This Bill has had to be introduced at short notice, but society cannot proceed without statutory controls or without powers for gardaí to deal with situations they encounter on a daily basis. We cannot have a situation where gardaí are unable to monitor the presence of non-nationals in the State. The Minister and the Government could not agree to that, hence the rush in introducing the legislation in the manner outlined by the Minister. He is not going to introduce a Nazi-type immigration regime; the regime to be put in place will have a lot in common with those in most of our European partner states.
There are practical implications for almost 130,000 non-nationals who live in the State, the vast majority of whom are here legally and are very welcome. There are 128,000 non-nationals currently registered with the gardaí and the laws under which they are registered are now seriously undermined by virtue of the High Court decision of 22 January. The aim of this Bill is to correct that situation.
It is no coincidence that in recent years we have had an influx of non-nationals into Ireland given the improvement in our economy and the very generous social welfare package available to both citizens and non-nationals. It is no surprise that so many of them have flocked to our shores, particularly in the last ten years. The introduction of better screening of individuals by immigration officials at air and sea ports means that those numbers have fallen somewhat in recent years. Challenges in our courts, some of which have gone to the Supreme Court, have also contributed to changing the perception in certain countries that Ireland was a place to come for easy money and accommodation. That change in perception has resulted in a significant fall in the numbers seeking to come to Ireland.
We have a proud record in dealing with refugees and this Bill will not reflect badly on that record. Anyone who has travelled to the United States, or any other country to which Irish people were forced to emigrate, is impressed by the difficulties Irish people had to overcome in their travels, particularly in the 19th century. During the Famine, hundreds of thousands of Irish people were forced to emigrate and some of themdid not make it to new homes in the promised land due to their poor physical condition on arrival.
Civil liberties groups have commented on the Bill and I commend the Minister on his commitment to take on board any Opposition amendments which will strengthen or enhance the Bill. Whatever about the speed with which the Bill is being introduced, strengthening it with worthwhile amendments is welcome.
The Minister said that even if the State wins its appeal to the Supreme Court, in the intervening period immigration law is in a state of uncertainty, in particular the power to exercise controls over the entry of non-nationals into the State and the length of their stay. It is not within the Minister's powers to continue to implement an Act which the High Court has declared unconstitutional. He has outlined his intention to be open and inclusive in dealing with Opposition amendments on Committee Stage.
There has been much criticism of individuals with criminal records in other countries coming to Ireland, where they are refused admission. The legislation is clear on this, as is the Minister. We should not be seen as a safe haven for criminals who are forced, or encouraged, to leave their own states to seek refuge here where they can continue the trade in which they have made their name. The Minister is correct in stating that people who have been convicted of criminal offences up to a certain degree of seriousness, will be refused entry to the State. Individuals who present themselves at our ports are not being asked to submit to a draconian regime. Our code is less stringent than in many other countries.
The High Court judgment has serious implications for the law as it stands for non-nationals presenting here until this sovereign Parliament enacts legislation. I wish the Bill a speedy passage and ask for it to be supported by all sides of the House. The Opposition should take the Minister at his word and accept his bona fides when he says that worthwhile proposals or amendments will be taken on board.