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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Vol. 619 No. 2

Report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on Migration: Statements.

I welcome the genesis of the idea of Europe Day in the Dáil. It gives an opportunity to all Members of the House to talk about these issues, as they directly affect everybody in this country.

I disagree with what Deputy Deasy had to say about Romania and Bulgaria. Only last week the Joint Committee on European Affairs met with the ambassador from Bulgaria. She was able to inform us that labour market movements within Bulgaria are completely different to the situation as described by Deputy Deasy. There is very little likelihood of any major rush from Bulgaria. They have had 5% to 6% growth on average over the last three or four years. There does not appear to be any likelihood, if immigration from the ten accession states has been moderate, measured and useful, that opening the borders to Bulgaria and Romania will be a regressive step. I take this opportunity to urge the Taoiseach and the Government to continue the open borders approach as regards EU member states. The debate has left those behind who have ideas about work permits for citizens of EU member states. It runs entirely against everything the European Union stands for, namely, free movement of workers, free establishment and all the basic principles we signed up to. We cannot begin to have an à la carte approach to the European Union because something does not suit us. I encourage the Government to continue its excellent work and leadership within the European Union. In the last couple of weeks another four countries have adopted the approach of allowing access to their labour markets for citizens from the ten new accession states. That situation will improve and continue until 2011 when all member states will allow access to their labour markets to citizens of the EU.

Having said that, it falls to me to introduce the report produced over the last five or six months by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It has been a very interesting process. I have to acknowledge the work of Ms Katherine Meenan who put a vast amount of research into an area in which, as we discovered, there is a great lack of data and information that would allow us to make concrete visionary policies in the future. As Deputy Deasy said in his introduction, the debate emerges from great concern within this country as regards the challenge of so many people coming into Ireland in recent times and in the coming years. One startling fact we got from the head of FÁS is that there will be a requirement for 500,000 new workers over the next ten years if the economy continues to grow as at present. If we are to continue to absorb those workers the debate must move away from immigration towards integration. That is the real challenge of this report. It sets down a requirement that there should be a single Department with responsibility.

As matters stand a large number of Departments have responsibility for immigration affairs and integration. The Department of Health and Children, for example, has responsibility, as we heard recently, as regards vaccination of people from third countries. We know the Department of Social and Family Affairs deals with those who cannot find work. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government deals with housing aspects. The Department of Education and Science tries to integrate young children into schools. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform deals with racism issues as does the Garda National Immigration Bureau, while the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment deals with work permits. That is seven Departments, and our research clearly shows there has been no co-ordination of approach among them. We are calling on the Government to consider setting up a single Department with responsibility for these affairs. We do not intend that all the functions should come within this Department, but rather that it should supervise all the functions I have described.

The report lays stress on the issue of immigration. Significantly, it notes that if we do not create far-sighted policies, we are in danger of repeating the mistakes that have been made in many other countries. One of the report's key recommendations is its call for a White Paper on the issue of citizenship. We should even go further and talk about a White Paper on multiculturalism and how people should be absorbed into our country. I read that Canada adopted multiculturalism into its constitution in 1988, as an ideal to be nurtured in terms of how to deal with migrant workers. That was a very important step. Given Ireland's history, where we have come from and the manner in which we were treated as citizens in other countries, from a moral viewpoint we must go down that road.

I thank the other members of the committee for the great work they did and commend its Chairman, Deputy Deasy, for his idealism which brought the initiative forward in the first place. I recommend the report to the House.

Members will speak in the following order. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, has six minutes. He will be followed by spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who will have six minutes each, and Members can share time. Then there will be a 25-minute question and answer session.

I join with Deputies Deasy and Andrews in saying it is timely to be discussing the report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on migration in the same week in which Europe Day falls. I look forward to the question and answer session as regards some of the issues that have been raised in the context of the report.

We in Ireland have been full and enthusiastic participants in the European project right from the beginning. We have participated constructively in all of the major initiatives at European level, from economic and monetary union and the euro, to the opening of labour markets to new members of the European Union. Even though we are a small country in terms of scale, we have played an important part in the development of the EU, not least through the contribution our hosting of the EU Presidencies has made to making progress on key issues on the European agenda.

I welcome the fact the Joint Committee on European Affairs has made immigration part of its programme of work. I agree with the committee that immigration is a major issue for us and one on which we should focus. It represents a new challenge to Irish society. In many ways it is a sign of our success in growing the economy and creating jobs that our challenges have changed from emigration to inward migration. We have also experienced this significant inward migration in a relatively short period. A total of 9% of our workforce, or 170,000 workers, are foreign nationals. Other EU countries have similar proportions of foreign national workers but the difference is that in those countries these proportions were built up over a generation while we have reached this level within a couple of years. There is no doubt this provides us with challenges to address.

Those from the EU-10 countries who joined the EU in May 2004 make up 3% of our workforce, or 62,000 workers. We know from Revenue data that the number of these nationals who have worked here at some time since May 2004 is greater — at about 135,000 — thus many of them will have worked here for a while before returning to their home countries.

I agree with Deputies Deasy and Andrews that the decision by the Government to grant immediate free access to the labour market for nationals of the new member states from May 2004 was the correct one. In its recent study on economic migration, which was done in conjunction with Forfás, the expert skills group on future skills needs has identified key sectors of the economy that still remain problematic in terms of skills issues. Sometimes this gets masked in terms of the overall debate about displacement and other such matters.

I do not say there are no issues to be addressed but we should focus on the fact that we still have significant shortages of people in information and communications technologies, health care, research and development and engineering. This poses a challenge to our education and training systems but, equally, highlights the ongoing need for a strong, properly managed economic migration policy. As Deputy Deasy stated, workers from these countries have been significantly contributing to our economic growth through a diverse range of activities and occupations. Many of them have been working in the construction sector in particular, and this has allowed us to address our infrastructural deficit more quickly than we would otherwise have been able to do. Many others have also been engaged in the manufacturing, catering and hospitality and agricultural sectors to the benefit of businesses and consumers.

As regards future accessions to the EU and our policy on labour market access for their nationals, in particular that of Romania and Bulgaria, the Government will take a decision in this regard before the accession of these countries and after consultation with the social partners, as has been agreed. As the Taoiseach stated, it is a pity the other member states across Europe have not opened their borders like Ireland, Sweden and the UK did at the outset. Deputy Andrews referred to this point also. Our decision on economic migration outside of the EU will be closely linked to labour market trends, which is defensible. It is important we would always have a clear linkage between economic migration and labour market trends.

New arrangements for the labour market participation of workers from outside the European Economic Area will be put in place by the end of this year, after the Employment Permits Bill has been passed by the Oireachtas. I hope that will be done in the next couple of weeks. As part of these new arrangements, we will introduce a new green card system for workers from outside the European Economic Area for occupations where strategic high skills shortages exist which cannot be met from within the European Union. Under this system, green cards will be issued for two years initially and will normally provide a pathway to long-term or permanent residency and citizenship thereafter. This will help address the skills deficits which are likely to persist for some time in key sectors of the economy, particularly in the areas of information technology, health care and construction, and in the financial services, internationally traded services and pharmaceutical or biotechnology sectors.

In terms of the challenges before us, the integration of those who come from overseas is a major area of concern. Integration is a multidimensional process. I agree with the findings of the report of the joint committee that we need to deal with the economic and social issues which migration raises in a way that is joined up. The current response appears to be to create a Department to deal with particular problems that arise. I agree we need more co-ordination in the areas of housing, health and social welfare but we have expertise in existing Departments that deal very well with those issues.

My Department has teamed up with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to create a one-stop-shop facility in terms of work, residency and so forth for migrant workers. I would like to further explore the issue of co-ordination with committee members. We accept the matter must be addressed but I am not sure if it is necessary to create a new Department. For example, we could devise a similar model to that which was done in the area of children where a cross-cutting Minister of State was created.

A Minister.

This approach could offer a solution to the issue of co-ordination that has been rightly identified by the committee.

I thank the Joint Committee on European Affairs and its Chairman, Deputy Deasy, for instigating this novel idea in the context of Europe Day. I congratulate all the committee members on the manner in which in they have organised such a ground-breaking new model for discussing an issue in the Dáil Chamber. The report is timely considering we have had two relevant items of legislation recently in the Oireachtas, namely the Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Bill and the Employment Permits Bill.

Fine Gael has supported the liberal arrangements that have been brought forward by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure employers, but above all employees, have more discretion in regard to work permits and more opportunity to transfer from one place of employment to another. This proposed legislation is progressing through the Houses of the Oireachtas and will, I hope, become law by 1 July. When enacted, those two Bills will be seen as a major step forward in providing measures that will integrate workers into the workforce.

Migrant workers need considerable assistance in a number of areas, especially in terms of education. Irish people also need to be educated about the importance of migration. We have come a long way in economic terms, from a high level of unemployment to relatively low levels and many sectors of the economy require additional skills. In recent months it has come to the attention of those interested in enterprise matters that there are skills shortages in the areas of toolmaking, mechanics, nursing and the pharmaceutical sector. In all these areas, migration will make an important contribution to the Irish economy. We need additional workers. Recent figures released by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment show that the largest number of work permits are issued to people from South Africa, the Philippines and India. The type of skills shortages we have can be solved by people from the countries in question.

One issue that has clouded the debate on migration in recent times has been the exploitation of workers from foreign countries. The Gama Construction workers from Turkey provide a perfect example which has been highlighted here on many occasions. The sorry debacle of the Irish Ferries dispute, which was brought about not by the foreign workers but by the employer involved, is disgraceful and highlights the fact that legislation on maritime law must be tightened not only at national but at European level to ensure workers are protected in this area as they are more open to exploitation than workers in other sectors.

The report before us makes a number of recommendations which include a network of drop-in centres for migrants and greater co-operation and co-ordination between the statutory bodies involved in inspection and enforcement of the range of legislation in place to protect workers' rights. I trust the Minister will bring forward new measures and regulations in due course arising from the partnership talks that will not only assist us in regard to the assimilation of migrant workers into our economy but will also contribute to removing some of the prejudice that has built up, particularly due to some union members in recent times in regard to the potential displacement of workers and their worries about employment standards. We want employment standards that are good for all workers, irrespective of whether they are Irish or from another jurisdiction.

I commend the Polish Government which recently initiated a campaign to publicise the appropriate routes for finding jobs in Ireland and restricting the activities of unscrupulous and careless employment agencies. That model could be used by other member states, recent accession states or countries like Bulgaria or Romania that are seeking to gain access to the European Union.

I raised the issue of the training of workers at another forum today. I am most concerned that workers from outside the EU arrive in this jurisdiction without being properly trained for work on construction sites in particular. There has been a significant increase in fatalities in the construction sector of 44% in 2005 over the 2004 figure. Employers have not taken responsibility for workers they know are not up to the job for which they have been employed and if workers do not have the necessary information and training, it is a form of exploitation. FÁS should provide migrant workers with basic training not only in the areas in which they work but also in English because language may be a barrier in providing the appropriate training, which is essential for all workers on sites.

Ireland is not properly prepared for migrants. It is clear the Government does not have an immigration policy but a policy is needed as soon as possible. I call on the Minister and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address this as quickly as possible. Integration of migrant workers is essential to ensure the prejudices that arise through ignorance are eliminated. The debate on workers from applicant countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia will come into play in the near future. These countries must fulfil economic and other criteria to prove they are fit to become Union members. However, as an enthusiastic member of the European project, the Fine Gael Party would like new applicant countries to be in position to join the Union as soon as possible rather than ensuring they are kept out of this important and successful project.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute and it is appropriate we should debate this crucial aspect of European policy. In approaching this issue, it is important to recognise that the economic dimension is not the sole dimension. What is happening in regard to migration globally, at European level and nationally involves much more than the economy, as it also involves the movement of workers and their dependants. The Government does not intend to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Their Families. The convention, which has been in place for a long time, has been signed up to by 34 countries but has been ratified by only two European countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey. The reason the Government gives for not signing is that workers are entitled to other protections under the Constitution and other instruments signed by various Governments. The importance of the convention is that it recognises that migrant workers are more than labourers or economic entities. They are social entities with families and, accordingly, have rights, including that of family reunification.

A long time ago when I researched migration, I found that Irish migration changed character several times from migration for a lifetime to north America to regular or circular migration to Britain with people coming and going all the time while leaving their families at home, which had clear implications for social policy. More elaborate models than the three suggested — multiculturalism, assimilation and exclusion — are needed and the appropriate model would have to handle circular migration. In today's conditions of immigration, the State needs to ensure all migrants are protected equally from a rights perspective as workers but a more comprehensive approach is needed for their dependants so that, for example, their children can learn the language and mix with children of the same age and older people can rejoin their families. Such an approach would be best structured on a rights basis. It is a mistake that Ireland and many other European countries are not moving towards ratification of the UN convention.

The strength of the convention is that it establishes the responsibility of the international community through the UN to provide measures of protection. Over the past 25 years, the total number of migrants throughout the world has doubled but while we are concerned about the impact on economies and so forth, 40% of migrants are in the developed world with more than 60% of migrants in the developing world, comprising 49 million in Asia, 16 million in Africa and 6 million in the Latin America-Caribbean region. While the movement of people is an economic issue, it is also a people's issue. It is singularly inappropriate for Ireland to draw a distinction between such security the State will provide to workers earning more than a specified income and those earning less than it. The State is making arrangements from a simple and narrow economic perspective, which cuts across the broader rights-based approach favoured by the Global Commission on Migration and the UN and which is most appropriate to Europe.

It would be disingenuous to ignore, when considering the current literature on migration and the doubling of migrants in the past 25 years, that it has not been accompanied by favourable attitudes. In Europe, sometimes issues affecting migrants are mixed with refugee issues and so forth. The number of refugee applications to Ireland has reduced dramatically. However, these issues have resulted in a negative atmosphere in Europe and it is pointless suggesting otherwise. Migrants are affected by racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, which are stronger now than 25 years ago. In addition, migrants are unequally affected by detention measures and other half-baked measures justified in the name of counter-terrorism. In every case, there is evidence that migrants and their families are more vulnerable than other population categories in the context of abuse and deprivation in housing, health and so on.

A proper understanding of migration as the movement of people is, therefore, needed to undo the fear attached to the receipt of people who have many sources of richness to offer us. Multiculturalism means those who move initially and their dependants who move subsequently are secure in their rights and can enjoy all the benefits of their host country.

I wish to share time with Deputies Cuffe and Ó Snodaigh.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this special day. Ireland was a country of emigration from the Great Famine in the 1840s until the early 1950s when the natural increase in population was offset by the population outflow. This was higher proportionately than in any other European country leading to a continuous decline in population for more than 100 years. Even after our accession to the EEC, Ireland's net immigration rate was insignificant. However, in the 1990s that began to change with the rate reaching 8%, the highest in the OECD. The unemployment rate in the early 1990s was 15% but the State is effectively operating at full employment now.

Immigration policy has been introduced on a piecemeal basis over the past 25 years. Ireland does not have a formal quota-based system, which uses country quotas or special immigration visas. Admission of immigrants has largely been controlled by employers with the onus on them to indicate the people they are bringing into the State have jobs. That led to difficulties because a number of employers retained the work permits. Can an audit be undertaken to determine the foreign worker needs of the agriculture and service industries? Could more effective co-ordination between Departments on immigration issues be achieved? We should address the possibility of a quota-based approach to certain countries to deal with the incidence of economic migration among asylum seekers.

I wish the Cathaoirleach a belated happy Europe Day on behalf of the Green Party. I am sure he is aware that the Green Party is looking to join the European Movement, which I have championed for a long time. I remember in 1973 seeing graffiti on walls stating "EEC No", which was changed by some wag to "BBC No. 1". That reflected a wish among the plain people of Ireland to gain exposure to foreign media and culture. They also wished to share in the economic, social and environmental benefits of European membership.

I welcome the interim report. I want to see its recommendations implemented without delay. It is similar to the Green Party's immigration policy which was launched in August 2005. However, I am concerned that the Government does not have a policy in that area. The committee was unable to trace responsibility among different Departments for the different aspects of immigration and integration. This ad hoc approach is very worrying and the Government should create a Minister of State for immigration, based in the Department of the Taoiseach. I was concerned that the Progressive Democrats Party representative, Deputy Sexton, blocked that recommendation on Committee Stage.

There is no comprehensive strategy to combat trafficking of women and girls into this country. Ireland is the only EU member state with no legislation that makes trafficking for sexual exploitation a criminal offence. Such legislation must be fast-tracked.

Kennedy George is an immigrant who came from Sierra Leone. He has had to report to the Garda National Immigration Bureau 25 times in the past 18 months. Whatever we may say about Guantanamo Bay, this is psychological torture from our Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We must ensure that we are not subjecting this young man to psychological torture on an ongoing basis.

Fáiltím roimh an deis labhairt ar an tuairisc seo. Den chuid is mó, déantar neamhaird den obair a dhéanaimid sna Tithe seo agus i gcoistí, agus tá sé ríthábhachtach go bhfoilseofar an tuairisc seo agus go mbeidh plé agus díospóireacht againn ar a bhfuil inti. Is tuairisc mhaith í, agus táimid ag díriú ar cheist mhór maidir le rannóg nó Aire amháin a bhí á lorg agamsa agus ag roinnt Teachtaí eile sa choiste agus muid ag déileáil le ceist mhór na hinimirce agus ant-athrú mór atá ag teacht ar an tír seo. Tá sé tarlaithe cheana féin, agus ní dheachaigh muid i ngleic leis i gceart.

Tá ceisteanna móra le freagairt fós, agus caithfidh an tsochaí ar fad déileáil leo. Is gá dúinn díriú air sin, agus an chumhacht agus na hacmhainní cearta a thabhairt don Aire agus don rannóg seo chun a hobair thábhachtach a dhéanamh ionas gur féidir linn sochaí cheart a bheith againn amach anseo atá rathúil. Is gá dúinn cuidiú leis na heagrais a bhíonn ag obair le hinimircigh, mar shampla, Comhairle na nInimirceach, agus chomh maith leis sin le heagrais na n-inimirceach féin agus an pobal i gcoitinne ionas gur féidir linn tabhairt faoi na ceisteanna móra atá ag cur imní air. Beimid in ann teacht tríd sa dóigh is go mbeidh rath orainn dá thairbhe.

I read the Minister's speech and I welcome it. The issue is about the large number of people who have come to Ireland from the new accession countries, which I support fully, as I support the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. However, like those countries that have their own national interests, we also have our own national interest in respect of the numbers of workers coming here and whether they are the appropriate workers for our needs. The Minister spoke about a new green card system and I welcome that.

Some countries are not granting full access to the current list of accession states and they will probably not grant full access to Bulgarian and Romanian workers. If some of those larger countries are shut off from those workers, is there a possibility that a large number of workers in categories we do not need would come here if we grant unfettered access to our labour market?

The decision on Bulgaria and Romania will be made following a decision of the EU to grant accession to these countries in the first instance. We will make a decision in the autumn, if the decision to allow accession goes ahead. We will consider it in the context of the labour market trends in our economy and the fact that a number of EU countries have still not granted access to new EU citizens to their labour markets. We will consult the social partners and Members of this House before coming to that decision. There is a provision in the Employment Permits Bill 2005, currently going through the Seanad, which will enable us to make a decision by regulation one way or the other.

I welcome the initiative to have this focused debate in the Dáil on the European Union. I hope it will continue and that other states follow suit.

It seems strange that 3% of our workforce — 62,000 — are from the ten accession countries, reflecting fewer than half the number that came to this country since 2004. That consists of less than a third of all non-nationals working in this country. There seems to be much circular migration on a very rapid basis. Will this factor influence the Government's decision in allowing Bulgarian and Romanian workers full access to the workplace? In his remarks yesterday, the Taoiseach was vague about supporting a particular date for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.

The countries that have contributed most to circular migration are Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with reduced numbers coming from the other accession states. Some of these people come here and then leave. There is a need for more data and information on this issue. The National Economic and Social Council is completing a major study on the management of migration in Ireland which takes on board the economic and social aspects of migration. My Department has been doing some work on the social side of migration and the NESC report will be completed in the next few weeks. We can use the report for further policy initiatives in the area of migration. As I pointed out to Deputy Mulcahy, the principal areas of consideration when making a decision on Bulgaria and Romania are labour market trends and the position of other EU states.

How does the Minister intend to influence his European colleagues in opening their borders to immigrant workers from the two new applicant countries? Can he anticipate their attitude? That could have a bearing on the number of immigrant workers seeking access to this country. Can he also indicate the likely status of asylum seekers from Bulgaria and Romania who have lived in this country for several years?

Romanian and Bulgarian nationals can currently come to Ireland but have to apply for work permits. We could continue that arrangement and decide to give them preference over non-EEA nationals or issue work permits on the basis of job offers without the requirement to advertise with FÁS. A variety of options are available to us. We could decide to grant freedom of movement from January 2007, January 2009 or January 2012, with the comfort of a safeguard clause in the event of labour market disturbance, which would be negotiated with the Commission.

We have raised this issue at meetings and other member states are aware of Ireland's stance. The UK, Sweden and some other countries share our views. The immigration levels of many of these countries are similar to ours but we are different in terms of the rapidity by which migration to Ireland has increased. While we issued a mere 5,000 permits in 1999, we issued 50,000 by the end of 2003 and 165,000 by May 2004. By any objective benchmark, that is a significant level of immigration in a very short period of time. The issue now arises of managing immigration through integration and by developing sound policies on all fronts.

Immigrants, whether they come here for economic or other reasons, do not fit neatly into a box. They are real people with needs and wants which cross many Departments. The Minister alluded to this earlier but is he willing to take the matter further? The report strongly recommends that one Department should co-ordinate immigration matters. My party believes a Minister of State based within the Department of the Taoiseach should be given responsibility for immigration and ethnic affairs. Given that the report makes reference to the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science, Arts, Sport and Tourism and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, would the Minister agree to the appointment of a Minister of State within the Department of the Taoiseach to facilitate co-ordination between these Departments in meeting the needs of this vulnerable group?

While the Taoiseach would make the ultimate decision on a proposal such as that made by Deputy Cuffe, the model of a Minister of State with specific co-ordinating responsibilities has worked in other areas, such as children, in which a need existed to bring Departments together to deal with problems in a coherent manner. The proposal certainly merits serious consideration and could be brought before the Government.

Can the Minister suggest a timeframe?

I cannot but my door is open with regard to the proposal.

Deputy Cuffe anticipated my first question. Does the Minister agree that the huge changes which immigration has fostered in our society have given rise to challenges which need to be addressed as a priority? Does he agree with the recommendation of the committee that clear responsibility to support social and economic integration of immigrants should be given to one Government agency? That agency would be separate to Deputy Cuffe's proposal for a junior Minister because a Minister should also be appointed to deal with migration and related issues. When can we expect a Government policy to be introduced and legislation to be brought on migration and related issues?

Will the Government revisit the issue of signing and ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families? According to the replies I have thus far received, the convention is being examined by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The reason given for not signing it is that protections already exist, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but that is not quite the case. If families and dependants are able to accompany immigrants, migration patterns change from a circular movement to a more manageable system. The Human Rights Commission has strongly recommended that Ireland should give a lead in that regard.

The convention was signed in 1990 and 34 states have since ratified it. However, a terrible impression is left by the fact that no EU member state has signed or ratified the convention. If Europe is to be serious about migrants and their families, this is the road to follow. I ask the Government to reconsider its decision.

The rapid increase in the number of work permits issued, in addition to the arrival of accession country citizens who have every right to work here, is putting new pressures on that section of the indigenous labour market which, for whatever reason, has been unable to find jobs in Ireland. These pressures are giving rise to prejudices and resentments which we are only beginning to measure. Against that background, has the Minister any intention of revisiting the social employment schemes and active labour market measures to enable those who are on the margin of the labour market to find the jobs they seek? By definition, immigrant workers are more hungry and tend to be more agile and better qualified.

Given the risk of politicising the issue of immigration, does the Minister believe politicians have a responsibility to use temperate and considered language? Does he acknowledge that many of the fears people have on this issue are irrational and that some politicians may feed into that irrationality?

As part of Europe Day, a website was set up,, which allows people to post questions on this issue. Of the many questions posted on the website, I shall put two to the Minister. How far does the Minister think we can go with the European ideal? How far can the enlargement project go in terms of borders?

With regard to the questions that have arisen on the freedom of movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania after the accession of those countries to the EU, have the Minister or officials in his Department held discussions with the countries' ambassadors about the possible post-accession movement of workers? What are the Minister's views on the measures Bulgaria and Romania have taken to meet EU criteria?

Does the Minister intend to revisit legislation on work permits and the financial limits put on people in respect of being joined by their families?

I concur with Deputy Ó Snodaigh that challenges exist in the area of social and economic integration which need to be urgently addressed, although we have already made significant progress in that area. While the legislation on work permits pertains to economic migration, it dovetails with the immigration and residence Bill which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform plans to bring before the House. This will mean there will be faster family reunification, which has strong social implications for the families and individuals concerned. Our ad hoc practices in this area were untenable, particularly when we were short of researchers in areas like nanotechnology. In one case a person’s family and children were not allowed in for months. We need to sharpen that up and this will be the impact of the Act. Deputy McDowell agrees with that. On the co-ordination question raised by Deputy Cuffe and the committee, it cannot all be solved by one agency. The Government is working with Ministers who have specific responsibilities in migration, for example significant advances have been made on education provision in terms of language and participation rates for children of immigrants. Deputy Michael Higgins raised the issue of the ratification of the UN Convention. I will have a more detailed look at that. Originally he said there were 34 signatories to ratification.

Yes, 34 countries have ratified the convention.

He mentioned Turkey and Bosnia.

Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina have both signed and ratified.

Signing and ratifying it brings significant obligations to a country and we would have to examine it in detail. That it has not been ratified since 1999 by EU countries and our own probably tells its own story. It may not be an adequate instrument and may need to be re-examined. The slow take-up and the decision by so many not to ratify may tell a story or open insights on issues to do with the convention.

The issue is in extending it to social welfare legislation.

Deputy Quinn raised the point about pressures on the indigenous markets and asked if we would look at the community employment schemes. We reformed those last year to try to facilitate the continuation of people on community employment programmes. I transferred the social economy scheme to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with a view to seeing that as a social support which leads to the employment of people and recognising that it was there to support communities and not as a labour market intervention. Approximately 24,000 people are on CE schemes. Some counties report that they cannot fill the schemes. I was recently on the Inishowen Peninsula where the supervisors of CE schemes said they had difficulty getting people to participate.

Donegal was always different.

The Minister knows the situation in County Cork.

County Donegal has a live register of 7% and it is not the only county with high unemployment statistics. Across rural Ireland people ask that we keep the participants on the schemes longer because they cannot get new people to fill them. We are revisiting the CE scheme with FÁS. My one worry is for unskilled workers who may be vulnerable to globalisation and the shift of low-cost manufacturing outside the country. Their re-employability is an issue if we do not upskill. That is why we have allocated substantial resources to FÁS to move on the one-step-up initiative and to get people upskilled in the workplace. In-company training will be a significant part of that into the future.

I agree with Deputy Andrews and the tempered language he so often exemplifies should be a model for the rest of us.

Votes for the backbenchers.

We must always be careful of the language we use, particularly on migration. Before the last general election the main political parties worked together to keep the lid on that situation. Deputy Quinn would have been involved in that. Life goes on and we must all work together despite temptation. Deputy Andrews asked two "haymakers" and I do not have time to deal with them in terms of my ultimate view of the European idea, the enlargement project and how far it can go. On the former, at times I wish Europe would better embrace some of the founding principles, such as the free market and opening up the internal market. There is an occasional outburst of economic nationalism when it affects some of the major players and this causes a lack of consistency. Member states should embrace the Lisbon Agenda more enthusiastically. Europe is not moving fast enough to respond to the profound transformation of the world in terms of competitiveness and globalisation. Europe tends to be too inward looking and this could undermine our future competitiveness. The enlargement project will continue to strengthen, which has benefits for Ireland, including political stability. As we are outward looking and export almost everything we produce, we depend on a liberal world market.

Deputy Allen asked about workers' rights. The social partnership process will result in an enhancement of the compliance mechanisms at our disposal to ensure compliance with workers' rights. On EU accession by Bulgaria and Romania, the European Commission still has issues with both countries and has deferred judgment on whether they accede until autumn. On the financial limits raised by Deputy Lynch, my Department does not impose financial limits. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform deals with migration issues although as a result of the passage of the work permits legislation and the Immigration Bill we will have a more family-friendly policy on immigrants.

I thank Members for their contribution to the debate.

Sitting suspended at 12.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.