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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Feb 1999

Vol. 500 No. 2

Immigration Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

As far back as the 17th century, when the Huguenots were fleeing France because of civil and religious persecution, Ireland was active in providing facilities for them here. Since we signed the UN Convention in 1956 successive Governments have accepted people as "programme refugees". These are people brought in by the Government in organised numbers, and State facilities were provided for them. The impression created by many Opposition speakers was that we were remiss in this regard, that we did not have due consideration for people suffering civil or ethnic difficulties in their countries and that we had been neglecting this area somehow.

Successive Governments have operated a number of schemes whereby Hungarian, Chilean, Iranian, Vietnamese and Bosnian refugees were brought to Ireland. The Bosnians brought here in 1996 were the latest; originally 180 Bosnians were brought here and facilities were provided by both Government and non-Government agencies in Cherry Orchard. At the end of 1998 that population was 868, 61 of whom were born in Ireland. It is to the credit of the volunteers and organisations that they were able to make the Bosnians' transition at a very difficult time reasonably successful.

Not only have individuals and their families been catered for, some of their relatives are looked after also. It is now normal to have two or three relatives here per refugee. Originally 212 Vietnamese refugees were brought here in 1979, and now there are more than 600 of them, 200 of whom have been born in Ireland. That was a very successful operation. I do not have the figures, but between 1994 and 1997 approximately 400 others were allowed to stay and work here. Some of them are in Shannon in my constituency, as are people from the former Yugoslavia, Cuba, Romania, Algeria, Somalia, Angola, Iraq, Libya and other countries.

An unfair impression was given that we were doing nothing in this area, that it was neglected and that we were not fully complying with the commitments we signed up for under the UN convention. I pay tribute to the Refugee Agency established in 1991 for the work it has done. Mr. John O'Neill is its chief executive, and Mr. Paddy Dillon-Malone is its chairperson. The agency's work is twofold. It works with individuals and families to ensure they have proper facilities, education, training and language skills available to them. It also works with Government Depart ments and non-governmental agencies on repatriation programmes. I dealt with this problem in Shannon when many people came off planes at a time when there was a lot of traffic between the former Soviet Union and Cuba, and in my experience they were anxious to get back to their own countries as soon as possible. Part of the Refugee Agency's work has been to try to put repatriation schemes in place which would help to repatriate these people, as has happened in many cases. One finds that even when dealing with regions which have experienced killings and ethnic cleansing, most people prefer to stay in their country of origin when it is possible to do so.

With the resources at our disposal we have undertaken some schemes, and I pay tribute to FÁS, the Irish Red Cross and other bodies who have been helping the Refugee Agency in its work. This agency operates on a very small budget of approximately £300,000. Given the amount of positive work it does, I would like more resources devoted to this area.

When I was Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for overseas development aid, I had a lot of contact with the Irish Refugee Council, which has given this legislation a limited welcome. The lack of clarity in the Aliens Act, 1935, meant legislation was necessary, and I compliment the Minster on the speed with which he has brought this Bill forward. However, some of the Irish Refugee Council's concerns could be dealt with on Committee Stage. I do not propose to go into detailed discussion of those now, but the council is concerned by some of the provisions in section 3 whereby a deported person may not come back to Ireland. The council would like to see an amendment which would perhaps enable people to re-enter Ireland and to have their cases re-examined.

The legislation refers to instances where persons are convicted of offences and counsel feels the gravity of the offences should be taken into account in matters like this. One might find a sentence imposed for an offence that is not too grievous, but these matters can be examined on Committee Stage. I am almost certain that the Minister has received details of the council's concerns, and these should be taken into account on Committee Stage.

The council is also concerned about the removal of people before their appeals are heard. It is only fair that if appeals procedures and mechanisms are being applied people should not be deported until the final appeal is determined. The council is concerned about notification and other minor problems that could be dealt with on Committee Stage. It is also concerned about children, many of whom may be separated from their families. Great care should be taken to ensure that people's anxieties in this matter are adequately catered for, and the council has put forward several technical amendments it sees as necessary. The provision of translation facilities is one such matter.

The Irish Refugee Council has been doing very detailed work with no State funding. Last year it dealt with approximately 3,500 people, many of whom are seeking basic information and help with their applications. To do this work the Refugee Council has four legal advisers, four research personnel, a couple of FÁS workers and a few volunteers. For whatever reason, the funding provided to the council, as distinct from the agency, was not continued. I understand the council has made a submission for additional funding and that funding should be provided.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform sits on an interdepartmental committee on this matter. I was always confused about the responsibilities of the Department of Foreign Affairs, to which the Refugee Agency reports, and that of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to which the Irish Refugee Council reports. Perhaps that committee could devise a mechanism for rationalising the area and putting in place a more streamlined administrative arrangement for dealing with these issues. That would be welcome.

Apart from the programme refugees, concern has been expressed about other asylum applicants. There is a genuine feeling abroad that they have not come here because of well-founded fear of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality or politics, but because they were involved in criminal activities. At Shannon Airport papers were flushed down toilets or burned before immigration personnel could see them. The small minority from a criminal background have given a bad name to refugees generally and asylum seekers in particular. It is important that the agencies dealing with refugees work closely with the Departments to combat people who try to undermine the system or who come here because our social welfare payments are more generous than those in the UK or because of changes to the UK system whereby payments were substituted for credits and the mechanism was tightened up – there is some evidence of that. That was believed to be the case for some 60 people in the Shannon area – they were not here because of a fear of persecution in their countries but because they were making money.

On the other hand, some immigrants have made a big contribution in various area. Mr. Diaz, a refugee from Chile who now lives in Shannon, has made a big contribution to social and cultural life in the area. Many people who had genuine reasons for seeking asylum have now made Ireland their home. They freely admit they still think of their homeland and would like to be repatriated, but that is not possible. It would be a shame if these people were to be deprived because of a small minority who are undermining the system and have come here for ulterior motives.

I compliment the immigration authorities in Shannon Airport for the humanitarian and caring way in which they have dealt with these cases for many years. It was a sensitive and difficult job at times but the immigration personnel always handled cases delicately. Great credit is due to them, the Irish Red Cross in Ennis, and the many volunteers who have been helpful in providing much needed facilities, advice, and income to a section of the international community which has had bad experiences.

The number of refugees and asylum seekers in the world will continue to increase. Ethnic conflict in central Europe may lead to a large eruption – one need only look at Kosovo to see that. Conflict is also continuing in Zaire, Somalia, and Nigeria. It is therefore imperative that we bring our refugee and asylum legislation up to date. We had several debates about this in the past few years and it is a cause of regret that the legislation passed by the Houses has not been fully implemented, for various reasons which have been explained on numerous occasions by the Minister. Nevertheless, the speed with which he has acted in this regard is welcome and I hope he will ensure the legislation is expedited. Perhaps we can use this Bill to meet the genuine concerns expressed by the Refugee Council, which has been in the forefront of the campaign to provide better facilities, humanitarian aid, assistance, and guidance to people who have had a traumatic time.

I compliment the Minister on the Bill. I urge him to look at the amendments put forward by the council and to speed up the work of the interdepartmental committee so that a new formula can be put in place to avoid overlapping and duplication which is a waste of human and financial resources. With this legislation and new administrative arrangements, I hope Ireland can continue to show the same caring attitude as we have since we signed the UN convention.

A staggering 86,000 jobs could be created in 1999 but the lack of available skills is a huge barrier to growth. Some 57 per cent of small companies are recruiting, yet 88 per cent of those cannot get staff. There are 10,000 vacancies at present, while £1 billion is paid annually – £20 million per week – in unemployment assistance. We urgently need a plan to deal with immigration. The Small Firms Association has called for an end to the impediments which stop women, the long-term unemployed and immigrants from gaining legitimate employment. A soon to be published survey carried out by the association shows that many small companies are experiencing severe difficulties in their recruitment plans.

Greater links must be forged between all agencies and Departments dealing with unemployment supports, with a view to tackling the difficulties faced by skilled, highly capable women in re-entering the workforce. The primary issue in this regard is the cost of child care provision. Our system should support rather than hinder these people, for whom employers are crying out. The recent budget introduced no tax breaks or financial support for child care provision, so many women who wish to take up work cannot do so. This is confirmed by Ireland's low female employment participation rate of 41 per cent, as against the European average of 45 per cent and the UK level of 50 per cent.

It is time to take a broader perspective on immigration. For many years, when the Irish economy was not doing well, Ministers lobbied extensively to ensure other countries welcomed our emigrants. We have now come full circle and Ireland is seen by many non-nationals as an attractive country to live in. While we cannot lose sight of the major challenge of assisting the long-term unemployed to regain work, we may find immigration offers potential solutions for employers who cannot fill jobs. Helpful measures to address this issue would include the granting of temporary work permits to qualified non-EU nationals, the establishment of an advisory group with strong business representation to examine the issues involved, the establishment of a quota system, as applies in Australia, Canada and Switzerland, based on the skills need of the Irish economy, and the sending of information on the skills of non-nationals to employers as part of a matching process. These issues must be resolved at this stage of our economic development. We must ensure that every available resource is used if we are to maintain the growth and competitiveness of our economy.

It is ironic that unemployment continues to be a major problem, yet the greatest problem faced by small businesses is a lack of candidates for jobs. If the recommendations of a review of these aspects of our unemployment problem were implemented, it would be of major benefit to our 160,000 small businesses. There is major potential to create employment in that sector. We cannot accept that an unemployment rate of 7 per cent represents full employment in a modern economy where there is a demand for workers. The opportunity cost of this position poses the single greatest challenge to our economy. We need to forge links with that sector. A hotelier in Sligo told me last week that he cannot get people to work for him. Employers in the service sector, including the distribution and retail service sectors with which I am familiar, find it extremely difficult to recruit staff, although the problem is not quite as bad in the manufacturing sector. Approximately 57 per cent of small companies are recruiting staff, but it is disappointing that 98 per cent of them find it difficult to do so.

Many aspects of the Bill would give the impression it is a deportation Bill. Section 3(1) deals with deportation orders and states the Minister may by order require any non-national specified in the order to leave the State within such period as may be specified in the order and to remain thereafter out of the State. The indefinite applicability of a deportation order is a matter of grave concern to the Irish Refugee Council. Procedures for appeal and revocation of a deportation order should be provided in cases where persons may need to re-enter the State owing to a renewed need for State protection. Therefore, the council recommends that the phrase "remain thereafter out of the State" should be deleted.

Section 3(2)(a) refers to a person who has served or is serving a term of imprisonment imposed on him or her by a court in this State. This paragraph does not contain any specification about the nature or gravity of an offence committed by a person who would fall within the remit of this section. It does not state details of the minimum term of imprisonment to be served. A distinction is not drawn between minor offences and those carrying a heavy penalty. This provision requires clarification.

Section 3(2)(b) refers to a person whose deportation has been recommended by a court in this State before which such person was indicted for or charged with any crime or offence. That paragraph does not contain any consideration of the established principle of the presumption of innocence. It does not mention the prospect of an appeal or the possibility that the person could be cleared of the charge. These concerns need to be addressed.

Section 3(2)(g) refers to a person to whom leave to land in the State has been refused. The Irish Refugee Council recommends that a safeguard should be added to this paragraph to the effect that all reasonable measures have been pursued to ensure that it is not the individual's intention to seek asylum in this State and to ensure this there should be a guarantee that adequate interpretation facilities will be available at ports of entry. The council also makes the important recommendation that no person under the age of 18 should be refused permission to land in this State without consultation with the relevant agencies. NGOs and social services should be consulted in such circumstances.

Section 3(3)(b) refers to a person who has been notified of a proposal under paragraph (a) who may, within 14 days of the sending of the notification, make representations in writing to the Minister. It is recommended that this provision be amended to state "within 14 days of receipt of the notification" to ensure adequate time and access to the appeal procedure. This amendment should also be applied to section 3(4) because it is essential that representations should be made to an independent court or an appeal authority and that this should include the option of an oral hearing. This is an important recommendation. Irish emigrants have been welcomed abroad. The concerns of people who are dealing daily with those who are seeking asylum in this country must be addressed. It is important this should be viewed as an immigration Bill, not a deportation Bill.

Section (3)(4)(c) states that ". the Minister shall thereupon arrange for the removal of a person from the State as soon as may be, ." It is recommended that this paragraph be amended to take into consideration the needs and circumstances of each individual and that it should include the phrase "within a reasonable period of time". The provision allows for the possibility of the detention of families for up to eight weeks or the detention of persons suffering from medical or psychiatric conditions. This is also a matter of major concern. I hope that the Minister will take on board amendments that will be tabled to this section on Committee Stage.

Section 3(6) states that in determining whether to make a deportation order in relation to a person, the Minister shall have regard to the age of the person. I recommend this should include special reference to persons under the age of 18, taking into consideration domestic, European and international legislation and relevant guidelines governing the rights of the child. I recommend that this section should include a provision that there should be no deportation of separated children from this State.

Section 3(6)(j) refers to the provisions of section 5 (prohibition of refoulement) of the Refugee Act, 1996. This paragraph should also include reference to the provisions of other international and European human rights bodies and the European Convention on Human Rights, the convention against torture and the international covenant of civil and political rights.

Section 3(10) states that a person who contravenes a provision of a deportation order or a requirement in a notice under subsection (3)(b)(ii) shall be guilty of an offence. This paragraph should also contain a safeguard to the effect that the contravention should be without reasonable cause.

Section 4 deals with exclusion orders. There must be an opportunity for full appeal representations against exclusion orders to be made to an independent authority owing to the permanent and serious nature of the order.

Section 5 deals with the arrest, detention and removal of non-nationals. It is recommended that there should be confirmation of the existence of a deportation order within a reasonable time to avoid any period of unnecessary detention. That is an important recommendation. There must also be due regard to the age and particular circumstances of the individual. For example, women, children and mentally disturbed persons should not be removed until such time as there is full confirmation of the existence of a deportation order.

Section 5(4)(b) refers to the detention of persons who have instituted legal proceedings challenging the validity of a deportation order. I recommend the removal of this paragraph on the basis that it amounts to the detention of persons legally in this State. It also has the potential to permit lengthy periods of detention, given the possibility of lengthy court proceedings. This provision acts as a deterrent to the legitimate means of challenging possible breaches of procedure.

Section 7 refers to the right of the Minister to request payments for costs incurred in relation to the applicant's deportation. It must be recommended that this provision be amended to include consideration of the income and financial status of the individual concerned. How can asylum seekers afford the cost of proceedings, given that they do not have the right to work and are dependent on social welfare payments? I recommend that section should state "having due regard to the income and financial status of the person". It is important the Minister should accept this recommendation. Red tape and bureaucracy are a feature of business. From my business experience, to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy it is necessary to match the needs of employers with the skills of employees. Asylum seekers are intelligent, highly skilled and, in many cases, highly motivated. Many of them do not wish to be on unemployment assistance and if they were granted work permits they would obtain employment. The Minister must give serious consideration to this issue.

There are approximately 217,000 people on the live register but employers cannot encourage them to take up employment. I am not sure of the reasons for this but there is something wrong. People who enter the country should be put in contact with hoteliers, retailers, taxi owners and others in the services sector and given the opportunity to take up employment. These people could prove an asset to the State, not a liability. By establishing a representative body of all business and development institutions we could develop an innovative plan that would invite people to enter the country which would benefit the economy. The country is losing out because employers are refusing to develop their businesses as a result of the difficulties involved in recruiting staff.

People do not want to work at weekends, they want to work Monday to Friday, nine to five. However, as everyone knows, people in the services sector can work up to 100 hours in a seven day week. We must, therefore, look to those who have a burning desire to be successful. Like those who left Ireland in the past and travelled to the UK and America to achieve success – many of them did so, proved a credit to the country and returned here with the money they earned – people who enter Ireland are ambitious and have a perception of the country as a place to work and live. They should be given every possible opportunity to do so, on an equal and fair basis, because they will be of benefit to the economy. If there are jobs available, these people should be given temporary work permits to allow them to enter the workforce where a huge need exists.

If businesses in the services sector cannot attract employees, the people to whom I refer should be allowed to take up employment. I accept that we must ensure unemployment figures are reduced but that debate is proper to another Department. There is something dramatically wrong – perhaps this relates to training – when there are more than 200,000 people unemployed and employers cannot get people to work. Last week I spoke to an hotelier in Sligo who cannot get people to work for him and he has been obliged to employ staff from France, the UK and Germany. That sends out a serious message.

We should consider how to educate the people who want to come to live in Ireland and put them in contact with employers. We should give employers the choice of whether to give immigrants the opportunity to work. However, there is something dramatically wrong when we refuse them work permits and oblige them to claim social welfare. These people should be given an opportunity to see how successful they can be at integrating themselves into the economy. Employers are quite willing to give them an opportunity to come to live in Ireland, which could be done at no expense to the State.

It is sad, when one considers the number of people seeking employment, that we are paying £20 million per week, £1 billion per year, in unemployment assistance. I appeal to the Minister to establish a special fund for refugees which would help to integrate them into society and deal with their many problems. As previous speakers stated, Ireland has a booming economy, with low interest rates and a highly motivated workforce which help to attract employers from abroad. We must be charitable to those who are in need of help.

As already stated, in the past Government Ministers travelled to America in search of green cards which would allow people living in Border counties to go to America to find work. People also travelled to the UK and, everywhere they went, Irish people were well received. I accept that employers in America and elsewhere were delighted to gain the talents offered by Irish people, which have benefited the American economy since its foundation. However, we have entered a period when the country has a hugely successful economy and a very astute business community. We are now in a position to help those in need.

The Minister has the resources perhaps not to open the flood gates entirely but to put in place a definite policy which indicates that Ireland is thankful to the nations which welcomed Irish emigrants in the past and that, as a result of our booming economy, we are now in a position to return the favour in a businesslike manner. Two weeks ago a refugee was interviewed on television. The person in question is highly skilled, highly motivated and possesses a degree but he cannot obtain a work permit. It is shocking that he is classified as being only able to claim social welfare payments when there are jobs available for which he would be suitable. The Minister must consider this issue.

From my experience of the small business sector I am aware that a staggering 86,000 jobs could be created by small firms but lack of available skills is proving a huge barrier. I understand that 57 per cent of small companies are recruiting but 98 per cent of them cannot attract staff. There are 10,000 employment vacancies on offer at a time when £1 billion is being paid annually in unem ployment supports. We must provide a framework to fill those vacancies and reduce the dole queues. More must be done for those who want to become part of the legitimate workforce.

I appeal to the Minister to take on board the grave concerns of the Irish Refugee Council. We need an Immigration Bill, not a deportation Bill. On that note, I ask the Minister to invite the representatives of the business community, the private sector and those who are prepared to invest their money and take the risk of employing many of the people to whom I refer. I am sure these people will not be a cost or a burden to the State, but will be of benefit to the economy. We will then be able to hold our heads high and state that in a time of need we were here to help.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the Immigration Bill, 1999. Like my colleague, Deputy Daly, I will refer to our record.

As a small island nation on the periphery of Europe with a relatively small population, Ireland's influence on world affairs has been immense. Having the tremendous advantage of the role our emigrants and missionaries played in the development of emerging nations, we have earned world respect for our values, caring and accommodating; our generosity, particularly in respect of development aid; our culture; our determination; and for the positions we have taken as a nation as international questions arose.

Ireland has long enjoyed a natural understanding with countries in the developing world. Our understanding owes much to our past – our Famine history and the large number of Irish descendants around the world. As a result of the contribution of thousands of Irish people who emigrated and worked abroad in addition to that of the thousands involved in development projects and humanitarian relief operations across the globe, we have truly earned our reputation. I am proud of that reputation, particularly of the part played, while in Government, by Fianna Fáil in its development.

Ireland's future in world affairs will be even better. We must go beyond the call of duty in terms of humanitarian aid and support. Ireland's role in the European Union, the part it plays in peacekeeping efforts under the United Nations, its NGOs and its input into many other fora, clearly provides it with an active role in humanitarian and other such issues. I have been disappointed by the lack of success achieved by the EU and the UN in countries where blatant abuses of human rights have occurred. It could be said that little has been achieved in terms of stopping those abuses. Little has been done to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice or to prevent a recurrence of those crimes. We are all too aware of our failures in countries such as El Salvador, East Timor, Bosnia, China and Cambodia. While I acknowledge that resolutions, principles and proposals have been adopted by the EU and the UN and that many worthwhile and laudable documents have been issued, what has been their success in these areas?

Action that can achieve the greater integration and co-operation of the many agencies, together with a structure to ensure enforcement, is required. I appreciate the role of the many agencies and I acknowledge the communication I received from Amnesty International on the Bill. I understand others received its letter of 9 February where it outlined its concerns about the legislation. These include the request that the provisions of the Bill be checked against the European Convention on Human Rights, concern about the exclusion orders under section 4, that section 5 presents the possibility that detention centres could be introduced, that there is a necessity for applications to be properly processed and determined, that judicial review should be respected and extended to asylum seekers and that those who are deported must have the right to re-enter the State and seek asylum should future difficulties occur in their country of origin. These are valid concerns and the Minister should address them at the appropriate opportunity.

I welcome the Minister's statement that the Refugee Act, 1996, should be fully operational. The number of applications for refugee status totalled 91 in 1993, 362 in 1994, 424 in 1995, 1,179 in 1996, 3,883 in 1997 and over 4,000 in 1998. This gives an aggregated figure of over 10,000 during this five year period. It demonstrates the need for the implementation of a legally defined position and structure.

I have spoken openly and honestly on this subject in the past and have been misrepresented on occasion. I wholeheartedly support our EU and UN obligations towards asylum seekers. I was closely involved with some of the first programme refugees to Ireland and am pleased to say that project proved very successful. In response to a question in my name the Minister confirmed that programme refugees and support projects have been very successful.

In response to another question in my name the Minister indicated the number of refugees to Ireland, their country of origin, the status and success of their applications for citizenship and, most importantly, their success in being fully integrated into the communities in which they were placed. Such information is to be welcomed because it indicates that it is easy to integrate refugees with their communities on a structured basis.

I understand the purpose of the Bill is to establish procedures to enable those liable to be deported to make representations and to have them heard before decisions on deportation are made. The power to deport is a necessary part of the sovereignty of the State.

While the immediate background to the Bill is the High Court judgment of 22 January, the fundamental issue it seeks to address is the backlog of several applications by asylum seekers and illegal immigrants who arrived here in the preced ing five years and whose numbers were allowed to accumulate under the rainbow coalition Government. In this context I was amused to hear some refer Deputies to the Bill as a deportation Bill. It was wrong to allow into the country those who, in the first instance, had no right to be here. It was also wrong to allow their numbers accumulate under false pretences to the extent that they became dependent on social welfare because they were forbidden to work. Why has this arisen? Was it because a Government failed in its duties to adequately address and process the number of people claiming refugee status? I understand that is what happened and I have yet to be proved wrong on this.

In response to another question in my name I received information on the number of applications that were processed, withdrawn, approved and those that went to first stage and appeal stage. The facts speak for themselves and reflect the sad neglect of previous years. In 1994, 362 people came to the country seeking asylum. This increased to 424 in 1995, 1,179 in 1996 and 3,883 in 1997.

What about the queues in the rain?

When did Fianna Fáil come to power?

The numbers are clear. There were 3,883 in 1997 and 1,179 in 1996.

What about 1998?

Deputy Callely without interruption.

Will the Deputy give way?

I only have a few minutes left. Over half of the total number currently awaiting processing of their applications arrived here during the period of office of the rainbow coalition Government. The then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs encouraged people to come, reflecting the views of the vast majority of Irish people that those fleeing persecution under the terms of the Geneva Convention should receive a warm welcome on the island of Ireland.

Unfortunately, illegal immigrants who had no right to travel here were equally encouraged to come. They sometimes travelled at great risk to themselves and their families, yet there was no mechanism to indicate to them that if they arrived and had no right to be here they would be deported, whereas if they had the right to be here as refugees they would be offered accommodation, their applications would be processed and considered favourably and they would obtain the necessary documentation to allow them enjoy the full rights of any Irish citizen, to seek work and secure a home for themselves and their families.

Sadly that did not happen, rather there was an accumulation of people clogging up the process. Regrettably, the genuine refugee is part of that process and cannot be considered ahead of the others. He must take his place in the queue of 10,000 and God knows how long it will take the Department to adequately address the number of applicants before them.

We spent approximately £50 million in 1998 on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. I would support such expenditure if I were satisfied we were spending it on people who had a right to be here and who would participate in Irish society. I have no doubt they would have a lot to offer our economy and culture. However, I regret that the figures to date show that a large number of people who apply for refugee status have no right to be here.

I am proud that in 1998 we spent £137 million on official development assistance. That is a substantial amount of money and represents a substantial percentage increase in recent years. It reflects the Government's continuing commitment to assist those in need.

We should spend £50 million on ensuring that the applications of genuine refugees are processed as quickly as possible and that they are integrated into society. A number of people have put their own lives and those of their families at risk by travelling to this country knowing they had no right to come here, but hoping it would take the system three, four or five years to process their applications.

The previous speaker mentioned the skills shortage in Ireland and the fact that many of these people have skills and should be given temporary work permits. I am not sure we should give them false hope. If they were fleeing persecution under the terms of the 1951 Geneva Convention and claiming refugee status in this country, everyone would want their applications to be processed as quickly as possible and a favourable decision made. They would also want accommodation to be provided for them so that they could be integrated into our community and workforce. We would cherish the value they would add to our economy and culture. However, it is wrong to say they could drive taxis or work in the service industry.

The taxi issue is a sensitive one.

This is a serious issue which should not be laughed at. It is not appropriate to make a sly comment about people who have more to offer than driving taxis, as the previous speaker said. Some of these people, whether they are genuine or illegal immigrants, may not know a lot about our country or our language. It is wrong to suggest that we can use them as a stopgap in our service industry.

The Deputy must want to send them back to poverty.

No. I hope I will not be misrepresented on this point as I was on the last occasion.

The Deputy is close to that in his attempts to explain himself.

It is wrong that illegal immigrants travel to this country in the hope that they can get social welfare benefits and good housing. It would be wrong to give such people a temporary work permit and to raise their hopes of remaining here. This compounds the problems faced by genuine refugees who have lost their families, friends and home bases. They are living in limbo and depending on the social welfare system of this State while their applications are being considered with those who do not have a right to be here. This is bunging up the system and preventing genuine refugees, who have a lot to offer the State, from having their applications processed rapidly so that they can participate in the workforce and put down their roots if that is their desire. The refugee programme, in which I was involved, was a success because the proper structure was in place.

This Bill seeks to deport people because of what happened during 1996 and 1997 when the largest number of asylum seekers came to this country seeking refugee status.

The largest number came in 1998.

I want this country to offer a warm welcome to genuine refugees and to ensure their applications for refugee status are processed quickly and efficiently. However, I also support the right to deport a person from the State following due process.

Deputy Callely's contribution was extraordinary. It was cloaked in innuendo and he used the word "right" 15 times. I am amazed that a Member of this House should question the right of people to move throughout the world, given that Irish people have done so in the past. There are 42 million people of Irish descent in the United States, seven million in Australia, at least ten million in Britain and another 15 to 20 million scattered throughout the world. We would not take it kindly if our ancestors had been told they did not have the right to remain on those foreign shores. Perhaps they did not, but they may not have had many other options.

We should show charity towards those who are not as well off as we are. We should remember our history and the reasons people left their native shore. Our people did not leave of their own free will, but because they did not have a choice. There were serious economic reasons for doing so and many of them did well when they emigrated. What is most worrying about the previous speaker's remarks is the repetition of the word "right". Why do we believe we are right? What gives us the right to pre-determine anybody else's rights if we are supposed to be a free society? I agree we should not advertise, inviting people here from all over the world. It is fair to say that we do not want criminals or those who organise and transport others on the back of a truck charging them £1,000 before dumping them in this country, but we should be broadminded enough to consider what drives people to this and treat them in a humane fashion when they arrive. If it transpires that they are genuine refugees they should be speedily assessed and treated sympathetically.

I am quite sure they do not want to remain away from their native land anymore than our ancestors who left their native shore. We should not cod ourselves into believing that people will move elsewhere to get some of the gravy to which Deputy Callelly referred. We should look at the plight of the people presenting and determine whether we have it in our heart to look after them. We are known as Ireland of the welcomes, a warm charitable nation, and we should display those characteristics. Let us remember that our people had to wander over the face of the earth for a long time. We tend to become self-righteous, but who are we to say that others do not have a right to live here?

Economic refugees are not a new phenomenon. The principles of the Dublin Convention need to be applied. The European Union and Ireland as a member state have to live up to their responsibilities. The previous speaker was very critical of the previous Government which held office up to 18 months ago. Apparently a new Administration has to be in office for two or three years before accepting responsibility. The Government has been in office since June 1997. If the problem were as bad as Deputy Callelly made it out to be I would have thought the incoming Administration would have moved with alacrity. Perhaps it takes 18 months to activate it.

I am not encouraging people to come here regardless of their circumstances, but that does not mean that we should become authoritarian in our approach to them. Members have referred to the services for immigrants such as subsidised housing. I am quite sure they would be more anxious to get a work permit, even a temporary work permit which is available in many other countries. I do not understand why we cannot readily adopt that practice here. Instead we make immigrants wait for a period of two to three years before their files are processed. Why? It is not unreasonable that those who are willing to work should do so. I do not understand why we prohibit them from working. Deputy Callelly fears that some of these people may become taxi drivers. If they do a job they are fulfilling a role.

I did not say that.

It is not reasonable to make an arbitrary decision as if these people were inferior human beings. They have the same rights as everybody else.

Let us be fair.

On the one hand Members are saying that we should observe their civil and human rights while at the same time limiting their choice of occupation.

As a fair minded person—

I am being fair but I found the tirade from the other side embarrassing.

We need to address this issue as a society. We know what it is like to be unemployed and feel unsafe in our own country. We should not be so ready to presume the worst about everybody else. We need to learn a little bit of Christian charity. We do not wish to attract people involved in organised crime as we have enough problems ourselves, but the person who genuinely finds himself homeless in his own country for political, economic or other reasons has the right to have his case heard. As a member of the European Union we have to look at their case otherwise our people have no case to go throughout the world. Thousands of Irish people have emigrated across the globe. We are on thin ice when we adopt a superior attitude to political refugees or immigrants. We have always lived up to our duty to political refugees but there appears to be some resistance to them in recent times. Now people are asking what right they have to be here. That is not a fair point.

Amnesty International and human rights organisations have reservations about this Bill and I share their concerns. In my experience, the time it takes to process applications is not acceptable. I am not satisfied that every individual can be assured his or her case will be dealt with fairly and equitably. I am not casting aspersions on the people who deal with them, but some people, by virtue of their lack of language proficiency, might not be able to explain their case as well as others or have an opportunity to tell the officials concerned what their circumstances are. They might make a mistake, which is easily done when one is not familiar with the language. They could find themselves facing a deportation order when they are genuinely entitled to be here. I have considerable reservations about the manner in which the Bill proposes to deal with the situation.

Deputy Perry says he is not sure whether this is an immigration or a deportation Bill. I am not happy with the number of references to deportation. His point relating to availability for employment is generally accepted. Employment is available for the person who wishes to work and it should be possible for that person at least to get a temporary work permit so that he or she can become self-supporting. All of us understand how resentment is generated if people see others benefiting from the system to a greater extent than themselves. Obviously, these people should be allowed to seek employment and this would eliminate the prejudice generated by precluding these people from entering the workforce.

If immigrants or refugees are excluded from the workforce they are also excluded from housing. How can they be housed other than through the current system with subsidies from health boards, etc.? Of course, it would be better if they were able to house themselves having obtained employment. Employment is the key factor. They cannot help themselves because they are excluded from employment and, as a result, they appear to be a burden on the system. It is not their fault, but ours. We created the system and should not cod ourselves by assuming that they came here specifically to be a burden. I deal with cases involving people who have qualifications and are willing to work for six months or one year while awaiting processing of their applications, but that does not happen generally.

It is always easier for the person with the better education, flair for language or higher IQ to deal with the system than the unfortunate who is poor, has no resources or back up and low self-esteem. If everybody is entitled to equal treatment under the law, then the person who is poor and dependent on the system should be able to avail of the services available in a similar manner to the professional who applies for a work permit, etc.. Despite the proposals in the Bill, that does not apply and some unfortunate people when they are asked questions in a language not entirely familiar to them are fearful of the outcome.

All of us know better than anybody else. When we meet constituents who must send questionnaires back to various Departments, we know the answers and the response that must be given to certain questions. What happens to the unfortunate person who is not familiar with the language, does not know about bureaucracy and administration and is faced with it for the first time? What chance have they unless they are well versed? Again, the better educated come off best and that is not the way it should be. We need to look at ourselves carefully.

It will be changed. Different languages will be used.

Not on the basis of the Bill. I hope the Minister will accept amendments which accommodate the concerns expressed by Amnesty International and Members. I also hope that we will look at the situation of refugees and immigrants in a different light from heretofore. We can afford to be charitable and broad minded in these areas.

I agree with all other speakers with regard to organised crime and criminals. We do not want such people and they need to be screened at an early stage. There should not be a difficulty with that. We have enough problems without importing them. However, the other side of the coin is that everybody should not be treated as a potential criminal and there is a danger that by keeping them under review for long periods they will become cynical about our system. We cannot and should not allow that to happen.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Eoin Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and I agree that the word "deportation" is mentioned frequently in it. Obviously, this legislation has been introduced as a consequence of the High Court case. The Bill refers to confirming existing alien orders with certain exceptions and gives the impression that it is very negative, especially section 32, which states that the Bill has no significant financial implications. One might get the impression that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not spending money in this area, but he has been successful in obtaining funding for increased staffing in his Department to deal with genuine refugees who apply for citizenship.

Contrary to what has been said in the media, Ireland is still the island of the welcomes. The Taoiseach stated that more than £100 million was spent last year on economic refugees and those fleeing from conflict. The money was spent on health services and housing. Criticism of refugees comes primarily from people who are on housing lists and are concerned about whether there is enough housing for our own people. The other area that has been mentioned is job creation.

The Governments and people of the United States, Great Britain and other European countries and Australia have been very generous to Irish immigrants. The Ceann Comhairle led a delegation to New York, Washington and Boston last May and the Irish immigrant groups we met spoke about the tightening of regulations relating to Irish people seeking employment in the United States. It was suggested that the United States Congress and Senate should consider introducing a temporary visa for Irish citizens. Within two months the US Administration introduced a five year visa. That was a welcome development. The Government should consider introducing a temporary visa for citizens of Third World countries. It appears such a policy will be adopted by many European countries. I understand Irish missionaries have been seeking employment opportunities for Jamaican citizens in the hotel and catering industry in which there is a skills shortage.

On housing, refugees tend to congregate in our cities and major towns. They should be assisted to relocate in other areas. Rural Resettlement Ireland and other organisations have been successful in securing accommodation in rural areas.

On social welfare, persons with no fixed abode or in temporary accommodation have no option but to live in a town in which an employment exchange is located. This creates problems and will create problems for refugees. For many years members of the traveller community encountered problems in obtaining their entitlements. I am aware that in Galway the address of "c/o Eyre Square" has been given. Individuals should be assisted to find permanent accommodation and allowed to sign on at their local Garda station. The origins of the problem can be traced back to 1981 when an attempt was made to tackle fraud.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has made clear what is required of the Government, which is complying with the regulations. The Minister will always receive bad publicity whenever there is a delay in processing an application or a refugee is deported but the policies laid down by the United Nations are sound. Legislation is in train and changes have been made to deal with applications speedily.

Attention has been drawn at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs to the many conflicts throughout the world which have a bearing on the number of refugees arriving here. Shannon Airport is one of the main points of entry for those fleeing persecution as well as for economic refugees. I commend organisations such as the Irish Red Cross Society in the Clare and Limerick region on the assistance it provides. Many have come here in lorries and trucks, organised by the godfathers of crime, in appalling and dangerous conditions and over long distances.

There is an exchange programme between Kilkerrin in County Galway and a town in Bosnia. This is a welcome development.

The Bill has the wrong title. It deals solely with deportation and results from a court case. There is not a state in the world which does not have the right to deport individuals if they do not meet certain criteria.

We cannot forget our history. Millions of Irish people have emigrated to all corners of the globe. They have been welcomed in almost every country and done extremely well. Some 40 million Americans claim an Irish family connection. We must be conscious of this when discussing refugees and we must remember we have a responsibility to take care of those who come here looking for help, whether they are fleeing persecution or have serious economic or other problems.

Many people say this Government is not doing enough or that the last Government is at fault. It is not the fault of either. The economy changed for the better and suddenly a great deal of old legislation which had not been touched in years became completely useless in our new circumstances. This hit the previous Government first and it was caught off guard by the rapidly changing situation. One could criticise it and the current Minister for not moving quickly enough – I would not. It is a changing situation and we are all guilty of being slow in our response.

This Minister has done his best to try to resolve a serious problem with which he had to deal when he took up office. He has dramatically increased the number of staff working in this area and acted quickly on this legislation. I am delighted that he gave us a commitment that he will implement the Refugee Act, 1996, in the near future. He is also going to introduce anti-trafficking legislation which is very necessary. People are being loaded on to trucks which are arriving in England and Ireland. It has become a huge problem in England; I watched a documentary about it recently. The trucks are coming from France and people are making huge amounts of money from transporting these unfortunate people to England.

The Minister has also given a commitment that he intends to change the Aliens Act, 1935. The first thing I would ask him to do is to change the awful title; aliens are from space and we are dealing with people. The idea of asking people to go to the Aliens Office is an embarrassment.

I presume we will all defend our own side on this matter. The Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights, which I chair, invited the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to address it. I expected it to be critical of us, but it was not. It was very positive about what the Government has done, what it is doing and what it intends to do. It believes that if we introduce the Refugee Act and other legislation, Ireland could be a model for other countries.

This problem is not unique to Ireland but is huge right across Europe. Many countries are handling it a great deal worse than we are. However, that does not let us off the hook or mean that we should not handle this in the fairest and best way possible. We should be more aware of people in difficulty than most countries because of our history. It is essential that we think of our emigrants when discussing this matter.

The regulations regarding the right to work should be changed. People should be allowed the dignity to work. Many refugees live in my constituency and they are frustrated because they are not allowed to work. They feel this adds to the difficulties with, and pressure from, the local community. We must be careful we do not make the mistake made in England, where refugees were pushed into certain areas. This leads to enormous pressures as many living in these areas are frightened because they see their area changing. They need to be brought along with this.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that he intends to fund an anti-racism campaign. This is long overdue and is a problem which must be nipped in the bud before it gets out of hand, as it has done in many other countries. It is important that people should be allowed to work as it gives them dignity and self-esteem. If others see they are looking after themselves they cannot complain about them being in the country. As Deputy Durkan said, we have no right to complain. We can be very sanctimonious in asking why they should be here. Why should we be in Australia, America, England and other countries?

I will not look at this Bill in isolation as it is part of a package. I welcome the commitments given by the Minister on other legislation. I hope that by the end of this year the full package will be in place so that people who come to Ireland will receive a fair hearing and that if they are under pressure for any reason, whether political or economic, they can live here and hopefully thrive in our community. I have no doubt that this country will benefit from people coming from other places. Our people have benefited other countries by living there. I have no doubt that immigrants will help us develop our economy and culture.

A number of groups have written to us in the past few days about amendments. I hope the Minister will examine a number of amendments which Amnesty International and other groups have suggested. I have not looked at them in detail as one amendment only arrived today. Certain areas need to be addressed. The Minister has shown in the past that he is willing to consider amendments to legislation, and I hope he will do so on this Bill. I welcome the Bill as part of an overall package which will hopefully make it a great deal easier for people to come to this country and stay if they wish.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill as it is an issue on which there should be a common understanding across all parties. There is an underlying tension on this issue which relates to racism. I read Deputy Noel Ahern's speech and I listened to Deputy Ivor Callely's contribution. I do not believe that either Deputy is a racist. I do not believe they adhere to the philosophy of racism which believes that people who are not white, western or Christian are in some way lesser human beings than those of us who are.

Deputy Noel Ahern is certainly a conservative politician, and he is, if I am to place him on the political spectrum, right of centre. That does not make him a racist. At least Deputy Ahern has the good quality of being consistent in his conservatism and he applies it across the board to a range of issues. He is entitled to his views on these matters. He did a valuable service in this House by drawing attention to the fears in the community about refugees coming to Ireland. We will not deal with that issue by ignoring it. I do not happen to agree with the solutions he offers, some of which verge on the infringement of human rights. He is conscious of the risks he runs in terms of expressing these fears.

Deputy Ivor Callely is a different kettle of fish. I do not regard him as a racist but as a political opportunist. He is driven by competition for political support in his constituency. When he sees an issue where he can lead the band he milks it for all it is worth. When he commenced his script I thought he had a conversion because the opening was reasonable and rational and good in terms of tackling the previous Government. Once he went off script he tended, like an elastic band, to revert to his normal approach to politics. That is unfortunate because if we address this issue in a party political opportunist way we will set up a conflict in society which is unnecessary because the numbers here and the numbers likely to be here will be relatively small and, as Deputy Eoin Ryan has said, will be beneficial to society in general, our culture and to the economy in a whole range of ways. That people coming from other cultures into Ireland can only be to our long-term benefit. Happily there are few Deputy Ivor Callelys in the House.

It is important to maintain a consensus that we do not want racism in the House or in society and that we will do everything possible in educational and legislative terms to ensure it does not take root in any significant way. Racism derives from fear, generally the fear of those who are least well off in society that people are not getting things which they would get if the immigrant or refugee did not claim it. That is how it expresses itself. It is important that as public representatives we constantly disabuse people of that thought.

In Irish culture no less than western culture generally, there is a sense that people not from Europe are different. In past centuries those who made the so-called discovery of America and other parts of the world – I say so-called because people lived in these places long before either the Spanish, the English or anybody else sailed out in search of new resources and places to expand – and took control of these places regarded the indigenous people as barbarians. That notion continues to run through much of the culture of western Europe. It will take a conscious effort on the part of the educational authorities here to deal with it.

In 1991 the European Parliament produced a report on the issue of racism and xenophobia which made various proposals. It carried out a country by country analysis, including Ireland, of the situation in relation to discrimination in the European Union. Paragraph 38.1 of the report states that Ireland has a non-EC population of only about 18,000. According to Patrick Cooney, the country has been remarkably free "of such problems as there is not a large presence of foreigners". It may be a matter of historical interest that one of the reasons the Refugee Act, 1996, has not been implemented is that it has been challenged by the same Patrick Cooney on the basis of ageism, as I understand it. That report made a range of recommendations for the European Parliament, the European Council and member states from education to putting in place mechanisms to ensure people would be protected against racism but also to ensure people knew their rights in regard to discrimination on the basis of race.

The vast majority of people who have approached me in relation to their concerns about refugees and so on invariably preface their remarks by saying, "I am not a racist". I have no doubt that is their genuine belief. Occasionally I have had calls from people who blatantly acknowledge they are racist. I had a call from a man one night in my office who proceeded to berate Deputy Liz McManus and me because we proposed an amnesty for refugees. He said they were all criminals, that he had worked in England and knew how these kinds of people destroyed the place and that these blacks would destroy the country. I pointed out there were significant numbers of people born in Ireland who are black and were as Irish as himself. I asked if he was a Christian. He said: "Yes, I am. I know what you will say next – that God made all people equal". However, they do not all turn out equal. That is the fundamental root of racism. It will take an effort on our part to ensure that kind of attitude does not take root in any significant way. It would be well worthwhile for the Minister to revert to the European Parliament's 1991 recommendations on what ought to be done to deal with the issue of racism and xenophobia.

The Bill is styled the Immigration Bill, 1999. It is clear from the explanatory memorandum and the Minister's speech that this is a deportation Bill, not an immigration Bill. In fairness the Minister should amend the title to describe it as such. His opening statement to the Dáil was:

I am pleased to bring before this House my proposals for putting on a statutory footing the principles governing the power to deport and the procedures to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected when deportation is being contemplated in any case.

It does not make sense to use the style Immigration Bill on what is admitted by the Minister to be a deportation Bill. We need an immigration policy and to ensure that the Refugee Act, 1996 is implemented immediately.

I welcome the Minister's indication that he will shortly introduce an amendment to the 1996 Act which will render it implementable. When the Bill was drafted the number of refugees seeking asylum in Ireland was in the low hundreds. Now there are thousands of such refugees and some change in the legislation is necessary. Nevertheless, I cannot understand why it has taken since June 1997 to introduce what are essentially simple and straightforward amendments to ensure the commissioner will not be required to hear all cases and that all appeals do not have to go before a five person appeals board. Other mechanisms should have been put in place much sooner.

I also welcome the Minister's proposal to update the Aliens Act, 1935. He spoke about his intention to modernise the legislation to suit the current circumstances. It would be helpful and useful if the Minister produced a discussion document on immigration. We have entered a different phase in the development of our society and economy and it is important that immigration policy is not driven solely by the demands of IBEC for cheap labour for low skilled work.

Immigration policy should ensure that we assist those who need to find another place to live, regardless of their country of origin, either because they have political difficulties or because they simply cannot survive in terms of their capacity to earn a living in their country of origin. It should also seek to enhance the culture and diversity of our society which will, in itself, inevitably bring about a re-examination of how we view ourselves, our structures and our practices.

I wish to make a small point that has been at the back of my mind for some time. I do not do so in a contentious way. The House opens its business every day with a prayer to the Christian God. There are atheists and Jews in this House and, until the last general election, one of its Members was a Muslim. Small things such as that need to be addressed. It will not change the world or end our sense of who and what we are if we acknowledge that this House reflects the diversity in Irish society.

An immigration Bill is important but it should be preceded by a policy document which outlines the Government's thinking on how immigration will impact on our society and can be enabled to have a positive impact. It should be open, transparent and welcoming. The Minister said current Government policy on immigration is simple. That is true. At present it merely consists of the application of the Aliens Act. If all that is envisaged for the new Bill is to tweak that Act a little in order to fill labour shortages, the Minister will miss an ideal opportunity to address the real changes that are taking place under our eyes.

It is important that this Bill is renamed. It is also important that the fears about this Bill being expressed by organisations which are dealing with refugees each day are addressed. It shocked me to discover that the Minister will have the power to deport somebody in the interests of the common good. Who will define "common good"? The phrase is open to all types of definition depending on the Minister's view or the view of the official who will make the decision. The phrase should be defined more precisely.

I do not deny that the State must be enabled to deport people under certain circumstances. However, that law should not be used simply as a shortcut to denying refugees or asylum seekers the right to arrive in this country and apply for asylum. It is obnoxious to define people who come to this country through the back or front door as "illegal immigrants". It implies that they are criminals and I do not accept that the vast majority of the people who come to this country are criminals. I appeal to people to be careful in their use of language and to be aware of the impact it will have outside the House.

Other Members pointed out that Ireland has sent millions of its people abroad. Approximately one million people living in the United Kingdom are Irish born. It is estimated that 40 million people around the world are of Irish extraction. In the 1980s, about 100,000 Irish born young people were in the United States without papers. They were referred to as the undocumented. However, the reverse case can be made. Back in the mists of time Ireland was an empty island. Irish people are migrants; our ancestors came to this island from somewhere else at some point in history – in the last 100, 500, 1,000 or 5,000 years.

I appeal to people to cop on and exercise common sense. I also appeal to Deputy Callely and anybody else who is tempted to be opportunistic on this issue to resist. They will do more harm than good to Irish society.

(Wexford): I welcome this Bill. It gives the House an opportunity to debate an issue which has been of concern for some time. The majority of Members have debated this matter in a calm manner and put forward excellent suggestions and ideas to which I hope the Minister will give a good deal of consideration.

I agree with Deputy De Rossa that we now live in a different Ireland. When we grew up emigration was rampant. Young people were leaving Ireland in their thousands for the UK and America. When I was first elected to this House in 1982 the queues outside the passport office stretched down Molesworth Street to the gates of the Dáil. All Members were concerned and annoyed about it and we are relieved that the trend has been reversed. Immigration is now the issue on our minds. In the past 18 months fruit growers in Wexford have told me they are looking to Poland and to Russia for workers to pick their fruit because of the difficulties in getting local pickers. I spoke to a person today who told me that some companies are considering bringing in skilled Russian IT workers. There is obviously a major change in that regard.

In Wexford last summer we had a major influx of Romanians and other nationalities who came into the county through Rosslare. At one stage there were approximately 500 of these people in the county. There was concern about this, particularly among those on housing waiting lists, those applying for supplementary welfare and others living in substandard flats or apartments. They felt that once these people had arrived in Wexford they would get a better deal than the locals. Rumours circulated last week to the effect that ten people had been housed by Wexford Corporation, but when the facts were checked out that was found not to be the case. Certain people, for their own reasons, were trying to create fear among the locals. In fact, the local housing officer and community welfare officers dealt with the problem in a calm and considered manner. They housed people in what could be called upmarket apartments but they were in the urban renewal areas and were vacant at the time. Rather than allow these people live on the streets in substandard conditions, they were housed in these apartments. They were given social welfare benefits, clothing allowances and were generally well looked after. A number of weeks later some of these people were relocated to Cork, Cavan and Monaghan and there are now approximately 120 families currently in Wexford being cared for by the local community welfare officer on a weekly income basis.

The 120 families currently living in Wexford will not go away and it is time that the Minister consulted with the people on the ground, be it in Wexford or other areas of the country, and devised a long-term solution to this problem. I see able-bodied men and women standing in Redmond Square in Wexford and the Market Square in Enniscorthy who could be allowed into the work environment and given recognition. If somebody has a criminal record I would not like to see them remain here but from talking to the gardaí and people in the local community it would appear these people are not involved in any irregular activities, they do not get involved in rows or attack old people and are generally well behaved.

I do not know how many of these people are living in the country as a whole but in Wexford we are only talking about 100 or 120 families. They have been living for most of the past year in County Wexford and are well behaved. They are entitled to some kind of recognition, to go on the housing waiting list and to apply for social welfare benefit. They should be considered for employment because many people in the tourism industry, and in some of the more skilled industries, have contacted me to know if these people will be allowed to work under a proper system. Some of these people are working illegally but they are being exploited. In some cases they are paid £1 or £1.50 per hour and we should not allow that to happen.

The Minister said he would introduce amending legislation to make the 1996 Act fully operational but in doing that we should not bring in legislation that gives the impression that these people will be deported. We should make them feel welcome because it is important that we are seen to be a caring nation.

Once the people of Wexford overcame their initial fears that they would be overrun by asylum seekers or refugees, they made these people feel welcome. We had a problem in that Rosslare is the main port of entry from the UK and France and people were coming into Wexford in droves in the backs of trucks. The local authorities and social welfare officers had the task of dealing with the issue. If one travels to the UK or to Le Havre it is difficult to get through customs without some kind of check, yet 50 or 60 people could get into the port of Rosslare undetected in the back of a truck. I question the bona fides of the French, Italian, German and UK Governments who appeared to turn a blind eye to what was happening. According to EU law, the country of first entry shall look after these people but many of these countries ensured the immigrants would only be detected in Rosslare, Dublin or Shannon. As a result, Ireland was faced with a major difficulty.

I agree with the speaker who stated earlier that this problem should not be left to two or three counties. We are playing our part in Wexford and I hope other counties will do the same. The Minister referred to 5,000 people per year now seeking some type of status here and I hope they will be located evenly throughout the country. The Minister is going about this matter the right way and is showing a caring attitude in dealing with it. He has increased the staff in his Department, which has resulted in applications being dealt with more quickly. I hope that will continue in the weeks and months ahead.

I ask the Minister to have the people currently living in various parts of the country assessed and if some are known to be criminals or associated with criminals I would not object to their being deported. However, the majority of the families living in the south-east are decent people. They merely want to settle down here, be given the right to work and become part of Irish society. I hope the Minister will consider doing that.

Some Deputies stated today and yesterday that we are an uncaring country. I do not accept that. We have been very tolerant. I would like to see the situation dealt with fairly so that people who come to this country, for political or economic reasons, are given a fair hearing and are integrated into society.

The point has been made that this Bill should be called a deportation Bill because of the use of that word in the explanatory memorandum and in the Bill itself. The Minister gives the impression that we want to deport people rather than welcome them.

Immigration is an emotive issue. A genuine fear exists among those who do not know better that there are difficulties with the number of refugees entering the State. This Bill is negative in that it gives the wrong impression to those people. The deportation aspect is dealt with first, not the processes being put in place to deal with those seeking residence.

I agree with Deputy Ryan when he makes the point that no Government is to blame. I certainly do not blame civil servants in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The economic situation in Ireland has improved. Before that improvement the only form of migration we knew was the departure of people. Now Ireland is known throughout the world as an economic success which has accrued major benefits. When we were emigrating we did not go to countries which were in severe economic difficulties but to countries where it was possible to find work. That is why people are coming to Ireland.

We have to deal with the consequences of our economic success and we must do so quickly. We did not have the resources in place previously. I assume this is the first of a number of pieces of legislation being brought to the House to deal with immigration. If that is the case I welcome it.

This country is becoming more multiracial by the day. Anyone walking down any major street will see people of different colours and creeds. That is a good thing for Ireland. The role we played as immigrants was of great benefit to other countries.

I agree with Deputy De Rossa that we need to educate people about what will happen. Refugees seeking entry will be a matter of everyday life. We must allay the fears of the public that these people will come into their areas and take their jobs. There are fears that if they are put into one section of a city or town, it will become ghettoised and property prices will fall. You cannot blame people for such fears – this was not an issue we had to deal with as a society in the past. We should put in place an education programme which will encourage people to be positive about people coming into the country who can play an important role in our economic and cultural development.

Scenes which occurred outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform because immigrants felt their rights were not being recognised created an image that the country was being taken over. The media hyped that image because it was a good news story. The number of people applying for residency is not huge, although it is certainly larger than before. The Minister and the Government must put in place a process to deal with applications as a matter of urgency.

I had the experience of being an illegal immigrant in the United States. It is not a nice situation in which to find oneself. You cannot participate in society, you cannot have a bank account, you work and hope that you are not caught by the immigration authorities. You live in fear that some day you will be found out and deported. That would have serious consequences for you and your family. I can understand the fear felt by refugees in this country when they find themselves in a state of limbo. There are Irish people who feel these people are living off the State. They have no choice unless they work for unscrupulous employers who pay them £2 an hour. If they are caught they are immediately deported.

Refugees can play a positive role. The Government, in the short-term, should allow refugees or immigrants to work, especially those who have applied for legal status. If their application takes longer than two months to process, they should be allowed to work. There are obvious labour shortages in the service industries, although we should be careful that we are not seen to suggest that the only work an immigrant can get is in the low paid service sector.

Going back to my experience in America, those of us there were delighted to work in the service industry for a start. It gave a sense of working for one's keep and paying one's way. With such an outcry from employers in the service sector about the lack of workers, this would be a way of filling genuine job vacancies and would give refugees or immigrants a sense that they belonged and that there is a future here for them. The Government should look at implementing legislation on this for the short-term.

A Russian constituent of mine who is a qualified engineer living in Sligo came to me some time ago. He works for a reputable firm in the Sligo area but he received a letter from a Government Department – I am not sure whether it was the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or Enterprise, Trade or Employment – stating that he would be deported and had 14 days to appeal. Based on the information I was given, he already had a work permit, which his firm had applied for, and he was in a very steady relationship with a local girl. That situation created a great amount of difficulty for him and the families of those who knew him, and I felt that I was unable, as a public representative, to give them any confidence that the matter would be dealt with or to get information from the Department. Eventually everything worked out, but procedures should be better. I know the Minister has allocated more staff to the immigration section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the people there are trying their best, but we still have a long way to go.

The amount of money being paid for housing as a fire brigade action sticks in my craw. A lot of these people have to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation. I put down a parliamentary question on this matter and cannot remember the exact cost, but it was quite high. If we had a plan in place, that money could be spent in a better way. We are throwing good money after bad and not solving the problem. We are housing people on a temporary basis and then putting them into local authority houses without solving the issue.

Immigration is a major issue for Irish society, and I ask the Government to deal with this urgently, as money is not being spent well in fire brigade actions on this issue. If we had a plan in place to deal with the people coming into the country, the money would be better spent. Refugees would feel much more involved, that they had a role to play in the development of the country.

I feel strongly about this legislation. It is a great tragedy that we are considering legislation which is effectively the housekeeping of deportation rather than discussing the principles of a policy on refugees or migrants. What is happening to the Refugee Act, 1996, is little less than constitutionally outrageous. It is not open to any Government to announce that an Act passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas will not be implemented, yet this is what has been said. I continue to have the greatest admiration for the public service, but I doubt they would provide the Minister of State with the opinion that the 1996 Act – a law passed by the Oireachtas – should not be implemented because they have decided that it would place too much of an administrative demand. If that were the case, it would be little less than administrative subversion of the constitutional division of powers between the Oireachtas and the Administration. It would be and is a matter of the most serious kind, and it is unacceptable that any Government should decide on such a flimsy basis not to implement legislation. The moral imperative faced in the history of Parliaments – not only here but abroad – was that if one found oneself in such a position one would revoke the legislation and replace it. Is this happening here? Thankfully not. However, the 1996 Act is on the Statute Book, and let us see it implemented. Let those who do not believe in that Act have the courage to say they do not believe in it. It is the law of the land, and we are being asked to pass on the nod a knee-jerk reaction to a decision of the courts on deportation as a substitute for what I have stated is the law of the land and what I suggest is a necessary policy.

When I think of how rapidly we can move backwards on matters like this, I feel that insufficient tribute is paid to Dr. Paddy Hillery. When European Commissioner he worked very hard at introducing a charter for migrants and migrant workers. For good or ill, part of my training as far back as 1968 involved graduate study of the sociology of migration. When I came back to Ireland I taught the only course in the sociology of migration on the island of Ireland. I often thought at that time that courses were being taught in everything but that we were turning our faces away from one of the most traumatic experiences in our own lives. I refer not just to the Famine losses of 1 million people in a year, or 3 million if one added the deaths of the whole period, but also the great seasonal migrations that occurred before the Famine and other migrations. I am interested to this day in the moral content of the response to the position of migrants.

In the last few years, including my time as Minister, I supplied the Garda with letters I received that were racist and threatening. Those letters were directed against specific communities in Ireland. I was filled with disgust by what was in those letters. It means that one cannot take anything for granted, even in a country that has scattered its population across the world in different levels of despair and desperation. We are very proud of putting up statues of little Annie and others arriving, suitcase in hand, wondering if they will get a reception. We are very interested in hearing of celebrations in Grosse Ile in Canada and coffin ships lying off the harbour with people afraid to board.

Outstanding work has been done by Dr. Frances Finnegan on the Irish who flooded into York through Liverpool at the time of the Famine. It is interesting to read of the opposition directed against them at that time – it was asked whether Britain could afford to take them in. In Dr. Finnegan's book, Poverty and Prejudice, published by Cork University Press in the 1970s, there is a description of the death of Teddy McAndrew from Sligo, a young father with children who was not allowed into the poor house and died on the side of the road, and the interest taken in that and other cases by the Tooge family from York, who were Quakers.

What is so predominant in the Irish psyche that suggests the issue is responding to the court's discomfort, which put an inhibition on sending people away, while the law of the land is not implemented because it would put too much strain on the system to do what the House has democratically decided? I challenge the Government, if it thinks the 1996 Act is defective, to come into the House and say so. It should not behave unconstitutionally and subversively by offering reasons of administrative resources or unanticipated demand –"the problem was bigger than we thought"– to frustrate the law of the land. What kind of a laughing stock is this? How derisory it is to say that this is the country which rushed to get its deportation procedures right but could not implement its Refugee Act or give the guarantees it is required to give under international agreements as to the safety of those seeking asylum. The rhetoric it used to dress up this nonsense of a shabby policy was regularly to misquote the opinion of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and her office – that applied not just to this Government but to the one of which I was a member.

I feel strongly on this issue. We have a moral responsibility to get our asylum obligations right, to debate publicly and in these Houses our policy on migration, the rights and otherwise which are attendant on it, and the conditions under which we embrace other people, as we should, and then to debate the appropriate powers of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. One cannot, however, place instrumental actions on a status above one's moral obligations or the law of the land.

How strange it is to hear people with Irish names running campaigns which say "we have enough of them here". In the 1950s half of my family emigrated before they reached 17 years of age. My father was the youngest member of his family; the elder members had emigrated before he was born. During my time as a Member of the Oireachtas, I heard it said that in so far as we had an immigration policy, it was to keep Ireland white. This matter is not only about skin colour; the organisation of opposition to immigrants has much to do with economics – those who have crawled up must not be asked to share anything with those who are arriving and looking for some economic crumbs from what we have managed to create.

I am sorry if what I am saying is amusing because I am not speaking for amusement. Neither am I speaking about my training in the sociology of migration or quoting the experiences of my father, my immediate family or myself for amusement. Nor am I quoting, except with disgust, what I have heard said about the immigration policy, if there was one, being based on colour. That is not true now and I am not attributing that policy to this Government. I know it is anxious, as any Government would be, to resolve the matter of massive movements internationally but relatively moderate movements into Ireland. No one could describe the figures we have seen as an invasion – we are not being swamped or overwhelmed, and the native Irish psyche will not be damaged by the people who want to come here. Do any of the people saying those things have relatives who left Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s and saw lovely, neat messages in windows reading, "No Irish, blacks or dogs need apply"?

Let us consider what is involved. Asylum policy concerns agreements which Ireland has entered into as a sovereign country. It is not only about administrative arrangements and working overtly or covertly for the British policy, as we did for years. We were afraid that if we relaxed our measures there would be abuse and this would upset Britain terribly. We have also taken on obligations concerning the movement of people. Those are dealt with substantially – not fully – in the 1996 Act which is the law of the land and should be resourced and implemented.

The other issue is the international movement of labour. It is extraordinary to hear the hallelujah which goes up about the globalisation of world markets, the speed of movement of capital and services, and how speculative money can be sent flying from one side of the planet to the other. This is rather different to the speed of movement of those who have nothing to sell but their labour in this amnesiac country which can only remember the few years of being rich and decides to forget the generations of people who poured out because of poverty. In that wonderful period, the late Éamon de Valera's contribution was that 55,000 left Ireland in 1955 – the figure was the same in English and Irish – ar bhád na himirce. People with cardboard suitcases left via Galway railway station, at a time when the country was stirring its psychic sensibilities to become not only Catholic but Irish speaking, and anything else one could say in a tremulous voice. Now, an Act is not being implemented because it is not liked. I repeat my challenge to the Government to have the courage to repeal it.

Honourable Deputies from various parties have said it is right to consider the contribution people can make based on their skill level and backgrounds, and the shortage of skills here. Something which has not been mentioned is cultural diversity, which is odd, considering how we go leaping internationally, displaying our culture, ankle length and full length. Years ago we joined UNESCO; the Department of Education and Science attends a meeting every couple of years to remind itself that we belong to it. What happened to the agreements we signed about cultural diversity, respecting other people's stories, being able to mix with others and gaining from it all? We do not want to talk about that, but about deportation procedures arising from a court decision.

Debate adjourned.