Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the change in the Constitution enacted in the amendment which was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum held on the June in conjunction with the local and European elections.

Unfortunately, this is the first occasion I have been afforded any real opportunity to contribute to the debate in this House on the issue. During the Second Stage debate on the referendum Bill, I was shouted down in this House in an unprecedented display of undemocratic, anti-parliamentarian misbehaviour. I could hardly be heard when proposing the legislation and was again barracked and shouted down when I attempted to reply to the Second Stage debate. By contrast, it was a pleasure to be allowed make the case for the referendum proposal calmly and reflectively in the other House.

Members of this House will recall that I explained at the time the Government's proposals were announced that it was my view that the matter was of some degree of urgency. In particular, I warned that the Chen case, in which the Judge Advocate of the European Court of Justice was due to deliver his opinion, could seriously affect the standing of our citizenship law within the European Union if we did not take an early opportunity to amend our Constitution to prevent continuing abuse of thejus soli entitlement to citizenship for any person born in the island of Ireland.

Members will also recall that I was criticised for not awaiting the final outcome of the Chen case before taking action on the Government commitment in the programme for Government to take constitutional action if necessary. The House will recall that I strongly argued that the appropriate occasion on which to address the issue was in conjunction with the local and European elections. This was on the basis that the matter was urgent, that a single issue referendum held by itself would result in a divisive and potentially unrepresentative referendum campaign and that there was no certainty that there would be a presidential election poll this autumn. I was told I was wrong on all those matters and that the Government was attempting to play the race card with a view to electoral advantage in the June elections.

All those arguments on the timing of the referendum were confounded by the overwhelming decision of the people and by their clearly demonstrated capacity to distinguish easily between the issues in the June elections and the citizenship referendum, a capacity that I never doubted. Without re-opening the referendum campaign, I could be forgiven for noting the virulent and offensive tone adopted by many of the more vocal opponents of the proposal, a tone which looks so empty, shallow and strident in the cold light of day.

Intellectual honesty and fair play were thrown away as the first victims in a rather frenzied attempt to persuade the people that to have a law in line with European norms was racist, that those who were supported eventually by 80% of the voters in a large turnout were racists and that Ireland was being ungenerous in changing its law of citizenship and untrue to its emigrant past. Gross untruths were peddled to the public, ironically by those who claimed that the Government was manufacturing reasons and facts to support their case. No one on the Government side ever exaggerated or made false claims in the course of the debate nor did anyone level personal or offensive accusations against their opponents. I am glad to say that the public saw through the shabby and disreputable abuse of facts and reason in the strong verdict they delivered at the end of the referendum debate.

Those who now claim, with some degree of strength, that 11,000 people who had Irish-born children were left in limbo by the Supreme Court decision and the referendum outcome and that a further 5,000 or 6,000 cases of Irish-born children since the Supreme Court decision must also be addressed were then loudly proclaiming the converse. They claimed that only a handful of cases each year were occasioned by a desire to obtain Irish citizenship and that I was simply imagining a relationship between the state of our then citizenship laws and the pattern of births to non-national asylum seekers.

I say this to underline one truth which has emerged about the matter in the meantime. The Labour Party, albeit after a tetchy internal debate in which Deputy Rabbitte's advice was narrowly rejected and Deputy Michael D. Higgins's views won out, decided to oppose the referendum.

That is a blatant untruth and should be withdrawn. The Minister has no basis for his claim.

The Green Party also did so, although with no internal dissent in favour of common sense as usual. Fine Gael wisely chose to support, however mutedly, the Government proposal. The party's campaign was masterly and was marked by no speeches, leaflets or posters but rather much anguish and righteous soul-searching about the timing of the referendum.

The Minister would like to tell everyone how to think.

If the country had been governed by a combination of those parties, we would now be in the grip of a paralytic political crisis in which Fine Gael would meekly submit to the ideological posturing of its putative partners.

The Minister's claim is a dishonest untruth which he should withdraw.

The exercise of good authority in which this Government took courageous and decisive action would have been replaced by an ongoing shambles and impasse which would have played straight into the hands of those who would exploit racism and xenophobia for political gain.

The Minister knows all about that.

This Bill is an important legislative step forward in recognising Ireland as a society of inward migration and in redefining the legal relationships between the State and the society and those who come to our shores as migrants. An increasing number of people see Ireland as a place to which they can come, not just for a holiday or a short educational course, but for a more long-term and settled purpose. We are now in a comparatively novel situation in that Ireland needs immigrants to share in our prosperity and make their own contribution to that prosperity.

As a result of our economic improvements, Ireland is now a country of net inward migration and we must adapt our thinking, policies and laws to that important changed state of affairs. I do not underestimate the nature of the challenge this presents in some respects but it is more an opportunity than a challenge or a problem.

In dealing with aspects of citizenship law, this Bill is part of the Government's response. The next step is already under way, which is the development of a comprehensive immigration and residence Bill which will provide a fair and sensible legislative framework for dealing with all aspects of the entry and stay in the State of non-nationals, whether as long-term migrants who wish to establish themselves and their families here in employment or enterprise, or as temporary visitors for work, study or recreational purposes.

The people have a right to expect that there are measures in place to regulate effectively the arrangements which apply to non-nationals seeking to enter or remain on our territory. This is central to achieving the correct balance in ensuring the integrity, security and authority of the State and that its economic and social fabric are protected as well as ensuring that the rights and interests of our immigrant community are upheld and enhanced.

That Bill will provide Government with effective tools for managing inward migration and for developing and implementing policies to meet the evolving needs of Irish society. Preparatory work for that Bill is advancing in my Department and I expect to launch a discussion document on that legislation soon. Across the spectrum of our dealings with, and our legislative responses to, inward migration and inward migrants, we owe it to our society to ensure that there is a coherent approach so that all aspects contribute to our ability to manage and benefit from migration. This applies also to our nationality and citizenship laws.

When I refer to our responsibilities to society, I am conscious that now more than ever before, it includes people who are not Irish themselves by nationality but who in many cases make as important a contribution to Irish life as the Irish themselves. The changes we make to citizenship law must show that there is a continuing céad míle fáilte for those who migrate legitimately to Ireland with a view to establishing a substantial connection with the State by creating new livelihoods for themselves, contributing to the development of society, sharing in our prosperity and founding families and raising children here. Migration may be a phenomenon but migrants are people — flesh and blood — first and foremost, which fact we cannot allow ourselves to forget. We already have a generous, managed way for migrants who have established themselves here to become Irish citizens through naturalisation. Our naturalisation entitlements for people who have remained in the State for five years are among the most liberal in the European Union.

The Bill provides a managed way in which children born here to established migrant parents will acquire an entitlement to Irish citizenship in a way that acknowledges properly the contribution their parents make. The Bill provides a new statutory framework within which the entitlement to Irish citizenship of persons born in the island of Ireland to non-national parents can be determined. In policy terms, it is the same as the draft legislation published last April in the document that set out the Government's proposals in the run-up to the June referendum, the acceptance of which made it possible to put forward this legislation. The electorate knew what the Government had in mind at that time, and this Bill keeps faith with that commitment. The Bill also removes any future possibility for an investment-based naturalisation system and includes some other additional features to which I will return later.

I do not need to spell out for Deputies in any great detail the background against which this Bill has evolved. Suffice to say that it is intended primarily to deal with the abuse of our citizenship code whereby persons with the most tenuous of links to Ireland have been arranging their affairs so as to have their child born in Ireland, even if they have no particular intention of staying here, and thereby securing EU rights of residence deriving from the child's Irish and EU citizenship. In addition, our asylum system has been used by people who do not have a genuine need for protection under the Geneva Convention as a vehicle to gain entry into the State, in circumvention of normal immigration controls, for the very purpose of giving birth here and availing of what hitherto has been a universal entitlement to Irish citizenship derived from birth in Ireland.

The policy features of the Bill are in line with the earlier draft. Prime among those features is the need to ensure continuing respect for the guarantees of entitlement to Irish citizenship made to the people of Northern Ireland by the two Governments as part of the British-Irish Agreement. The Government has also been at pains to ensure that the proposals in this legislation offer equality of treatment to persons asserting an entitlement to Irish citizenship whether they were born or their parents reside in this State or in Northern Ireland, with some limited differences of a purely procedural nature that take account of differences in the immigration regimes, North and South.

The principal innovation in the Bill, made possible by last June's constitutional change, is the rule for the entitlement to Irish citizenship of a person born in Ireland, North or South, to parents neither of whom is Irish or entitled to be Irish. With this Bill, that entitlement will now depend on the length of time a parent has lived here lawfully, that requirement being at least three out of the four years immediately preceding the birth. That will be the general rule.

If the general rule were to be applied without exception, we would be in breach of our obligations under the British-Irish Agreement because its strict application would exclude from Irish citizenship some of the people of Northern Ireland. The British-Irish Agreement defines the people of Northern Ireland as "all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence". To ensure that commitment continues to be honoured, the Bill excludes from the general three-year residence rule those born in Northern Ireland to British parents or non-national parents who have permission to remain without restriction as to time. To mirror the situation so as to apply equally, North and South, this exclusion from the new general rule will apply under the Bill wherever in Ireland the child is born. I will touch later on other aspects of the Bill that qualify the general rule.

Those children born in Ireland to parents at least one of whom is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen will continue to have an entitlement to Irish citizenship, as at present. Anyone born before this new Bill comes into effect will continue to have exactly the same entitlement to Irish citizenship as before. I stress the Bill will not take Irish citizenship or the entitlement to it away from anybody who has it at present.

The Bill will continue to reflect the State's commitments against statelessness. No one born in Ireland can end up without a nationality at present, and that will continue to be the case in the future. The only children who will be affected by this Bill are those born to short-stay parents who already have citizenship of another country available to them by descent from their parents, or by virtue of what the lawyers callius sanguinis.

Before I go into the detail of how the Bill achieves these policy ends, I wish to turn briefly to the question of investment-based naturalisation, which the Bill also addresses. Deputies will be aware that in October 2003 in the other House, I declared the Government's support for the principle of a Private Members' Bill, tabled by Senator Quinn, which sought to end the possibility of such a scheme being re-introduced, and I undertook then to avail of the first opportunity for amending the statutory citizenship code to bring forward proposals to ensure that outcome. That undertaking has been fulfilled by the provisions of section 10 of the Bill.

The investment-based naturalisation scheme was a product of another time, when the economic climate was quite different and when there were genuinely held concerns in Government and on nearly all sides of the House about the future prospects of companies and enterprises experiencing real difficulties. I do not doubt the sincerity with which the devisers of the scheme put it in place, but my reservations, in principle, about it are long held and a matter of public record. There is widespread agreement that the scheme was abused in some instances.

Citizenship is not only an entitlement to a passport with a particular symbol on its cover, although possession of a passport is undoubtedly an important attribute of entitlement to a particular citizenship, it is a complex of rights and obligations shared by people of a common nationality and a symbol of the sovereign nature of the nation state. Governments have a duty therefore to safeguard the institution of citizenship to ensure that it continues to fulfil the requirements of its role as a manifestation of a nation where membership of that nation has an intrinsic value, not just a price. It is fitting therefore that this proposal to end one undesirable form of acquisition of Irish citizenship should be accommodated in a Bill whose primary purpose is to eliminate another form of potential abuse of Irish citizenship law.

I propose to examine in more detail some of the more significant provisions of the Bill without getting too bogged down in the technicalities at this stage. Some aspects of the Bill are unavoidably expressed in technical language, but I am confident Deputies will find their understanding of the Bill eased by the document which I circulated recently to all Deputies and Senators and which is available on my Department's website. It is an informal consolidation of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as proposed to be amended by the Bill, and it includes, as footnotes, the material from the explanatory memorandum. I hope to publish it as a formal restatement under statute law restatement legislation so that it can be used by practitioners and citizens alike as an authoritative statement of the law.

Section 6 of the 1956 Act is the section that reflects in Irish statute the entitlement to Irish citizenship arising out of Article 2 of the Constitution. Since the circumstances in which that constitutional right will arise are now being modified, section 3 of the Bill makes a number of amendments to section 6 of the 1956 Act. A feature of section 3 of the Bill, which did not appear in the earlier draft, relates to children born in Ireland to parents who are foreign diplomats serving here. Until the 2001 changes to citizenship law, which implemented the changes arising out of the new Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, the children of foreign diplomats were excluded from citizenship here as they are in many other countries throughout the world. This was and is a matter of international custom and practice. The wording of the new Article 2 was such, however, that such exclusion could not, as a matter of constitutional law, continue in that context, and so the 2001 Act provided a special procedure whereby the children of diplomats could, if they wished, exercise their entitlement to be Irish citizens, but they would not automatically become Irish citizens. With the change made by the most recent amendment last June, we are now able to revert to the former position, and section 3 of the Bill brings about that change. The 2001 version of section 6 also had a special procedure for exercising the entitlement to Irish citizenship by or on behalf of children born to non-national parents in foreign vessels or aircraft in Irish waters or airspace. That does not need to be reproduced here as the new general rule regarding the parents' period of residence in Ireland will apply in those cases as it would to any other birth in the island of Ireland.

Section 4 contains the main changes directly flowing from the amendment to the Constitution in June. It provides for the insertion of two new sections into the 1956 Act which deal with the citizenship of children of non-nationals. These are section 6A, which deals with the entitlement to Irish citizenship of persons born to certain non-nationals, and section 6B, which specifies what periods of residence in Ireland are to be reckoned where that is a factor under the new section 6A.

Section 6A(1) provides that a person born, whether in the North or in the South, to non-national parents, either of whom has been lawfully resident in the island of Ireland for at least three out of the four years immediately preceding the birth, will have an entitlement to Irish citizenship. This is the general rule for the children of non-national parents to which I referred. Deputies should note this provision allows people to have holidays, to come in and out of the country on an intermittent basis and is not mechanically based on a continuous period of residence here.

I have referred to exclusions from this general rule. These are set out in subsection (2) of the new section 6A. Naturally, the first of these exemptions, at paragraphs (a) and (b), covers those children whose continuing entitlement to Irish citizenship remains unaffected by the proposals in the Bill. Paragraph (a) refers to those who were born before the commencement of the Act, irrespective of the nationality or period of residence in the State of their parents, and paragraph (b) refers to those born to an Irish citizen parent. Next, section 6A(2)(c) covers a person born, whether in the North or South, to parents one of whom is a British citizen or has an entitlement to reside in the UK, and thus Northern Ireland, without any restriction on his or her period of residence. This exemption from the general rule is dictated by our commitments in the British-Irish Agreement to the extent that it relates to persons born in the North. By applying it also to persons born in the South to such parents, we are ensuring that the rules that must apply in the North are mirrored in the same circumstances in the South. This is also the reason for the next exemption, in paragraph (d) of the subsection, which applies to a person born anywhere on the island to parents either of whom has an entitlement to reside in the State without any restriction on his or her period of residence.

It must be said that Irish immigration practice differs from UK immigration and citizenship law in that we grant permission without condition as to time after the person has already completed a number of years of satisfactory residence on foot of regularly renewed permissions, whereas the holders of certain nationalities have permission to remain in the UK without restriction as to duration from the moment they arrive in the UK. Persons granted refugee status in the State, however, have an entitlement to reside in the State without restriction as to the period of residence from the date of granting of such status. Thus, parents covered by paragraph (d) of this subsection would almost certainly have completed sufficient years’ lawful residence to meet the requirement of the general rule anyway. There are special provisions regarding each of these exemptions safeguarding the entitlement to citizenship where one or both of the parents are deceased at the time of birth.

The last of these exceptions, at paragraph (e) of subsection (2), is a technical requirement arising from the amendment in section 3 regarding children of foreign diplomats born in Ireland. Without this, such a person might otherwise acquire an entitlement to Irish citizenship based on the residence of the non-national parent who is not a diplomat accredited in this country.

The proposed new section 6B sets out what periods of residence are reckonable for the purposes of the new rule at section 6A(1). Section 6B(1) covers another aspect of the question of pre-decease of a parent. Its effect is that if a parent who dies before the child is born was residing in Ireland, North or South, and the period immediately prior to the death was reckonable for the purposes of section 6A, then the period between the death of the parent and the birth of the child is also reckonable.

Section 6B(2) provides a means whereby the reckonable residence in Ireland, North or South, of parents who are EU, EEA or Swiss nationals can be verified by declaration. Citizens of EU member states are entitled to be present in Ireland in exercise of their treaty rights of free movement and establishment. Nationals of the three other countries of the European Economic Area and of the Swiss Confederation have analogous rights arising from international agreements to which Ireland and the other EU member states are parties.

While we have in place a statutory procedure whereby such nationals can obtain residence permits, European law on the matter is very clear. The residence permit is merely evidence of the exercise of a treaty right, and not a precondition in that exercising treaty rights derives directly from the treaties themselves and not from domestic laws that implement or facilitate those rights. There is no obligation on nationals of these countries to register all of their lawful presence in the State or to seek permission from the State to be here. In those circumstances an attempt to exclude a child from a citizenship entitlement on the basis of an absence of an official record of his or her parents' residence in the State would be incongruous. The declaration process provides a means whereby they can overcome the documentation gap. Deputies will note, however, that this section does not apply to British citizens, since their children born in Ireland will anyway be entitled to be Irish citizens without the question of periods of reckonable residence having to be considered.

Section 6B(3) covers the circumstance in which an EU, EEA or Swiss national parent whose residence is reckonable under subsection (2) is not in a position to make the declaration himself or herself.

Section 6B(4) sets out the circumstances in which a short period spent in the State by a parent is not reckonable. The first of these, at paragraph (a) of the subsection, is the most obvious. A period of residence will not count if it is unlawful, that is, if it is in contravention of section 5(1) of the Immigration Act 2004. Some of the comments I received during the summer on the earlier draft of the Bill expressed concern that this might operate to deny an Irish citizenship entitlement to a person whose parent had, perhaps inadvertently or through oversight, allowed an interval to elapse between the expiry of permission to remain and its renewal. It is precisely to cover this sort of temporary oversight, and to cover short absences from the country on holiday, business or family trips, that the basic period of qualifying residence is set at three out of the four years, rather than three consecutive years, preceding the birth.

Paragraph (b) excludes from the reckoning periods instances where the parent’s permission to be in the State was for the purposes of study. Paragraph (c) excludes periods in which the person’s only basis for being in the State was on foot of a temporary residence certificate issued to asylum seekers to cover the duration of their claim. Both of these exclusions apply where the parent in question is a non-EEA national at the relevant times. They apply to asylum seekers expressly, and to students by implication since EU, EEA and Swiss nationals need no express permission to be in the State in pursuance of the treaty right to study. These exclusions mirror the provisions in section 16A of the Citizenship Act, inserted in 2001, dealing with reckonable periods towards meeting the residence conditions for naturalisation.

The exclusions at paragraphs (b) and (c) were also the subject of criticisms in commentary on the earlier draft Bill. While I acknowledge the basis on which the criticisms were made, I have no proposals to deviate from this policy in either respect. Permission to reside in Ireland for the purposes of study is purely temporary in nature. It is given for the expected duration of the course of study only and the expectation is that the person will return at the end of the course or, in the case of a multi-year course, at the end of each academic year. As for asylum, any proposal to include in the reckoning a period spent as an asylum seeker would serve to encourage false claims and the protraction of the asylum process.

The reckonability or otherwise of periods of residence in the State by non-EEA or Swiss nationals can be easily ascertained by examining the passports of the persons concerned for stamps affixed by the Irish immigration authorities. What of periods in Northern Ireland? As I said, our aim is to mirror conditions for the entitlement to Irish citizenship North and South. Subsection (5) of the new section 6B does just that as regards this category of parent. However, immigration laws and practice in Northern Ireland are not the same as those in the State. In particular, the immigration stamp in the passport of a non-EEA national legally residing in the North records a permission to remain in the UK, not in a particular part of it, and therefore we must put in place a means whereby the Irish authorities can verify that the period of residence of a non-EEA national parent before the birth of a child was lawful and reckonable, and that it was in the North as against some other part of the UK.

The Bill deals with this in section 11. The section inserts a new section 28A into the 1956 Act, which is an adaptation of the procedure already at section 28 of that Act whereby a person can seek a certificate of Irish nationality. In any case, where the question of the entitlement of a person to Irish citizenship depends on an assertion of reckonable residence of a non-EEA national parent in the North, whether that be for all or part of the three-year period, the first step will be to apply for a certificate of Irish nationality and to support that application with a statutory declaration together with whatever verifying documents are necessary. It is not possible to set out in the primary statute what those documents might be since some of them will be UK immigration documents or stamps that the UK authorities have the right to change from time to time to suit their own convenience. It would obviously be impractical for me to bring amending legislation before the House every time such a change took place. Instead, there is a power to prescribe documentation by statutory instrument. There is also a power to require further documentation as may be necessary in particular cases.

The category of person regarding whom the Irish citizenship entitlement depends on a period of residence of a non-EEA national parent in the North is the only one in respect of which a form of administrative intervention is required to establish Irish citizenship. In all other cases, the official documentation necessary to show the entitlement is either readily available in the form of birth certificates, immigration documents and the like or else can be generated by way of statutory declaration supported by the appropriate documents. There is no way around this. It is a practical difference dictated by the fact that the North is another jurisdiction, while at the same time implementing the Government's policy of ensuring that an entitlement to Irish citizenship will arise out of similar conditions whether North or South.

I have today received a request from Mark Durkan, the SDLP leader, whose views I sought on the legislation in accordance with a public undertaking given by me regarding the regulatory framework for proof of residence by non-nationals in Northern Ireland. I am glad to confirm that I will be happy to keep in touch with all those in Northern Ireland who wish to be consulted on the detailed out-working of this aspect of the legislation, as requested by Mr. Durkan.

In section 9, I am taking the opportunity to address a potential anomaly that could arise in the operation of the special naturalisation conditions for spouses of Irish citizens in which the non-national spouse is living with his or her Irish-citizen spouse who is resident abroad as an employee of the public service, for instance, in an Irish embassy. The nature of postings abroad is such that, without the change I am proposing to deem time spent abroad in the public service as time spent in the State, the non-national spouse might never build up the periods of residence in Ireland itself that are required under sections 15A or 15.

Section 10 is the provision designed to address investment-based naturalisation. I already addressed the principle. The technique adopted here to achieve the desired result of putting such schemes beyond possibility for the future is to assign a clearly defined meaning to the phrase "Irish associations" in section 16 of the 1956 Act, which was the phrase used as the basis for the former scheme. I have never been convinced by the line of argument that the phrase, in the context of its use in section 16(a), was wide enough to cover naturalisation based primarily on an investment in an Irish enterprise, but that will not matter now. This provision in the Bill providing for a narrow interpretation of "Irish associations" in terms of blood relationship, affinity, that is, relationship by marriage, or adoption to an Irish citizen, or a person who would if alive have been an Irish citizen, represents the final nail in the coffin of the investment-based naturalisation scheme. A descendent of an Irish person, or a person who if alive would be an Irish citizen, will qualify as having Irish associations among the other categories to which I referred. Simply investing money in Ireland will not suffice. Previous Ministers for Justice, going back to 1956, resisted defining this phrase on the basis that the provision should be made for, and I quote from the Dáil debates on the 1956 Act as follows:

the grant of certificates of naturalisation in special circumstances — some of which, of course, we cannot foresee — where the Minister for Justice considers that the Irish descent or Irish association of the applicant justifies a departure from the normal procedure, relating to residence, set out in paragraphs(c), (d) and (e) of section 15. That is all that is involved under the section.

Unfortunately, we now know there was much more involved. I am satisfied that the approach now being taken provides an appropriate and non-controversial amount of latitude for the issue of a certificate of naturalisation by any future Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in circumstances where any or all of the conditions of naturalisation have not been complied with.

Deputies will be aware that I asked the Irish Human Rights Commission for its comments on the earlier draft of the Bill published last April. I received its comments on the referendum proposal without asking for them. One of the aspects on which it commented was a concern that there was no provision in the 1956 Act for the naturalisation of minors. While this concern is mistaken — section 16 contains specific provisions addressing the naturalisation of minors — one side effect of the new narrow definition of "Irish associations" in section 10 of the Bill would be to limit the power to naturalise some classes of children. While section 16 envisages applications made on behalf of minors who are of Irish descent or Irish associations or who have a parent who has been naturalised, without the change proposed in section 8 of the Bill, other children could not be naturalised. This change permits the possibility of naturalising a child born to non-national parents after the coming into effect of the new rules for entitlement to Irish citizenship in the Bill but whose parents did not at the time of the birth meet the residence requirement for that entitlement. This will ensure that the matter raised by the Human Rights Commission will not give rise to the concern it voiced. I should mention that section 5 genderproofs section 9 of the 1956 Act, dealing with the citizenship of posthumous children.

The Human Rights Commission raised a number of general points in its observations on the draft legislation, which I would like address. The commission adverts to the principle of the best interests of the child, which is at the core of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a convention to which Ireland wholeheartedly subscribes. I assure the House that this legislation respects that principle, and adherence to the principle does not oblige the State to confer its citizenship or a right to citizenship on every child born in the State. The commission goes on to advert to the non-discrimination principle in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another instrument to which Ireland is a committed party. The commission quotes in particular article 6 of that covenant as follows:

Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognised in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

I assure the House that this legislation is fully consistent with the State's commitment to that principle. The principle does not oblige us, or any other State which is an adherent to the convention, to confer Irish citizenship on everyone within the State, or on everyone born within the State. Ireland respects, and will continue to respect, the human rights of everyone within its territory irrespective of nationality.

The Human Rights Commission also reminds us of the provisions of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bill is consistent with our obligations under the European convention. This country, like all the other countries, has many families who are wholly non-national, including many families who contain Irish and non-Irish members and many families consisting exclusively of Irish nationals. Our laws at present operate to guarantee respect for the family life of this kaleidoscope of nationalities, and will continue to do so.

Lastly, the Human Rights Commission drew attention to our commitments under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. I assure Deputies that the Bill contains not one shred of racial discrimination. It cannot and will not be operated in a way that smacks of racism. It is worth noting that the Human Rights Commission adverts to these international instruments and principles in a general way and it does not attempt to relate these principles to particular aspects of the Bill. That it does not do so confirms that the Bill is wholly consistent with the principles to which the commission adverts.

I am satisfied that the proposals in the Bill will result in a fair and sensible citizenship law, which will acknowledge the stake that non-nationals established here have in Irish society by ensuring that their children born here will have the entitlement to be Irish citizens. We are not concerned with their skin colour, the language they speak or their appearance. What matters is that they have a substantial connection with Irish society and that, accordingly, their children will be part of the Irish nation by operation of law.

These proposals reflect Ireland's high regard for those who have come from abroad to establish themselves in, share in, contribute to Irish society and have families here by entitling their children born here to be Irish citizens by operation of law. At the same time, the proposals will ensure that Irish citizenship is not something which can be bought, sold, bartered or acquired on foot of an arranged birth in order to secure a passport to a wider Europe, but means something important to those who hold it, namely, a sense, as the Constitution says, of fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the Irish State. I commend this Bill to the House.

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill is the natural legislative follow-up to the referendum on citizenship held in June. Fine Gael took a responsible and constructive approach to the proposal to amend the Constitution. We will adopt the same approach on the Bill before the House.

The Minister indicated in his opening remarks that he was not re-opening the referendum campaign and, over a couple of pages, proceeded to lecture us all in his typical fashion. I sometimes think he cannot resist an opportunity to try to prove how right he is on every issue. I do not intend to be drawn into a controversy on the issue, except to say that I see citizenship law and the potential for abuse of such law as a very sensitive issue. I am convinced that if the Minister referred the issue to an all-party committee, substantial cross-party support could have been achieved. Unfortunately, he took a different approach. He did not follow-up by having cross-party consultation, as established in the programme for Government, which led to much unnecessary friction. I would have preferred to see the House uniting behind the proposals.

The position of Fine Gael on the referendum was quite clear. I do not accept it was anguished and righteous soul-searching to raise the agreed all-party proposals of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, which laid down and established the best procedure for running a referendum. It established that a referendum to amend the Constitution should be carried out in a deliberative and constructive way, achieving consensus if possible but, above all, allowing proper time for debate, consultation and consideration. The reverse happened in that the Minister attempted to bulldoze through the issue. This brought its natural consequences from the point of view of friction by those who were either opposed to the issue or were not convinced by the Minister's arguments.

On the future and the next Fine Gael-led Government after the upcoming general election, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not have to worry about Fine Gael meekly submitting to the ideological or other posturing of anybody. As he is aware from his time as a member of Fine Gael, this is a party which always puts the country first. Whether with regard to Fine Gael or its predecessor, Cumann na nGaedheal, when courageous or decisive action was necessary in the interests of the country, it was always forthcoming and will be in the future.

The people have spoken and the constitutional change has been made with substantial support from the people. This support included that of the Fine Gael party which took notice of the considered statements by its leader, Deputy Kenny, and my statements on behalf of the party, urging support for the change. The Bill, which is consequential on the coming into effect of the 27th amendment of the Constitution, also deserves to be supported and Fine Gael will provide that support in principle. There is no equivocation on this issue.

However, Fine Gael has a number of concerns which arise in the context of this Bill and the debate on the Bill. The first springs from the need to have an integrated immigration, residency and citizenship policy. The Minister touched on this issue in his speech but I hope he will take the opportunity to outline his position on it. We are proceeding on a totallyad hoc basis in this matter and it is utterly unsatisfactory. The second issue concerns the need to consider an amnesty for the parents of those citizens born in Ireland before the referendum and in particular before the Supreme Court decision of January 2003. This decision effectively changed what was then considered to be the automatic entitlement to residence of the parents of such children. My third concern is not the decision to bury the passports for sale scheme but rather to do so without any proper inquest or post mortem. There is a significant number of questions about the operation of that scheme which have never been answered, particularly with regard to the period 1988 to 1994.

There is no coherent policy on the issue of immigration and this must be addressed urgently. The Immigrant Council of Ireland has produced an excellent document, Voices of Immigrants: The Challenges of Inclusion, which unfortunately only landed on my desk this morning, giving me time to no more than glance through it. It raises many questions which must be examined and answered. I am delighted to see it is written by two people who give an address at Allihies in Beara in my constituency of Cork South-West. There have been unprecedented numbers of non-nationals coming to our shores. I accept this is of relatively recent origin and I believe it is only since 1996 that the number of immigrants outnumbered for the first time the number of Irish citizens emigrating.

We have failed to come to terms with this situation. Apart from various statements, the Government has failed to face up to the issue, despite the influx of non-nationals. There is essentially no policy on immigration. We are stumbling along in the absence of a comprehensive, integrated policy covering immigration, residency and citizenship. That so many diverse aspects of immigration are being dealt with by different Departments leads to confusion. Refugees and asylum seekers are dealt with by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, work permits are the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, visas are in many instances handled initially by the Department of Foreign Affairs, residency and citizenship issues comes under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, registration is dealt with by the Garda Síochána and social welfare aspects relating to amendments made by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are handled by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

We have a mish-mash of a system which gives rise to total confusion. There is no transparency and in many instances there are no criteria. For example, in the case of an application for naturalisation, one looks for the criteria but cannot obtain them. They are not there, apparently. There is no appeals system. These issues must be addressed and tackled. On top of all this, there have been endless delays and a situation where a person inquiring as to his or her position and the criteria which may not have been met cannot get an answer. In many ways, the situation is Kafkaesque and the Minister can take no pride from presiding over such a system. I am not blaming the civil servants, who are only doing what they are told to do by the Minister, or not told to do.

That is a handy thought.

The situation is ridiculous. It is a bureaucratic nightmare for anybody trying to cope with the system and deal with the different Departments.

Some three months ago, I made a reasonable proposal which I directed in particular to the two Ministers involved, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his colleague, Deputy Harney, the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, both from the same small party in Government. This was to establish an Oireachtas helpline so that Members who are continually approached by people with problems of this type could have somebody with whom to talk. This has not happened and it is a further indication of the helplessness of the Government. An Oireachtas colleague told me that on facing an important issue about which he was under significant pressure, he spent two or three hours making 11 telephone calls over a period of time to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in an attempt to find a simple answer to his query. When he eventually got through to the Department, nobody knew to whom the query should be addressed. This is a helpless, hopeless situation. My colleague eventually resorted to tabling a parliamentary question, which had to be dealt with. It is a ridiculous waste of time, money and resources that parliamentary questions must be tabled to deal with individual applications.

The Minister should immediately establish an Oireachtas helpline. It is like the United States trying to ring Europe about an issue of war and peace. A person should be appointed whom Oireachtas Members can telephone, pass on queries to and obtain a response without wasting time and money on parliamentary questions or otherwise. This will save time for the Minister as I am sure he receives heaps of letter on this issue. Once this hotline is established, the Minister might consider establishing a citizens' hotline so this service could be extended generally. This would allow individuals to discover their own situation by making a simple request. Finally, there must be a comprehensive policy that is open, transparent and accountable. Because so many Departments are involved, the Minister might also consider our suggestion to the Taoiseach that some Minister of State might have a dedicated position or a cross-departmental role in bringing all the threads together. I suggest that immediate action should be taken on these various points. All decisions should be related to bringing forward a comprehensive immigration policy after appropriate discussion with the relevant people. Let us debate this in the House at the earliest opportunity. Commitments were made in regard to a coherent policy, but they have not been met.

I will move on to the issue of the Irish children and their parents who are now in limbo. When the Minister first raised this issue and the rushed referendum, I understood from his remarks that a sympathetic approach would be taken to those who, as it were, were caught on the wrong side of the line because of the Supreme Court decision in theL&O case. However, I understand that a number of these parents of Irish children have been deported in the meantime. What is the position on the parents of Irish citizens born before the referendum, in particular those about whom I feel strongly — those born before the L&O case which, effectively, changed the law?

The Minister might say these people came to this country to exploit a loophole. They came to this country knowing, and in many instances having been advised, that if their children were born here, they would have the right to residence here. There is a moral right on their side and there is a strong case for a general amnesty for those families. I will not give the impression of being in favour of an open door policy because we should control our immigration policy. However, this affects a finite number of people.

I do not know the exact numbers. The Minister made a passing reference to them, during his criticism of the anti-referendum people, but I am unsure whether he accepts the figures he mentioned. We are talking about 9,000 or 10,000 Irish citizens and their parents, but I am not certain. The Minister should let us know the exact position. I would particularly like to know the numbers from before January 2003 and the L&O case and those since then up to the referendum.

The Minister should also inform us in his response whether he is open to a humanitarian approach. These children are Irish citizens and this legislation will not change that. The number is limited and finite. The parents of those children came here on the basis that it was accepted practice that parents of children born in the State would be granted residency. In fact, the Department had established a separate procedure for dealing with such applications. Statutory agencies and lawyers in the area had advised non-national parents on that basis and a number of asylum seekers had abandoned their applications for asylum and were relying only on their status as parents of Irish citizen children. Let us not leave those parents and their children in limbo. The children are Irish citizens and there is a compelling case for a humanitarian approach and for treating them and their families sympathetically. The Minister will have the full support of Fine Gael if he adopts that humanitarian approach with regard to those children.

The Minister referred to the Chen decision. That decision is irrelevant. It appears that Mrs. Chen and her Irish born child will have a right of residency in any EU country except Ireland. It is only relevant to the extent that it shows an absurdity. The Minister may give an outline in his response as to how the position in Ireland will be affected following the ruling of the European Court of Justice. The situation was dealt with at length and analytically by Carol Coulter inThe Irish Times last week. I cannot disagree with her view. The Chen decision is not hugely relevant. It must be remembered that the Chen decision was based on ability to fund the rearing of the child. This would probably not apply to the tiny fraction of children, the 9,000 or so Irish children, about whom I am talking.

Another major issue is the decision to bury the passports for sale scheme without a post mortem. I am concerned by the significant number of unanswered questions in this regard.

There is a post mortem going on in Dublin Castle on it.

Perhaps the Minister will clarify this issue. There is a general approach towards seeking a termination date for tribunals. At some stage all the documentation on this matter was transferred to the Moriarty tribunal. However, I am not aware of any investigation by the Moriarty tribunal into the issue of passports for sale. As a person interested in this issue, I found that I was not getting replies to my questions, in particular from the Minister's predecessor who was highly annoyed when I tabled detailed questions on various aspects of the matter. I was convinced that from the end of 1988 and early 1989 when the scheme was introduced to 1994 there was a freebooter style to the issue.

In case the Minister wants to be political on this — the normal reaction — and refer to the rainbow coalition, the change did not occur with the rainbow. It occurred when the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, took over as Minister. She was appalled by what she found and in mid-1994 she put in place the necessary changes to ensure proper procedures were followed. Clearly, up to then proper procedures were not followed.

The Minister referred to the debate on the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, in particular to the reference to "Irish association". At the time, Deputy Stephen Barrett, another Corkman, referred to the fact that the reference to Irish association without definition could give cause for great mischiefs in the future. He was right. Deputy Ó Móráin, from Mayo, suggested at the time that an Arab drinking a glass of Irish whiskey in Cairo could claim Irish associations. How true that was because it was much the same with regard to passports when the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice rode freestyle through every law and regulation when taking some decisions.

In the debate on citizenship in the Seanad, this Minister fully accepted that. This may not have been with regard to the pirate of Prague but there was a case where 11 passports were applied for one day and issued the following day, before the naturalisation process was completed, and handed over at lunch in the Shelbourne hotel. Significant questions on the issue remain unanswered.

In the context of the time one could point to the economic benefits of the scheme. It was not the theory of the scheme that was wrong but the way it was run. We are now in a different age and of a different generation and I am glad to see the scheme interred. However, there is need for a post mortem. We need to know what happened under the scheme. There are too many unanswered questions. Will the Moriarty tribunal answer those issues? If so, well and good. Let us have the answers and the sooner the better. If not, the Minister must ensure that we establish an independent examination of the issues and that we come to some independent conclusions as to the outcome. Such a process may lead to the revocation of some passports.

That would be very difficult.

I know there are restrictions on revocation. I also know there are people who were naturalised, received passports and honestly made investments as arranged. Revocation would not stand up in law but I would like to know the full facts. Did the pirate of Prague, for example, make the investment he promised? If he did not, I question the granting of his passport.

The pirate of Prague was closer to Deputy O'Keeffe's side of the House than mine.

It does not matter. I am merely concerned to have the right thing done.

I cannot have another tribunal of inquiry.

I am not talking about a tribunal. Is the matter to be dealt with? If it is not, I am thinking of a more simple process to get the full facts. Let us have a wake for the system and give it a decent burial. The Minister is pushing it into the tomb along with all these unanswered questions. That is not a proper or satisfactory way to deal with an issue that was of huge concern to many people over several years.

The scheme is dead. I am just putting a stake through its heart.

I do not see any sign of a stake. That is the problem. I have been raising these issues for a long time and I do not have answers. We are now following up on the Private Member's Bill introduced in the Seanad by Senator Feargal Quinn. We must make sure that we cannot have a repeat of what was a fair old scandal. Let us not bury the scandal.

As always, Fine Gael will be positive and constructive. The Bill meets our demands. Some issues will need to be teased out on Committee Stage and I may propose some minor amendments. However, we are implementing the will of the people in putting this legislation in place. On that basis I am happy to say, on behalf of Fine Gael, that the Bill deserves to be supported and that Fine Gael will provide that support.

I suppose, in due course, the Minister will make an abject apology to Deputy Michael D. Higgins for his scurrilous remarks about his view prevailing over that of the party leader in what he described as a tetchy internal debate. I do not know how the Minister acquired such information.


I hope the parliamentary Labour Party rooms are not bugged.

One never knows what is bugged.

It was neither Deputy Higgins nor Deputy Rabbitte but Deputy McDowell who was responsible for the position taken by the Labour Party on the referendum. We had urged the Minister to appoint an all-party Oireachtas committee to look at the matter, as recommended by the committee which had considered how we should approach amendments to the Constitution, and that there would be proper consultation in the run-up to the referendum. The Minister did not listen to us. It is nice to see he is now prepared to listen to Mr. Mark Durkan and to the Human Rights Commission. Retrospectively, the Minister is a great listener but prior to the referendum he was not prepared to listen to any of us.

I had heard them all.

Yes, but he did not pay attention to the wonderful words of wisdom being expressed.

I welcome the abolition of the investment based naturalisation scheme. However, there is no mechanism for the revocation of passports that have been granted. There is need for such a mechanism. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe spoke about the pirate of Prague. A number of people have besmirched the passport they obtained from this country. As well as stopping the scheme from operating in the future, this legislation should include a provision to allow for a passport to be revoked from a person who had abused it and brought the name of Ireland into disrepute.

The thrust of the legislation is towards limiting citizenship to those people who have a substantial connection with Irish society. This connection is interpreted exclusively in terms of residence for a period of three years during the four years prior to the birth of the child. Any subsequent period of residence is not covered. To what extent will this measure impact on the thousands of nurses from the Philippines who work in Ireland as guests of the nation on limited contracts, and who may be pregnant? Their children can never be Irish citizens unless they have been here for at least three years. What impact will that have on our ailing health service, which is run almost exclusively by nurses from the Philippines? We have been obliged to allow the spouses of nurses into the country.

The most ludicrous element of the Minister's contribution was his statement that he intends to introduce a comprehensive immigration and residency Bill and that preparatory work for the Bill is advancing in his Department. The Minister stated that he expects to launch a discussion document on that legislation in the near future. The Minister's predecessor made that statement in 2001 when the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform published a strategy statement for the years 2001 to 2004.

In fairness to my predecessor, he launched a discussion document.

He promised a comprehensive Bill, which the Minister has just promised. The Bill was promised in 2001 but there is no sign of it. That Bill was to have developed our immigration policy and put it in a structured framework. We are now approaching the end of 2004 but there is no framework, legislation or policy development. None of the things promised in 2001 for delivery by 2004 has been delivered. The principal legislation governing the entry and residence of non-nationals in the State continues to be the Aliens Act 1935 and the orders made under it, as amended or re-enacted. The only substantive amendment to our laws since the 1930s is the Refugee Act 1996, which was at first ignored by the present Government and then gutted. Such legislation as has been passed since that date has been driven by the anxiety to tighten our procedures for removing non-nationals from the State and has had nothing to say about who should be entitled to come here in the first place.

The Minister and his predecessor have been driven by the need to be seen to react immediately to whipped-up crises. There has been no period for reflection and no setting out of first principles. There was one measure called an Immigration Act and while one might expect that it concerned immigration, it was about deportation.

We are still promised a "real" immigration and residence Bill, without even the general scheme for a Bill having been drawn up to be sent to Government for consideration. I do not believe we will see anything of significance within the lifetime of this Dáil, despite the Minister's reiteration of his previous promise.

In the atmosphere of crisis in which he revels, asking the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to outline an immigration policy is as realistic as expecting the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke to draw up a coastal protection plan for the Netherlands.

Citizenship, immigration and asylum are interlinked. Our policies, or the lack of them in one area, impact on the others. Today we are debating a citizenship Bill the perceived need for which derives from recent immigration by asylum seekers and from our failure to address the issues that arise in that context.

The Minister will recall that since the former Progressive Democrats Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, described the Fianna Fáil-PD coalition's policy on asylum seekers as "a shambles", little has been done by the Government to tackle the issue of how we treat our asylum seekers, refugees and new immigrants. Instead of facing up to the issue, this Government has concentrated on various ways to make it go away. The Government has consistently failed to introduce any rational, fair or effective policy for people who wish to come to our country to work.

Most people recognise that many of those who travel here and seek asylum are not in reality seeking sanctuary but are fleeing from poverty and deprivation in search of a new and better life for themselves and their families. They are seeking the same opportunities that countless Irish people sought abroad for generations.

It is clear that the current system favours neither the genuine asylum seeker looking for safety, nor the economic migrant seeking employment. The failure of the Government to tackle this problem is also costing the taxpayer. Those who wait for their cases to be dealt with are often waiting more than a year, during which time they cannot work and must be supported by the State. The delays in the system are not caused by the time limits, which are relatively short, but by the sheer number of cases that need to be heard or processed, and by the delay in the delivery of decisions.

Equally, it is clear that the current work permit system is not working because it is controlled and managed by employers. There is considerable administration involved, the system is not flexible and it leaves immigrant workers open to exploitation. At a time when our society is challenged by this issue, the Government's response has been to cut back on spending programmes designed to tackle racism and to provide for the integration of immigrants into the community. This is regrettable and shortsighted but is all too typical of the lack of joined-up thinking demonstrated by the Government.

The current approach has left us with an expensive, ineffective and unfair mismatch. There is no speedy, fair or effective system for processing economic migrants, many of whom are prepared to work hard and to make a valuable contribution to our society. On the other hand, the procedures for claiming asylum are clogged up with many economic migrants.

Real problems have been identified with the asylum process. According to the Irish Refugee Council, there is a huge disparity between the numbers granted refugee status at the initial stage and the numbers who are successful on appeal. Inconsistencies and flaws in the decision-making process lead to expensive court actions and delays. The process requires urgent overhaul to bring it into line with best European and international practice.

Some of the people awaiting decisions on their refugee status have been in this country for many years. They have now put down roots here, learned the language, sent their children to school and, in a limited number of cases, have begun to work here. There is a compelling case for regularising the positions of those persons whose applications have essentially been buried in the backlog.

All this is by way of background to our citizenship "crisis", which demanded such urgent action from the Minister, Deputy McDowell. The Minister had already sought and received clarification from the courts as to his power to deport non-nationals with no right of residence in the State, even if they were also parents of Irish-born children. He insisted on going further, however, and commitments given in the Good Friday Agreement would not stand in his way.

The opportunistic decision to run a constitutional amendment on Irish citizenship was calculated to increase turnout and support for the Government parties in the local and European elections. It also risked encouraging the racist tendencies that are already active in the undergrowth in Ireland. In the event, there was an increase in voter turnout but, in the biggest setback in electoral strategy since the infamous "Tullymander" of 1977, extra voters simply meant more votes against the Government.

Before the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, Deputy Quinn was assured by the Taoiseach that:

In the event of Articles 2 and 3 taking effect, no legislation will be proposed by this Government to the Oireachtas which imposes restrictions on the entitlement to Irish nationality and citizenship of persons born in Ireland ... One effect of the new Article will undoubtedly be to confer an entitlement to Irish citizenship on persons born in Northern Ireland irrespective of their family background or the circumstances of their birth in Northern Ireland. We do not contemplate any change in thejus soli rule. Considerations of peace in Northern Ireland would outweigh any concerns related to immigration.

If one examines the explanatory memorandum accompanying this Bill, however, one will notice that the direct opposite is stated.

Given that the present Articles 2 and 3 derive directly from the Good Friday Agreement, which the Government is still striving to resuscitate, a strong argument was required to justify unilateral action that involved overriding the terms of that agreement, without consulting the parties to it and securing their consent. No such argument was provided and the views of the SDLP, Bruce Morrison and the Human Rights Commission, amongst others, were ignored.

Notwithstanding the subsequent token consultations, which amounted to going through the motions, the Minister told me on 7 April that he had not consulted the SDLP and had no intention of doing so, as this was not a matter for the political parties in Northern Ireland and that they had no veto on the agreement. He added for good measure that he had no plans to consult with the Human Rights Commission.

On the referendum.

The Minister had no intention of consulting the Human Rights Commission.

On the referendum.

But this was prior to the referendum. This was in the consultative process leading to the referendum.

I said I would consult them on the Bill and I did so.

That waspost facto as the Minister well knows. It was the referendum we were talking about, not the subsequent Bill.

The fact that Articles 2 and 3 are being overridden is evident from the opening words of the new Article 9.2: "Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution...". In fact, the Minister's explanatory memorandum for this Bill makes it clear that:

The effect of this amendment is to qualify Article 2 of the Constitution, which provides that "It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation".

That speaks for itself. As a result, there is now no credibility to Government protestations that the Good Friday Agreement can only be "reviewed" during the current talks process and that it cannot be amended in any substantial way. The Minister has just done it.

The Minister claimed he was bringing forward his initiative as a reaction to concerns raised by the masters of two Dublin maternity hospitals. He cited figures relating to a major rise in the number of non-nationals giving birth in those hospitals and the concerns of hospital management about the health and safety problems raised by this. The Minister said he had met the masters in his office to discuss the issue and added that the masters "pleaded with me to do something to change the law in relation to this. They didn't ask for additional resources, they were asking me to change the law".

However, the two masters said that they did not ask the Minister to change the law or hold a referendum. Dr. Seán Daly and Dr. Michael Geary said they had given no opinion as to what the Government should do about legislative or constitutional changes to the status of non-nationals. It turned out that the two masters had not sought the meeting with the Minister in the first place. Instead, they had been invited by his officials to attend a meeting.

This is what they said.

Is the Minister calling them liars?

The record shows it very differently.

Is the Minister calling Dr. Daly and Dr. Geary liars?

Then the Minister changed tack — I hope he does not say this is rubbish. This was no longer about protecting over-worked and under-resourced maternity hospitals, it was about protecting the integrity not just of Irish but of European Union citizenship.

Some 80% of the people have spoken on this issue.

We then discovered from a reply given by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to a parliamentary question, that no such concern had been raised with the Government by any other member state of the European Union. Much information was put into the public domain under false pretences. That is the point I am making.

The All-Party Committee on the Constitution had, unfortunately from the Government's point of view, reported on the referendum process and had set out clear and agreed procedures for holding referenda on constitutional amendments, which were not complied with in order to meet the artificial and suddenly-imposed deadline for this referendum. There was no Green Paper on citizenship and no consultation with Opposition parties, the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution or the Human Rights Commissions, North or South. There were no public hearings on the factual issues that were said to give rise to the need for the referendum campaign.

Ultimately, in Irish constitutional terms, a person is, on the one hand, by virtue of birth in Ireland, entitled to be part of the Irish nation. On the other hand, "notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution", a person can be denied entitlement to Irish nationality and citizenship. Is such a person, in some grandiloquent but meaningless gesture, part of the Irish nation while at the same time not entitled to Irish nationality and citizenship?

According to Mr. Justice Hardiman in theL&O case, the second sentence of the new Article 2 is not easy to understand unless b"ing "part of the Irish N"tion" of itself entitles one to citizenship. This is a key point. He was confirming the Gover'ment's own understanding of the wording as presented to the parties at Castle Buildings and confirmed to the voters in both jurisdictions who approved the Good Friday Agreement. However, the insertion of a si"ple "notwithstanding any other prov"sion" clause turned the Supreme 'ourt's interpretation on its head and rendered the Taoi'each's guarantees worthless and meaningless. This sort of underhandedness, confusion and uncertainty was no way to launch a major constitutional proposal to rewrite our citizenship laws, nor is it any way to treat the Northern Ireland peace process.

The net effect of the Bill is simple enough. The Minister already had the power to deport the non-national parents of Irish born children notwithstanding that those children are Irish citizens. In one of the most cynical submissions ever made to a court on behalf of this State, he argued that the parents could be deported without breaching the constitutional rights of the children and that the reason the constitutional rights of the children would not be interfered with was that the parents, in compliance with their constitutional obligations towards their families, would be expected to take those Irish children with them.

That would happen with an Irish person with a child in America.

Thede facto deportation of those children was, on this argument, a vindication of their constitutional right to the company and care of their parents. That is the constitutional vindication.

An Irish person who had a child in America would be sent home.

We have a Constitution, to which the Minister is paying little attention in terms of the integrity of the family — the child and parents. This outcome, in the view of the Minister, did not go far enough. Irish citizenship for their children was still a sufficient magnet to attract pregnant women to this State to give birth here, even though they were liable to immediate deportation and would be then expected to bring their children out of the country with them. The only way to stop this was to change the citizenship rules.

Ireland was, admittedly, unusual in its offer of citizenship to anyone born on its soil. Only a few European countries still grant automatic citizenship on the basis of birth in a country's territory. The United Kingdom and Australia repealed laws providing for citizenship on the basis of birth in the country during the 1980s. The best known provision for citizenship on the same basis is that contained in the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States——

As I just told the Deputy.

——which provides that: "All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

A parent cannot stay with his or her child if the child was born in America.

I am coming to that point. In the United States, the courts use more robust language. The postponement of the residence rights of a US citizen child who was born to non-nationals who have no right of residence there is called what it is — thede facto deportation of the child. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform officials, who advised the Minister on the deportation orders for the Lobe family and Mr. Osayande, referred to the “constructive deportation” of the citizen children of those families. However, once a de facto deported US citizen child reaches the age of majority, he or she can exercise citizenship rights and return to live in the United States. Put at its simplest, the change we made to our Constitution and are about to make in our laws is so as to rule out that possibility for the future.

So there is a big difference.

The people voted for it.

The Minister cited the example of the United States and I am pointing out the difference. The referendum was held and passed and we now have to legislate for the outcome, which I accept. However, there remains an historical legacy, a relatively small and coherently defined group of people who, while waiting for their status to be determined, have had that status bypassed by changes in the law which have since taken place. They deserve special attention. The Minister can and should address this matter. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe has now indicated the position of Fine Gael as the largest Opposition party and the Labour Party position is essentially the same.

The non-national parents of Irish born children were previously ushered by Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform officials into a separate, non-statutory, scheme for the consideration of their residence applications. After the Supreme Court judgment in the L&O case, the Government suspended the separate application procedure on 19 February 2003. These applicants must now wait for a deportation proposal to be served on them before getting a chance to put forward reasons they should be given permission to remain in Ireland with their Irish citizen children. In a decision of breathtaking insensitivity and unfairness, the Government will not even permit parents who applied before February 2003 to continue under the procedure that was in place at the time the application was made. As a result some 11,000 applicants are in a legal limbo.

The Labour Party considers that the delay suffered by these people and their children is indefensible. Those applications received before February 2003 should be fast-tracked and the families affected should, as an exceptional humanitarian measure, be granted residency, subject to security verification. It is beyond argument that we should have clear and fair criteria on which residency applications are adjudicated before any deportations can be ordered. The rights of Irish children must be vindicated by the Government and individual consideration given to their needs and rights.

Precedents exist abroad for the granting of amnesties in certain circumstances. Most recently the British Government adopted such an approach in order to clear the backlog in both asylum and residency applications involving approximately 19,000 people. This was based on recognition that the overall system would benefit from such a move, and that the people involved now have formed new associations and roots. Such an approach also recognises that asylum seekers are not responsible for the inadequacies of the decision-making process.

We must also bear in mind the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights including, in particular, its provisions on respect for family life. As summarised by the British Court of Appeal in Mahmoodv. Secretary of State for the Home Department in 2001, Article 8 of the Convention is likely to be violated by the expulsion of a member of a family who has been long established in a state if the circumstances are such that it is not reasonable to expect the other members of the family to follow the member expelled.

According to the European Commission of Human Rights, with which the Minister will no doubt be consulting in the near future, one should look at individual criteria, such as whether children have become well settled into the educational system, as well as considering the general question:

Whether removal or exclusion of a family member from a Contracting State is incompatible with the requirements of Article 8 (Art. 8) will depend on a number of factors: the extent to which family life is effectively ruptured, whether there are insurmountable obstacles in the way of the family living in the country of origin of one or more of them, whether there are factors of immigration control (e.g. history of breaches of immigration law) or considerations of public order (e.g. serious or persistent offences) weighing in favour of exclusion.

In addition these parents of Irish born children have now, as a result of divergences in the approach adopted by the Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice, fallen into a peculiar and anomalous situation. The Chen ruling of the ECJ can be summarised in two sentences. First, a young child who is a national of one EU member state is entitled to reside in any other member state if he or she is covered by sickness insurance and has sufficient resources not to become a burden on the social security system of that state. Second, to reject a residence application submitted by the non-national mother of such a child would, in the court's view, render the child's right of residence entirely ineffective. Therefore, the mother must have a derivative right of residence also. This is an important principle that would seem more pertinent to a Supreme Court decision in the context of the Constitution than another principle.

The ECJ has gone further than the Supreme Court was willing to go in this respect, where rights under the Constitution are concerned. The ECJ has held that to deport non-entitled parents of a child with a right of residence would render the rights of the child ineffective. Accordingly, such parents must have derivative rights of residence as a matter of EU law. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has permitted the deportation of non-national parents of Irish citizen children. I recognise that the ECJ judgment only binds the State so far as EU law is concerned. An Irish citizen child's rights of residence in Ireland do not derive from EU treaties or directives but from the Irish Constitution. A peculiar state of affairs now results, however, where the non-national parents of an Irish citizen child can move to other member states of the Union, provided they have insurance and sufficient other resources, relying on the right of residence in other member states of their child. Those parents are, however, still liable to be deported from this State. Effectively, a category of people has been created who, while not being nationals of any member state, have a right to reside anywhere in the EU except in Ireland. This anomaly is unfair and unsustainable.

There is a limited number of affected families.

I said all of this on 19 May and the Deputy told me I was bluffing.

About the Chen case.

If the Deputy looks at his statement of 25 May, he said I was bluffing and exaggerating but I said exactly what he is saying now.

The Minister agrees with me. That is great.

It is great that the Deputy has accepted my position when he said then I was exaggerating.

So we will regularise the situation?

All has changed, changed utterly.

I thank the Minister. If he had told me he would regularise the situation, I might have devoted less of my speech to trying to persuade him to do that.

The Deputy should look at his statement of 25 May. He told me I was bluffing and exaggerating because I said what he is now saying.

That description is true of some of the Minister's remarks.

It was not true then.

These people have been living in the community for a substantial period of time and, in many cases, their children are assimilated into school and community life. In the interests of these families and their children, they should be permitted to remain here. The breaking up of the families of young children is too high a price to pay simply to safeguard the orderly administration of our immigration system. We should take this opportunity to regularise the status of the relatively small number of people who are living here at present in a legal limbo. The anomaly highlighted in the Chen judgment is an additional argument for doing so.

We respect the decision taken by the people in the referendum but there is a pressing need to regularise the situation prior to the introduction of this legislation. Many people do not realise that there is still a constitutional entitlement to Irish citizenship by virtue of birth even though the referendum was passed. That right does not end until the legislation is passed. Now that it is going through these Houses, it is time to look generously at the intolerable situation for Irish born children who are citizens, and their parents. We must also look at the situation whereby the Supreme Court judgment in February 2003 defended the integrity of the immigration process. The integrity of the family is also strongly vindicated in the Constitution.

I ask the Minister to take this opportunity to do what he suggested previously and regularise the position. I welcome the indication he gave tonight that he will do that. It will address the backlog of people who have been waiting for years. There are people visiting our clinics whose cases have not been resolved in seven years and in many cases Irish born children are involved.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It arises from the coming into effect of the 27th amendment of the Constitution, which adds a new section to Article 9 stating that children born in Ireland do not automatically acquire Irish citizenship.

Legislative panic in this area was precipitated by the challenges posed by the accession of the additional EU states in May 2004 and the predicted east-west flow that would follow. Prior to January 2004, Ireland was the only EU member state to retain a system of unrestricted access to its labour and social welfare systems for all European workers. With the subsequent amendments to the Social Welfare Act, our policies were closer to those of other European member states. These amendments blocked immediate access to social welfare benefits for non-nationals. In 2003, the European Court of Justice approved British social welfare benefit restrictions concerning non-nationals from the accession states. These restrictions required migrant workers from the ten new states to demonstrate their integration with the economy of their new domicile before becoming eligible for benefits.

The need for a referendum in June, and its timing, were the subject of intense public discussion. There was considerable controversy about its timing, in particular its coincidence with the local and European elections. Nevertheless, 80% of those who voted supported the provision that one must have at least one parent who is an Irish citizen to be entitled to Irish citizenship.

This Bill provides that in the case of a child born to non-nationals, at least one of the parents must have been in lawful residence in Ireland for three or four years before the birth of the child to entitle that child to Irish citizenship. In 20 years some of these children born to non-nationals might be leading goal scorers for Real Madrid or AC Milan. What would happen in such circumstances if we wanted them to play for the international team in the World Cup in 2026?

We might get some of them to play for Dublin.

Would the question of those players' citizenship assume major importance? We might be able to assemble a squad of world ranking players born to parents of non-nationals. We should remember the scramble by players to trace Irish roots and secure an Irish passport before Italia 90.

We are not slow either when it comes to claiming US Presidents. We welcome them back to all parts of the country and they are all proud of their Irish ancestry. Senator John Kerry, however, is a different kettle of fish. Likewise, the future Irish-born Presidents of Nigeria, Russia, Latvia, Romania, Georgia and the Ukraine, to name but a few, will in all probability be accorded civic receptions and receive the freedom of major cities.

This may not be as unlikely as it first appears. Numerous foreign students who studied at Irish universities in the past have returned to play leading roles in their countries' political and social lives. I recall our links with the former President of Israel, the late Chaim Herzog, born in Dublin, whose father was Chief Rabbi of Ireland. He was accorded recognition in Ireland and he presented a beautiful memorial to the late Cearbhall Ó Dalaigh in Sneem, County Kerry, his retirement residence.

I am not sure if this Bill will alter the double think that pervades the Irish psyche about the Irishness of people born in Ireland. On the one hand, under this Bill, we are happy to exclude children born to non-nationals from the privileges of Irish citizenship. On the other hand, we rush to claim them as our own if they become what we consider a success or make good in the fields of arts, sports or even politics.

In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was approved in two referenda North and South of the Border granting every child born on the island of Ireland the right to be considered an Irish citizen. The scenario of major immigration to Ireland from eastern European, African or Asian countries was not envisaged by those who framed the Good Friday Agreement. In the interpretative statement by the two Governments last April, it was stated that it was not their intention that the Agreement should impose any obligation on either of the two Governments to confer nationality or citizenship on persons born in any part of the island of Ireland whose parents did not have a sufficient connection with the island of Ireland. The real intention of the Good Friday Agreement was to woo the Unionist population of Northern Ireland into a joint arrangement with their Nationalist counterparts. However, the full ramifications of the Agreement's reference to Irish citizenship were not sufficiently considered at the time which has provided dissident Unionists with a veritable arsenal of ammunition against the Agreement.

There is a category of children born to non-national parents who are already Irish citizens and who, along with their parents, are being deported in their droves. Such cases should be red circled and account should be taken of the devastating affects on their families. In such cases, the non-national elements of families are being deported, sometimes accompanied by the children who are Irish citizens. In some cases, the child, who is a citizen of Ireland, is left behind in the care of friends or neighbours. That certainly must have an effect on local community life. These children are placed in a type of semi-stateless or legal limbo when they are left in the care of neighbours or friends. They are the bearers of Irish passports, which guarantees them such protection as befits a citizen of Ireland, yet the pillars of their families are snatched away from them at their most vulnerable stage in life with our State apparently indifferent to their plight, perhaps even hoping the problem will go away and become somebody else's.

Our Constitution purports to protect the family as the basic unit of Irish society. We must ask whether the deportation of the non-national members of the family thus causing the break-up of the family or the departure of the entire family from the State serves the common good. No provision appears to have been made for the regularisation of non-national families of children born here prior to the passing of the 27th amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, I call for the red circling of this group. In fact, it is not unknown for persons in possession of Irish passports to have been summarily deported despite their protestations. This has resulted in the State being placed in the position of having to readmit them subsequently, which is their entitlement as citizens of Ireland.

Those families whose domicile in Ireland predates the 27th amendment of the Constitution should become special cases and should be permitted to remain in the country. Their children have grown up in local communities, have gone to school and have participated in local sporting and culture events and, in many cases, speak Irish with the fluency of our native speakers. Many of their parents play a full role in their communities and have made a major contribution to society in general and to their local communities, in particular. The passing of this Bill presents us with the opportunity to tidy up the issue of citizenship and nationality for the children of non-nationals. In the interests of humanity, it should not apply strictly to the persons to whom I have referred.

One loophole the Bill will eliminate is the controversial passports for sale scheme which prevailed during the 1980s and 1990s. There was the ludicrous situation where wealthy individuals could receive Irish passports in return for the investment of large sums of money in Irish projects. Their backgrounds may not have been subject to very intense scrutiny given that Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was enabled to receive Irish citizenship in return for inward investment. Similarly, another Bahamas-based financier, Viktor Kozeny, the bouncing Czech, known as the pirate of Prague, secured an Irish passport for a similar consideration. This type of wheeling and dealing in Irish passports brought the entire concept of the Irish nationality and citizenship into disrepute and ridicule and its demise is welcome. As the Minister pointed out, the Bill provides a fair and equitable set of arrangements for entitlement to Irish citizenship.

The Minister also acknowledged the contribution to Irish society longer-term émigrés make. The links between these émigrés and their home countries can become a powerful force for economic development. Trade liberalisation and export promotion means that more goods from the old countries are available in the new ones. Telephone calls home are a fraction of their cost a decade ago, fuelling a five-fold boom in the number of minutes billed to prepaid phone cards since 1997. The contribution of these people to Irish society has been very significant and our Government, through the IDA, has been to the fore in enticing multinational corporations to invest in Ireland. The Government should also make the seduction of the new diaspora of the various non-national groups already in Ireland a key part of its strategy for development.

I was surprised by the tone of the Minister's speech. I would have thought such a tone was not appropriate for someone holding ministerial office. The concerns he raised are not a fitting reflection on the tenor of the campaign held on the citizenship referendum a few months ago. The referendum was rushed and there was not time for sufficient debate. It was very difficult, particularly for those of us in smaller parties, to actively support our candidates who were running for office and also to express concerns about the citizenship referendum. Doorstep after doorstep, it was very difficult to ask people to support a candidate on local issues and then to ask to have a chat about the referendum. It was inappropriate to put both issues to the people on the same day. The slogan of one of the bodies dealing with immigration, "Keep our elections free from racism", implied within it that one should not put forward the significant issue of immigration and an election process on the same day. I stand by that and by the concerns my party raised at the time and continues to raise. The issue should have gone to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. I do not believe the level of detail which could have come into the debate was raised and it is unfortunate that opportunity was lost.

As regards the views of Opposition parties, I actively campaigned with a relatively prominent member of the Fine Gael party. There were concerns among every party represented in this Chamber about the referendum and many of those concerns still stand. Some of the most vulnerable in our society are feeling the brunt of the referendum held.

I would like to see a radical and careful change in our immigration policy. In simple terms, I would like to see a policy defined with a little bit of detail to it, as happens in the US and Australia. We could debate what that policy could consist of but we are spending more time keeping people out rather than allowing people into this country. I do not believe that is a good thing for the Ireland of which I am proud to be a citizen.

Those who enter Ireland on the basis of a working visa are the lucky few. They are the skilled workers needed in certain sectors of Irish society. However, those with a work permit do not have the same rights as those with a working visa. The characterisation of them as being, in many ways, not much more than indentured servants still holds. They are here at the whim of an employer and this causes problems for them. I have heard anecdotally that sometimes employees are forced to fork out the €500 for the renewal of the work permit. That is not good.

It is not acceptable that these people cannot be promoted. On promotion, a person's job description changes and the reasons the visa was issued are no longer valid. That is a significant subjugation of a group in Irish society that reduces its members to an underclass. It is a negative thing to say to someone in a field of endeavour that he or she has no prospect of promotion. The Minister should reflect on the difficulties inherent in the work permit process as it currently operates.

The habitual residence condition also raises difficulties. While people who come to Ireland contribute to the growth of the economy and must pay tax, they are not entitled for two years to any benefits. I accept this measure was introduced as a means of preventing a flood of people coming from the EU accession states, but the consequences affect us all. I would like to see this provision reviewed. While people who have been granted residency are permitted to stay in the country and enjoy the same entitlements as Irish citizens, they are disadvantaged as their rights are not guaranteed by law. There is no legislation to protect them and their entitlements can be changed at any time to suit the political climate.

According to the current reckoning, more than 11,000 people exist in a kind of limbo in Ireland not knowing if they and their children born here will be deported or granted residency by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. If any good comes of this debate, I hope it will be an end to the limbo in which these people find themselves. Without the right to work, they are doubly subject to the kinds of prejudice many hold against immigrants to these shores in the first place. Some people say immigrants are taking up our social welfare entitlements without realising that they do not have the right to work. The prejudice directed at the colour of someone's skin is doubled by the inability of the group in question to work and the consequent requirement to seek social welfare benefits. This is what gives rise to headlines about free cars for refugees. I hope the Minister will take it upon himself to counteract misleading headlines of this type. While I know he would like to see the establishment of a press council, in its absence I hope he will take an active interest as the Minister with responsibility for equality in dealing with the editors of newspapers that have produced such headlines.

Female genital mutilation is recognised in other EU member states as a sufficient ground for an application for asylum. Yet, on a routine basis, it is not being recognised in Ireland as a ground for concern or fear at being deported. In several of the cases about which I have written to the Minister in recent months there were such legitimate concerns. The Minister should look more favourably on applications for asylum on this ground. It is a significant issue on which the State should demonstrate leadership and compassion for the difficulties women and their families experience in their countries of origin.

I would like the Minister to introduce policies that actively promote integration, inclusion, protection, the provision of services, participation in society, recognition and respect for cultural diversity. I look forward to a change of heart, though I am not too optimistic. From the tone of his words this evening, I see the Minister has lowered himself to bickering about past events. I hope Deputy McDowell will promote equality, a function which appears in his ministerial title, to provide benefits for the least well off in society.

As democrats, we in Sinn Féin recognise the referendum result that has allowed this legislation to come forward. However, consistent with our opposition to the antecedent constitutional change to remove the equal right to citizenship by birth and replace it with an institutional inequality on the basis of the nationality of one's parents, we cannot support this Bill. If the Minister is worried, I am the last speaker and the best has been kept until last.

Equality at birth is a core republican and democratic principle. The equal right of every child to full citizenship on the basis of birth alone rather than wealth, race, ethnicity, gender or any other factor is thejus soli principle fundamental to republicanism and democracy. I cannot consent to the abandonment of this principle for the jus sangui regime, which has its origin in the racist doctrines of colonial Europe. This Bill demands that we narrow the right to citizenship from that of a right conferred by birth on this island to a right based on what the Bill refers to as a sufficient connection, a concept that it fails to define.

Who are we kidding when we set an arbitrary threshold? Approximately 1.8 million Irish passport holders were born and currently reside abroad. They are citizens only by virtue of hereditary descent under section 7 of the current Act.

A racist colonial ideal.

I am simply describing what currently exists.

The Deputy has just described it as racist.

So far, I have not. How are these people more connected to Ireland than those who are born here? How do we prove an infant does not have sufficient connection to a place? How do we prove an infant born overseas has a greater connection to the island and its people by virtue of parents who have chosen to leave than one born in Belfast, Dublin or Galway whose parents chose to come here and make it their home? It cannot be done. How deep is our hypocrisy in this presumption when untold thousands of our ancestors and even immediate relatives have claimed the right to remain in the United States of America or Canada on the basis of the birth of child citizens of those countries?

Irish republicans do not want Irish nationalism to be exclusive or insular but rather inclusive, internationalist and rooted in full equality. This ethos has never been more important than now as we contemplate a united Ireland in the near future. A united Ireland must treat all people born on this island with equal esteem regardless of affinity, ethnicity, religious or political belief or the origins of one's ancestors. We must be absolutely consistent. I appeal to Deputies on all sides of the House who support this Bill to think hard about its implications for the future. Members must take the opportunity to reflect on what really defines Irish nationality and the way in which we built our nation.

I admit to deep disappointment with the referendum result and the Bill as these take Irish nationalism backwards and fail to advance us to an inclusive and proudly multi-cultural Ireland. I am disappointed that the majority of voters of all political persuasions failed to learn compassion from the legacy of Irish immigration and instead swallowed the bait when encouraged by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to scapegoat others for the unequal distribution of wealth and access to resources that the Government has presided over and aggravated. This is a mistake we will have to pay for down the road.

I recognise and appreciate that greater efforts have been made since the Government's original proposal to proof the legislation in line with the Good Friday Agreement in keeping with its responsibility to ensure that violation or dilution of the Agreement is not a by-product of current policy and this Bill. There is, however, an anomaly that results from the formulation of this Bill or, to use the Minister's language, a loophole that violates the stated principle underlining the Bill, that of citizenship on the basis of sufficient connection.

In accordance with provisions in the proposed new section 4, 6A(2)(c) and 6B(2) and (7), all British citizens regardless of whether they have any connection, much less a demonstrably sufficient connection, with Ireland have a privileged position equal to that of Irish citizens when it comes to the automatic right of their children to citizenship. Under this legislation, a couple who have no Irish connection, who, for instance, have lived all their lives in Manchester, could come to Ireland, give birth to a child and have Irish citizenship rights conferred on their baby. However, the same cannot be said for a couple who come to Ireland from Cape Town, Hanoi or Santiago.

With regret I note that while the Human Rights Commission raised sufficient concerns prior to the final drafting and publication of this Bill again, most of them have not been addressed. I note that the Immigrant Council of Ireland shares many of those concerns which I will take up with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on Committee and Report Stages. However, he has not been amenable to amendments from my party or from those who oppose his trend on this issue.

I also note the Minister said he would engage in a wide-ranging consultation process. I have not so far seen any evidence that that is the case. I repeat Sinn Féin's call on the Minister to keep the promise he made to the Opposition spokespersons in April, as mentioned earlier by other speakers, to immediately move to regularise the status of the non-national parents of Irish citizen children facing deportation, in particular those whose applications were made before the Government changed its policy and made it retrospect in the wake of the Lobe and Osayande decision. It is not acceptable that the Government changed the rules and forced these people back to square one. It is not acceptable that the Government's acceleration of the deportation of these parents of Irish children amounted to the effective exile of 32 citizens to date. We do not know what will happen to them in the future because the Minister has admitted to me that the Government has washed his hands of them. They were, in effect, told to get out and not come back.

The Government has forced parents to surrender their children's Irish passports while in other cases it has facilitated the obtaining of Irish passports to get such people out of the country quicker. The only alternative, as happened in one case, is for the parents to leave the child behind in the country of origin and of its citizenship. We do not know how often this has happened or the fate of such children because the Minister has also admitted to me that he does not keep track of them. This is a scandal and a stain on our nation. I urge the Minister to regularise these families now as there is no logical reason not to grant them an amnesty on a humanitarian basis, in the name of fairness given this Bill will no doubt pass Second Stage, in the light of the possible success of the pending High Court challenge and also in view of the potential implications of the European Court of Justice decision in the Chen case which has reaffirmed the right of EU child citizens to the care and company of their parents within the EU.

Debate adjourned.