues, there will be over 4,000 applications in 1998, 12,000 applications in 1999 and 36,000 applications in 2000.

We have provisions for genuine applications for refugee status. Unfortunately, the Minister is somewhat curtailed in dealing with appeals in this area because of a High Court application which is still sub judice. It is not for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of the application before the High Court. However, until it is resolved the Minister's actions are curtailed. It was pointed out that the cost to the State this year has been in the region of £40 million and it is estimated that the cost in a full year would be £100 million if the current trend continues. On that basis, the [432] cost could run to hundreds of millions of pounds before the end of the century.

It is not fair to say the Minister and the Government are not playing their part. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has indicated his concern in this area. He has pointed out that the major concern of this Government and State is to stem the influx of illegal immigrants. So far about 300 illegal immigrants have been detected, mainly by the close attention of the Garda using its new powers, and returned at their point of entry; most of them came from Great Britain.

We must face up to the reality that this is a small nation of 3.5 million people. We cannot do what the Americans, British and French are doing. On the other hand, I accept that for generations our people emigrated, mainly to seek work, to Great Britain, America and Australia. We have a proud record abroad and were welcomed in many of those places. However, the influx of 1,400 or 1,500 people to Ireland has social implications in that it puts pressure on our social welfare system, which is already under strain, and our housing lists. For example, we were recently informed in west Cork that there are 800 applicants on the housing list. If this trend were to continue it would place a severe burden on the health boards and housing lists and on social change.

Any person seeking refugee status and asylum on genuine grounds recognised by the United Nations should get a fair hearing. The Minister indicated that 70 extra staff and additional funding will be provided to ensure applications are quickly processed. Previous speakers referred to the number of applicants who had to wait in the rain. However, I read in newspaper reports that while 3,500 applications were received by the Department, when they were closely monitored it was found that only about 1,700 had been properly channelled. There is evidence of some sort of social welfare fraud, which is quite unfair.

Any person coming here through the proper channels should have their case heard. However, we must quell the notion that Ireland is a great social welfare state, that we are a soft hearted nation and that we invite people from all around the world to come here.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Keep Ireland white.

Mr. O'Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  The Labour Government in Britain is concerned about a huge number of Romanians who are likely to arrive in Kent in the near future. It is not just Ireland which is concerned about this matter.

The motion suggests there is some discrimination on the part of the Irish Government and people, which I deny. We will give any application a fair hearing, but it is unfair for us to be seen throughout Europe as a place where illegal immigrants can be accommodated liberally. That would be totally unfair on our State and could not be accommodated by our system.

[433]Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  My party supports the motion. The refugee situation has almost got out of hand here. The Government was warned about this. There were only 39 applications for refugee status in 1992; almost 2,000 people have applied for refugee status in 1997 alone. Since 1992 the line on the graph has been steadily rising. It was clear to anyone watching what was brewing for the decision makers.

Prior to the passing of the Refugee Act we did not even have a legal framework to deal with the refugee problem. The Refugee Bill had to be dragged out of the Government. The former Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, introduced a Bill which had to be withdrawn. It was then reintroduced by the previous Minister, Deputy Owen, and was eventually placed on the Statute Book. That Act provides for the appointment of a refugee appeals commissioner. I do not know whether that office was ever filled. It also provided for a proper appeals system for refugees but, as far as I know, nothing was done about that.

Anybody who has looked at this issue would say that the Department of Justice would need a permanent staff of between 100 and 150 people to deal with the matter. Senator O'Donovan said the Minister has provided additional staff. How many people has he appointed? The previous Minister realised, as does the Department, that between 100 and 150 people are needed.

The general view is that an appeals commissioner should have a workload of about 1,200 applications a year. However, that figure has been already surpassed this year, and that trend will continue in the years ahead. What provisions have been made for the appointment of a second commissioner? The Bill only provides for the appointment of one commissioner. I do not want the Minister of State to make banal statements which tell us nothing and to talk in a general way about what the Government is doing. I want clear figures on what the Government is doing to tackle this problem.

We have always had a xenophobic attitude. Somebody said that no other nation had to rely on the generosity of strangers more than we did. However, we never applied that attitude at home. Ten years ago, when I was last a Member of this House, we spent several hours discussing the problems of undocumented Irish people in the US. I was part of a deputation that met congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. They introduced legislation which was partial to Irish emigrants.

There are approximately 50 million refugees in the world today, approximately 5 million of whom are in Europe. Some ten to 12 million people receive direct assistance from the UNHCR in Africa. At least another ten million receive such assistance in Asia. There are also substantial figures for Latin America. One out of every 255 people on the planet is a refugee.

As probably the sixteenth or seventeenth wealthiest country in the world we must now play a greater part in solving this major international [434] problem. We all inhabit this planet together. We had to send millions of our children abroad since we achieved independence and we know that millions emigrated before then. In the 1980s, hundreds of thousands left. We did not care but hoped that the US, UK and other EU Governments would turn a blind eye to them. We were lucky that most of those who left were well educated or trained. Ultimately, they represented a greater economic loss to us than a gain to the host country.

It is important that the Government addresses this issue. The response to date is inadequate. It must ensure that all provisions of the Refugee Act are in force, including the appeals commissioner and his staff and that legal advice and interpretative facilities are provided.

According to a recent opinion poll in The Sunday Independent, 56 per cent of respondents said more stringent measures should be taken against illegal refugees and those seeking asylum. A few months ago a guesthouse accommodating Romanian refugees was fire-bombed. This is symptomatic of the prejudice that has been allowed to develop by our inaction. When the public see the problem getting out of hand with a queue of several thousand people outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government and Department officials in chaos and panic, the reaction will be one of prejudice.

I hope the Minister of State will present a clear outline of the Government's intentions. We do not want banal statements, but an indication of the targets that have been set to address this issue.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace): Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  This is my first occasion to address the House as Minister of State. I am pleased to be back with old friends from my days in the Seanad. I hope to deal with many issues relating to my Department in the House. Unfortunately, the Minister is unable to be present because of a family bereavement.

I am glad to contribute to this important debate. I will deal first with the Refugee Act, 1996, and explain why, as set out in amendment No. 1, no further implementation of the Act is possible due to the present High Court injunction.

At the core of the Act is the existence of a Refugee Applications Commissioner. The Act provides that the Minister cannot make a declaration that a person is a refugee under section 17 except on foot of an investigation and recommendation by the commissioner. An application for asylum is expressed in the Act in terms of an “application for a declaration” under section 17, so a person cannot apply under the Act to be recognised as a refugee unless there is a commissioner in place. It is clear, then, that for all of the Act to be commenced from a current date, without having a Refugee Applications Commissioner in place would effectively put on hold [435] all applications for asylum. We would have a statutory procedure in place which would have the effect of preventing the processing of asylum applications. Nobody wants that. I am unable to go into the detail of the litigation in question because the mater is sub judice.

The Government has been in office for four months. In the three months before it was appointed the number of new applicants for asylum had been averaging over 100 per week. There were between 2,500 and 3,000 applications on hand. Almost 2,000 of those had been made in the first half of 1997. No interviews were being conducted and the handful of staff dedicated to processing asylum applications were stretched to the limit simply registering the personal details of the new applicants. It was clear that there was a serious and growing problem.

On his appointment as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue commenced an immediate review of arrangements. Within a few weeks he was satisfied that resources, both in terms of staff numbers and basic facilities, were inadequate to deal with the situation. He therefore sought and obtained Government approval for additional staff to be appointed to his Department and for new premises to be obtained.

A dispute about payment of legal fees, which had prevented appeals against refusal of refugee status from being dealt with for almost three years, was resolved several days before the Government took office. The Minister arranged for appeal hearings to recommence on 12 August. Resolution of this dispute means that it is now possible to bring to finality the processing of appeals against a finding that an individual has no entitlement to refugee status.

The staff dealing with asylum work has more than doubled since the Minister took office and recruitment of additional staff is in hand. They have started a targeted programme of interviewing asylum seekers designed to make the most effective use of the still limited resources. The process of recruiting a further 70 or so staff is under way. As they are appointed, the new staff will be trained in asylum law and practice, interviewing techniques and other skills which are necessary to process the asylum claims. UNHCR has undertaken to provide every assistance in this training programme.

It was obvious to the Minister that we would have to provide badly needed additional space for the persons involved in processing asylum applications and better conditions for asylum seekers to present their cases. Recent publicity has served to highlight that matter. A visit to my Department on a daily basis will show the need to address this issue.

The aim is also to provide space in the same building for community welfare officers from the Eastern Health Board who are involved in providing the support payments to which those who seek asylum are entitled, and for other State [436] agencies involved in providing services — a “one-stop shop” in effect. In the past few days, the Office of Public Works has completed legal formalities for the acquisition of new accommodation. Work on fitting it out, estimated to cost £2.5 million, has commenced. It should be ready for use in February. The building will also accommodate the member of the staff of the UNHCR, posted to Dublin at the Minister's suggestion. To explain this fully, it is best to put the role of the UNHCR in proper context. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the custodian internationally of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, known as the Geneva Convention, and its related Protocol. The UNHCR's concerns with Ireland are looked after by a representative accredited to Ireland and the United Kingdom, who is based in London.

Until recent times Ireland had a very small number of asylum seekers — running until the early 1990s to between 30 and 50 a year. Arrangements for dealing with these cases were formalised with the UNHCR in 1985. One element of those arrangements was that the UNHCR would give an assessment before the Minister made a decision in each case. This arrangement worked satisfactorily until 1994 when the annual number of asylum applications rose for the first time above 100; there were 362 applications that year. The UNHCR did not have the staff available to fulfil its role under the 1985 arrangements. Earlier this year, the UNHCR took on temporary staff, with the aid of a subvention from the State, to clear a block of cases which had been processed up to the assessment stage by the Department.

It is clear, however, to both the UNHCR and the Minister that this arrangement is no longer workable due to the huge increase in the number applying and that a new approach is necessary to deal with the backlog of approximately 3,500 applications that has built up over the last two years. It was always the intention that the Refugee Act would replace the 1985 arrangements in any event; the Act would have relieved the UNHCR of its role. The Department has been engaged in detailed discussions with the UNHCR representative since July with a view to arriving at a new set of administrative procedures better suited to the scale of the problems now facing Ireland in the asylum area. The Minister wants to place on record his appreciation of the advice and assistance given by the UNHCR in this matter and, especially as part of that assistance, the acceptance by the UNHCR of his offer of funding for the placement of one if its staff in Dublin for the next 12 months or so to assist the Department in dealing with the situation.

I will not pre-empt the outcome of those discussions which are ongoing; in fact, the most recent meeting took place on Monday. However, it is safe to say two things in relation to whatever procedure emerges from these discussions. One is that each case will generally be assessed by State employed staff — with the appropriate training [437]— rather than by the UNHCR as at present. This is a development that the Refugee Act envisages in any event and will bring Ireland into line with other countries' asylum processes.

The other likely feature is that the UNHCR will have a continuing role, albeit more wide ranging and general than hitherto, in the Irish asylum process. I cannot emphasise too strongly how important it is that Ireland's asylum procedures should continue to have the confidence of the UNHCR. That confidence is the guarantee that those in need of protection, in fear of persecution in their own countries, need to assure themselves that their cases will get a fair hearing in Ireland.

The UNHCR, as a worldwide organisation, brings an important dimension of understanding to bear on all aspects of the asylum process. The most recent public statement was in Prague last week during a meeting of Ministers of 33 European countries and eight international organisations to discuss measures to prevent illegal immigration. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform also attended. In his contribution, the UNHCR representative stressed his organisation's concern “that the intentional misuse of asylum procedures be discouraged”. He said:

Indeed, a number of migrants seeking employment, rather than protection from persecution and violence, circumvent legal immigration regulations and request asylum. . . For many would-be immigrants, asylum procedures seem to offer a chance to secure admission which they would not otherwise have. Attempts by people with no valid claim to international protection take advantage of asylum procedures and create serious problems by clogging those procedures. Moreover, such claims have greatly contributed to the confusion between refugees and illegal migrants and, in turn, reflected negatively on the asylum institution and, hence, on bona fide refugees.

The representative continued:

Another concern for States and the UNHCR alike is the phenomenon of asylum seekers who leave countries in which they have found or could have found protection in order to seek asylum elsewhere. Movements of this kind have a destabilising effect on international efforts aimed at finding durable solutions for refugees.

He welcomed solutions like the Dublin Convention, which came into effect recently, for Ireland and other EU states as a means of discouraging irregular movements of people while at the same time ensuring that asylum claims will get a proper hearing. He went on to deal with the ability of states to address the issue of the return of rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin as a contribution to “preserving the quality of asylum”.

[438] The concluding recommendations of that conference have been placed in the Oireachtas Library for the information of Members of both Houses. It is clear from those recommendations, which were adopted unanimously, that the problem of illegal migration is widespread. It is also clear that this country, which for a long time was largely free of this phenomenon because of its geography and economy, is now experiencing some of the pressures our partners in Europe have experienced for many years. What has happened in Ireland is a manifestation of worldwide economic migration pressures which are fuelled and facilitated by an extensive network of shadowy figures who profit from the illusions of the less well off without regard for their well being, the health of the economies which they are leaving or the effect on the destination countries.

As the amendment to the motion points out, the number detected trying to enter the State illegally this year so far is three times what it was for the same period last year. Earlier this year it became apparent that a large number of persons not entitled to enter the State were in fact abusing our common travel area arrangements to enter illegally from the UK. In order to deal with this growing and serious problem, the aliens orders were amended to enable immigration officers to carry out checks on arrivals from the UK. The effect of the measure is to introduce into Irish law a requirement that non-EU nationals seeking to enter Ireland from Britain or Northern Ireland must meet the same entry requirements as non-EU nationals seeking to enter Ireland from any other part of the world.

In accordance with the statutory provisions, an immigration officer may refuse leave to land to a non-national who, for example, is not in possession of a valid passport or some other document establishing his or her nationality or identity or who does not have a valid Irish visa where required. I emphasise that the immigration officers are implementing the law and ensuring that those who come into Ireland do so lawfully. People are refused leave to land because they do not meet the requirements of our law.

In the nature of such checks, people who are entitled to use the CTA arrangements, as well as those not entitled to use them, will on occasion be asked by immigration officers who are members of the Garda Síochána to offer evidence of identification in order to establish whether they are entitled to enter the country. The Garda authorities have been asked to ensure that immigration officers exercising these powers do so in a discreet and courteous way and to ensure that those who are questioned and are entitled to enter the country are thanked for their co-operation. While recognising the difficulties involved for immigration officers in carrying out the important task of dealing with a serious problem of illegal immigration, the Minister is concerned generally to ensure that there should be no occasion where the controls would be exercised in [439] a discriminatory fashion or without an acceptable level of courtesy.

We must acknowledge with regret the existence of organised networks of traffickers in humans. This traffic is estimated by the International Organisation for Migration to be worth about US$7 billion a year to the traffickers. There are high skill levels available to those networks, covering all the areas necessary to maintain this trade. They produce exceptionally high quality forged and falsified passports and other travel documents and show a high level of awareness of weak spots in immigration controls. As the rest of Europe strengthens its immigration controls, the pressure has now come on Ireland. We need now to look at our own laws in this area to establish what measures we need to have in place to combat this exploitative trade in humans and to ensure that immigration policy can be formulated and implemented in an orderly fashion.

The Minister is conducting a thorough review of our situation, especially when compared to other European states. The Government amendment to this motion refers to European Year Against Racism 1997 and asks the House to note that our Department, together with other Departments and NGOs, participate in the national co-ordinating committee for the European year. This special Year Against Racism arose out of a resolution of the EU Council of Ministers. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the threat of racism; provide a catalyst for change; promote partnership in the broader sense of the word; provide an opportunity for exchange of experience and good practice; support innovative initiatives in this area and give political encouragement to continue European Union action against racism.

In designating 1997 as the Year Against Racism, the European Council recognised that racism is diametrically opposed to everything that Europe stands for in terms of democracy, tolerance and respect for human dignity and fundamental freedoms. I should add that the Council resolution refers not only to racism but also to xenophobia, that is, hatred of foreigners, and anti-Semitism.

The resolution called on member states to appoint a national co-ordinating committee to oversee activities for the year. A representative of the NGO sector was appointed to chair Ireland's committee. I welcome this approach and the fact that the committee is functioning as a partnership between Departments and NGOs. The profile of the Year Against Racism was further boosted in Ireland by the support of the former President Mary Robinson, who officiated at the opening ceremony. An allocation of £100,000 was made available by our Department for the year and this is being used to support a variety of initiatives and activities.

In trying to spread the anti-racism message, we must endeavour to develop in our young people particularly, as the citizens of the future, a respect [440] for the fundamental equality of all human beings. For this reason, I was very pleased to participate recently with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, in the launch of an education pack developed under the auspices of the national co-ordinating committee for use in schools and by youth leaders. Tomorrow, 23 October, was designated as Schools Against Racism Day. The education pack also outlines an awards scheme to recognise schools and clubs which participate in certain activities. A copy of the pack has been sent to almost every primary and post primary school and youth centre in the State.

Another worthwhile initiative developed by the national co-ordinating committee, which I launched in Galway last July, is the media awards. There will be five categories of award which will be presented to journalists and photo-journalists who have made a significant contribution during 1997 to highlighting racism, anti-racism measures and the promotion of cultural diversity in Ireland.

The Senators who tabled the motion are obviously concerned that there should be accurate reporting of issues relating to refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers so that racism and xenophobia are not encouraged. As evidenced by the Government amendment, I share the concern that reporting of all of these issues should be balanced, accurate and responsible. This, too, is the idea behind the media awards. I am pleased to say the Minister recently approved a number of small grants totalling over £12,000 for small scale initiatives, often at a local level, linked to the aims of the Year Against Racism. Again, that is a worthwhile move because this message needs to be articulated locally just as much as at national level.

I also remind Senators of the Minister's intention to proceed with the redrafting of the Equal Status Bill which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court earlier this year. This Bill will deal with discrimination on a number of grounds including race, colour, nationality and national or ethnic origin. It has the potential to give considerable protection to persons who are the victims of racial discrimination and will also, I am confident, contribute to changing attitudes towards the various minorities in our society. The Bill is also necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Ireland has historically been a relatively homogeneous society. That appears to be changing. With our economic success, more non-nationals, including EU citizens, will wish to live and work here. Also, the eventual enlargement of the EU will add to diversity here in Ireland. That is why I support measures to combat racism and xenophobia, including legislative measures. I particularly welcome the new provision in the Treaty of Amsterdam, Article 6a, which gives the European Union competence for the first time to take action to combat discrimination on a number of [441] grounds including racial or ethnic origin. The Community has up to now been hampered by its inability to legislate on this matter and has had to confine itself to measures such as resolutions and declarations which are not legally binding. The power in Article 6a has the potential to bring about a common European regime against racial discrimination.

The Minister is satisfied that the measures I have described, taken together, will bring about an improvement in the position regarding asylum in particular, not only in fairness to those who have applied for refugee status who are entitled to a speedy decision but also to the taxpayer who must support applicants and their families while a decision is pending. The Minister's review of the situation regarding non-nationals will, I am sure, lead to a policy which can be implemented in a fair and transparent way. I thank the Senators for raising these important issues and giving me the opportunity to bring them up to date on developments in this increasingly important area of Irish life. I commend the amendment to the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her appointment.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I, too, welcome the Minister and am glad she is here this evening having served under her excellent chairmanship on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights. I hope she will take what I have to say to heart. I would like to highlight medical problems which concern women refugees. Because of the turmoil in Africa, along with other western countries, we are receiving more and more refugees from there. Female genital mutilation is a common occurrence in some African countries and western nations need to address the fact that refugees may try to continue such practices and that women who have been mutilated need special care in pregnancy and childbirth particularly.

Internationally, about two million girls are mutilated each year. There is no need for me to give the Seanad the gruesome details but the mutilation varies from removal of the clitoris to removal of the labia majora and the suturing of both sides of the external genitalia together. These procedures done on girls from ages varying from the first week of life to 12 years old, all without anaesthetic and performed by unqualified operators in general, may lead to the death of the child through haemorrhage, infection or tetanus. The girl, of course, cannot consent to this appalling act because she is only a child. She is held down and often six adults are required to hold her. Terrible scarring develops and many gynaecological conditions and urinary tract infections will be her lot for the rest of her life with serious psychological conditions developing as well.

While practised in some Muslim countries, female genital mutilation is not a required part of the practice of any religion and the African Charter [442] on the Rights and Welfare of the Child stresses that while positive traditional values and cultures should be preserved and strengthened, it requests in Article 21 that “appropriate measures be taken in order to eradicate traditional practices and customs which are prejudicial to the health of the child”. There could be no more gruesome traditional practice which damages the child than female genital mutilation.

Why is this of importance to us? There are two reasons. First, we must ensure we explain to the daughters of those refugees who may adhere to these old practices that this mutilation is not acceptable here. One little girl died in London a few years ago from haemorrhage and others, refugees from Mali, have died in France. In the United Kingdom, the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act was enacted in 1985. This makes it a criminal offence to carry out the mutilations I described or to aid and abet such acts. We have no such legislation. Some refugee families in the UK try to get around the legislation by sending their daughters back to aunts or grandmothers in Africa, The Yemen or elsewhere but teachers and social workers are always careful to counsel families that any such act done abroad may mean trouble for them. Some families bring unqualified operators from abroad to Great Britain and, unfortunately, some doctors in Great Britain and the United States have become involved in this vile practice. It would be possible for those disposed to have their children so mutilated to bring them here to avoid attracting the attention of social workers by the prolonged absence of their daughters from schools in Great Britain. Legislation should be introduced to ban such practices here. Perhaps it could be done under the Children Bill and a separate Bill may not be needed. It should be made clear to any refugees from counties where female genital mutilation is practised that it is totally unacceptable here.

The second problem with this practice deals with adult women who come here and arrive in a hospital pregnant or, perhaps, with gynaecological problems. Our doctors and midwives need to be taught how to recognise and help such women. The policy document on women's health issued by the Department of Health earlier this year has a section on women in developing countries but female genital mutilation, despite its importance, is not mentioned in it. Interestingly, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees mentioned it. Almost 100 per cent of girls are “cut” in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan and Sierra Leone and even in countries such as Kenya the rate is as high as 20 per cent. Any doctor or nurse visiting these areas should have some training in the problems arising from this practice and as we send many doctors and nurses on development missions it is important this matter be addressed. We must ensure, also, that when such cases arrive in our maternity hospitals those in charge of the woman's delivery will understand the obstetric problems she will encounter and be [443] able to deal with them. Requests by the woman's husband or any other person that the woman should be re-infibulated must be refused. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has so recommended but sometimes those supervising the delivery do not recognise the cause of the scarring with which they are dealing and resuture the woman.

These women have rights. The fact that they may have no English is another difficulty. The woman may not be able to communicate directly with her medical advisers nor they with her. History taking with refugees is notoriously difficult. If the Department of Health cannot provide interpreters in all languages — even French or Italian would be useful as many of the refugees are well educated — they should provide at least a pictorial atlas on different medical situations such as is used in Nigeria where there is a multiplicity of languages. The Medical Council has not issued guidelines for these situations and comment from that body would be helpful so that the medical profession is mindful of the ethical obligations to patients.

Many African women have particular problems associated with pregnancy such as eclampsia and high blood pressure, the consequences of which, if untreated, can be fatal. Depression is common and is not helped by the refugee status of the patient. Many have sexually transmitted diseases and some have sickle cell anaemia. We have an obligation where we pride ourselves on our treatment of pregnant women and our excellent maternity mortality figures to treat these women who are in such a vulnerable position in the best way possible.

Finally, the incidence of HIV infection is much higher in these women than in Irish women. The recent improvements in the treatment of women with HIV infection in pregnancy has dropped the vertical transmission rate, that is the infection from the mother to the unborn baby, from 24 per cent to 8 per cent. These are the published figures but it is felt that it is realistic to aspire to a 2 per cent transmission rate and perhaps eliminate the infection of the baby altogether. It is important to avoid any suspicion of racism so I suggest all pregnant women should be tested for the HIV virus to protect their unborn children from infection and to help their health too. When no treatment was available it was acceptable that patients should not be tested but with improved treatment for HIV infected patients they should have all the help they can get.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  I join with other Members in welcoming the Minister of State to the House. It is important that matters relating to refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers be addressed at a time when there is growing public concern. As has been said in the debate, the big influx of asylum seekers and immigrants, whether economic immigrants or those genuinely trying to escape from harsh regimes under which they might be killed [444] and which are the antithesis of what we have here, has only been noticed in recent years. When discussing such matters there is no point in looking for instant solutions and talking about finalities which have been mentioned by Senators. We must address this matter in a reasonable and logical manner because if we do not, the people who are genuinely in need of our help will not get it and the attitudes of people here will change, as is unfortunately happening throughout Europe at present.

Earlier this week I attended a meeting with some continental colleagues. A new political party has emerged in Denmark in the past five weeks. Local elections will take place in Denmark within the next three weeks and it is estimated that because of the situation expounded by this new political party it will get up to 30 per cent of the vote. It is a racist party. It wants immigrants out and a white Denmark with Danes only. Public opinion has gone so much against the non-implementation of immigration policies that the public in Denmark has turned totally against immigrants. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the changes in East-West relations, so many refugees have been coming from the East that the attitudes of people in mainland Europe have either changed dramatically or they have returned to being racist.

There is no point in pretending that we can deal with these issues overnight and that we can produce skilled people to deal with the immigration problem. Senator Connor said that the refugee problem has got out of hand——

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  It is a fact.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  I am not saying it has got out of hand. There are problems in dealing with those people but they are being dealt with in as rational and reasonable a manner as possible. When the Senator said these people were left for four hours in the rain does he mean that it would have been all right if it was not raining? This is a nonsense. There was a problem——

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  It is a terrible picture.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  ——but it was addressed. Has the Senator never been abroad and seen queues for exit visas? The Government is trying to deal with the matter as adequately as possible and help these people. The Government has been in power for barely 100 days and the Minister has addressed the matter.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  That is rubbish.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  Will Senator Connor ask the former Minister for Justice, a member of his party, to withdraw the court case and then possibly the commissioner could be selected immediately and the Government could address the matter more adequately than at present? Racism in Ireland is growing because there are a huge number of illegal immigrants at present who are not being [445] adequately cared for and I say this from a human point of view. The matter is being addressed but it cannot be resolved overnight. There is no doubt that some people coming to this country are not genuine refugees. Refugees seek to escape from their own countries. If they come here and if the matter is dealt with properly there would be a better attitude towards them in terms of employment and social welfare benefits which they need badly.

There has never been an absence of racism in Irish people. We have all heard scurrilous remarks made in the past against blacks and against students from different countries who attend colleges here. There is no point pretending Irish people were never racist. In certain countries to which they have emigrated, they have been very racist. We have, as a people in the United States, been very racist towards blacks. The taint of racism is not new to Ireland; it has existed in the past. Foreign students were refused houses because they were either black or could not speak English. The scourge of racism existed here and it will not go away.

However, the problem will be exacerbated unless the Government continues organising access to Ireland for people who desperately need the benefits of a society relatively free from what they are fleeing. The number of refugees is a growing problem which must be addressed not alone by our Government but by other countries. It is good we are having this debate because it sends out a message that the Government is not standing still on the matter.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  It is going backwards.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  It is not perfect but it is applying the necessary skills to encourage people who need to come here to do so and is addressing their problems when they arrive. However, if we do not follow the spirit of the amendment, we will be in trouble. The ad hoc treatment of the problem before this Government came to power was not encouraging. The amendment has much more to offer than the motion.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  The Labour Party supports the motion and I compliment the Independent Senators for tabling it. Senator Henry's contribution, focusing on the medical problems experienced by asylum seekers and immigrants to this country, is indicative of the contributions made by the Independent Senators. Senators Ryan's and Norris's contributions on the humanitarian and civil liberties and rights issues involved are welcome and reflect the long standing interest the Independent Senators have shown in the issue of human rights.

I agree with much of what Senator Lanigan said in terms of a comprehensive and holistic approach to the problem. However, I was unhappy with some of the Minister's remarks on a number of issues. For example, I was pleased to learn that 1997 was the European Year against [446] Racism and that tomorrow will be schools' national day against racism. However, I was unaware of that, and I wonder to what extent it has been highlighted. I welcome the fact the Government intends to introduce the Equal Status Bill soon so that we can outlaw all forms of discrimination. That is part of our international obligations and the sooner we do it the better.

The remarks about refugees and immigrants, illegal or otherwise, struck a chord in that, of our many ancestors who went to England and the United States, few were asylum seekers; most were economic migrants similar to most of those seeking access to our country now. The issue is complex in terms of how we decide who is an illegal immigrant. Were we to determine it in a narrow fashion, many of our ancestors who emigrated would be refused were they to apply now. The appalling situation last Saturday week, when approximately 2,000 people turned up outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to renew their identity cards, was unacceptable. It is not good enough to state that people were forced to wait four to six hours in the rain because of procedures. Why not deal with 100 people each Saturday? The Department of Foreign Affairs has begun to organise its business in this way. It is incredibly insulting to people who seek asylum here that they are treated in that fashion and I am sure the Minister agrees. It is to be hoped that will not happen again and that the matter will be resolved by using a staggered system so that everybody is not expected to renew their identity cards on the same day.

I remember a few years ago arguing the case of a young student from Tiananmen Square who spent 18 months in a prison here. He did not know his geography very well and thought Ireland and Britain were one and the same with a land link between them. He got off an airplane in Dublin Airport thinking he could take the bus or train to Birmingham where some of his relatives lived. Instead he spent 18 months in Mountjoy Prison and some time in Fitzgibbon Street Garda station where there are two holding cells for alleged illegal immigrants. Similar cells exist in a number of other Garda stations.

Our record on asylum seekers was absolutely appalling until we enacted the Refugee Act, 1996. What has happened since in terms of that legislation has also been appalling. In the past, we simply put people on the next boat or plane out of the country, or in prison, and without any recourse to appeal. It was simply a case of a telephone call by a Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform official to the UNHCR in London, with no attempt to investigate whether there was any solid basis to the application. Almost all asylum seekers were deported immediately. That was unsatisfactory. We now have the legislation but we do not have the mechanism in place to deal with the increasing number of applicants. The necessary mechanism must be put in place because, while the Minister can hide behind the injunction, which I hope will be resolved quickly, [447] she is responsible for those applicants in the country and those seeking asylum here. The staff, procedures, health facilities and accommodation should be put in place and this must be done in an organised, coherent fashion.

In the last election, the big issue on the doorsteps in the city centre was immigrants. Racism and xenophobia were developing there because people did not understand what was happening. Our campaign headquarters has already received notes in the door speaking about Adi Roche in very derogatory terms, such as being a lover of various ethnic groups. This is happening on a broad level and, if action is not taken at an early stage and in an organised and coherent fashion, I can see us developing into a very racist society in future.

Dr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Dermot Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Dermot Fitzpatrick  We are in the middle of one of the great historic migrations. These migrations probably started in Ireland in the middle of the last century with the migration after the Famine when the population dropped from 8 to 4 million in less than 50 years. This was an economic migration.

Earlier I was thinking of what I would say in this debate and, more importantly, how to say it without causing offence. I was interested to hear Senator Costello speak of racism. During the last general election in my constituency we came across a definite undercurrent of fear — racism is too strong a word. This is partly because we are experiencing one of these great migrations in which people are moving from the periphery to the centre of Europe. For all its faults, Central Europe is like the US at the turn of the century. It is enjoying an economic boom which attracts those who are dispossessed, hungry and economically disadvantaged. These people move to an area of greater economic prosperity to improve their family circumstances and the status of their children. I was an emigrant in the past and we should remember that once one moves to another country one starts at the bottom of the economic, social and financial ladder. I am old enough to remember notices on doors stating “Blacks or Irish Need Not Apply”. I hope we will not see a variation of that in Ireland.

Last year I visited Ellis Island. Any Irish person who visits the US should visit that place. It is now sanitised but there are pictures on the walls and one can almost hear the cries and see the tears of those who passed through it. Many of those people were Irish, others were fleeing the anti-Jewish pogroms which took place at the end of the last century in middle and far eastern Europe. These people made America rich, bringing a cultural diversity and an economic strength. If one looks at American medical textbooks they are all written by first or second generation European refugees. It is hard to think of anything good accomplished by Adolf Hitler. However, one of the upsides of the forced German migrations of the thirties was the strengthening of American [448] intellectual property. Immigrants created great advances and they are one of the reasons America is such an economic and intellectual giant and the leading world power.

Ireland is far smaller than the US. We do not have the resources or the economy to absorb large numbers of refugees. This behoves us to establish a mechanism for those who wish to move here. This Bill and the Minister's speech are a small step on that road. It will not be easy. We must remember that we are changing from a relatively homogeneous to a more diverse society. To put it crudely, when I was growing up the only foreign influence on our food was the local chipper run by Italian immigrants. There is now a great diversity of ethnic cuisine in Dublin. We will have to learn to deal with these immigrants. That will take patience, good will and charity. There have been and there will be blips. We must balance the problem of taking in more people than we can handle with learning to cope with those we can properly, gracefully and graciously. This will not happen overnight.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I congratulate Senator Brendan Ryan for proposing this motion. Never was a motion more timely. Both Senators Ryan and Norris have dealt with the technicalities of the Refugee Act, which we discussed at some length last year, and the crucial need for it to be implemented as soon as possible. I did not hear all of this debate but there has been a very tolerant, open and progressive response from Members. That bodes well for society. During the past year I have felt pessimistic on a number of occasions about comments made by Members which seemed to indicate a latent xenophobia. There has been none of that today and important contributions have been made.

I will not deal with the Bill but with the next part of the motion concerning an informed debate. There are those who talk about people coming to this country taking advantage of our social welfare system and so on. We have heard this in pubs and seen sideswipes in newspapers and other places. There is a story in today's Evening Herald which the country has been watching for the past three days. It concerns a 14 year old girl who went off with an older man and for whom the whole country has been searching. They have been found. It is interesting to look at the context of this case without making any judgments about the individuals involved.

In Chester, England, this girl approached the social welfare services pretending to be her older sister and claiming to be pregnant. She was collecting the keys to a local authority house in Chester this afternoon when found by the authorities. This is a salutary story as it reflects a caring society in England — a country which we do not often see as being so. Those who try to assert that people coming to this country act differently to Irish people abroad are completely wrong. We have always been supported by the welfare structures in other countries.

[449] I listened to Senator Fitzpatrick's comments about Ellis Island. I have also visited Grosse Ile in Canada which has a similar museum. I unveiled a plaque to Irish immigrants in Hamilton, Canada, where, less than 100 years ago, “No Irish” signs were posted; the Irish are now running that city.

It is important to remind ourselves and those outside who are quick with comments and criticisms that this is a growing economy and a developing country with a lot of wealth. It is going to be a magnet for the less well off, particularly those in Eastern Europe. We must adjust to that fact as it is going to be the future. How we adjust to these people is not simply a matter of accommodating and tolerating them, it is a matter of assimilating them into the community. I am no bleeding heart liberal saying we must accept everyone who comes to our shores. I worked hard on the Refugee Bill and those who advised us and Government during that Bill have made it clear that the idea of the Bill was to put structure and order to our procedures. I thought it could have gone further but it must be implemented and we must stick with it.

There is not a street in any small town in this country which has not sent jobless people abroad, particularly to England. People have lived entire lifetimes on social welfare there and we were glad they were able to do so. In this House not long ago, we beat our breasts, whinged, whined and criticised the manner in which Irish immigrants were treated in the US. They did not have welfare or hospital entitlements and could not take out medical insurance or receive proper support. We saw the injustice in that and we tried to achieve a balance there though we did not do too well.

There is not a courthouse in this country where, at one stage, on a monthly basis the judge was not heard to say to somebody “I'll give you six months unless you want to go to England”. I heard that being said. This country has played its part in exporting unemployed people and people who were, in effect, criminals, albeit petty ones. We sent such people to other countries to be looked after when we would not do it ourselves. We could not and would not provide jobs for them and we did not want them to go to prison.

People commit, and are found guilty of, serious crime in this country; I wonder whether the stark photographs published in today's Irish Times would have been published if they did not concern somebody from eastern Europe. I do not want anything to be interpreted from that comment, it is merely an opinion. We regularly see headlines such as “Travellers' Row” or “Travellers Break Up Navan” in Irish newspapers; we do not see headlines such as “Nine Kerry Men in Brawl” or “Nine Dublin Men in Brawl”. I grew up in a town where there were regular fights on fair day. We learned to accommodate that and we grew out of it.

[450] Irish people took great pride in recent years in being the greatest per capita contributors to Live Aid; in previous years we took pride in the fact that we sent missionaries and teachers to developing countries and that we contributed the most money to the “black babies”. That was fine until those people started to come here and we had to meet them face to face. That was when we started to ask questions.

I would like to have had an opportunity to deal with the issue of racism and its associated developments, namely, the recognition, tolerance and accommodation of difference. Irish society seems to think that if a Muslim school or a travellers' encampment is set up, we have a pluralist society. We do not. A pluralist society is one which will be judged by the quality of the relationship between the different groups within it. That will not be achieved by giving people their own space; we must give them part of everybody else's space in a way which is rational and regulated. I do not want to be seen to open the doors to everyone; I want the system to be a regulated and correct one.

Earlier today I had a meeting with a group of people who teach travellers. They witness at first hand many of the worst effects of racism and xenophobia towards our own people. One of the things I discussed with them was the possibility of introducing a programme in Irish schools addressing the issues of racism and xenophobia which would initially target teachers. We should address this issue, which is an important one in terms of the quality of our future life, in the same way as we address stay safe and sex education programmes.

I began my contribution by saying that Ireland was going to be a multi-cultural society. That is to be welcomed. In Paul Durcan's poem “Christmas” he writes that the problem with Dublin is Dublin women have had to deal with white men in off-white underwear for too long. That is a great line and it is something we should consider as we look to the future.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Tá sé go breá Ciarraíoch a bheith ar thaobh mo láimhe clé agus Ciarraíoch eile ós mo chomhair amach. Is é an trua nach é Ciarraí atá ós mo chomhair amach chomh maith agus bheinn thar a bheith sásta.

One of the things about which one can be proud of this country is that matters such as this are dealt with in the Houses of the Oireachtas with a degree of restraint which would not perhaps characterise a similar debate in what describes itself, with some arrogance, as the “mother of Parliaments”. There is a tendency there to talk in extremes about matters such as this in a manner which would make one's hair stand on end. However, that is as much as I liked about the discussion on the amendment.

Many questions were left unanswered. It is peculiar to have a sizeable bundle of press cuttings [451] full of appalling headlines on this issue and yet find the press gallery empty. One wonders whether refugees are only an issue when they are good for a cheap headline. This is a serious issue and we should all show the kind of responsibility which was shown in this House. None of us want cheap headlines on this issue and, therefore, nobody in the media is interested in this discussion. Perhaps that is the problem.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. It lacked substance and did not deal with the issues raised. It did not explain, for instance, how refugees from a variety of countries are dealt with by members of the Garda Síochána who cannot, I suspect, speak any of these people's native languages. How is the wonderful courtesy, which the Minister describes as being required of all of these officers, applied when an investigating immigration officer does not have a single word of any language in common with the person he or she is investigating? That is a simple question. Unless the Garda have taken a crash course in languages I do not see how this can happen. How is it possible to investigate and be courteous to people or even determine whether they want to be treated as refugees if one cannot speak five words of their language? How is it possible to make any kind of judgment in those cases? We did not receive any answer to that question.

Have people been turned away in significant numbers since 1 September? That question was not answered either. We also have considerable reason to suspect that among the amendments planned for the Refugee Act is a suggestion that [452] there would perhaps be some kind of holding centre for people while their applications are processed. Are there any grounds for thinking this? The Minister could have said “no”; it is not a difficult word to say and Ministers are usually very good at saying it. I must assume that the fact the Minister did not deny this suggestion is an indication that something like this is planned. It is a pity the Minister did not clarify this matter; we would all have been much happier about tonight's debate if she had. We still do not know what is happening in that regard.

There was a particular irony in the Minister's speech when she said that the taxpayer must support applicants and their families while a decision is pending. The only reason the taxpayer must support these people is because we will not allow them to work under any circumstances. Why can we not tell people that if they can obtain work for which no Irish people are available they may do it? If one walks along Grafton Street or O'Connell Street, one will see jobs advertised in various places. Ireland is no longer a country in which there are no available jobs. I do not know why people do not fill them. Why not let people work while we are overcoming gargantuan delays in making simple decisions? We dictate that the taxpayer must support these people, not some external body. Refugees cannot be blamed for living off the welfare state when we give them no option. It is not their fault. I will not be accepting the amendment.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  The name of the poet to whom I alluded earlier is Paul Durcan.

Amendment put.

Bohan, Eddie.
Cassidy, Donie.
Cox, Margaret.
Farrell, Willie.
Finneran, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Leonard, Ann.
Lydon, Don.
McGowan, Paddy.
Mooney, Paschal.
Moylan, Pat.
O'Brien, Francis.
O'Donovan, Denis.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Quill, Mairín.
Walsh, Jim.

Burke, Paddy.
Caffrey, Ernie.
Connor, John.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Doyle, Avril.
Hayes, Tom.
Henry, Mary.
Jackman, Mary.
Manning, Maurice.
Norris, David.
O'Toole, Joe.
Ridge, Thére se.
Ryan, Seán.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

[453] Question declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.


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