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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 May 2001

Vol. 536 No. 5

Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete lines 10 and 11.

We had a long debate on Committee Stage on this radical Bill which seeks to delimit in a serious way the rights of Irish citizens and of their spouses to become Irish citizens in future and to give an exclusive right to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make determinations at his absolute discretion on matters that, until now, were matters of right. As I indicated throughout Committee Stage, I am implacably opposed to this shift because I do not see any justification for it and, as we did not hear any justification for it in all the hours of debate we have had on Committee Stage, I intend to oppose the measure again on Report Stage.

I tabled amendment No. 1 to delete in the definition section the reference to the Act of 1956. The purpose of the amendment in so doing is to retain the existing scheme for handling these matters which was set out in the 1956 Act, that is, the right of spouses of citizens to become Irish citizens once a simple set of procedures is complied with. We will deal with the meat of these subjects in subsequent amendments. I begin as I intend to continue, by fighting this proposal line by line and as best I can. I begin by seeking to have the definition section amended so that exist ing provisions outlined in the 1956 Act which have served the country well and have given certainty to Irish citizens where their marriages and the rights of their spouses are concerned are retained for the future.

This double blow at rights, one aimed at Irish citizens and relating to their right to ensure that their spouses or future spouses can have the precious gift of Irish citizenship given as of right, the other aimed at the future spouses of Irish citizens who will marry those citizens with a new cloud of uncertainty hanging over their future status, is wrong. I have not heard any clear, cogent or convincing reason from the Minister at any stage in the debate on either Second or Committee Stages to justify this draconian change in basic laws and rights. This first amendment is to ensure the status quo which has served the country reasonably well is maintained since there is not any clear or reasonable explanation for what the Minister proposes to do in this measure.

I support Deputy Howlin in this. On Committee Stage, he on behalf of the Labour Party and I on behalf of the Fine Gael Party made the same case regarding this area. As matters stand, an Irish citizen married to a non-national can, after a period, automatically confer citizenship on the non-national to whom he or she is married. There is no difficulty with it and no issue has given rise to a need to change legislation which will affect thousands of Irish citizens who marry non-nationals and which will affect the position of non-nationals in particular.

The Minister has sought to replace a straightforward and workable provision which has been part of law since 1956 and which was modified in 1986 with an elaborate discretionary provision, which, as Deputy Howlin said, we will come to later in section 5, in which the Minister proposes that both he and all future Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will have an absolute and wide discretion to determine whether a person's spouse should acquire Irish citizenship. A series of factors is listed in section 5 which even if all – even some of the more ludicrous – were complied with, the Minister may still refuse Irish citizenship to a citizen's husband or wife.

What the Minister is proposing is objectionable. I have failed to hear the Minister give any reason worthy of support for this radical change in our legislative provision. I am concerned – and the Minister may clarify the up to date position – at the incapacity of the Department, as administered by the Minister, to make decisions on citizenship issues. As matters stand, if a husband marries a non-national his wife can automatically acquire Irish citizenship and vice versa. The Bill proposes that every application be given exhaustive examination and even investigations of the character of the person concerned will be required.

When this section was discussed on Committee Stage the Minister confirmed statistics which showed that several thousand people had been awaiting decisions on citizenship rights for between two and five years. These were people who sought Irish citizenship, not on the basis of marriage but of other criteria prescribed in the Act. Will the Minister tell us how many applicants for Irish citizenship are awaiting decisions on their applications from his Department, how many such applicants have been waiting for more than two years and how many have been waiting for more than four years? The Minister might then clarify how he proposes to implement in reasonable time the new complex provisions which form the centrepiece of this Bill.

I support Deputies Howlin and Shatter. I am concerned that the rights of people who marry Irish citizens which are bestowed by the 1956 Act are being weakened by this legislation. The 1956 Act states that a non-national can become a citizen as of right if he or she is living with a spouse and the marriage is subsisting after at least three years. It is wrong that we are weakening this right which has stood for a considerable length of time and that we are doing so in legislation which is not designed to address this issue. We are using this legislation to reduce the rights of people who are married to Irish citizens. Many people are concerned about this. I hope the Minister will accept the arguments which are being made now and which were made on Committee Stage and abandon his intention to limit these rights.

Statute law on nationality and citizenship in Ireland is out of kilter with the Constitution in a number of important respects. This has been the position since 2 December 1999 when the new Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution came into effect by the will of the people. The principal aim of this Bill is to remedy that.

I have made every possible effort to deal with the inquiries and requests put before me on Committee Stage as expeditiously as possible and as consistently as possible with the need to debate fully the issues which arise. The amendments before us have already been dealt with in detail and I hope it is not necessary to discuss them in such detail again. However, if Members wish to do so that is their prerogative.

There are problems which must be addressed. There are clear abuses of the present process which must be remedied. I have also outlined the need for an amendment to previous legislation dealing with immigration and citizenship law. After the 1956 Act was enacted there was a great deal of concern. Until 1986 when the new law was enacted by way of amendment to the 1956 Act, there was reference only to women in the legislation. Male spouses were not referred to in the 1956 legislation, or at least they were not dealt with in a reasonable fashion. It was as if they did not exist. In the same way the three year moratorium has proved to be unworkable and techni cally flawed. We have come a long way since then. The purpose of this legislation is not to limit the right of Irish citizenship but to put Irish citizenship law on a modern footing.

There is no proposal before the House to remove the reference to the Act of 1956 that appears in page 4, line 1 of the Bill. The reference I have mentioned is the core provision of the Bill, section 3, which replaces sections 6 and 7 of the 1956 Act with new provisions which give effect to our obligations on citizen matters under the Good Friday Agreement and bring statute law into line with the new Article 2 of the Constitution. There are many other references to the Act of 1956 throughout the Bill which remain unaffected by any of the amendments before the House.

It is essential that the definition remain in section 1. I ask the Deputies to withdraw the amendment and I remind them that the discussion they have embarked on would be more appropriate when we consider section 3 – and the proposed amendments thereto – which replaces sections 6 and 7 of the Act of 1956. I see no point in engaging in an argument on this matter now. While it would be appropriate later on, I am also mindful of the fact that we have had full and complete discussions of these matters on Committee Stage.

As we will deal with the meat of these issues in later amendments and as the Minister is so reluctant to debate them that he has forced a truncated debate, I will not delay the House on this matter. I will engage with the Minister with regard to his draconian and improper proposals in other parts of the Bill. I withdraw the amendment to allow us a modest amount of time to deal with issues of substance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 16 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"4.–A person is an Irish citizen if adopted outside the State, whether or not such adoption is recognised pursuant to the Adoption Act, 1991, where the adopter or one of the adopters is at the date of the adoption an Irish citizen and where the adoption was effected in accordance with the laws of the State concerned.".

This amendment proposes to insert a new subsection 4 into the Bill. In circumstances where an adoption order is made which is recognised in this State, the effect of that recognition, where the adopting couple are Irish citizens, is to confer Irish citizenship on the child. This provision is designed to deal with the situation which arises occasionally in which an Irish citizen adopts a child outside the State in circumstances where the adoption is not recognised in this State. A small number of doctors find themselves in this position. They find themselves in circumstances in which they cannot obtain a passport to travel for the child adopted by them. Their child, although brought up in this country by them, is not an Irish citizen and does not acquire Irish citizenship, although such a child may seek Irish citizenship when it attains adulthood on his or her own application, in his or her own right. A small number fall within this category in circumstances where they properly adopt according to the law of the foreign state and come back to live in this state. In circumstances in which the parents are Irish citizens, the proposal is that the child they adopt should automatically become an Irish citizen.

The amendment in my name and that of Deputy O'Sullivan is an alternative to deal with an issue known in shorthand as the Cascarino issue. We debated it at some length on Committee Stage and I had hoped to see a Government amendment to deal with some aspects of it. Deputy Shatter outlined his proposal. I argued and debated the proposal I have resubmitted in amendment No. 7 dealing with Irish citizenship by descent for a person adopted outside the State before 1991.

Up to 1952, Ireland had no adoption law and despite the tens of thousands involved in adoption, these informal arrangements had no legal status. Adoptees were left in a legal limbo. When the Adoption Bill was enacted in 1952 it did not formalise the recognition of foreign adoptions. It was not until 1991 that the Oireachtas passed legislation setting out rules for the recognition of such adoptions. As the Minister acknowledged, however, the Act was not retrospective. While it is difficult for those of us on this side of the House to frame legislative measures that might perfectly match the requirements of the situation, it is certainly within the ability of the Government to do so.

On the last occasion, the Minister said that this issue was more appropriate to the Department of Health and Children and that his colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, would bring forward amendments to the adoption laws to deal with the matter. I would like some clarification as to where stand the proposals of the Department of Health and Children on the matter.

In the matter of citizenship, the rightful purview of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, should we not clarify in this legislation the issue of the right of those foreign adoptions made prior to 1991 to be regularised? The issue should not be long-fingered for another Minister on another day and by another vehicle. Is it not right and proper for us to address it here and now? Has the Minister given any consideration to this or is it simply a matter of getting a note from an official that says, "This is more proper to the Department of Health and Children, therefore I have no responsibility in the matter"? The issue of citizenship is the Minister's responsibility. Even if it is not to be a permanent section, would it not be appropriate to insert a section that addresses the matter, one that can be superseded by a future enactment from a different Department if that day ever arrives?

In his reply, I hope the Minister will not simply tell us this matter is not proper to the legislation. The intent of Deputy Shatter's amendment and the amendment in my name and that of Deputy O'Sullivan should be addressed by the Minister in some way. I am sorry there is no proposal by way of a Government amendment to address the matter.

The Minister has had considerable time between Committee and Report Stages in which to have discussions with the Minister for Health and Children or any other relevant Ministers. We should receive an answer from him today as to what is to be done about these potential citizens adopted before the 1991 Act under foreign adoption procedures. Whether it affects prominent football players, it affects a number of individuals who have rights in this matter. They have a right to have their situation clarified. If the Minister does not consider that it is a matter for his Department, he should at least tell us exactly how it will be dealt with.

These amendments are opposed, as they were when discussed at some length on Committee Stage. To the extent that Deputy Shatter's proposed amendment deals with the citizenship situation of those whose adoptions are recognised under Irish law, the new section would be superfluous because it states what is already the statutory position. Adoptions undertaken abroad are recognised in Ireland pursuant to the provisions of the Adoption Act, 1991, as amended by the Adoption (Amendment) Act, 1998. The effect of the 1991 Act is that a foreign adoption which meets the criteria set out in the Act is regarded in Irish law as if it were an adoption order made under the Adoption Acts.

As far as the citizenship of a person adopted by an Irish citizen is concerned, section 11 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, states that the adopted person is an Irish citizen from the date of the adoption. The question of naturalising a person who is already an Irish citizen, as envisaged in paragraph (b) of the Deputy's proposal, simply does not arise.

Deputy Shatter, the promoter of the Bill for the 1991 Act, knows quite well that by setting out criteria for the recognition of foreign adoptions, the Act in effect defines also a class of foreign adoptions which are not recognised under Irish law. No doubt there were very good policy reasons the 1991 Act drew a distinction between the two classes of adoption. What the Deputy is in effect proposing is that we should ignore those policy reasons and bring forward a form of partial recognition for citizenship purposes. To the extent that the Deputy's amendment relates to adoptions not recognised under Irish law, that is, adoptions which do not meet the criteria set out in the 1991 Act, as amended, it is inappropriate and unacceptable. If an adoption does not come within these criteria, it does not make good law to extend Irish citizenship to such a person.

I can readily appreciate that there are circumstances where Irish parents have undergone an adoption process in the country of origin of the child but that process has not resulted in an adoption which meets the criteria we have laid down in statute for recognition under Irish law – most frequently, I understand, because adoption in the countries in question maintains links of guardianship and certain residual rights in the natural parents. Irish adoption law is predicated on there being a complete severing of the legal links between the child and the natural parents and the forging of new legal links of an equal nature between the child and its adoptive parents. The 1991 legislation, as amended, takes this as the cornerstone of the recognition of foreign adoptions and in so doing has broadened considerably on the rather restrictive view, based among other matters on the test of domicile, taken by the courts up to that point.

I acknowledge the real problems faced by adoptive parents in these special circumstances and their concerns for the rights of their adopted children. However, I must be conscious of the fact that in law the natural parents of such children continue to have an entitlement to be heard and have a say in the future of their children. The issue that needs to be addressed in relation to these children is not the piecemeal question of citizenship in isolation but the whole package of rights and relationships which Irish law should or should not recognise as existing between such adoptive children and their natural parents, the children and their adoptive parents, and between the natural and adoptive parents.

My colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, is undertaking a review of the law on the recognition of foreign adoptions with such considerations in mind. The review is in the context of the preparation of the legislation necessary to ratify the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption. That, I strongly urge, is the proper context in which to address the issue, not just of the citizenship of the children concerned but also of all the other rights which are in question.

They will stay in limbo.

I am aware that the citizenship legislation of certain countries throughout the world abhors the notion of dual citizenship, to the extent that the acquisition of citizenship of another country may act to deprive a person of his or her citizenship of origin. The Deputy's amendment would mean that our law would impose Irish citizenship on a child who, by virtue of the nature of the particular adoption, maintains legal links with his or her natural parents and citizenship of the country of origin. Such a law might conflict with the rights under our Constitution of the child and its natural parents, primarily by changing the citizenship of the child without reference to the natural parents' guardianship rights and, possibly also, depending on the approach to dual citizenship of the country of origin, by depriving the child of its citizenship of origin without regard to the wishes of its natural parents.

I turn to the amendment in the names of Deputies Howlin and O'Sullivan. Their intention is to address the question of Irish citizenship by descent to the person adopted outside the State before 1991. The effect of the Adoption Act, 1991, in tandem with the citizenship Act, is that once the adoption comes within the criteria of the 1991 Act, as amended in 1998, and at least one of the adopters is himself or herself an Irish citizen, the adopted child becomes an Irish citizen.

Citizenship by descent through an adoptive link operates in an analogous fashion to citizenship through natural links. If a non-national child is adopted by an Irish adoptive parent, he or she is an Irish citizen from the date of the adoption and this applies whether the adoption is conducted under Irish law or as a foreign adoption which meets the criteria of the Adoption Act, 1991. If a person so adopted goes on to have a child of his or her own abroad, the child is, in turn, an Irish citizen because the parent was an Irish citizen at the time of the child's birth.

I recognise there is a class of persons whose citizenship dates not from the date of the adoption, but from the date of the commencement of the Adoption Act, 1991, 30 May 1991. They are persons adopted by an Irish parent by means of a foreign adoption order before that date with the exclusion of those cases where the Irish parent was domiciled in the jurisdiction where the adoption was made. For a person in that class who gave birth outside Ireland before that date the child is not an Irish citizen and does not acquire citizenship by reason of the parent's later acquisition of Irish citizenship.

This is a reasonable and consistent way for the law to operate, though it is always open to a person born in these circumstances to apply for naturalisation and the Deputies' amendment envisages this possibility. However, the thrust of the amendment is to give a certificate of naturalisation granted in these circumstances retrospective effect to the birth of the child. As I stated on Committee Stage, this would be unacceptable in principle and could have unexpected side effects, giving rise to uncertainty. I presented Deputies with certain scenarios to illustrate my concerns and while they treated them with some amusement on that occasion, this perhaps reflects their lack of appreciation of the matter but does not undermine the validity and seriousness of my concerns.

Do not give them to us again.

I remind Deputies that in no other circumstances is the grant of naturalisation retrospective.

Are we back to the appalling vista?

The Minister never explained it on Committee Stage.

We adjourned as he was about to unleash the appalling vista on us.

Apart from that, the Deputies' amendment confines itself to circumstances where the adopters are ordinarily resident in the State on the date of the adoption. The scope of the recognition afforded by the Adoption Act, 1991, as amended, goes well beyond that limited circumstance. It covers adoptions effective in the place of domicile of the adopters, in the place where they were habitually resident, in the place where they were ordinarily resident and in a place other than where they had domicile or residence.

The 1991 Act also encompasses certain adoptions made before and after its commencement. I reiterate my assertion that the proper context in which to modify the law on adoption, including the law as it affects the citizenship of adopted persons, is in the context of the amendments of the Adoption Acts, on which my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, is working. If there are sound policy reasons for changing the criteria on the recognition of foreign adoptions – I hold no view one way or the other on the issue – my Government colleague will take them into account in devising his legislative proposals.

With regard to the measures agreed by the Cabinet, about which Deputy Howlin asked, the adoption laws concerned relate to information, not the broader issue of adoption per se. In addition, the legislation discussed did not relate to the Hague Convention on foreign adoptions, which is a different matter. The legislation referred to on the Order of Business, as the Taoiseach said, relates to the question of information.

Will it receive priority over this legislation?

Legislation was discussed, as the Taoiseach indicated on the Order of Business, and agreed by the Government.

The Hague Convention and the broader issue of adoption are being considered by the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister of State with responsibility for children and I have absolutely no doubt we will see their proposals in due course. While the amendments have merit, they are not appropriate to this legislation, which deals with citizenship.

The Minister's response was profoundly depressing but symptomatic of the capacity of the Government to address issues relating to adoption. The Government will celebrate four years in office in approximately four weeks and has utterly failed to bring before the House any reforming measure required in the area of adoption. This legislation is an example of that failure. The only legislation enacted by it was the Adoption (Amendment) Act, 1998, which was drafted by the previous Government.

The amendments were discussed on Wednesday, 1 November 2000 by the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. The Minister stated:

We must also consider the rights and relationships between the children and their adoptive parents and between the natural and adoptive parents. There is, therefore, a whole package of rights and relationships, none of which can be considered in isolation, because it would be wrong to do so. My colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, is undertaking a review of the law on the recognition of foreign adoptions with such considerations in mind. The review is in the context of the preparation of legislation necessary to ratify the Hague convention on inter-country adoption.

He has managed some seven months later to confirm to the House that not only is nothing happening in Government, but he is still using the same text. The speech could not even be rewritten and updated. The Law Reform Commission produced a report in 1996 dealing with the Hague Convention on the recognition of foreign adoptions and the legislation required to implement it.

The Bill was referred to a select committee following Second Stage and the members of the committee took their job seriously as they spent three days teasing out amendments, yet the Minister has blissfully-—

The Chair must intervene at this stage to clarify whether the Deputy is replying. If the Deputy goes over two minutes, he is replying and no other speaker can contribute. If the Deputy is not, he should resume his seat as he will have a further opportunity to reply.

I did not realise that, Sir. It is not my intention to exclude Deputy Howlin.

I refer to the conduct of business in the House and the attitude towards it of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in particular. I fear that Department, above all others, is guilty of taking the House for granted in the way legislation is dealt with all the time. Significant amendments to a series of Bills have been thrown at us at the last minute. It is symptomatic of the way in which we are dealt with that a recycled speech from seven months ago is used again to reply to the same points. We hoped the Minister would have given some genuine consideration to these serious points.

I listed the Cascarino case, in which a set of circumstances exists. In the circumstances he could not claim Irish citizenship by descent as his mother had been adopted by Irish citizens outside the State and there were no rules in force at the time for the recognition of that adoption. Since 1991 we have had rules but they cannot be retrospectively applied to entitle the claimant to citizenship dating from the date of his or her birth.

Deputy O'Sullivan and I suggested an amendment to enable a person who cannot claim citizenship by descent only because foreign adoption was not recognised to become a citizen through naturalisation. It is appropriate to this legislation and affects a particular category. There was no serious effort to address the issue by the Minister in his long, rambling, recycled reply. Such a reaction from the Minister and the Government is not good enough. If the work of Opposition Deputies in trying to come to terms with their responsibilities in this serious matter, which the Minister has lauded, certainly in private, is recognised as worthy of response, it is worthy of serious and considered response after a period of time. It is appalling that the Minister treats us in this cavalier way.

As my colleague, Deputy Howlin, said, this matter is relevant to the Bill and he outlined very specific circumstances in a particular case. The patterns of emigration of Irish people over decades, in particular the 1950s and 1960s when large numbers emigrated, are such that there is likely to be a number of such people in limbo. I put it to the Minister that the adoption legislation in relation to ratification of the Hague Convention is now likely to be put on the long finger in view of the fact that priority is being given to the contact register, the heads of which Bill were agreed today by Cabinet. The pattern by which these matters are dealt with is such that that legislation is likely to pass through both Houses of the Oireachtas before the other legislation is even dealt with. I am aware from contacts I have had that there are a number of contentious issues which need to be dealt with under the Hague Convention, particularly in relation to countries in which Irish couples are adopting which do not seem to be interested in ratifying the convention. A number of major issues will have to be dealt with under that legislation and it is unlikely that the Department of Health and Children will deal with it in the lifetime of the Government. The Minister has an opportunity to deal with what is, in a sense, a narrow issue dealing with a specific category of person under this legislation but he is refusing to do so. He is hand ing it over to a different Department. I support Deputy Howlin in relation to this matter. The legislation to which the Minister referred on ratification of the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption is unlikely to be dealt with by the Government and he has the opportunity to deal with this specific issue under this legislation.

As I outlined, the difficulty with the amendment put forward is that I am being asked to superimpose a situation retrospectively on those who may not wish to have the position imposed on them.

Inflict Irish citizenship on them, is that what the Minister is suggesting?

The parents of the child concerned, irrespective of whether they are Irish citizens, should have their feelings taken into account and the fact that they found themselves in a given situation when the child was adopted should not be altered unilaterally in the way proposed. That is perfectly reasonable.

Where is the Minister's proposal?

It is not a narrow issue. It is a very wide issue. There are various rights involved.

Where is the Minister's proposal?

I outlined those rights.

It would be very easy for me to read out large tracts from committee reports to the House and say that Opposition Deputies were engaged in recycling speeches but I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so.

We deserve a response to issues raised.

I would never be so naive, however, as to say that Opposition Deputies take their work seriously at all times. I would be reasonable enough to say, in public or private, that many times they do take their work seriously but there is another side to the same coin.

The position is as I outlined it. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, is still dealing with the review seven months later. This is a most complex area and the fact that the information question is being dealt with does not mean that the wider issue is being ignored. That is patently not the case and my understanding is that work on the review is continuing apace. If what I said today replicates what I said seven months ago, it is because the review is ongoing but I understand the review has made considerable progress since I made the initial statement seven months ago.

I have outlined my position as best I can in the short time available to me. I have been blamed for many things since becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but this is the first time I have been blamed by the Opposition for not being the Minister for Health and Children.

Having pointed out that the Minister is saying exactly what he said seven months ago, the review about which he is talking, which allegedly has made such wonderful progress, is the same review Deputy Cowen was conducting for two years before he was relieved from his post in the Department of Health and Children. As normally happens when someone proves to be incompetent, he was promoted to the Foreign Affairs brief. The Minister, Deputy Martin, has, therefore, been reviewing Deputy Cowen's review. Effectively, a committee which dealt with this issue seven months ago has been ignored entirely by the Minister.

The amendment I proposed was designed, as Deputy Howlin put it, to cover the Cascarino anomaly, as we euphemistically referred to it because our debate on the Bill coincided with the publication of Mr. Cascarino's book on his experiences as an Irish international. The amendment has a serious intent, however, in that it seeks to rectify the citizenship of a number of individuals. It seeks to deal with the anomaly I pointed out where an Irish couple of Irish citizenship adopt, according to the law of a foreign country, a child whose adoption is not recognised in this State and seeks to ensure the child they adopt automatically acquires Irish citizenship. What happens currently is that if the child has lived in Ireland up to the age of 18 years, he or she will normally apply for citizenship and the Minister of the day will normally grant it. There is no complexity about the matter. There is no reason for withholding citizenship and the issue is not as complex as the Minister pretends.

It was my hope, as I believe it was Deputy Howlin's, that having heard the debate on the issue on Committee Stage we would have before us a Government sponsored amendment to ensure it was properly addressed. I am disappointed it was not dealt with by Government amendment.

The Minister referred to the Adoption Act, 1991. I am proud of the fact that I steered that Private Members' Bill through the House. Over 1,000 foreign adoptions that would not otherwise have been recognised have been recognised and the children of those adoptions have acquired Irish citizenship but the political reality is that the Bill did not address every issue I would have liked it to address because certain compromises had to be made to ensure the then Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government did not vote it down. The Bill did not cross every "t" and dot every "i". This is one of the areas that remains to be addressed. It has not been addressed and I am disappointed that the Minister is now opposing what is a simple and straightforward amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, to delete line 22.

This amendment proposes to delete section 4(1) which states that section 8 of the Act of 1956 is hereby repealed. The import of the amendment, therefore, would be to forestall the deletion of section 8 of the Act of 1956 which was inserted by section 3 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986, and provides that an alien – that lovely word was in use at that stage – who marries an Irish national can become a citizen as of right. If he or she is living with a spouse and the marriage is still subsisting after at least three years, a declaration and an affidavit must be lodged. The alien spouse becomes a citizen as and from the lodging of the declaration, a simple, straightforward, humane procedure. This process is distinct from naturalisation. Consequently, once a person becomes a citizen by marriage and post-marriage declaration, this right cannot be subsequently taken from him or her.

This section repeals the vested right of the spouse of an Irish citizen to become a citizen. This is a critical matter for the Labour Party. The Bill and the Minister propose to remove an existing right, established in the 1986 Act, by way of amendment to the 1956 Act, and replace it with the Minister's absolute discretion which can only be exercised if certain restrictive criteria, discussed at length on Committee Stage, are established. We will deal with the criteria in subsequent amendments but issues such as good character and so on must be complied with. However, complying with this long list of criteria is not good enough as the matter then falls to the absolute discretion of the Minister. These listed criteria are not to be found in existing law. The grant of citizenship is to be by way of naturalisation and, therefore, can be revoked by the Minister. As I stated on Committee Stage, this proposal is an attack, not only on the rights of non-nationals, but also on the rights of Irish citizens who choose of volition to marry non-nationals.

On Committee Stage, the Minister presented this matter in his usual way as a measure to combat what he categorised as bogus marriages. This is a clear example of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Fundamental rights of Irish citizens and spouses of Irish citizens are being dismantled by a Minister under the guise of attacking some illegality. On Committee Stage we pressed the Minister for concrete data rather than anecdotes about taxi drivers coming from the North – dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean eile – that there was a thriving market in bogus marriages and that people were coming down to abuse naturalisation and citizenship legislation. We have heard no good reasons for this substantive attack on the rights of Irish citizens to choose to marry whoever they wish and on the surety that the spouses of Irish citizens will, as of right, once the criteria laid down by the 1986 amendment to the 1956 Act are complied with, also obtain Irish citizenship. No compelling reason for these changes was ever given. This proposal is false, based on a false premise and a traditional draconian measure coming from people who have a blinkered view of a changing Ireland.

I ask the Minister to accept the amendment and reverse engines regarding this matter. He should do so or, once and for all, give us a compelling reason to justify this assault on the rights of citizens.

This amendment is important to the Labour Party. The Bill proposes a fundamental change in human rights for a category of persons, namely, non-national spouses of Irish citizens and Irish citizens who have chosen, and who have the right to choose, whoever they wish to marry. If an Irish citizen chooses to marry a non-national, and the marriage has lasted for three years and they are living together for three years as husband and wife, the non-national has, under current legislation, the right to become an Irish citizen without seeking the permission of the Minister or fulfilling any criteria regarding age or being of good character. This right exists under the 1956 Act, as amended by the 1986 Act. The Bill is not designed to deal with this issue but is being used to water down the rights of citizens. The Minister is seeking to withdraw this right from Irish citizens who choose to marry non-nationals and from non-nationals who marry Irish citizens.

The Minister has used anecdotes and references to certain practices not backed up by any kind of official figures to remove this right which exists under legislation. The Labour Party fundamentally disagrees with its removal. The Minister has not produced any evidence which suggests that we should change our minds in this regard. It is not right to remove such a provision without offering substantial reasons for doing so. The Minister has not produced any such reasons.

The amendment is central in terms of our view of how rights should be drafted in this jurisdiction and that the change proposed by the Bill should not be introduced. This change will reduce rights which currently exist. The change also fundamentally questions a couple's decision to get married and the institution of marriage into which they have decided to enter. The Bill questions their intentions in this regard. This is a serious matter to insert in legislation on the basis of anecdotal evidence that people may be abusing the system.

Current legislation stipulates a three year period which is a safeguard against the Minister's suggestion that there may be bogus marriages.

It would take another three years for the Minister to get around to granting the certificate.

I support Deputy Howlin's comments. This is an important amendment and, even at this late stage, I hope the Minister will listen to the Opposition's reasoned arguments.

I support the amendment which proposes to delete the Minister's proposal and preserve the current provisions in the 1986 Act. The Minister has failed to give any reasonable explanation as to the reason a law which has been in force for 14 or 15 years requires change. In the absence of substantial reasons, it is my view, and that of Fine Gael, that this law should not change. Under the 1986 Act, if an Irish citizen marries a non-Irish citizen, and if they have been living together for three years, the non-Irish citizen can automatically acquire Irish citizenship by lodging a declaration. There is no reason to change the law in this regard.

At the start of the debate I asked the Minister how his Department would administer the change he is proposing. Instead of the lodging of a simple declaration and, thereby, the obtaining of citizenship, this change will require an elaborate investigation of each applicant by the Department. From statistics supplied by the Minister on Committee Stage, we are aware that, as at 17 October 2000, there were 1,882 applicants for Irish citizenship in the context of naturalisation waiting to be dealt with. At that time there were 700 postnuptial declarations by husbands or wives married to Irish citizens in which they acquired Irish citizenship. However, the declarations required the issuing of certificates of citizenship by the Department. This is an administrative exercise carried out under the 1986 Act. However, the Department had a backlog of 700 applications with which it had to deal, when all it had to do was to rubber-stamp documentation it received.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party are opposed to the change the Minister is proposing. At the beginning of Report Stage I asked him to provide an update on these statistics. His doing so will indicate, if we introduce the change he is proposing and which Fine Gael and the Labour Party oppose, the capacity of his Department to administer a new system. The system the Minister proposes will require that a couple not only reside together for three years but that a series of other criteria be dealt with. Instead of allowing a non-citizen spouse acquire Irish citizenship shortly after three years from the date of marriage, it will take five to six years.

Will the Minister tell the House how many applications for citizenship are outstanding in his Department, how many are awaiting decision for two years and how many are awaiting decision for more than two years? Will he also indicate what changes are being introduced in the Department to implement this system should this legislation be passed in its current form? In the absence of convincing arguments from him, Fine Gael will oppose the Minister's proposal and support the Labour Party in the vote.

The amendment is opposed. It seeks to remove the substance of section 4, subsection (1) of which repeals section 8 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, as inserted by section 3 of the 1986 Act, which provides for declarations of citizenship by non-national spouses of Irish citizens – post-nuptial citizenship.

At subsection (2), provision is made for a transitional period of three years for those who married Irish citizens before the commencement of the section, but for whom the three year minimum period of marriage before which a declaration cannot be made had not yet expired. The post-nuptial citizenship provisions are being replaced by a new scheme of naturalisation for spouses of Irish citizens, provided for at section 5.

Under section 8 of the 1956 Act, the non-national spouse of an Irish citizen, other than a naturalised Irish citizen, may make a declaration accepting Irish citizenship as post-nuptial citizenship after three years from the date of the marriage or, where later, the date on which his or her spouse became an Irish citizen. There are conditions to be met: the marriage must be subsisting at the date of lodgement of the declaration and the couple must be living together as husband and wife. The Irish spouse must provide an affidavit to that effect at the time the declaration is lodged.

This provision, inserted in the 1956 Act by the amending Act of 1986, replaced the original provision under which only the wife of an Irish citizen could make such a declaration. She became a citizen from the date of her marriage. The declaration is of acceptance of Irish citizenship. Unlike the provisions relating to naturalisation, there is no requirement of residence, good character or a declaration of fidelity and loyalty to the State. Subject to the person satisfying the necessary conditions, he or she becomes a citizen from the date of lodgement of his or her declaration. A declaration may be lodged directly to the Minister or with any Irish diplomatic mission or consular office.

It has been the experience of both my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs that a variety of fraudulent schemes have been organised to exploit loopholes in this provision with the intention of securing an Irish passport. On Committee Stage I went into considerable detail to outline the nature of these concerns. I adverted to the growing number of cases in hand in my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs where abuse of the post-nuptial declaration system is suspected—

How many currently?

—and where the declarant and spouse have been asked for further information but no response is forthcoming. Cases are left hanging because, in all probability, the declarant is aware that he or she has been caught out. I gave examples of Irish spouses of non-nationals who have made the required statutory declaration but written to both Departments pleading that the non-national's citizenship not be recognised because of violence or bullying. I gave examples of serial spouses, where an Irish person has through a succession of marriages and divorces been instrumental in the obtaining of post-nuptial declarations for several spouses—

How many cases?

—and each declaration is of unimpeachable validity. I also referred to grave concerns about the undesirable character of some of those who, by marrying Irish citizens and making the declaration after three years, perforce became Irish citizens. Among them were people with terrorist, sex crime and drug offence records.

An Irish passport is a most valued possession. It gives open access to the territory of the European Union and its employment markets. The fact that declarations can be made by spouses who have never set foot in Ireland and who may never do so makes the process of validating such declarations within my Department or the Department of Foreign Affairs extremely difficult. This is hardly a satisfactory basis for the acquisition of Irish citizenship, particularly when these real abuses are taking place.

The termination of the scheme of post-nuptial citizenship means, effectively, that non-national spouses of Irish citizens habitually resident outside the island of Ireland will, after the transitional three year period provided for in subsection (2) of this section, no longer be in a position to obtain citizenship based on their marriage alone. However, new section 15A in the 1956 Act, being inserted by section 5 of the Bill, which provides for a special scheme for the naturalisation of spouses of Irish nationals, contains at subsection (2) a provision whereby the Minister may waive certain of the conditions for naturalisation of spouses. The conditions which can be waived include the residence requirements on the island of Ireland at subsection (1)(f2>f) and (f2>g) of that section, where the applicant would suffer serious consequences in respect of his or her bodily integrity or liberty if not granted Irish citizenship.

I made clear on Committee Stage that this new provision does not supplant the existing arrangements set out in section 15 of the Act of 1956, as inserted by the Act of 1986. Those arrangements still stand. The Bill sets up in parallel a variation of those arrangements, available to the spouses of Irish citizens who are married for at least three years and still living with their Irish partners, which offers a discount on the normal residence requirements but which is otherwise subject to largely the same conditions as the existing scheme. If a person, for whatever reason, does not qualify for the discount, there remains the option to have the application for naturalisation considered under the existing scheme, including the scope for waiving some of the conditions for naturalisation built into the existing scheme.

In short, the fact that the discounted period of residence under the new scheme does not apply to an applicant for naturalisation should not be taken to mean that the applicant is not eligible for naturalisation. It only means that the conditions of the existing scheme at section 15 of the Act apply, together with any waivers that may be appropriate under section 16 of the Act.

I consider sections 4 and 5 of the Bill, taken together, to be a reasonable and well balanced approach which takes into account the position in the European Union and other states. The balance achieved is between the desirability of having a means for non-national spouses to become Irish citizens on the one hand and the protection of the interests of Irish society by reducing the scope for abuses of our citizenship on the other. The conditions attaching to this special scheme of naturalisation are not in any sense unreasonable and would be regarded in many states as basic requirements for the granting of citizenship.

Deputy Shatter asked about the number of applications for naturalisation. Last year, 1,004 applications for naturalisation were received, an increase of 36% on the 1999 figure of 739 and an increase of 190% on the 1996 figure of 347. The number of applicants for post-nuptial citizenship has remained constant in the past two years at about 420 each year. However, this represents an increase of 64% on the figure for 1996, which was 256. My Department is also responsible for finalising approximately 600 applications for post-nuptial citizenship from persons resident outside the State.

I accept there are and were unacceptable delays. Sometimes these delays can be due to incorrectly or incompletely filled forms. Over 80% of applications fall into this category. This generates vast amounts of correspondence which requires resources that might otherwise be involved in finalising correct applications.

We have allocated additional resources and staff to the immigration and citizenship division of the Department as part of the overall resource package underpinning the Government's immigration and asylum strategy. While it is true that most of the staff have been allocated to the asylum issue, it is the intention to try to reduce the waiting lists for naturalisation. Most of the staff are now in place and when the remainder come on stream the staff engaged full time in the processing of citizenship applications will have doubled. Notwithstanding the recent arrival of many of the staff in question and the need for training and so forth, we have succeeded in reducing the processing time for naturalisation applications by approximately six months.

What is the processing time now?

As new staff come on stream and existing staff become more familiar with the legislative provisions and operational procedures, it is intended that further reductions in processing times will be achieved. The processing time was in the region of two years and six months. That has reduced to two years in a very short period and I expect it to reduce even more dramatically as staff are trained and become more familiar with this area. Applications will be expedited and people will receive results at an earlier date.

How many applications are pending?

The Deputy will have an opportunity to reply.

I do not have a statistic on the number of bogus applications—

Why, then, is the Minister introducing this provision?

I outlined specific examples on Committee Stage of abuses in this area. It does not take a genius to understand that if the only requirement for citizenship is to produce a declaration to the effect that one has been married to an Irish person for three years, it is open to abuse. Neither does it take a genius to recognise that Irish citizenship and an Irish passport are very valuable.

Mr. Haughey thought so.

Abuses of the system are not figments of my imagination; I have outlined real examples in this regard. Irish citizenship should not be cheapened by abuses of this nature and such abuses should not be tolerated. There is no good reason I, as an individual politician, would seek to put barriers in the way of genuine spouses of Irish citizens gaining citizenship. To do so would be an act of lunacy. I am trying to close off the potential for abuse which has been recognised by the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs over a number of years. I am not trying to put obstacles in anyone's way. The termination of the post-nuptial citizenship scheme will not adversely affect the position of non-national spouses in terms of their joining their spouses in the State, nor will it adversely affect their right to work.

I am dismayed once again by the Minister's response. He has not outlined any cogent evidence whatsoever in regard to bogus applications. We want numbers. What percentage of the total number of applications under the scheme does the Minister suspect to be bogus? Suspicions abound in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, although I do not believe they will all be proven, it should provide some indication of the level of abuse detected by the Inspector Clouseau-like Minister who wants to stand a 1986 decision of the Oireachtas on its head. Those who introduced the scheme in 1986 were not lunatics although the Minister may, perhaps, think it was daft to allow the spouses of Irish citizens to automatically apply for and be granted citizenship as of right after three years of marriage. Is that considered an act of lunacy under the new conservatism, epitomised by the Minister, which prevails in the Department?

The Bill is a welcome requirement under the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement but the Minister has once again abused this vehicle, as he has done time and again in regard to asylum and immigration matters, by the insertion of draconian measures in the Bill. This provision on citizenship rights is wrong; the Minister failed to provide any rationale for it or convince anyone of its necessity.

The Minister failed to outline any figures in regard to the number abusing the current system although he provided some colourful examples on Committee Stage. Has he given any consideration to the fact that in closing an alleged loophole which he considers is being abused by a small number – although he cannot quantify the number involved – he is affecting hundreds of others who have a perfect entitlement to citizenship, following three years of marriage to an Irish national? The Minister is removing a right and introducing a discretionary power which will provide people with naturalisation, which can be taken away, rather than citizenship, thereby diluting the right to citizenship in a second way. Furthermore, he is creating additional bureaucracy for a Department which is already weighed down by red tape and obligations which are not being complied with in any kind of reasonable timeframe. What was heretofore a right on the lodgement of certain papers will now become a ministerial discretion, requiring the Department, already overloaded with work, to engage in a great deal of investigation. This provision is not only completely illogical; it is fundamentally wrong in terms of people's rights.

I note with interest that the Minister deliberately avoided answering a particular question I raised. He outlined statistics in regard to naturalisation, informing the House that there were 1,004 additional applicants in this area during 2000. I asked him to outline the number of applications on which decisions were pending. As of October, 1,882 applicants awaited decisions on naturalisation applications. The current grossly excessive waiting time is two years. I suggest that the 1,882 figure now stands at 2,500. This is a clear indication that the Department will not be in a position to cope with the new procedure the Minister proposes to implement.

The Minister outlined anecdotal evidence as to the reason this law should be changed. I want to remind him of information he made available to me which highlights the lunacy of the current proposal. Some 3,850 post-nuptial citizenship declarations were made in the period 1997 to October 2000 by non-nationals. During that period, 23 spousal declarations were denied or refused. Of these, ten related to 1997, leaving a figure of 13 for the period 1998 to October 2000. We cannot know whether these applications were refused due to incomplete or inaccurate forms or some other reason. The Minister is suggesting that we change our citizenship laws, denying non-nationals who marry Irish citizens automatic citizenship of the State. This will require the Department to process an additional 1,000 applications per annum in circumstances in which naturalisation applications cannot be processed within a reasonable period.

This is a bizarre proposal. The Minister is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and anecdotal evidence to back up his argument. I challenge him to inform the House whether there are now more on the waiting list for naturalisation than there were when he addressed us on Committee Stage and how he proposes to have these applications processed in a reasonable time. A two year waiting period is far from reasonable.

As I explained, the waiting period has been reduced by six months in a short time.

It increased to two and a half years on the Minister's watch.

The number of applications has increased dramatically in the past couple of years. I also said that it is the experience of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the post-nuptial declaration system for citizenship is being abused.

Some 23 refusals in four years.

It is necessary in the circumstances to close off the possibility of abuse.

It is outrageous.

Any individual who is resident in the State for three years, of good character and complies with the declaration is clearly entitled to citizenship. I do not understand the difficulty. These rules and regulations are in existence in other EU states and would be regarded as the minimum required. Irish citizenship and Irish passports are valuable commodities and cannot be consigned to some other status. In a significant number of cases, a declaration of post-nuptial citizenship is lodged but not pursued by the applicant when he or she is asked for further details to clarify a matter. This clearly indicates that there is a significant number of cases where there is probable abuse. I gave specific examples of where abuse occurred in the past. I am deeply concerned that the current arrangements are open to such abuse.

How many applications are outstanding? Will the Minister confirm there are at least 2,500?

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to speak. He only has two minutes.

The level of abuse is likely to be much higher than indicated. No system is free from abuse and it would be unrealistic to expect that.

There are over 2,500 applications with which the Department cannot cope.

The Deputy made his contribution.

It would be entirely unrealistic for Deputy Shatter to expect me to reply definitively on how many applications are based on a false premise.

It is outrageous.

How could I when applications are made abroad and there is no requirement of residency in the country or good character? There is no possibility that the Irish authorities investigating an application at this remove could resolve the questions raised by the Deputy.

There are over 2,500 applications for naturalisation outstanding. It is outrageous.

The Minister is deliberately withholding information because he knows it is embarrassing.

If we do not have order, I will ask the Deputy to leave the House.

That is not a bad idea.

I am sure the Minister would be delighted if we all left the House and allowed him to get on with it.

No such luck.

There is very little chance of it. The Minister's response, argument and logic were entirely disingenuous. The figures mentioned by Deputy Shatter blow apart any justification on the Minister's part for claiming the system is abused. The figures were provided in a response to a parliamentary question and show that a total of 23 declarations were refused in four years out of an average of 1,200 applications processed each year. It is a tiny fraction of the overall applications received.

What basis is there for stating that the scheme is being abused and needs to be abolished? There was a total of 23 refusals in four years from the thousands of applications processed in that period by the Department. On that basis, there would be no schemes left in the country. For example, there would be no social welfare schemes if they were abolished on the basis of 23 suggested fraudulent cases. They were the only cases refused and there could be valid reasons that they were refused. One cannot declare that the cases were all bogus.

If the logic of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was applied, no welfare support schemes would be operated by the Departments of Social, Community and Family Affairs, Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Health and Children. The Minister will erode the rights of thousands of Irish citizens and the potential rights of future Irish citizens because of a per ception of abuse for which he cannot give any statistical proof or convincing argument. This disgraceful suggestion is typical of his attitude on these matters. It brings shame on us that he has reacted in this fashion and characterised those who want to avail of their unalienable rights, given freely by the Oireachtas in 1986. He wants to abolish the scheme and create a system where he alone has absolute discretionary rights on who should be granted Irish citizenship in the future on the basis of marriage. It is shameful and wrong. I am exasperated by the lack of response or coherent argument from the Minister and wish to press the amendment.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Callely, Ivor.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Dennehy, John.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.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.


Belton, Louis J.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Enright, Thomas.Finucane, Michael.

Gilmore, Éamon.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Howlin, Brendan.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora. Penrose, William.


Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Upton, Mary.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Coveney and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

As it is now 7 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed".

Are any other Report Stage amendments not reached being accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

The question is before the House.

Question put and agreed to.