Immigration Bill, 1999: Motion

Deputy O'Sullivan wishes to move a motion that the Bill be recommitted in accordance with Standing Order 120.

I move:

"That pursuant to Standing Order 120, the Immigration Bill, 1999, be recommitted to a Committee of the whole Dáil."

Is the motion to recommit the Bill opposed?

As the motion is opposed, I will allow explanatory statements from the Member who moved the motion and the Member who opposed it.

Standing Order 120, which allows the House to recommit a Bill either wholly or in respect of certain amendments, is a rarely used provision. However, it is appropriate on this occasion. Due to the guillotine imposed by the Government, not only was the committee unable to consider all the amendments, but it had to rush through entire sections to ensure that it got through as much of the Bill as possible in the limited time available. During the debate in the committee, Opposition Deputies who tabled amendments had to decide—

There is a longstanding practice in the House that speeches on this motion, whether by the proposer or other speakers, last no longer than five minutes.

Yesterday we had to decide whether to progress through the amendments or deal with the Bill in the detail deserved by such complex legislation on which lives will depend. We decided to progress as quickly as we could because we wanted the Minister's comments on the record, not necessarily because a court would heed them but because much of this legislation will be operated by officials of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and immigration officers and we wanted the Minister's comments taken into account.

However, this is a most unsatisfactory way to deal with legislation as important as this, with serious implications for the human rights of asylum seekers. Organisations concerned with human rights, including Amnesty International, Comhlámh and the UN High Commission for Human Rights, have expressed concern about the implications of certain sections of the Bill, and even yesterday we received submissions in this regard. Every section of and amendment to the Bill deserves careful consideration by the Dáil. If ever a Bill was totally inappropriate for parliamentary guillotine, this is it. It is unacceptable that the Government should seek to deny the committee its right to consider the provisions in detail and effectively reduce its role to that of a rubber stamp for the Department.

The Bill was originally introduced to deal with a High Court judgment which restricted the Minister's right to deport people but the Minister changed its nature by introducing on Committee Stage a 16 page-long amendment to the Refugee Act, 1996. That is the equivalent of an entire Bill and this major amendment to the 1996 Act was not discussed on Second Stage, as it had not been tabled at that time. It is therefore more important than ever that it be properly considered by the Dáil.

The Refugee Act, 1996 was passed by the Rainbow Government. This Minister has now been in office for more than two years and has had plenty of time to introduce amendments, if he so wished. Why has it been left to the last minute and why is it being rushed through in this way? This is no way to conduct the legislative process. Although the Immigration Bill was published on 3 February, the Minister's 16 page amendment to the Refugee Act was only circulated on 24 June. The Dáil must have an opportunity to properly consider legislation before it – the past shows that rushed legislation is often flawed legislation. Our concern about the way in which the Bill was handled during the Committee Stage has been compounded by the decision of the government to allocate less than three hours for consideration of Report Stage. I received the list of Report Stage amendments only two minutes ago and I do not yet know how many there are.

More than 14 months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement this State has yet to fulfil its commitment to introduce legislation to establish the promised human rights commission. That delay and the manner in which the Government has processed this Bill suggests that the human and civil rights of Irish citizens or foreign nationals here do not rank highly on the Government's priority list. I protest most strongly at the way the Bill is being taken. There is time to recommit it and if necessary we could make time to deal with it properly. This is a most unacceptable way to handle a Bill on which human lives could depend.

For the benefit of Members, the Standing Order states that the Member who has moved the motion and the Member opposing it are entitled to make short statements. There is a precedent dating back to 1988 whereby a Member of another large party may be allowed to make a contribution. I will therefore call Deputy Jim Higgins followed by the Minister before we decide the issue.

(Dublin West): What is a large party?

(Carlow-Kilkenny): It has more than one Member.

Deputy Higgins' party is not a large one.

(Mayo): I wholeheartedly support Deputy O'Sullivan's motion to recommit the Bill. The purpose of establishing committees of the House was to have a full and comprehensive debate of all aspects of legislation and to remove once and for all the spectre of the guillotine which has aborted and thwarted debate on major legislative issues over the years, and which invariably was the practice towards the end of a term when legislation was front-loaded and bludgeoned through the House.

This is one of the most sensitive and far reaching human rights Bills to come before the House. When it was published on 13 February we sought an assurance that there would be a full and comprehensive debate. The level of input on Second Stage showed the high level of interest on the part of Deputies representing the public interest in the matter. On 13 April the Bill came before the committee. We were in full flow when we were notified of a major change of Government policy and told an amendment would be introduced which included large tranches of the unenacted portions of the Refugee Act, 1996. We did not have an indication of the Government's intentions until 24 June, when we were presented with a 16 and a half page amendment to introduce a new section 75A, which was effectively a new Bill. We are now expected to give effect to far-reaching legislation which was not debated on Second Stage but parachuted on to us, and which we are expected to allow through virtually without debate and without the opportunity to consult the organisations mentioned by Deputy O'Sullivan or to make our own decisions on the matter.

After 16 hours we have debated some but not all of the amendments and none of the sections of the Bill. On Committee Stage we are supposed to debate not only amendments but the substance of each section, yet we have not had an opportunity to do so. We are now bulldozing through a far-reaching human rights Bill without sufficient dialogue or debate. This is absolutely unacceptable and I therefore wholeheartedly support Deputy O'Sullivan's motion. In the interest of an informed debate and producing satisfactory legislation to meet the requirements of refugees who have not been legislated for until now, and whose human rights have not been met because of inadequate procedures, I ask the Minister to reflect before guillotining the Bill.

The judgment of the High Court in the case of Laurentiu v. Ireland, the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform found that the way in which the Aliens Act, 1935 had conferred on the Minister the power to make secondary legislation dealing with deportation was inconsistent with the 1937 Constitution. The appeal to the Supreme Court in that case was unsuccessful. Thus at present, the State has no power to deport non-nationals whose presence in the State was not or is no longer legal. This Bill provides principles, practices and procedures regarding the power of the Minister to make deportation orders, including, for the first time in Irish law, statutory safeguard procedures for potential deportees. These include notice to the person of the reasons on which a decision is to be based, the right to make representations and a requirement that they be considered before a decision is made.

The Bill also proposes to give the force of an Act of the Oireachtas to Aliens Orders made under the Aliens Act 1935.

On a point of order, it is a normal courtesy to this House that Ministers' speeches are circulated.

We can arrange that. The purpose of this is to safeguard, as far as possible, the legal validity of those Orders in the event of future legal challenge where the arguments which succeeded in the Laurentiu case might equally be applied to other provisions of the Aliens Act, 1935 with potentially serious consequences for the ability of the State to exercise normal immigration controls. This would have potentially serious consequences for the ability of the State to exercise normal immigration controls would expose Irish society to inflows of criminal elements, threaten the safety and good order of society and jeopardise the continued existence of the common travel arrangements between here and the UK. Accordingly, it is absolutely essential that the Bill be enacted before the summer recess.

The Bill is an interim measure intended to maintain the validity of immigration controls and restore a power to deport, both regarded by the High Court and Supreme Court as essential for the protection of society, e.g. Gannon J in Osheku. As already announced, the Minister is in the course of development of a set of legislative proposals for a comprehensive code of immigration and residence law, the aim of which is to replace the Aliens Act, 1935, with a modern law which will provide a framework for the development and implementation of fair and sensible immigration policies better suited to the needs both of the State and of the individuals who may be affected by its operation. Publication is expected early next year.

In addition, the Minister, by way of this Bill, has brought forward a comprehensive and detailed set of amendments on the Refugee Act, 1996, for the purpose of making it workable. That was called for on a number of occasions in the House. Everybody knows the principal features with regard to that, including the fact that we have increased applications and, therefore, we have to make all the important decisions to make it workable.

If the Bill is passed before the summer recess, the work of recruiting a refugee applications commissioner and of putting in place the detailed procedural regulations can start immediately and the Act can be fully operational by the end of this year. If the Bill is not passed now, the Act cannot be in effect until well into 2000. For all these reasons, the motion for recommittal is opposed.

I wondered about the points made by the Opposition yesterday but it is important to reiterate what the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, said on the Order of Business. Sixteen hours have been spent on Committee Stage. There were 120 amendments and when we finished at 9 o'clock last night only five amendments remained to be dealt with. The Bill has had a detailed hearing and it is essential that it be enacted before the summer recess because the State currently has no power to deport non-nationals whose presence in the State is no longer required.

Question put.

Ahearn, Theresa.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Ferris, Michael.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.

McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.

de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.

Níl–continued

Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.

O'Dea, Willie.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Wall; Níl, Deputies S.Brennan and Power.
Question declared lost.
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