Immigration Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

(Mayo): Rather than knee-jerk reactions and forced legislation such as this, we need to take a systematic overview of all aspects of asylum, integration, immigration and population balance. The Government, therefore, should commission the National Economic and Social Council to carry out a detailed analysis of our population and skills needs, and asylum and immigration matters should be assimilated into that overview. The NESC has the competence to do this; it is directly responsible to the Taoiseach and has carried out similar studies on population distribution within Ireland. This study should be commissioned as a matter of urgency, with a specific time limit.

I cannot see how Ireland, Europe's least populated state, can sustain its position as Europe's fastest growing economy without a significant and planned increase in population. We ought to recognise and plan for this reality in a cogent and coherent fashion. In addition, we must put in place proper immigration and asylum programmes to assist these people to integrate, disperse, and make a new beginning in a land where their skills are needed. Unfortunately, the Government's tardiness in dealing with this issue has given rise to racism on an unprecedented level – we suspected this feeling existed but we never saw it manifested here before. The Government should fulfil its commitment to provide work permits to those whose asylum applications are not processed within a certain period.

We would do well to look at the Israeli experience. That country has 4 million people and could fit neatly into the combined area of Munster and Connacht, yet between 1992 and 1996 it absorbed 100,000 people per annum, and in the six years prior to that it absorbed 700,000 people. These were mainly Jews from Armenia and Russia. Although they did have a religious affinity with the inhabitants of their new host country, they did not speak the language, had few relatives or roots in Israel and had no place to stay. They brought with them, however, a determination to get on, a will to survive and a considerable reservoir of skills. When this huge influx occurred it was feared that this would destroy the Israeli economy, public spending would increase massively, unemployment would rocket and borrowing would lead to currency devaluation and inflation, but the opposite happened – the immigrants provided the dynamo to propel the economy to new heights. Not alone did national GDP increase but per capita GDP also increased. Unemployment fell and public overspending did not occur. The positive influence of immigration influx is not unique. The United States is made up of an assimilation of all the cultures of the world. Immigrants bring new skills, have different attitudes and add a capacity to a workforce which it did not have heretofore – they inject a new dynamism into an economy.

The need for an EU policy with a common set of criteria to deal with asylum seekers is self-evident. It is extremely difficult to operate the Dublin Convention with any ease of conscience when one is unsure of the policy guidelines that will apply in the country to which an applicant is being deported. The Minister should reread his contribution to the Dáil in October 1995 when he enthused about the unique opportunity to reverse the general perception of Irish refugee policy. He said we should use the unique opportunity by initiating an asylum policy which is sensitive and remarkable. Let us get our act together and introduce the amended 1996 Act and improve it, if necessary. We should use it as the model of best practice which can be advanced and sold to other EU member states rather than having immigration and asylum policy based on a series of conventions and resolutions that are not uniformly applied throughout the European Union and which are outside the control of the European Parliament, European Commission and the European Courts.

This Bill sets down certain principles and procedures for deportation to comply with High Court judgments. On Committee Stage we will examine the provisions in detail to ensure that the safeguards are sufficient. We, on this side of the House, cannot support a Bill which, effectively, asks us to support the legalisation of deportation when there is not a fair, independent and transparent system in place to deal with asylum applications. In the absence of a proper, statutory based system, it is extremely difficult to support a Bill of this kind, and we will not do so. This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. We need a legislative base for dealing with asylum applications. We need those procedures dealt with in this House where they can be parsed, analysed and scrutinised and to be assured that we can be absolutely certain that the formula that will be put in place for dealing with asylum and refugee applications will be fair, independent and transparent, but we have an ad hoc system in place that does not comply with any of those basic requirements. Therefore, we, on this side of the House, will be opposing the Bill.

Section 6(2) lists the classes of non-nationals who may be deported. Subsection (1) allows for the deportation of a person if, in the Minister's opinion, this would be conducive to the common good. Such an all embracing power is open to a variety of interpretations and because of that we would find it extremely difficult to support the Bill. The Bill must set out in specific detail the situations where it is envisaged the Minister would exercise the rather dramatic power of deciding what is in the common good.

More than two years ago the Refugee Act was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas with all-party support. The then justice spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, Deputy O'Donoghue, said, it must be said that Ireland has remained in the Middle Ages with regard to the granting of asylum and the declaration of refugee status to people exiled from their countries of origin out of fear of persecution or discrimination of one form or another. He said we must also face the fact that the smug idea that the Irish are incapable of racist bias has been shored up by hugely prohibitive red tape in the processing of applications for refugee status here. He also said that persons displaced from their country of origin have often become subjects of an even more obstructive and debilitating syndrome while waiting in a haze of indecision as the powers that be decide whether to grant them refugee status. That was the sort of high sounding and principled verbiage we had come to expect from the Fianna Fáil spokesperson in Opposition. On entry into office no one could accuse the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, of creating a huge haze of indecision. His first decisive act was to announce that the new Refugee Act, which he had described as enlightened and the provisions of which would be of considerable assistance to asylum seekers and refugees, would not be brought into force. His second decisive act was to announce that asylum seekers, whose applications had been turned down in the absence of fair and independent statutory procedures, would be deported from this State. There was no indecision about that. The Refugee Act, which had all-party support in this House and was regarded as necessary legislation for Ireland in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, was not to be implemented; instead the Minister would make the decisions and those, whom he found unworthy to stay in the country for whatever reason and in the absence of any fair and statutory procedures, would be deported forthwith. The stated reason for not bringing the Act into effect was that the number of asylum seekers was so great that the newly created Office of Refugee Commissioner could not cope. His patently absurd solution to that problem was to retain the decision-making process in the very organisation which had created the backlog in the first place, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

To implement his deportation policy, the Minister resorted to the Aliens Act, 1935, emergency legislation introduced in the British Parliament immediately prior to the last war. It has long since been repealed and replaced in the United Kingdom, but its stark and draconian provisions have been considered by successive Irish Governments to be a more than adequate substitute for an open and transparent system of Irish law grounded on a thought out and publicly known immigration policy that would be the norm in any other developed state.

Despite its title, this is not an immigration Bill. The Minister's attitude last night almost conceded that. It would not be recognised as an immigration Bill in any civilised country. Paragraph one of the explanatory memorandum makes crystal clear that its sole purpose is to provide powers, principles and procedures regarding the deportation of non-nationals. We do not have and never have had any clear policy on the entitlement of non-nationals to be admitted to this State.

We will not have an immigration policy if this legislative measure is enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Should we legitimately or otherwise treat citizens of certain states more favourably than others? That question would normally be asked in any immigration regime. Should we decide what parts of the world should be looked on as favoured nations for their citizens to be afforded a special welcome to this country? Should we introduce an annual quota, as is the norm in many countries, given that Ireland has become prosperous and there is clear evidence that people want to live here? Should we open our borders in a way that can be decided by open debate, establish criteria and a quota system or introduce a points system based on educational criteria? Should we not assess skills shortages in the economy and identify criteria, as many employers are demanding and requiring, to welcome non-nationals with those skills to our country to continue to fuel that economy? What is our attitude to family reunion, the maintenance of extended families or the maintenance by workers of their dependants?

These are the normal questions that would be posed and the normal criteria that would be included in a civilised immigration policy which could be openly debated by and decided on by the House and then applied, in an open and transparent way, to any non-national who sought to work or reside in this State. What we have instead is what purports to be an Immigration Bill, but which should be properly titled a "Deportation Bill". The title of the Bill is a complete misnomer; it is an emergency Bill designed to replace an emergency Act which was struck down by the courts.

We are often complacent about issues of this nature and close our eyes to need. There are social consequences and international responsibilities which result from a thriving economy. The Government must face those responsibilities, particularly – I am sorry he is not present – the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who must live up to the high phrases and principles he enunciated when the Refugee Act, which languishes unimplemented, was enacted with the consent of all parties some years ago.

The Bill will be seen by most people as applying to asylum seekers, largely because there is little proper recognition of the other forms of immigration which take place or the conditions which are imposed on non-nationals who lawfully enter the State. However, it is just as capable of applying to surgeons who work in major hospitals as to non-skilled people who arrive here to seek employment. Nonetheless, it is because of the recent increase in asylum applications that the lack of immigration policy and law has become more apparent as has the inevitability that the woeful inadequacies of the Aliens Act, 1935, would eventually be exposed.

Everyone has anecdotal evidence relating to this issue. While travelling abroad I met one of our trade representatives – for his sake I will not name him or the country in which he is based – who wanted to bring a non-national, an Oriental, to Ireland. The individual in question is one of the richest business people in the Orient and he intended to site a company in Scotland, but he was persuaded by our trade representative to visit Ireland. It took the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform so long to organise the paperwork necessary to allow him to visit the country that he never arrived and the potential job investment he might have brought was never realised. Bluntly put, had he been an American or a Canadian he would have had no difficulty in obtaining access to this country. There are major questions to be asked about our attitude to the admittance of non-nationals even for visits, not to mention our introducing the type of progressive immigration policy which would be the norm required in any civilised society.

The emergency with which the Bill deals arose from the Laurentiu v. Minister for Justice case which was heard on 22 January 1999. In that case, the High Court struck down section 5(1)(e) of the Aliens Act, 1935, which authorised the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by order to make provision for the deportation and exclusion of “aliens”, either individually or by reference to membership of a particular class. The court held that this bare single sentence contained no statement of principle or policy by the Oireachtas to govern the Minister's power. Effectively, he was being empowered to make it up as he went along and this amounted to an unconstitutional delegation of the legislative power of the State to a member of the Government. We are the legislature, we determine the criteria and we set the law. That is why we have such a responsibility in that regard and why it is depressingly sad to see immigration legislation take the form of the Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The court's decision is not surprising and had been predicted by legal practitioners dealing with asylum applications for some time.

The Bill purports to cure the defect in the Aliens Act by ostensibly setting out the principles according to which a deportation order could be exercised. However, it fails to do so and retains some of the most offensive features of the 1935 Act. It sets out in section 3 a list of those capable of being deported; convicted criminals, persons to whom certain EU regulations apply and those who have their asylum applications transferred to another country under the Dublin Convention. Also included, under section 3(2)(g), are persons who have been refused by the Minister "leave to land". This provision fails to recognise that there is not, in the Aliens Act or the Bill, any statement of principle or policy governing the Minister's power to refuse leave to land. It is clear from the criteria set out in the High Court judgment that this section is vulnerable to the same legal attack as happened in the January case.

The Bill sets out a principle at paragraph (i) of the section that it should apply to any non-national whose deportation would, in the Minister's opinion, be "conducive to the common good". Does the Minister really believe this is a sufficient statement of principle of policy or that it will satisfy the constitutional criteria that policy is determined by the Oireachtas? Does he believe he has the right to decide that an individual's exclusion from the State would be conducive to the common good? There are a number of people, some of them former Ministers, who, under those criteria, would be excluded permanently from the State. The Minister is the sole arbiter of the common good and not only asylum seekers but all immigrants in the State, whether lawfully or unlawfully present, remain here at his sole discretion.

There are a number of glaring and fundamental gaps and defects in the Bill. It does not specify that a deportation order should not be made against an asylum seeker whose case has not yet been completed or considered. There is no reference to legal advice being made available to those seeking to make representations to the Minister against deportation within the 14 days available to them. If legal advice was given to an asylum seeker for the purpose of presenting his or her case for refugee status, would that also extend to the giving of advice on a proposed deportation order which might have been served in the interim?

Under section 3, notice of a deportation order, once the Minister has made his decision on any representations, is to be served on an individual and, under subsection (9)(a), shall require him to present himself at such date, time and place as is specified for the purpose of being deported from the State. A minimum period is not specified between the time the notice is served and the time the deportee must present himself for deportation. It appears that notice could be served in the evening requiring the deportee to present himself for deportation the following morning. This is important given that section 5 empowers an immigration officer or a garda who reasonably suspects that a person against whom a deportation has been made has failed to comply with the provision of an order or requirement of a notice of an order, to arrest that person without warrant. The person so arrested may then be placed immediately on a ship, train or aircraft about to leave the State and shall be deemed to be in lawful custody until that mode of transport has left.

It could happen, therefore, that a person may be served with a notice to present himself for deportation in an evening. If he is not at the specified location he could be arrested, lawfully taken into custody and lawfully put on an aircraft and transported out of the State. Such a procedure would effectively deprive the deportee of the possibility of resorting to the courts to challenge the legality of what has been done. A similar provision relating to extradition was struck down by the Supreme Court in The State (Quinn) v. Ryan (1965) IR 70. To save this provision from, at the very least, constitutional challenge it must be amended to provide that a person shall not be deported following service of a deportation order without affording him a reasonable opportunity to exercise his right of access to the courts.

The proposal to validate orders which are invalid in law is unacceptable to the Labour Party. The content of all aliens' orders which implement policy must be incorporated into the substantive provisions of the Bill. Section 2 is an unacceptable whitewash of illegality and deprives this House of the power to amend or review those provisions.

I wish to raise with the Minister a very serious allegation made in an issue of Magill magazine under the heading “A Spin too Far”. The article referred to a statement issued on the Minister's behalf on 5 December claiming that the existing refugee application process had been endorsed by the UNHCR who had described it as a model. The article goes on to claim that this was a misquotation of what had been said by the High Commissioner's officials before the Dáil committee and that what in fact had been said was that if certain other matters were introduced and if certain promised measures were implemented then the Irish process could be a model for other countries. The article claims that the Minister's statement had almost led to a full blown row between the Minister and the UNHCR and that its spokeswoman in London remarked that its statements are often taken out of context and a formal retraction of the Minister's incorrect quotation may have been requested. I call on the Minister to tell the House if there is any substance in the Magill article and whether he will retract those reported remarks.

There is another issue which goes to the heart of the State's seriousness in implementing international law. The State is obliged by Article 13 of the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights to afford certain basic procedural guarantees against deportation. We are fully bound by this provision in international law. The same duty is imposed by Protocol 7 to the European Convention which we signed and which the White Paper on Foreign Policy committed us to ratifying. I demand that the Minister states unequivocally whether the Attorney General has confirmed that the Bill complies with this Article and Protocol. He should also indicate when the Protocol will be ratified. If he fails to provide that information the House will draw the necessary conclusions, which could have serious consequences for our international obligations.

It is right and necessary to repeat some basic facts relating to the supposed refugee crisis in Ireland and the need for prompt and decisive action. We are not facing a tidal wave of asylum seekers as some have suggested. Some have fed on this, indeed one Government backbencher makes it a platform on which to develop his own political career. It is a dangerous strategy.

I will not repeat the figures detailing the numbers coming into the country which Deputy Jim Higgins presented to the House last night. It is clear that the notion of a great tide of immigrants is not sustainable. Figures published in The Irish Times yesterday show that even at the record levels reached in 1998 the number of 4,500 asylum seekers is modest. It compares with the 60,000 applicants in the UK and almost 100,000 in Germany. Even on a per capita basis Ireland ranks only about eighth in the EU. It is a new phenomenon for us and we do not have a great base on which it is built.

Given our troubled history in terms of emigration and the millions of Irish people who have fled this country largely for economic reasons to better themselves and look after their families, surely we especially should be expected to show some humanity to those who now seek refuge here? It is worth reminding the House that as recently as the turn of the decade there were approximately 100,000 illegals in the US. At that time repeated calls were made across party lines to the US authorities to treat our citizens in the US as sympathetically as possible. We exhorted special visas and lobbied consistently to ensure they would not be deported and be subject to exclusion from the US. Knowing County Kerry as I do there was probably more than one call from the office of the Minister dealing with constituents who were undocumented there. In general the US responded positively and well. Consider the social and economic problems that would have been created for this country had the US authorities applied the same hardline approach to Irish illegals as the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is now applying to illegals in Ireland.

The approach of the Department appears to be mechanistic. It appears that asylum seekers are to be treated as figures in a ledger and not as human beings. They are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. The most poignant demonstration of that were the television pictures shown across the world of queues of people out side the Department seeking interviews with officials. There would have been an outcry if Irish citizens in any part of the world were treated in that fashion. One could imagine the high dudgeon which would have been a feature of this House and how we would have regarded the authorities which treated Irish men and women in that way.

Asylum seekers are assessed only in terms of their potential cost to the country; their potential contribution is not put on the weighing scales. The newspapers are full of the social welfare and housing costs. We have taken deliberate measures to ensure that such costs are maximised by refusing to allow asylum seekers to have employment here while their situation is evaluated and their right of permanent residence is determined.

The Minister has departed totally from the humane and considerate approach he advocated in Opposition. High principles were spouted and recorded in his contribution to the Refugee Act but, unfortunately, he has now swallowed the Department's line. It is time to rethink our national policy on asylum seekers, which seems to involve the deportation of the maximum numbers possible, regardless of the human consequences of those decisions. As a country with exceptional levels of economic growth and a recognisable and significant labour shortage in some sectors, it should be possible to have a sympathetic and humane policy for dealing with the numbers of people from abroad who, for whatever reason, seek asylum on our shores.

This Bill is not an immigration Bill. It behoves the Minister to acknowledge the fact that a statement of immigration policy will be made by the Government, debated by this House and enshrined in a civilised law that properly mirrors a civilised people who want to facilitate non-nationals to reside among us in a structured and ordered way and who are willing to assimilate people from other countries into our society. It is time we moved beyond the closed door and closed eye attitude which has been the hallmark of official Irish policy to immigration and refugee issues and to, once and for all, bring ourselves into the realm of a civilised modern democracy.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Bhí an eisimirce agus an inimirce mar chuid de stair na tíre seo le blianta. Leis na céadta bliana bhí an eisimirce againn mar nós – daoine ag dul thar lear ar son misinéireachta nó oideachais nó fiú amháin ar bhonn eacnamúil. Ach le blianta beaga anuas is í an inimirce a fheiceann muid sa tír seo.

Is cuma an bhfuilimid ag caint faoin eisimirce nó an inimirce ba chóir dúinn dlíthe a chur i bhfeidhm a thabharfadh cosaint do dhaoine – cosaint chun a gcearta a choimeád – agus dlíthe a chur i bhfeidhm ar son maitheasa na tíre freisin. Feicim go bhfuil an Bille seo ag dul sa treo sin ach níl sa Bhille ach cuid amháin den pholasaí nó den scéim atá ag teastáil agus sinn ag caint ar an ábhar seo.

The primary purpose of this Bill is to determine the principles and procedures on the deportation of non-nationals. I agree that it deals more with deportation than immigration, but that is just one aspect of the immigration issue. The powers to deport were vested in the Minister under the Aliens Act, 1935, which was introduced by de Valera to dismantle the Treaty and to determine our sovereignty as a nation. The power to deport to protect the interests of the people and the country is important for the sovereignty of the State. This was followed by our introduction of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

In a judgment in the case of Laurentiu v. the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland and the Attorney General, Mr. Justice Geoghegan found that a section of the Act was inconsistent with the Constitution. Specifically, it was inconsistent with Article 15.2 of the Constitution which provides that the sole and exclusive power of making laws is vested in the Oireachtas and that no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State. Mr. Justice Geoghegan in his judgment said:

The Minister cannot have a legislative power in relation to deportation unless some policy or principle on foot of which he is to act are set out in the parent Act. In my view the Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann did not legislate for deportation. It merely permitted the Minister for Justice to legislate for deportation. There is no inherent reason why an Act of the Oireachtas cannot set out some policy matters at least in relation to deportation.

This Bill does exactly that. Section 3 gives statutory power to the Minister to deport non-nationals in certain circumstances and it sets out the conditions and procedures under which that power is to operate. The judgment also found that the Minister was not entitled to confer on himself the power to deport. Mr. Justice Geoghegan said that "the power to require an alien to leave and to remain thereafter out of the State, if a Minister deems it to be conducive to the public good, is not in any sense a purely regulatory or administrative matter". That power is conferred upon the Minister by this Bill.

Orders of deportation can now be made in respect of persons, among others, who have served or are serving a term of imprisonment, who have been indicted or charged with any crime or offence, whose applications for asylum have been refused, who have not been allowed to land in the State and whose deportation would, in the opinion of the Minister, be conducive to the common good. It is important to understand that persons are entitled to constitutional fairness when putting in place procedures. The Constitution guarantees fair procedures.

The two common law rules of natural justice, audi alterem partem and nemo iudex in causa sua, have been given a constitutional status and protection. Natural justice has been termed as constitutional justice by the Supreme Court. It has been determined that statutory regulations or agreements setting up machinery for taking decisions which may affect rights or impose liabilities should be construed as providing for fair procedures. This Bill affects the rights of non-nationals living in this country. However, section 3(3) ensures that persons against whom it is proposed to make a deportation order can have their case heard, that the audi alterem partem rule is being recognised and that they may make representations to the Minister.

I am pleased to note that the list of circumstances which the Minister can consider in determining whether to make a deportation order in relation to a person includes a range of personal and humanitarian considerations. As public representatives, we have met non-nationals who are appealing decisions for deportation. While conscious that the Minister has always taken personal circumstances into consideration when dealing with such appeals, I am glad these are specifically listed in the Bill. This means that rather than being the policy of an individual Minister, party or Government, it becomes State policy.

We can all recall cases of families and children. This Bill will ensure their rights are heard and recognised. The Minister can give due regard to the circumstances when a case is made for families whose children have settled happily into schools in their area. A case can be made for the child who is receiving treatment for cancer as a result of Chernobyl to stay here with her parents. The Minister will have taken account of these considerations but now they are being given legislative status. Representations made by these people on their own behalf or by public representatives on their behalf will be guaranteed a hearing and I welcome that.

In dealing with deportation, this Bill is focusing on the most negative aspect of our immigration policy and it needs to be seen in the context of other developments and proposed legislation for dealing with immigration in general, asylum seekers and refugees. I welcome the allocation of extra staff and resources to the section dealing with applications for asylum. It was appalling to see people queuing in the rain outside the Department. As a result of the individual attention given to each applicant and the speed with which his application is dealt with there are no further queues.

The Minister announced that he would shortly bring forward legislation to enable the Refugee Act, 1996, to become operational, as well as legislation to outlaw the appalling crime of trafficking and a major Bill to replace the Aliens Act, 1935. This will ensure a modern, fair and just system. It is in that overall context that I welcome this Immigration Bill and the fact that it sets out the humanitarian and personal considerations to be taken into account when seeking leave to appeal. We can show we have a recognised policy on immigration. I look forward to the further issues being debated in this House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Some months ago the world looked in horror at the story unfolding on television of a woman who died in the process of deportation from Belgium. Excessive force had been used against the woman seeking asylum and she died during the process. I hope we will never see such an incident again but it illustrates what can happen when deportation goes wrong, the procedures are not in place and due process and law are not adhered to. My worry about this Bill is that it is definitely putting the cart before the horse. It is not an immigration Bill but a deportation Bill. We should not enact a deportation Bill before we have a proper refugee Bill outlining policy on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. That policy must be fully in place before we build into our law a deportation policy.

Many sections of this Bill are dangerous. The Bill has come about because of an emergency situation in the courts, which surprised no one. It shows all the marks of legislation that has been put together hastily. I am worried that it infringes civil liberties. This Bill should be checked against the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention against Torture. The exclusion orders are extremely dangerous and may be used inappropriately to deport asylum seekers. Section 5 presents a real possibility that detention centres could be established.

I welcome Deputy Hanafin's contribution where she highlighted the need for clarity on a range of issues, stating that the Bill is only a part of a much bigger story. The contention of the Fine Gael Party is that we should not move on to deal with this issue until we can put it in the proper context of clear Government policy. It is reasonable to ask what is Government policy on this issue, where it is heading, why the ambivalence and why it is afraid to state its policy on immigration and refugees. Why has the Act not been implemented? Why is there resistance to dealing with this issue, which every country has had to deal with and on which we, as a growing economy, can well afford to be generous? Why is there resistance to stating policy and outlining procedures in a clear way?

It is a piecemeal approach to the issue to introduce this Bill today. There seems to be conflict at Government level on certain issues, for example, the right to work. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, states one view whereas the Minister says something else. There has been no statement of Government policy on the issue and the question of a permit to work has not been dealt with in this legislation. If immigrants were allowed to work it would do much to avoid the stigmatis ation, isolation, welfare dependency and lack of empowerment that many immigrants experience. That is the experience. It is not good enough that people feel so isolated and on the margins when they have been marginalised and put at risk in their own countries. Why do we allow them experience the same difficulties in this country when we have so many resources and should be able to put procedures in place to provide social services, information and legal advice? The Government appears to be completely divided on the question of permits, a matter which if tackled would make quite a difference.

The lack of a statutory basis is a serious problem. Why not put a statutory instrument in place that would make our approach to this issue transparent? There is a real necessity for asylum applications to be clearly determined. We should put in place fair, independent appeal procedures in accordance with international law. Amnesty International has said that judicial review should be respected and extended to asylum seekers. It also makes the point that persons deported must have the right to re-enter the State to seek asylum should future difficulties occur in their country of origin. That is a reasonable point.

There is a real danger that deportations could be carried out in a very unfair and even dangerous way. There are not enough effective procedures or safeguards in the Bill. Even when I read it first it struck me that many of the provisions were very loose and anything could be implied by them. If we proceed with this Bill in the absence of a broad policy, the very least we should expect is that it would be detailed and carefully drafted with no room for ambiguity or abuses of power. That is not the case. For example, there is no distinction between a minor offence or a major offence in section 3(2)(a). There is no provision for appeal in section 3(2)(b). The crime in many cases might be resisting arrest out of fear. There is no provision for appeal in section 3(2)(e) while section 3(2)(f) is very broad. It needs to specify that a person has a right to go through the entire process, but does not. This provision could be used to deport an individual before an appeal or application for humanitarian leave to remain has been heard. There is a reference to 14 days but this, at the very least, should be 14 working days. It is a short period when one considers that people may have language difficulties or are already isolated and may not have access to professional or legal help. These examples demonstrate how wide the provisions are.

There should be a reference in section 3(6)(a) to the specific protection of minors and the conventions on the rights of the child as it is important. Many new offences are introduced in the Bill, including evading capture as a result of fear or trauma. "Without reasonable cause" should be added because the powers given to the Minister are very broad. We must be extremely careful about responding to an emergency that has arisen in the courts by introducing a Bill that could lead to very serious abuses of human rights or the setting up of a range of procedures that are not the best to deal with it.

Ireland has serious international obligations which must be met but the Bill does not meet them. I presented a paper on peacekeeping this week. I outlined the 82 conflicts currently raging around the world, which have put many people in untenable situations whereby they must leave their countries or are forced to do so. Given the scale of conflict around the world the number of people who come to Ireland is very small.

A number of speakers referred already to our history of emigration and how we would wish our people to have been dealt with when they were in need. We must reflect on that and make efforts to put the right framework in place and introduce legislation which does not jeopardise the human rights of those already in an extremely vulnerable position. We must also put programmes in place to deal with integration and racism in our schools. There is a disturbing level of racism in schools and I am constantly horrified by the lack of information and understanding among young people when I visit them.

Not long ago the British-Irish Agreement was signed. Respecting diversity was its key element. It applies in this area as much as it does to North-South relations and this Bill is a step in the wrong direction. I wish to share my time with Deputy Mitchell.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank Deputy Fitzgerald for sharing her time with me. I wish to raise concerns about the Bill. My primary concern is that it is not being taken in tandem with a co-ordinated effort to deal with the real issues facing immigrants and the racist and xenophobic tendencies of elements of our community. As chairman of the Oireachtas subcommittee on human rights I am very concerned and share the views of Amnesty International, which says that the Bill should be checked against the European Convention on Human Rights and the convention against torture. I want the House to examine the Bill in light of those conventions before these measures are rushed through.

Amnesty International has raised concerns about section 5 which presents a real possibility that detention and detention centres will be introduced. The view was expressed by one person, who received a loud round of applause, that this would be a good idea. I am ashamed to hear somebody make such a point. The role of judicial reviews should also be respected and extended to asylum seekers, as Amnesty International suggests. Ireland has had an almost entirely white population for as long as anyone can remember and our attitude to people of a different colour was to patronise them and pat them on the back.

However, that has changed with the advent of the Celtic tiger. Ireland has become an attractive destination for people. We used to send our people abroad because we could not afford to keep them here and we should remember that 800,000 people of Irish origin live in Great Britain alone. The Secretary-General of the Department of Foreign Affairs gave that statistic to the Committee of Public Accounts; I did not conjure it up. We should be the last to support racist or xenophobic tendencies, but, unfortunately, there is a reactionary element in our society which is somehow prejudiced against people, based on the colour of their skin.

We have always prided ourselves, particularly in the Republic, on our tolerance of people's religious views and our tolerance generally. It was very easy to be tolerant when there were small Jewish, Protestant and Muslim communities. People do not know the religion of others when they are on the street and, therefore, do not feel challenged. However, suddenly people with different skin colour are on the street and some individuals think this is wrong, is a major challenge to us and must be stopped. That smacks of white supremacist thinking and it must be challenged by all right thinking people. I have tabled a motion calling on the Taoiseach to appoint a Minister or Minister of State who would have a co-ordinating role on immigrant issues.

I was Minister of State at the Departments of Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach and I had a co-ordinating role in some of my duties. I called in representatives of various Departments to discuss the preparations for the Irish Presidency of the EU or local development issues, for example. No Minister deals with immigrant issues. They are dealt with simply from what used to be called "an alien's point of view" or the Department of Justice immigrant visa point of view. I am glad this wording has been dropped in the Bill. Immigrant issues need to be thought of in terms of housing, the needs of the indigenous population and immigrants, social welfare, health, and tackling racism and xenophobia in the community.

Because racism and xenophobia present a particular problem in the city, I have made a suggestion, which I understand is being acted upon, that the Lord Mayor of Dublin – the Acting Chairman and I are former holders of that office – should bring together the various churches and religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and in particular the Jewish and Muslim communities, with the health board and other State agencies to devise a proactive local plan to cater for the needs of immigrants and integrate them in local communities. I have seen a woman spit on another because of the colour of her skin. I have been asked in the street what is being done to stop coloured people coming into the country. This view, which is based on a fear of the unknown, should be challenged and those who hold it should be educated to think otherwise. This should be done soon because I am fearful of a rise in violence on the part of those who are ignorant of the facts.

There are many jobs available in the city and throughout the country. There are immigrants with the required skills. They should be allowed to retain their dignity and to take up those jobs so that they do not have to sell The Big Issues.

On Good Friday 1998 I attended a service in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The preacher, whose name I cannot recall, was an Irish citizen and black. She indicated that drunks would pat her on the head as if she was a strange being from outer space. There is a need for proposals to ensure the extremes of racism, xenophobia and patronising attitudes are tackled. They should be discussed with the Bill.

The failure of the Government to deal with the issue of immigration, asylum seekers and refugees in a just and humane manner is demonstrated by the circumstances in which the Bill has been rushed before the Dáil. The Government appears more anxious that its proposed deportation of asylum seekers should proceed than that a proper system of assessment, a fair hearing and fair living and working conditions for those seeking asylum be put in place speedily.

The Minister announced yesterday that the Government intends to introduce three Bills to deal with the issue, the first of which is an amending Bill to allow implementation of the 1996 Refugee Act. The failure to implement the Act compounds the unacceptable situation in which so many asylum seekers find themselves. We learned from the Minister's announcement that this will be allowed to continue while we await the amending Bill, proposals for which will not reach the Government until Easter. The second Bill relates to trafficking in illegal immigrants, while the third and most significant will provide for a fundamental overhaul of existing immigration legislation.

Why has it taken the Government more than 18 months to begin the task of implementing the Refugee Act, 1996? Why is this Bill being taken prior to its implementation and the introduction of the substantial new legislation on immigration which, in the list of promised legislation, is not due for publication until late this year? The Government has its priorities wrong. The Minister's statement about the vast majority of asylum seekers not being genuine refugees prejudged thousands and added to the public perception, fostered by irresponsible elements in the media, of tides of immigrants threatening the integrity of society.

The Government is not racist but its harsh attitude to asylum seekers and its refusal to implement the Refugee Act have sent the wrong signals to those in society who are all too eager to foster and exploit xenophobia. It is time the Government put a human face on the issue. The Taoiseach has a personal concern which I witnessed when I accompanied a delegation from the County Monaghan Roma Support Group to meet him on 23 December. The Roma community of 47 living in Castleblayney has been in fear of deportation for several months and could be expelled under the provisions of this Bill. The support group stated in its appeal:

The Roma people have been well received in County Monaghan. The establishment of the Support Group, with representatives throughout the County, was a manifestation of this. None of our group have worked in any lobbying or organising capacity before. We are simply concerned individuals. Our primary concern is the dignity of the people whom we believe should be granted the right to stay in our country and be welcomed as fellow citizens.

Most of the men in the Roma community have trades but our current laws prevent them from working. We have found them to be an industrious people and they are frustrated at not being able to earn a living, contrary to the falsehoods about these and other asylum-seekers being only interested in "sponging" on social welfare.

The anxiety at the prospect of the failure of appeal and immediate deportation is not confined to the Roma community. Those who have welcomed them here dread the prospect. So also do individual members of the Garda Síochána who have got to know the group and who have spoken to us of their concerns. It would be their task to enforce deportation orders.

The County Monaghan Roma Support Group appeals to the Taoiseach to take on board the reality of the refugee situation. The Roma children especially deserve a decent future free of the persecution which their parents and grandparents have had to endure. We urge the Taoiseach's humanitarian intervention if the appeals fail.

We urge also a fundamental change in current refugee policy. A harsh and restrictive policy is being implemented and is causing distress to the relatively small number of refugees in our country. At the very least the Refugee Act should be implemented in full and the ban on work and study by asylum-seekers should be lifted. We need a more open system which welcomes people to our shores, bringing with them skills to add to our workforce and culture to add to our diversity.

If the Government had acceded to the proposal for an amnesty for those seeking asylum before the full implementation of the Refugee Act, it would have created a new atmosphere. That would have been the correct approach to set the scene for new legislation and a new dispensation for all immigrants seeking asylum. The Government has set its face against calls for the right to work and study to be given to asylum seekers. This is a very reasonable demand which would ease the financial and social burden on asylum seekers. It would allow many, including highly qualified and diligent people, to contribute to our economy and to come off social welfare. The right to work and study would form a key part of a charter of rights for asylum seekers which should be introduced. The right to prompt and fair determination procedures is also vital, as are full language rights for asylum seekers so they can fully understand their position at every stage of the asylum application procedure.

The body responsible for deciding on asylum claims must be independent and must have expertise in refugee law. There must be a right to appeal to an independent body. There needs to be access to independent and adequately State funded legal advice. There is also a need for the Minister for Education and Science to initiate a comprehensive anti-racism programme in our schools and for the Government to undertake a full examination of measures which can be introduced across a range of Departments to combat racism in our society and to promote support for cultural diversity and human rights.

Instead of such just and reasonable measures we have this Bill which should more properly be called a deportation Bill rather than an immigration Bill. It does not deal with immigration and asylum issues but lays down the conditions and mechanisms for the expulsion of people from this State.

There are many concerns about the details of the legislation which reflect the sweeping powers of the Minister. These would be more properly dealt with on Committee Stage. However, even if we were satisfied that this Bill safeguarded rights and was perfect in every detail, I would have to advise that I would not be prepared to support it now in circumstances where the Government is not implementing the Refugee Act and has advanced this deportation Bill before other legislation on immigration and asylum, of which it should properly form a part.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

Acting Chairman

There is no formal arrangement for sharing time, but if the House agrees, that is fine.

No, Deputy Higgins feels I should take my time, and I am happy to do so. This morning on the Order of Business I contrasted the unseemly haste with which we are introducing this deportation Bill with the foot dragging as regards the Human Rights' Commission Bill, which is part of the British-Irish Agreement. This says a great deal about our mental attitude. We are placing suppression of human rights above the extension of human rights, which is what a modern society should be about. The Act which we are replacing, the Aliens Act, 1935, was draconian and was based on Acts of 1904 and 1914. The 1935 Act was based on paranoia about Jews. We know from various documentaries, and the Chair knows personally, that there was a harsh attitude towards immigrants, particularly in the Department of Justice. Has that attitude changed?

As the previous speaker said, we are not referring to direct racism; we are talking about a mental attitude. I know from my dealings with asylum seekers that they are aware of a draconian attitude in the Department and do not feel they are being dealt with as equals. This Bill strips people of dignity, treats them as lesser beings, unequals, as a problem and a burden on the State. We deal with them in a harsh, clinical and bureaucratic manner. That is not the way to deal with human beings.

Unfortunately, we have also seen a change of attitude in Fianna Fáil, with the famous statements of Deputy O'Donoghue who supported the Refugee Act which were suddenly and conveniently put to one side when in Government. This is Government by focus group where we go out onto the streets and listen to people's views. We know there are racist attitudes. However, do we bow to that or do we stand up and say that is not the way we want to proceed and is not what good Government is about?

As Deputy Gay Mitchell said, we have come across these attitudes, which are often based on ignorance and fear, at our clinics. People ask why refugees get houses while they are on the housing list. It is important we correct those misconceptions immediately. I fear we will see the rise of the right throughout Europe because of the "fortress Europe" mentality. Last weekend an editorial in The Irish Times referred to the decline of the Green vote in Hessen, Germany. The reason for this is that the Christian Democrats, a conservative party in Germany, mounted a campaign on the question of citizenship for immigrants, particularly the Turkish community. My party has always said they should be afforded citizenship rights, even dual citizenship. The Greens were punished for what was seen as a far too liberal attitude. I am proud of its stance because it is principled. When we discuss immigration, that is what we ought to talk about.

I am glad we have dropped the title of the Aliens Act, which is like something out of "The X Files" where we see these people as from another planet. These people are human beings and deserve to be treated in that way. I agree with Deputy Mitchell that we need a proper immigration Bill to deal with the needs of immigrants and the question of assimilation, not to deal with them in a manner which ghettoises them, which is what is happening now.

If we embrace the concept of cultural diversity, it will enhance and strengthen our society and not weaken it. There is a short-sighted attitude which does not take account of how much more advanced we would be as a society if we took on a better attitude, as has happened in countries such as Canada, where all the procedures to give people a fair hearing are in place. This was provided for in the Refugee Act, which unfortunately has been rejected. That is why this Immigration Bill is premature. We do not have the proper pro cedures in place and we are introducing legislation to speed up deportation. We must also look at the right to work, although I know this was not part of the Refugee Act. However, if the Refugee Act was implemented, we could then look at the right to work, which has been also called for by the UNHCR.

I would now like to deal with the Bill. As has been said by previous speakers, there are major flaws in the Bill. Deputy Frances Fitzgerald was right when she said that section 3(1) is far too broad and indefinite. The phrase "and to remain thereafter out of the State" should be deleted. It does not allow for future views, revocation or a challenge to the order, which is very important. There is no provision in section 3(1)(e) for appeal against refoulement. This needs to be looked at. I hope the Opposition will agree that section 5(4)(b)(iii) should be deleted, given that it could lead to indefinite detention. I am aware of this from experience, having dealt with people who are appealing these orders. I know people who, if they return to their own country, will be tortured. They have been tortured previously. Yet if they appeal here they could be detained and imprisoned. That is untenable from a humanitarian point of view and I hope the Minister will reconsider that section and remove it. I do not wish to labour points already made by previous speakers but there are sections which I hope to amend on Committee Stage and I will be tabling amendments. I hope the Government will see fit to accept some of these amendments which are based on commonsense. Having heard the arguments from the Opposition I ask the Government to look again at the Refugee Act and implement it.

This Bill deals with the powers, principles and procedures under which the State can deport non-nationals. The State must have these powers. The necessity for this legislation arises from the recent High Court decision. Were the State to legislate otherwise it would be ridiculous. What is being done is totally justified and correct and is linked to the immigration debate. In his contribution Deputy Higgins talked about the Government's tardiness. The Refugee Act, 1996, was designed for an era when only a few people sought refugee status. Things have moved on since then. There are greater numbers arriving now.

When the Government assumed office 20 months ago there was a huge backlog of applications and elaborate procedures but practically no staff to deal with them. It is fine to speak about the Refugee Act but all these matters must be governed and influenced by reality. If there are 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 applications in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, measures have to be taken to deal with the backlog. I congratulate the Minister and the Department officials on making progress with them. While progress may be slow and the procedures are still way behind, nevertheless some progress has been made. During the tenure of the previous Government whether because of a row between two Ministers or between a Minister and a Minister of State, nothing seemed to happen except that new applications continued to arrive and were put in the basket waiting to be dealt with. This created a problem. People have been unfair to the Minister and the Department who are trying to get things back to normal.

Politicians and people who write letters to newspaper editors have made some fine speeches on this issue. Some fine speeches have been made on this issue today and on other occasions by politicians from rural constituencies or who represent nice middle-class areas in Dublin who have a theoretical ideological view of this matter. The language is beautiful.

I represent Ringsend and Deputy Higgins represents—

Yes, and other places. I am referring to politicians and letter writers to The Irish Times and so on. I agree with Deputy Gormley that politicians have to give leadership. We have to stand up to those who are wrong and who are trying to drive people against one another. That is our role but as well as having the theoretically correct humanitarian view of issues we have to look at the reality. Often these fine speeches and letters come from people who do not know what they are talking about. They have a purely theoretical view. Perhaps the problem is that we have mishandled the situation.

All the refugees and asylum seekers, whether for good or bad, have been put into specific parts of Dublin and certain constituencies. That is wrong and leads to difficulties and to people feeling threatened in regard to houses, jobs and so on. We have created the breeding ground for misinformation and uneducated views. It is our job to avoid that. We should not let everybody in and then have a problem about where to put them, whether on the North Circular Road or the South Circular Road. They are not being sent to Blackrock or Dún Laoghaire. Fancy letters can be written by people who read papers or books about asylum seekers who do not know the reality and are not in touch with those who live in the community who, wrongly, feel threatened by them. As Deputy Gormely said, it is fine that we should give leadership and that we are trying to do. However, it is hard to do that in some parts of the city which have a high proportion of asylum seekers. That is a difficulty we have to face up to. We are supposed to represent the view outside as well as try to preach the right gospel outside. Too often we wake up to issues when it is too late, perhaps when a couple of Deputies have been elected by some extreme group or other. We then wake up and realise there is a problem or a perceived problem in certain constituencies or parts of constituencies in Dublin. To deny that is nonsensical. Some of us know what we are talking about and represent constituencies or parts of constituencies which have a problem. I am not an expert on where Deputy Gormley's votes come from.

I get the highest votes in the inner-city.

We should not base our policies on our votes.

Acting Chairman

I invite Deputy Ahern to speak through the Chair rather than across the floor to individuals.

I was giving the Deputy the honour of knowing I was listening to him. Given that I do not have a prepared speech, I am reacting to the remarks of the previous speaker. I have examined this situation over the past couple of years. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been trying to put a procedure in place which would process these cases as they arrive and permit entry to genuine refugees fleeing from persecution. However, it also needs a system which will give it the right to deport people who do not gain entry in accordance with the regulations.

Various people are becoming involved in this issue, particularly business interests who talk about the Celtic tiger and the need for cheap labour. They say asylum seekers should be allowed to work. That line is spun by different sectors. By all means let them work after six months but, ideally, decisions on their applications should be made long before six months elapse. If the Department were up to date, asylum seekers would not have to wait six months. Other people claim that asylum seekers are allowed to work after six months in Germany, France and other countries. That is because they get a decision on their applications. Only an odd few cases are still being appealed or processed. Generally, the procedures in these countries are much quicker.

I complimented the Department a few minutes ago but it must be acknowledged that the process for dealing with asylum seekers has a long way to go. It is unfair to everybody, certainly to the applicant, to allow the process to be dragged on for three or four years. It is almost impossible, even ridiculous, to try to deport somebody after that length of time. The system should be capable of giving the applicant a decision within two or three months. If that were the case, asylum seekers could work after six months because in the vast majority of cases they would be legal.

I am nervous about this issue when I look at it from another perspective. Business people see refugees as a cheap labour resource but there are still 200,000 people on the dole. They are not spread throughout the city. A shortage of employees in certain constituencies on the southside of Dublin does not mean there are not any unemployed people. I am concerned about the unemployed in my constituency who are now being written off by politicians and business groups. They claim the economy has done well, that there is a shortage of labour in Dún Laoghaire or Blackrock where, because it costs £120 to have a child looked after, nobody is available to work at any type of job. Suddenly, according to this argument, there is nobody on the dole, jobs are available and they must be given to anybody and everybody, including asylum seekers.

I am concerned that some of my constituents are being written off and are not considered suitable for work or retraining. It is true that the more we take off the register of the unemployed, the more training and retraining the remaining unemployed need. They have been unemployed for longer. I am concerned that some lobby groups are not particularly interested in the humanitarian aspects of the refugee issue but are jumping on the bandwagon and supporting refugee lobby groups for quite different reasons.

The Minister said he will introduce changes to the Refugee Act which will reflect the reality of recent years. However, we must be careful. There is a danger of certain people stirring up race hatred. We are feeding that danger and helping to create its breeding ground by directing asylum seekers into certain areas of the city. A Member said earlier that it is necessary to re-think our immigration and asylum policy. That is fine but we must try to allocate or disperse asylum seekers throughout the country. Everybody should share the problem or the experience, whatever one wishes to call it; they might be wiser when speaking in this Chamber.

I attended a briefing by the health board recently on the number of rent allowance recipients in the different districts in Dublin. The figure for Dún Laoghaire-Blackrock was about 22. The figures for the north and south inner city were over 600 in each case while the figure for Howth was 35. There is no distribution. There are not many Deputies from rural constituencies at this debate but a decision must be made to allocate these cases to areas such as Limerick, Dún Laoghaire and Athlone as well as to Dublin. Perhaps the asylum seekers wish to stay together like the Irish in Boston but there is a danger in that policy.

Too many people speak about this issue from the theoretical point of view without having encountered this problem or experience – the choice of word will depend on whether one wishes to speak in positive or negative tones. A new policy is needed. The Department's officials must accelerate the process and give quicker decisions to asylum seekers—

Will the Deputy give way for a question?

Yes, but that does not mean I will answer it.

The Deputy seems to be suggesting that we ought to have what is commonly known as "burden sharing". Is that the term he would use?

I deliberately used two terms and said that each applied according to how people viewed the issue. I realise people, both inside and outside this House, view it in different ways. I referred to the "problem" or the "experience"– positive or negative terms.

It can be a positive issue if it is dealt with in the proper way by working on multiculturalism and diversity. However, if it is left going in the present direction it could have a negative effect on people who live in specific areas. We are making mistakes in our current policies by creating breeding grounds for people to incite race hatred. We should not do that.

We are not introducing the legislation quickly enough.

The Minister said he will introduce the legislation. I am asking officials in the Department to accelerate the processing procedure to ensure that applicants will be given quicker decisions. Those who are allowed to stay should be made welcome and there should be a positive programme to involve them in all aspects of Irish life. It is unfair and wrong to allow anybody to drift aimlessly for a few years waiting for a decision on asylum.

Members on the other side of the House were in Government when this problem started. They allowed the process to get into the current mess. In recent years officials have been trying to work through the huge backlog. However, we woke up after the row between the then Minister and the then Minister of State, Deputy Owen and Deputy Burton. They could not agree on procedures because of their different ideological points of view.

The Department is making progress. It is true it is still trying to catch up and that the Refugee Act must be amended. However, these matters must be influenced by reality. Every aspect of the issue must be examined. By all means, make people welcome when they come to the country but we ought to be able to allocate or encourage them to different areas. The experience, or whatever term Deputy Gormley wishes to use, should be dispersed and allocated to different towns and to different parts of Dublin.

We are making huge mistakes. We are creating a breeding ground for uneducated troublemakers, not represented in this House. Now is the time to take action, not when three or four of them are in here in a few years' time having started a bandwagon by feeding on the fears of others, many of whom we are at present trying to educate properly. I look forward to the Minister's amending legislation to the Refugee Act when there will be another opportunity to talk about this subject in more detail.

I am asking people to acquaint themselves with the realities. I am not leading any bandwagon outside this House but I am doing my best to explain the realities of life for the people who come to me with their concerns. All of us should be aware that there is more to this than flowery ideological and theoretical speeches.

(Dublin West): We have a serious problem in this country. It is not caused by a handful of refugees but by the attitudes of some politicians and a small minority in our society as expressed by Deputy Ahern in the past few minutes—

I am reflecting the views of the ordinary people outside this House.

(Dublin West):—in what I consider to be an incredible contribution to which I will return later.

This is not an immigration Bill but a deportation Bill. It does not seek to create a society where people with different talents and abilities can be received from various countries, welcomed into Irish society and given an opportunity to contribute in the same way millions of our people over generations contributed to countries throughout the world. If it merited the term "immigration Bill" that is what it would contain, but the Bill simply provides for provisions to kick people out. That is entirely in keeping with the attitude and actions of this Government since it came into office in 1997.

The Bill gives carte blanche to the Minister to do anything he wants in regard to people seeking asylum or seeking to remain in this country. Under section 3(1)(i), an order can be made against a person whose deportation would, in the opinion of the Minister, be conducive to the common good. What does that mean? Who determines the common good in this instance? It is the Minister or his officials. We certainly cannot trust this Administration to have an impartial approach on this question nor can we trust the Minister to make judgments in relation to the common good that we could be confident would not be prejudiced by the attitudes of the Minister.

It is incredible that on more than one occasion in this House both the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister of State have said that most of the few thousand applicants for asylum are not genuine refugees but illegal immigrants. Those statements were made before the cases of these people were heard. If Ministers made statements like that in regard to people who were pleading innocent before the courts in a criminal case it would collapse immediately by virtue of prejudice, yet those statements were made in regard to people seeking asylum from the Irish nation.

There are other measures that are indefensible. Section 3(2)(a) states that a deportation order can be made against a person who has served or is serving a term of imprisonment imposed on him or her by a court in the State, as if those serving terms of imprisonment would be guilty of heinous crimes. What about people who fought for democratic or trade union rights in the country from which they fled and who, as members of a movement here, might engage in peaceful civil disobedience? Those people may find themselves in prison for a number of days as part of their protest. The Bill gives an indiscriminate right to the Minister to throw such people out of the country, and that is typical of the way the Bill is phrased.

The Bill does not even correct the term "aliens" in the 1935 Aliens Act by amending the entire Act, which is illustrative of how far this Bill is designed to go. The term "aliens" is offensive in the extreme. It is the term used by the minority in our society, and the minority of politicians who have xenophobic and even racist attitudes in this regard. An atmosphere is conjured up by the term "aliens" as if these were people from outer space, alien to humanity and to those who already live in this country.

Some pillars of the establishment in this society have played a shameful role over recent years. Some of the most powerful and widely distributed newspapers have played a shameful role also in the way they have dealt with the whole question of refugees and asylum seekers. If there were proper legislation to protect minorities, the authors of some of the headlines that appeared in sections of the mass circulation press would find themselves in trouble as a result of the hate they sought to incite and the discriminatory way in which they targeted minorities and tarred an entire community with the sins of a few. Shamefully, a minority of politicians of the right have followed suit.

When we view the history of our own people, going back generations, the attitude being adopted by this Administration is shameful. If any country should feel obliged to treat the people who come here seeking shelter with care and compassion it is this country, when our people found shelter abroad from persecution and harsh economic circumstances at home. The Minister, the Minister of State and leading representatives of the Government have short memories in that regard. It is less than ten years since politicians from the main parties scurried back and forth across the Atlantic to the United States Administration seeking permission for approximately 100,000 young people living illegally in New York, Boston, Chicago and elsewhere to remain in the United States and be given work permits. There was no place for these people at home, not because of political persecution but because of the economic deprivation that drove them abroad in search of a better life. In the present context we are talking about 5,000 applicants for asylum in our society. Any major city in Germany would be home to far more Irish citizens than the entire number of refugee and asylum applicants in this State, but the Government, along with the reactionary newspapers, has allowed this to be termed a crisis which merits appropriate action.

The past two years have been a sad reflection on the Government's record in dealing with asylum seekers. It is shameful that no independent procedures are in place. The procedures which are in place are part and parcel of the one Department with one Minister in charge. That is neither fair nor transparent. At the very least there should be independent procedures and legal aid separate from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for anyone seeking asylum. That has not been granted and the Government does not intend to grant that.

People are being issued with deportation orders to send them back to authoritarian regimes from which they fled. The Minister might not listen to me, but he might listen to a prominent member of the Government's coalition partner. I refer to Deputy O'Malley who spoke several months ago about the shameful way people disembarking at Shannon were treated in the past, including under Governments in which he participated. He said that people were bundled back onto aeroplanes from which they sought to flee to seek asylum. Deputy O'Malley had no doubt some of those people faced death in their own countries, yet we have a Minister who attempts to send people back to authoritarian regimes from which they fled. That is disgraceful.

Ten minutes ago Deputy Noel Ahern made what can only be regarded as a shameful intervention. It was outrageous. He stood up and fuelled the fires of prejudice and gave justification to the hatred and racism that emanates from a very small section of our society. It was incredible. The Deputy said he had not prepared a speech. He would be well advised not to come into the Dáil in future without a prepared speech.

He spoke about distributing people around the country, sending so many to Dublin, so many to Limerick and so many to Galway. If a politician stood up in the British Houses of Parliament and said there are too many Irish concentrated in Camden Town and Cricklewood, and suggested that they should distribute themselves around the country, as far as the Orkney Islands, what would the outrage in this country be like? It would be justifiably huge. Yet a Member of the Government party makes such a statement here.

He then mentioned unemployment, hinting that somehow jobs for Irish people are put at risk because of those seeking asylum. That is a typical tactic of the bigot. Deputy Ahern represents a constituency with many problems, perhaps the most tragic being the crisis of heroin addiction in the deprived inner city communities. Those problems were not created by asylum seekers. They were created by decades of neglect – shameful economic and social neglect – by Governments in which his party played a major role, yet we now see a sly, sneaky attempt to brand them as the responsibility of 5,000 unfortunate people who have no right to work in this country, but who are seeking shelter.

Similarly, there were hints about housing. It was insinuated that houses are being taken from those without homes or on the housing lists by people seeking asylum. That is not just a lie, but a disgracefully prejudiced statement. We have a major housing crisis. Who caused it? It was not those seeking asylum, it was caused by a cabal of the most powerful people in this country – speculators, land owners, big builders and developers – who conspired to put a home out of the reach of ordinary people by racketeering and profiteering. Nevertheless, a member of the Government comes in here and trots out the common phrases of racists and bigots. It is shameful. I hope the Minister of State will carpet the Member who said such things.

We need a humanitarian and compassionate approach to this matter. In my constituency the Costinas family were taken from their beds at the crack of dawn a few months ago, given half an hour to pick up their belongings from their very well kept rented home, a home in which they lived since they came here five years ago, dragged off to the cells in Store Street Garda station and threatened that they would be put on a plane a few hours later. Happily, they were saved by the bungling methods used to notify their counsel of this. Also, there was a revolt among a broad spectrum of Irish society against that type of brutality, which is all it can be called. I hope that matter will be satisfactorily resolved.

Tá sé náireach faoi mar a láimhseáil an Rialtas seo cúrsaí inimirce sa tír. Ní Bille inimirce atá i gceist anseo, ach Bille díbeartha. Cúig mhíle duine i láthair na huaire ina ghéarchéim? Ní hea in aon choir. Is seans é seo do mhuintir na tíre agus seans don tír. Ba cheart dúinne fothain agus gach cabhair a thabhairt do na daoine sin. Faoi mar a chuaigh ár ndaoine féin, glúin i ndiaidh glúine, thar lear go gach tír faoin spéir, ba cheart dúinn cabhair, dídean agus fothain a thabhairt do chúpla míle duine atá ag lorg sin uainn-ne. Ní dhéanfaidh an Bille seo amhlaidh ach a chur ina gcoinne go láidir.

I did not expect to be urging the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to delay implementation of a Bill, but in this case it would be totally inappropriate to bring in this Immigration Bill in the absence of the implementation of the Refugee Act. There is no indication that that Act will be in place for this Bill, which is moving fairly swiftly and seems to be a priority. This Bill should not be in place in its current form, nor, if amended, should it be used in the absence of a properly implemented Refugee Act that would give people a fair and independent system they do not now have and which they will not have without the proper implementation of that Act.

There are many aspects of this Bill which do no justice to us as a caring community and with which I disagree. We do not have a clear, transparent and independent system in place, and many aspects of the current system have been criticised by Members and outside bodies. There is no doubt that many people have been sent out of this country without fair procedure applying in their cases. Figures that Amnesty International has given me suggest that approximately 90 per cent of people are refused asylum in the first instance and do not even have the benefit of procedures available at the moment. Legal representation and translation services have not been properly addressed either, and in that atmosphere people should not be sent out of the State under this legislation.

Like previous speakers, I have a problem with section 3, which is unacceptable in its present form. For example it states that people will be ordered to remain thereafter out of the State, with no limit on the length of time they must remain out of the State. Other parts of section 3 have been referred to also, such as the provision that enables the Minister to deport a person whose deportation would, in the opinion of the Minister, be conducive to the common good. Again, such a sweeping phrase could lead to people being deported without a proper hearing or any other opportunity to have their case heard.

The suggestion that we are somehow inundated with asylum seekers is clearly not true. Approximately one in 100 asylum seekers in Europe seek asylum here. It is a situation we should be able to deal with in a fair and equitable way. If properly implemented, the Refugee Act would set out fair and equitable ways of dealing with this. I ask the Minister not to bring in this legislation until we have proper procedures in place to deal with those seeking asylum here.

As previous speakers said, we have sent people out on the highways and byways of the world from this country to look for work, opportunities and homes. By and large they have been welcomed in various parts of the world where they have thrived. It is not asking very much to adopt a similar attitude here for those who come to Ireland, particularly those who are in danger and who are fearful of returning to their country of origin. We do not need the kind of attitude Deputy Noel Ahern displayed, but a humane attitude that deals with those who come to this country as people and not as numbers to be scattered around the country with no thought given to their contacts and commitment. The suggestion that they can be treated as numbers and that there is a certain quota that the State as a whole and various areas within the State should deal with is unacceptable if we want to call ours a humane society. I reject that completely.

The right to work should be considered, particularly in light of the indication by members of the Government that there should be a limited right to work for refugees. That could have been looked at in the context of the Bill.

I welcome the Minister's intention to bring forward broader legislation dealing with this issue later this year, though I must question whether it will come forward before the end of the year as other legislation has not been issued by that Department in the time intended. The equal status legislation, which we are still awaiting, would clearly have implications for this Bill and for refugees in general. I would welcome a broad debate, however, as indicated by the Minister, with a convention like the education convention held in Dublin Castle. One could have an intelligent, concerned and caring debate on the issue rather than having the scare stories, racist remarks and narrow debate of the recent past. We should have a broad debate on intercultural relationships, integration and other issues. I hope this comes in the timeframe suggested by the Minister, as this debate is very necessary.

I also welcome the Minister's removal of the word "alien" from the Bill's title, though it is used in the Bill itself. It is a totally unacceptable concept. The Minister defined it yesterday as "elseness", but that is equally unacceptable. It suggests that people who look for refugee status are somehow different from those who live here. We need a proper debate on this issue.

We must provide proper procedures, and this Bill does not seem to do so, particularly for those who are refused asylum at the beginning of the process. There should at least be a right to appeal for every applicant. Those who are sent back under the Dublin Convention do not appear to have a right to appeal, and the Minister should clarify this. If that is the case, it is unfair that those who apply may be sent back inappropriately without that right. They are not getting a fair hearing, and under human rights conventions people are entitled to have their cases dealt with fairly and properly. Aspects of the Bill are very vague in this regard and need to be clarified.

I support Deputy Howlin's statement that this Bill does not deal adequately with the problems of those who come to this country seeking asylum, work or a home. This Bill does not give them the kind of fair and impartial hearing to which they are entitled, and I am therefore deeply dissatisfied with the legislation. The first priority must be implementation of the Refugee Act. If it needs to be amended, as has been indicated, let us amend and implement it quickly by all means, but let us do so before legislation such as this is implemented.

When I saw the Title of this Bill my heart jumped in anticipation. I thought we were beginning to look at the difficulties and delays in the treatment of people coming here, whether as asylum seekers in fear of their lives, having fled from political or physical dangers in their own countries, or skilled people who should be allowed, having regard to freedom of movement, to settle here, apply for work visas, and contribute to creating a multi-cultural society in this country, which is expanding not only financially but also, we hope, geographically.

I also thought the Bill might begin to give to people who have come or who wish to come here what the Irish – as huddled masses of sick, desperate people – sought and later, as our confidence grew, demanded from other countries. We are in a unique position in that no other country has experienced until recently such mass emigration and dispersal of its people, usually in the most appalling conditions. Had the Irish not been given the right to live in other countries, they would have died from poverty and disease. We should have an inbuilt sense of the way our predecessors were received when they went abroad, the discrimination they suffered in most of the countries to which they emigrated. Within living memory in the USA, Australia, and Britain, places of accommodation and work displayed notices like "No Irish Need Apply" and "No Irish or Dogs Allowed".

As legislators in a country with growing confidence and a growing economy, I would like to think that we will never forget that. We owe it to the people seeking asylum to live, work, and contribute here, to show them the respect not shown to the Irish when they went abroad. Ireland above all other countries should have a greater recognition of its obligations to these people. We have been there and we should remember what it was like. It would be an acknowledgement of the terrible experience of our ancestors and relatives. If we forget that when dealing with people seeking solace and security here, who may also be able to work, we will be selling out on our people who went abroad and sent back part of their wages to enable the rest of us to become the nation we are today. It is alarming that we should have forgotten this so quickly.

Emigrants who left in the second half of the 19th century suffered more discrimination and lived in worse conditions than later emigrants. However, things did not get much better and emigrants in the 1980s suffered great insecurities, even in the skilled jobs which our economy was not able to provide at that time. All of us know the fears of our recent illegal emigrants, who worked but could not register for social security, who could not get accommodation under their own names, and who could not get full pay for their work because they could not argue with employers who were exploiting their illegal status and inability to take advantage of employment legislation.

It is therefore all the more unbelievable and depressing that, in the face of the first indication that we might be able to share responsibility with countries who shouldered it in the past because they were better off, we have closed doors, shut gates, deported people or not allowed them to land on the welcome soil of Ireland without allowing them to make a case, get representation and receive a humane, compassionate hearing which should be theirs regardless of their status. The way we have dealt with this matter has been lamentable and embarrassing – I was going to call it "crisis management", which is the usual term, but it is really crisis mismanagement.

I share the disappointment of other Deputies that, in introducing this Bill to close a gap which our courts have made glaringly obvious, time has not been taken to put it into context and into the central position it should occupy. We should not look at it solely from our point of view, in terms of defending our territory and rights – we must put ourselves in the shoes of those coming here, if they have shoes. Let us look at it from their point of view, particularly with regard to our folk memories of the treatment and experiences of the Irish.

We also have a great opportunity to look at the experiences of people who have come here and found us wanting at all levels, and to consider the recommendations of Amnesty International and the Irish Refugee Council. Deputy Noel Ahern depressed everyone who heard him today; he seems to think no one is implicated in this problem and as legislators we have no responsibility to do anything other than answer the needs, problems, fears, and what is sometimes the paranoia of our constituents. However, we must give leadership, we must introduce and abide by legislation which establishes us as a humanitarian country, and we must also remember our pride in signing the European and UN Conventions on Human Rights. We have taken many initiatives in the UN and elsewhere to fight human rights abuses, and have done so loudly where possible. We have gained a reputation for that and our missionaries and lay workers have made a stand for human rights, which in many cases has led to their execution or assassination. This has established the Irish sense of morality and human dignity in countries where human rights are violated. What have we done when citizens of those countries have come here? How do we acknowledge Irish people who fight such abuses in those countries? We do not support or acknowledge them. We must also consider this dimension.

By introducing this legislation as a single measure, and in such a hurried fashion, we increase the danger of further discrimination being heaped on immigrants without affording them any protection. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, and other Members received the practical, but not very demanding, recommendations on the procedures that should be in place before this Bill is enacted. Those recommendations state that we should address existing problems and not deal with this issue in isolation, a deportation order should be introduced in such a manner that a deportation could not be carried out unless all deportees have access to independent legal advice, the removal of an applicant should be carried in a dignified and humane manner, physical force should not be used in the removal of an applicant from the State, there should be ongoing and adequate training of gardaí and other staff involved in the carrying out of these orders, and there should be gender sensitive guidelines at all stages of the procedure, an issue about which the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, other Members and I are concerned. The Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights is examining the area of refugees, particularly the special needs and treatment of women refugees.

The Bill has opened up the debate on this issue and I hope it will be explored at a deeper level, which we have not had the opportunity to do before now. We should use the opportunity afforded by this Bill to examine positive ways to deal with immigrants rather than focus on one negative way to deal with them. Like other Members on this side, I call for a delay in enacting the Bill until the Minister introduces the Bill he promised during his Second Stage speech. He said the Government hopes to be in a position to introduce a short amending Bill before Easter to make the Refugee Act fully operational.

We all welcome the removal of the term "alien", which can be interpreted in many ways, from this legislation. Given the more racist and condemnatory language used in the House about asylum seekers, it appears some people would welcome aliens and UFOs over refugees and find them easier to deal with. It is important the term "alien" has been removed from this legislation because of the manner in which it is perceived and understood.

Above all, we must be concerned about the section which states that the Minister may deport a person whose deportation, in his opinion, would be conducive to the common good because we do not have an interpretation of what is in the common good. What is stated to be in the common good could be expanded or such power could be abused. I am not suggesting this or any future Minister would do that, but we must be careful about the insertion of such a provision in legislation. From countless other legislation that has been introduced here, particularly under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I know it is dangerous to include loose provision or to leave anything to the discretion of a future Minister. What does the phrase "the common good" mean? Does it mean a Minister could say he or she has confidential information which he or she is not allowed to divulge, but on foot of it has the right to deport an applicant. That would be highly dangerous. This provision is diffuse. It would give a Minister great power, but would not give an applicant being deported or his or her representatives any power. Such a provision creates a major gap in legal terms.

We must introduce legislation that complies with EU and UN conventions to provide a central system to cover the humane protection, security and registration of non-nationals. We must then inform others about what such legislation covers and who it protects and provide the necessary resources to implement it. The Irish Refugee Council and other groups deal with refugees who encounter difficulties, because of language and cultural difficulties, in understanding our system. It is a matter of grave concern that such groups cannot employ compatriots of those refugees who live here to act as their interpreters.

Once those people have the right of security and shelter, we deny them the most basic right, the right to work. That does not make sense and the longer this continues to be the position, the fears and paranoia, to which Deputy Ahern referred, will exacerbate and it will be much more difficult to counter them.

This legislation must include the necessary legal supports, the right to redress, representation and interpretation and the right to support and to be among their own people. We rightly share not just a pride in our history, but in the sacrifices others have made to ensure the survival of many of our people who have gone abroad and strengthened our position as a result. We are also proud that as a small member state of the European Union we have a good deal of moral authority within the United Nations. We have to acknowledge and earn the right to that reputation and authority.

Perhaps the Deputy would allow Deputy Daly, who is anxious to contribute, to commence his contribution before 1.30 p.m. and he would be in possession when we resume on this Bill.

I will do that. Our former President, Mary Robinson, who is now the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, said that if we have the right approach and mindset, we will cope with all practical problems in the right spirit and manner. This Bill does not do that and, therefore, we need to introduce legislation to make sure we do.

I compliment Deputy Barnes on her constructive speech, which is in sharp contrast to some of the earlier contributions. This is to be expected from Deputy Barnes who has put forward constructive ideas on other areas, about which she is concerned.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.