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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Oct 2010

Vol. 717 No. 3

Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Bill. The House will recall that I have spoken on all immigration Bills since entering Dáil Éireann in 1997. The new Bill represents a further development and enhancement of the provisions contained in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 and takes into accounts concerns and Committee Stage amendments tabled by the Opposition. The Government also tabled substantial amendments. The Bill was withdrawn and a new one produced.

As we know, it is a fundamental principle of immigration law that a foreign national has no right as such to enter or to be in Ireland. Considerable jurisprudential authority makes it clear that not only does the State have the power — mainly used by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform — to manage the entry, presence and removal from the State of non-nationals, but has a duty to do so to protect the interests of Irish society.

The main purpose of the new Bill remains the same as that of the 2008 Bill, namely, to provide a modern legislative framework for managing migration that will provide a fair and transparent set of procedures for the day-to-day implementation of Government policies in respect of immigration and protection. It will ensure that the State's immigration and protection system complies with our international obligations in this regard. As we know, the Bill repeals and re-enacts, with substantial amendments, the current body of immigration and protection legislation dating back to the Aliens Act 1935. In particular, it restates the principles enshrined in the Refugee Act 1996 in a way that integrates the State's protection system into the mainstream of immigration law with a view to making the system more efficient and effective.

I shall return to the main aims proposed in the Bill but refer first to 2002. Every time I make a contribution on an immigration Bill Members on the opposite side of the House show different views and attitudes. I, too, am entitled to express my views in the House. On 24 January 2002 I made a statement about an incident involving asylum seekers in Cork who were seeking a greater degree of protection and more facilities. In my statement, carried in The Irish Times and other newspapers, I stated that I believed some asylum seekers were spongers and freeloaders, and were screwing the system. That was in 2002. Of course, that statement opened a Pandora’s box in this House when I raised the matter on 31 January 2002. I was leaped on by members of the Opposition and by the media who followed me, hanging on my every word, all the time throwing around the accusation that I was a racist. In this very Chamber, a number of Deputies on the opposite side called me a racist. The Deputy who was very strong in expressing these views was not re-elected in 2002 but I am glad to see the same Deputy was back in the House after the 2007 election.

The media were the not only group to throw that accusation around. For example, Amnesty International made a complaint to the Garda which carried out an investigation and took a statement from me. It was found I had no case to answer when this was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That was a difficult time for me, being hounded by the media when all I was doing was expressing the point of view of my constituents regarding the difficulties they had with criminality and anti-social behaviour on the part of some asylum seekers. They came to this country seeking asylum and one would have expected them to obey the laws of this country and behave properly. At that time there was great concern among the people of Cork North Central.

An interesting statistic from 2008 is that non-Irish nationals account for 30% for all committals to prison. This figure included all nationalities present in the country, both EU nationals and nationals from all over the world.

Members may recall that in 2004, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, introduced the Citizen Referendum Bill which changed the format relating to citizenship. During the debate on this issue, Mr. McDowell used the word "conmen" in regard to some asylum seekers but the media did not hound him and said nothing about him. He was the Minister so he could use the word "conman" but Deputy Noel O'Flynn could not use a similar word in the same vein. Nor did they accuse him of racism.

However, since 2002 things have improved dramatically in regard to this issue. It is important to put on the record of this House that over the years I have worked with asylum seekers and helped them with their applications. I have also witnessed and commended the involvement of the new Irish in our country, especially in my own city where we have our St. Patrick's Day parade every year. People from many different nationalities have settled in now and become part of Cork society. We have seen them and their culture and have enjoyed it. It has enriched our society.

I am still concerned about direct provision for asylum seekers which they receive in accommodation, food and a small allowance. They may be living in such accommodation for many years. That is wrong. Their applications must be dealt with speedily and decisions must be made. If they are to be granted asylum let it be given to them and, eventually, citizenship but it is wrong to have the process drawn out and delayed. There must be a better way and I see that way in this Bill.

Since 2004 I have welcomed to Ireland people from the new eastern European states that joined the EU. Some have settled and made homes for themselves among us. For many years, these men and women have been valuable assets to our economy and have contributed greatly. I am glad that Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians and Estonians have come to Ireland and worked hard here because these are people who suffered long under the yoke of Soviet imperialism.

I welcome, therefore, a Bill that seeks to have fast track applications for all asylum seekers and proposes that, following rejection of an application, only one recourse will be open to appeal rather than the four or five stages people were taking in order to exhaust the legal process until a decision was eventually made either to deport them or to grant asylum. We all know who the winners are in this — the barristers and solicitors in the Law Courts in Dublin and elsewhere.

I do not know whether the Minister mentioned it in his speech today but he has estimated that 95% of asylum seekers are economic migrants. In 2002, I estimated that 80% of applicants in this country were not fleeing tyranny or oppression in their own countries. The Minister's figures are startling. I hope we can speed up the asylum process, granting asylum to genuine cases and returning non-genuine applicants to their country of origin.

I will refer to statistics presently but first will refer to an important issue which I hope the House and the Department officials will take note of, namely, the students who come to this country to study in our universities and colleges on a student visa. They are very welcome to Ireland and I commend the Government on prioritising overseas student accommodation and training in Ireland. This is something I asked the Government to provide two years ago when I discovered there were nine Taiwanese students studying in Ireland and 15,000 students from Taiwan studying in the UK. I could not understand why we should not have more students coming to Ireland from those types of countries. As Members know, in the past year we gave free visa entry to people from Taiwan and I hope we will see many more students from that country coming to study and receive their education here. Students from outside the EU spend an average of €25,000 – €35,000 per year on fees, accommodation and upkeep. We want to see many more students coming to Ireland as this will boost our colleges and our economy.

There is an important related point. Under the regulations, students are allowed to work 20 hours per week and this must be re-examined in light of our own economic downturn. Many of our own students cannot get work because positions are filled by students from overseas, etc. I am also aware there are overseas students who are not studying in any school or college but are working, which is in breach of regulations. I am advised that in some cases false documents are being used to secure visas from the Department of Justice and Law Reform and from our embassies. Applicants receive a PPS number and some students have two such numbers. They have an identification which may have been given to them by people who have left the country, leaving them documents which may have been falsified. This means that such individuals can work not only for 20 hours a week but can work for 40 hours because they have two identities. I am asking Department of Justice and Law Reform officials to look at that because I believe this is an area we need to tighten up on and support genuine students, while removing those who are using the study visa to work in Ireland only.

The Bill refers to marriages of convenience and that action is being taken on this aspect. It is now well known that a number of EU nationals are coming to Ireland and marrying non-EU nationals not for love, but for money. I am pleased the Department has made reference to that in the Bill, it is a matter about which the Minister is also very concerned.

With regard to the number of asylum seekers in Ireland, I am advised that 2,689 asylum applications were received in 2009, representing a welcome 30.5% decrease on the corresponding figure for 2008, which was 3,866. Of that number, 65% were male and the rest female. The top five sources of applications for 2009 were: Nigeria, with 569 — 21%; Pakistan — 9%; China — 7.2%; Democratic Republic of Congo — 3.8%; and Zimbabwe — 3.4%. Nigeria and Pakistan were the largest and second largest sources, respectively, nationally, while China was the fifth largest nationality.

When I raised these matters in 2002, we had 11,634 applicants for asylum in that year. I am pleased that the number of asylum seekers has fallen continuously, with the fall in applications in 2009 being the third largest in percentage terms. I have looked through the entire list over the years and have one before me. What has helped significantly is that we passed the referendum on citizenship in 2004, which was introduced by Deputy Michael McDowell, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, something for which I commend him. He was a very brave man and I am pleased that it was part of the programme for Government. It removed the automatic right of a child born in Ireland of foreign parents to citizenship and helped to stop many of the asylum shoppers from coming here to have children and use the system in that manner.

I am pleased too, to read from the document circulated by the Minister earlier this year, that we have had 236 deportation orders to non-EU countries with regard to failed asylum seekers, again representing an increase of 83% on 2008. We had 243 transfer orders to other European states under the Dublin II regulation, where a person is discovered to have made an application for asylum in another EU country but has come here to make a second application. The legislation we have passed down the years, including the finger printing of asylum seekers, has helped significantly in this because we are sharing this information with other jurisdictions which has helped identify people who were registering twice. Again, I said in 2002 that people were screwing the system in this country, and this has been borne out in the figures that were subsequently published over the years after that.

An additional 202 failed asylum seekers have been returned and removed from the State voluntarily and with assistance, and I commend the Department of Justice and Law Reform, officials in the different immigration front line services and the Garda for the work they have done over the last number of years to implement legislation which has been passed by the Oireachtas.

I also welcome the provisions on human trafficking. I spoke on the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007 in this House and I was pleased to see at the time that when the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill was to be introduced, part of it provided for help for victims, whereby a victim of trafficking could be afforded an immediate period for recovery and reflection as well as facilitating him or her to participate in any criminal proceedings arising. A further period of residence is provided for in the Bill in this regard.

I welcome, too, the section about residents whereby various categories of people who have lived here in various forms of temporary accommodation could well be moved, being treated as a different class. I do not believe it is right to have people cluttered up in this manner in hotels rooms or other accommodation for long periods without their cases being decided.

I welcome the very strong provisions in regard to removing people from the State who are here unlawfully. I hope that with the provisions of the Bill we can again streamline the immigration and asylum systems while being able to expedite any legal redress by asylum seekers in such a way as to facilitate more quickly decisions made by the courts. I have always accepted that where a person has been granted asylum, he or she should stay here. However, if he or she is not granted asylum, then in my view he or she should be removed from the State.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I was involved in the painstaking passage of the previous Bill through this House, when we got as far as Report Stage. We raised a number of issues at the time and a fair percentage of those are acknowledged in the Bill before the House today. Some areas need to be strengthened in relation to it, however. Ultimately, we all want to see a streamlined immigration system in place, and I hope the parliamentary process is expedited and that the Minister facilitates the quick passage of the Bill through the House, so that the legislation may be implemented once and for all. This is the third published Bill in this area, and we have yet to see the enactment of the legislation. It is crucially important that it be enacted as soon as possible.

Over the last 15 years, Ireland has undergone a dramatic transformation. The Celtic tiger brought in its wake a large migrant workforce and unprecedented numbers coming to Ireland meant our immigration system was continuously playing catch-up. The system is still struggling with delays and judicial reviews and the lack of accountability is commonplace.

The challenge of integration is also significant. At an annual cost of €300 million a year, or €3 billion over the last decade, the system, as it stands, is nothing short of a mess. With the numbers entering Ireland in decline and the need for efficiencies evident, there is no better time for reform of the immigration system.

However, Ireland needs an immigration system in which citizens and other residents can have confidence. We must establish a system of immigration that is fair, transparent and tough on fraud, and addresses Ireland's economic needs and circumstances in a manner that is respectful of the rights of immigrants. Our borders and public services have always been open to exploitation, allowing criminals into the country while genuine applicants wait for years within the immigration system. The downturn has exposed the level of abuse and waste within the public service and the lack of a co-ordinated response by the Government. Foreign fraudsters have a role in abusing our social welfare system, but it must be acknowledged that they are a small cog in a big wheel of domestic fraud. However, abuses of any Government system cannot be tolerated.

The Government has brought the same level of competence and skill to the management of immigration that it brought to the management of our economy. It has created a system that ill serves the needs of our country and fails to respect the rights of immigrants. Immigration can be of real benefit to Ireland, but only if it is properly managed. We need to manage migration flows through a co-ordinated approach at both EU and national level that ensures we have an immigration and integration system that serves the interests of Ireland, our economy and those who reside here, regardless of their nationality.

At present, Ireland has no clear immigration policy. Things are done in a piecemeal manner and, as a result, confidence in the effectiveness of our immigration system has been severely damaged. People are not confident that anyone is actually in charge. Reform is required in the residency, citizenship and asylum system, but only residency and asylum are dealt with in this Bill. The immigration system is so obscure and chaotic that a simple application for long-term residency or citizenship can take two years to process. The delays in applications for long-term residency are leading to a situation in which people are now applying for citizenship instead. This allows them to avoid the bureaucracy and red tape associated with long-term residency and undermines the status of Irish citizenship, as it is being used as a mechanism to circumvent the immigration system. That in itself highlights the need to expedite this legislation.

The current system has completely undermined the status of citizenship in this country. With the introduction of this legislation, long-term residency now at least has a statutory structure, as it sets a number of criteria in this regard. However, it sets the bar higher for residency than it does for citizenship. Although citizenship is in the gift of State, and its granting is at the discretion of the Minister, the fact that we will have set out in statute exactly what criteria are required for residency without any statutory provision for citizenship undermines the status of Irish citizenship and makes the whole thing farcical. In tandem with the passage of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, it is now of the utmost importance that we expedite urgent reform of our citizenship laws to ensure that the status of Irish citizenship is put on a pedestal, where it should be, and that people work to achieve citizenship.

We must set out stepping stones for people who come to this country to achieve citizenship, as currently there are none. There are stepping stones for long-term residency in this Bill, but there are none for citizenship. This highlights the weakness of the statutory provisions regarding citizenship. Urgent review of that legislation is now required.

Under the asylum process — or, as it will be called, the protection process — it takes up to seven years at present to process an application to finality, and people are dumped into accommodation that is totally inappropriate for long-term living, which is a scandal. The whole idea of the direct provision system was to provide for applicants' short-term requirements; I do not have a difficulty with the direct provision system for short-term accommodation. The new immigration Bill will, I hope, ensure that protection applicants stay in the direct provision system for only a short period. That is the objective behind it, and we all support that. However, what are we to do with the people who are already in the system? As was said by speakers earlier, 2,600 protection applicants entered the system in 2009, and approximately 12,000 people have already gone through the asylum system, were deemed by the Department to be failed asylum seekers and have applied for leave to remain in this country. At present, the Department is processing approximately 2,000 applications per annum. Based on those figures, it will take six years to process those applications to finality. This Bill does absolutely nothing to address the backlog. The cohort of people who have come into the system up to now are not being dealt with under the provisions of the legislation that is before us today.

I have persistently raised this issue with the Minister, but he brushed it aside and said it would all be dealt with in the new immigration Bill, which would expedite the process. I hope it will do that, but it will not deal with the 2,600 people who applied for asylum last year. It would have been able to deal with them if it had been passed in the Houses in an expeditious manner and given priority within the parliamentary system. As it was not given priority, those applicants, along with the ones who come into the system this year, will be dealt with under the current archaic system, which takes up to seven years to process an application to finality.

I remember saying to the Minister on the floor of the House that we needed to do something about the problem of judicial reviews. The legislation before us today will deal with new judicial reviews, but it does not apply to people who are already in the system. There are approximately 600 to 700 people within the judicial review system at present, and it is costing the Irish taxpayer €800 per asylum application per week. I suggested to the Minister approximately 12 months ago that we should ask the High Court judges to sit for the month of September to deal with these judicial reviews. If half of the High Court judges agreed to sit for the month of September, assuming that each application takes approximately one day, about 300 cases would be cleared. The Minister ridiculed me, said it could not be done, and would not contact the President of the High Court. I acknowledge that the President of the High Court, on his own initiative, has decided to try to deal with the backlog. However, it is pity we did not have a bit of initiative from the Minister in this regard. It would have helped to deal with the frustration among taxpayers that they have footed a bill of €300 million over the last decade for a system that clearly does not work and will not be addressed by this Bill. As other speakers have noted, we should be reviewing their applications and making decisions on them. If they are granted asylum, give them refugee status in this country but, if not, tell them it is time to go home. At present they are being fobbed off and their cases are dragged out for months and years. What these people want is a final decision from the Department so they can get on with their lives, whether in Ireland or back in their own countries.

I hope the issue of deportation will be addressed on Committee Stage. The cost of deportation is significant. We paid more than €100,000 to send one individual to west Africa. Another individual was so disruptive that he had to be taken off an aircraft at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. The cost of sending that individual home will be significant. I argued on Committee Stage of the 2008 Bill that an incentive should be built into the legislation for people to voluntarily leave this jurisdiction. We need to bear in mind the interest of the Irish taxpayer as we debate the present Bill. We could offer a window of opportunity to individuals who are issued with a notice of intention to deport by allowing them to voluntarily leave the country while retaining the possibility of applying to return to the jurisdiction in a few years time. At the end of the day, they are allowed back at the discretion of the Minister and I have no difficulty with this. Surely, however, the door should not be slammed shut in their faces if they do not put the additional burden on the taxpayer of forcibly deporting them. We could provide an incentive to people to return home through the International Organisation for Migration instead of deporting them. We need to take a new attitude in this legislation in terms of protecting the interests of the taxpayer.

Immigration policy needs to focus on creating jobs rather than taking them. Over the past decade, people came to this country to take up low skilled jobs, many of which have now evaporated. We need to review how we structure immigration policy.

An issue which I have raised in the past is the treatment of migrant entrepreneurs, that is, people who come to this country from outside of the European Union with good business ideas. Perhaps they can only create employment for themselves when they initially set up their businesses in this country but they have potential for creating jobs for Irish citizens down the road. As the law stands, however, they must show they can make a capital investment of €300,000 and commit to employing a minimum of two EU nationals. That is a false barrier to job creation. No Irish citizen would be able to establish a business under those criteria. This is why 85% of the applications presented to the Department of Justice and Law Reform were refused. We need to review the legislation in this area because a decision to grant permission to establish a business in this country should be based on the concept and the person's ability rather than artificial criteria dating from a completely different era.

A number of contributors, including the Minister, spoke about foreign students and the potential they offer for additional revenue. Unfortunately, we have closed off much of that revenue. Over the past two years, the number of foreign students coming to Ireland for language education has decreased by one quarter at a cost to the State of €20 million. Fine Gael has set out an international education plan that could create 6,000 jobs and generate an income of €900 million. There is great potential for developing the language market in this country. We are currently attracting approximately 1% of the global education market. Given the strong reputation this country enjoys for education, particularly in the area of English language education, there is great potential for investment. It is estimated that each international student studying abroad spends up to €26,000 per annum and up to 15 local jobs are created for every 100 students coming into this country.

Reference was made to immigrants' use of the student visa system to get part-time jobs. There is no doubt that the existing system needs to be reviewed in order to close off loopholes but the market could be expanded massively by introducing a completely new student visa regime which could fast-track visas for students from key markets with a low risk of abuse. We should think about providing green cards automatically to PhD graduates in sectors which are experiencing skill shortages. Amazingly, certain sectors of the economy, including sciences, engineering and technology, continue to suffer a shortage of skills. If we are going to capitalise on the smart economy, we need to attract these key people.

Immigration is about choice but we cannot make choices unless we have secure borders, clear policies and proper structures. We must manage migration flows through a co-ordinated approach at both EU and national levels. Our immigration policy has to serve the interest of our economy and those who reside here, regardless of their nationality.

Is Deputy Cyprian Brady sharing his time?

I will share my time with Deputy Sargent if he comes into the Chamber. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill.

For many years, we have struggled to adapt our systems to cope with a large influx of people from all parts of the world. My own experience in the Dublin Central constituency, which has the one of highest concentrations of non-national communities in the country, indicates that while the demographic changes of the past several years have enriched this city, they have also presented problems. On a weekly basis at my constituency advice centres I encounter individuals and families who end up in worrying and, in some cases, traumatic circumstances which were not of their own making. This Bill will ensure that people who find they cannot progress their residency status in this country are looked after. It will ensure that decisions are made efficiently.

There has been a large change in demographics, particularly in our major cities. We have now reached a critical stage in how we deal with this issue. The system badly needs reform and everybody accepts that. There were attempts in 2008 to introduce a Bill to deal with this, and such was the diversity of opinion on the Bill that it had to be withdrawn. The introduction of this Bill takes into account the various views that were expressed during those debates.

We need to look at our systems from two points of view. First, we must take into account what is best for the country. Second, we must take into account the point of view of those who have come here for different reasons. Why do people come here? Up until the 1990s we had a rich tradition in refugee programmes in Ireland and it was quietly and effectively administered. We have a large Vietnamese population who came here in the 1970s and 1980s and even earlier. The changes that took place in the 1990s and the last decade unfortunately put a great strain on the system that we currently have in place.

We were told a few years ago that we needed thousands of migrant workers to keep our economy going. We got those workers from within the EU and from all over the world. However, that led to enormous pressure being put on the immigration system. While efforts have been made over the years to increase the number of staff dealing with applications, to streamline decision making and so on, it has not worked. Now that the country is in its current economic position, our immigration system is not fit for purpose. This Bill will ensure that an integrated system is put in place to deal with all the issues that arise.

I deal on a weekly basis with families and individuals who find themselves caught up in a system that puts them in a very untenable position. They cannot move one way or the other. They are waiting on decisions to be made. They have provided as much information as they can, but unfortunately the system cannot cope with their cases. There are four or five different stages of application for asylum and refugee status and all of them can be appealed, ultimately to the Supreme Court. There are cases involving people who are here for up to ten years and who have still not received a firm decision on their status. People have put down roots in that length of time. Their families have grown up. They have made friends and connections in their local communities. They have become part of their local community and they have contributed to it. We cannot expect people to tell them one day that they have to leave. We now find ourselves in the position of having to make those decisions.

While some improvements have taken place in speeding up the process, it can take years for a case to be finalised. That is not fair to the applicant who provides as much information as possible, but it is also not fair to the people dealing with them if they have not got the tools to deal with these cases. Sections in the Bill will ensure that people who come to this country for whatever reason — be it economic reasons, for refugee status or for asylum purposes — will have their cases dealt with effectively so they are not left in limbo. Previous speakers spoke about the current system of direct provision and pointed out that there are people in that system for up to seven years, even though their situation is supposed to be temporary. This Bill will deal with that aspect.

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide a fair and transparent set of procedures for the day to day implementation of Government policies on immigration and protection, and to ensure that the State's immigration and protection system complies with all our international obligations in this area. We have a reputation in this area. We have always been seen as a good destination for people abroad. We speak English and have a welcoming nature in this country, and that has always attracted people from all over the world.

An important innovation in the Bill will be the introduction of a statutory long-term resident status. This status will be available for those who have at least five years' satisfactory residence in the State and will provide access to the employment market and State funded services and benefits generally on a par with Irish citizens. This provision is in Part V of the Bill. A provision is also made for the imposition by an immigration officer of a residence and reporting requirement on a foreign national, instead of that person being arrested and detained, which is the current position.

There is much detail in the Bill and I welcome its publication because we have reached a situation where the immigration system is completely under strain. It is not fair to either side and so I welcome the Bill.

Ar dtús báire, tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an mBille seo. Many of us are far more aware of the immigration issue in the past few years. Those of us with a constituency clinic are probably much more educated in the areas of global conflicts, human rights problems, environmental issues and the details and geography of countries such as Nigeria, the Philippines, Cameroon, Eritrea, Romania, Russia, eastern Europe in general and many other parts of the world. The challenge we face has changed from looking for people from all over the world to support our workforce to a situation where we have to cope with the pressure of maintaining so many people who are not able to find paid employment.

It is understandable that we would devote time to find a reasonable but humanitarian way that protects those who are most vulnerable. I hope that we can do that in this debate as clearly and dispassionately as possible, so that we can give the best protection possible for those who are most vulnerable. Many concerns have been raised already about this Bill and about the 2008 Bill, which had to be withdrawn. We are talking about legislation that has been debated and about consolidated legislation going back to 1935, so there is a challenge to get this right.

I met with a number of people outside Tithe an Oireachtais today to discuss this Bill. People feel strongly about many issues, and the issue I would like to talk about is the provision that is described as summary deportation. The UN Refugee Agency has warned that sections of the draft law allow for people who might be in need of protection to be summarily sent to their country of origin without their claim being properly examined. If the United Nations Refugee Agency said that, it behoves us to look long and hard at it. I did not hear the Minister refer to it earlier and perhaps the length of time he had to speak was not sufficient to allow him to go into that detail but I hope he will reflect on those concerns that have also been expressed by groups such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland which is concerned that the introduction of summary deportations could even result in the deportation of vulnerable Irish citizens or lawfully resident migrants who are unable to prove they have a legal right to be in Ireland.

This legislation makes allowances for people in exceptional circumstances in regard to summary deportation where lawfully resident migrants or even vulnerable Irish people could be removed from the country without the right of appeal. It is all very well to say one can go to the High Court but somebody suffering from mental health problems or some other type of deprivation would not be in a position to fully exercise that option. That needs to be taken account of.

We already have a 15 day appeal period, which is not too long. The number of months or years people must wait for decisions on their status would indicate that if there was a chance of a decision within 15 days, it would definitely be welcomed. People in the likes of Mosney find themselves living in limbo.

I hope we can balance the need for us to be careful in how we discharge our responsibilities in the very straitened times in which we live and how we can best manage our resources while at the same time be very careful that we do not visit on people in this country the kind of treatment which would result in us giving out and getting the Department of Foreign Affairs to intervene if it was happening in another country. It is a difficult balance to strike given the pressures on the country.

However, I would listen to the likes of the Migrant Rights Centre which said that the Bill could deny undocumented workers or those in a situation of forced labour access to justice. We have made improvements in that area in that previously somebody was in employment at the pleasure of his or her employer who would hold the work permit and, therefore, have a considerable amount of control over not only the working conditions but the movement of that individual.

I suppose we are limited in the number of people with which we can cope but we must ensure people are not exploited which is the fear of the likes of the Migrant Rights Centre. I hope the Minister and the Department reflect on the 15 day period because we need that small window within which somebody, who has a very good reason to question his or her deportation order, will be allowed the time put his or her case. It will also allow those of us who are in a position to mediate and communicate with the Department to make a case in order that we do not have miscarriages of justices or that it does not result in people being placed in an exploitative situation or being sent back to their own country and being faced with a humanitarian problem we would not have envisaged.

We also need to take account of families. The break up of families is a humanitarian disaster and is a problem for this State — for example, if somebody in a position to maintain a family is deported. When the Minister replies, he might return to that point because it was not raised in his contribution. The 15 day period is minimal and necessary.

I am very pleased to speak on this extremely important legislation. It is a new brief for me so I have had a very short period of time to read and absorb what is a very substantial Bill. I followed the progress of the immigration Bill which came before the House two years ago and the detailed work done on Committee Stage.

I will start on a positive note by saying that I am pleased some improvements have been made in this Bill and that some of the constructive proposals put forward on Second and Committee Stages have been taken on board by the Minister. Deputy Naughten, who spoke earlier, put an enormous amount of time and energy into the passage of the original immigration Bill. His contribution earlier was very wide-ranging and touched on many issues which, sadly, are still in need of attention as far as this legislation is concerned and which will require constructive engagement on Committee Stage between the Minister and the Opposition spokespeople in order to ensure the legislation that emerges is robust and will withstand what are rapidly changing times both in terms of the needs and demands of immigrants and migrants and the economic situation in which we find ourselves.

I wish to deal with some of the background issues in regard to the legislation. Clear legislation setting out the parameters and the protections required to introduce a sense of certainty and transparency into the immigration system has been glaringly absent for a long time. In a sense, it is somewhat ironic that we are dealing with this legislation at a time when the tide of immigration into the country has significantly receded. At the time when we had an enormous influx of immigrants, we did not have suitable, modern and responsive legislation in place to deal with that. However, by virtue of that absence, we still have a large number of outstanding issues to resolve in terms of immigrants and asylum seekers who are currently in the system and are finding it extremely frustrating. A number of Deputies from both sides of the House alluded to the visits paid to them in their clinics by non-nationals with different queries, questions and concerns and many frustrations. Those people still need clarity and to be dealt with in a transparent fashion. I hope this legislation will go some way to achieve that.

One of the concerns I have that highlights the urgent need for this legislation to be introduced is the sheer volume of judicial reviews which, it is fair to say, are slowly coming before the High Court and which should not be. The fact that a judicial review process is considered a mechanism to solve an asylum, a residency or a citizenship issue is wrong. Those are matters that should be dealt with within the system and it is unacceptable, to say the least, that these issues end up going through judicial review procedures. It is fair to say also that many of those judicial review applications are vexatious and designed to buy time for applicants who may not have a sufficiently compelling case to succeed in their application.

While I am on the topic I will deal with section 133. This is an important point because the Bill puts in place mechanisms to disincentivise patently vexatious applications ending up before the High Court. Section 133 contains penalties for legal representatives in the form of the prospect of bearing costs for such applications. That is a constructive and positive development. It means that solicitors or barristers who engage in judicial reviews which ought not to be taken will have to bear the brunt of an unsuccessful claim of that nature by way of costs.

There is also a proviso in section 133 that in an application for a judicial review an applicant must demonstrate substantial grounds for such a review. That poses problems and I believe it is unnecessary, given that the costs issue is already dealt with. There is potential for a penalty to be imposed on legal representatives who bring forward a vexatious or frivolous claim. I am not clear as to the reason one would, further to that, introduce this requirement for substantial grounds because it is a vague term. We have seen it in regard to planning legislation. We have seen a significant volume of unnecessary litigation based on the term "substantial grounds" and bringing it into the asylum system will open up a large can of worms. That is something I want to flag with the Minister because it will have to be dealt with on Committee Stage.

In terms of the general issues, it is not something politicians or public commentators want to talk about openly but I have detected a growing degree of xenophobia, racism and anti-non-national sentiment which has developed in recent years in this country. That is understandable because the combination of constrained and difficult economic times, coupled with a non-transparent asylum and immigration system and a social welfare system that is in dire need of reform, is a recipe for disaster. For that reason in particular it is vital that we get this legislation right because my party and, in fairness, most parties in these Houses see the need for immigration into the country. It contributes to the cultural fabric of our society. It has served an important role in terms of the economic needs of our country.

We are all aware that, for example, the services industry and the hospitality sector have benefited enormously from the inward migration of workers to this country in the past ten years or more. There are significant benefits for our economy and our society. We are and ought to continue to be an open-minded and welcoming nation. We are famed for it throughout the world. Our historical context is also relevant in that regard because we are a country that has exported our people. For centuries, Irish people have travelled to the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia seeking employment. When times were bad here people went abroad, and it is happening again. We are all too familiar with the stories of young people emigrating from our shores at this time.

We must develop and encourage a sense of responsibility and openness to the people who come here and contribute to our society. As politicians and political leaders we must knock on the head the idea that people are coming here in large numbers to sponge off the State. It is not the case. The vast majority of immigrants who come to this country do so because they want to work, develop a better life for themselves and their families and contribute. They like this country, they like the people and they want to contribute to our economy and our society.

Asylum seekers — the terminology is being changed under the Bill but I will use it for the duration of the Second Stage debate at least — who come here are coming from circumstances with which we, as a nation, should be prepared to identify. They are coming from war-torn and conflict regions and places where they and their families' health and safety is in danger. It is important that we never forget that. We do not categorise people and forget about them or not want to know about them. We must accept that as a sometimes thriving and open nation we have a responsibility, and we are enriched by meeting those challenges and responsibilities.

That is the context in which I approach this legislation. That is not to say that we live in an ideal world or that the entire area is a sort of Utopian concept. There are problems and there will always be people who will behave in a fraudulent manner but no more non-nationals than our own nationals. We must be clear about that and recognise the positives.

I will focus on some specific issues but I will first outline the issues I have some concerns about and that some of the groups who work on a daily and weekly basis with people who are currently within the system have highlighted, and some of the issues we addressed on Committee Stage of the previous Bill.

Deputy Shatter, and Deputy Rabbitte, succinctly outlined the concerns regarding the lack of clarity and clear rules for migrants seeking to come to Ireland. Section 17 is the section which is the most cause for concern in that regard. It will be a contentious section as the Bill progresses because it gives such a degree of scope and latitude to the Minister in determining whether a visa application is successful. That is a serious concern because the purpose of putting in place a consolidated immigration Act is to provide certainty and clarity for immigrants seeking to come to this country. Leaving one of the most important aspects of it so wide open defeats the purpose of the Bill.

My experience from clinics is that most of the people who come in with questions relating to visa or immigration issues have found that the websites and information available on them provide no clarity. They cannot understand why their applications are returned to them or why they are not deemed to meet the requisite criteria. Therefore, the introduction of a Bill which should deal with these issues, but which leaves the requirements and standards wide open and invests so much power and discretion in the Minister is extraordinary. The Bill will achieve the opposite of what is intended, will create greater uncertainty and add to the lack of clarity which has already riven the immigration system. It will make the situation even worse, which is unfortunate. Fine Gael will propose amendments on Committee Stage to try to deal with these issues, but I also urge the Minister and officials to reconsider the issues and come forward on Committee Stage with some sort of compromise wording which will get around this challenge.

The review system is another issue. In a sense, I began backwards in talking about the problems with judicial review, which is important. However, there are shortcomings within the internal review mechanisms contained in the Bill. The review mechanisms will certainly not address the problem of so many of these applications being judicially reviewed or the problem of the number of applications for leave for judicial review. It is important that there is a robust internal appeals and review mechanism that is transparent. The objective of this mechanism should be to satisfy applicants and eliminate grounds for judicial review. The system must be transparent, clear and fair and must encompass all possible avenues for review so that there will be no need to clog up the High Court with pointless judicial reviews. We keep returning to this same requirement. For example, section 21 provides for a review of decisions by another departmental official, and where practicable by an official of higher grade. This does not provide the degree of transparency and independence required in order to make the system robust and fair and ensure it will eliminate unnecessary legal action. Neither does this provision solve the problems of the delays in the system or the clogging up of the system which, over the past ten years, has got increasingly worse.

I have dwelled too long on these issues rather than focus on the issues I had intended to highlight so I will briefly summarise the points I wanted to make in the time remaining to me. There is a perception that there is significant social welfare fraud and crime, which feeds into the growing sentiment of negativity towards immigrants and asylum seekers. I feel strongly that this issue needs to be addressed. There is a certain degree of fraud within the system and some people will chance their arm. However, this is true of any nation or nationality. We need to clamp down on fraud and make the system more robust so that people will have confidence in it. If it is a strong and robust system, the public will buy into and have confidence in it. This will lead to less resentment and tension. An issue we need to consider in this regard is, for example, the issue of an integrated border management system. This is something that is being developed at EU level, but we need to consider proposals such as a border register which logs departures from and entries into the country. This is an obvious solution to resolving questions such as whether people draw social welfare here and then return to their home country. Addressing these issues may not make the Government popular, but if it does address them it will get greater support and more people will buy into its efforts to sort out the visa, immigration and asylum systems.

I will finish on the issue of illegal immigration. Human trafficking is an issue on which I have often spoken in this Chamber. Despite commitments from the Minister and despite repeated statements on the issue, women and others trafficked into this country have little or no protection and are treated in a more sub-human way than are the perpetrators of these crimes. These people are victims and must be protected by the State. I urge the Minister to take this into account in bringing the legislation to the House.

Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an Bille seo os ár gcomhair. An fhadhb is mó atá agam leis an mBille ná go bhfuil roinnt de na fadhbanna ceannann céanna a chur moill ar an Bhille go dtí seo fós sa mBille. Gach uair a d'athfhoilsigh Aire an Bille, bhain sé roinnt de na rudaí a bhí ag déanamh tinnis domsa agus do dhaoine eile as an mBille, ach fós, tá a lán fadhbanna agam agus ag Páirtí Shinn Féin leis an méid atá fágtha sa Bhille leagtha os ár gcomhair. Déanfaidh mé iarracht roinnt de na fadhbanna sin a leagadh amach inniu ach déileáilfidh mé leo go díreach ar Chéim an Choiste trí leasuithe agus a leithéid a mholadh. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann éisteacht ceart a fháíl ón Aire ar Chéím an Choiste agus go mbeidh sé sásta athruithe a dhéanamh ionas go mbeidh Bille os ár gcomhair lena mbeimid ar fad sásta agus a bheidh mar eiseamláir do thíortha eile san Eoraip ó thaobh déileáil le ceist an imirce, buaine agus cosaint daoine atá lonnaithe in Éirinn de, daoine nach saoránaigh Éireannacha iad ach gur mhaith leo bheith ina saoránaigh.

This Bill is the third incarnation of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill and each time it has been published, the Minister has removed approximately 5% of the objectionable provisions, but kept the rest of the Bill more or less intact. I am not the only person who finds some of the Bill's provisions objectionable. Quite a number of organisations and many Deputies have highlighted its objectionable provisions. Once again, there are a number of serious flaws in the Bill. At the rate we are going, it will be 19 years before we get an Immigration Bill we could welcome. This is not that Bill.

I regret I cannot support this Bill in its current form because we have dealt with a number of the issues. However, the Minister does not seem to understand the serious problems the current Bill could pose for Ireland with regard to its international obligations. The Bill retains what I regard as three of the most serious flaws of its predecessors. The first is a provision for a summary deportation in section 59. In his opening remarks, the Minister said it was not summary deportation. I thought for a second that I was hearing things and that perhaps my grasp of English was flawed considering I learned Irish first and English second. The definition of "summary" in the Chambers dictionary states, "It is something that is done or performed quickly and without the usual attention to details or formalities". That is specifically what the Minister wants to achieve through section 59. Summary deportation will be performed quickly and without the usual attention to details or formalities. The section allows for a foreign national to be removed from the State on the basis of a garda's opinion — his or her perception that the foreign national is unlawfully present. It is clear that there is potential for significant mistakes in that opinion. There cannot even be a guarantee that only foreign nationals will be affected in this circumstance.

In November 2008, it was reported that a man of Chinese origin was arrested and detained for several hours on suspicion of being illegally present in Ireland. The Garda refused to accept his protestations that he was a naturalised citizen, which he was. This section has the potential to raise such cases continually unless it is altered substantially. If this legislation had been in effect at the time, the man could have been on an aeroplane back to China. The consequences could have been more serious if he was a refugee or asylum seeker and had been deported to his country of origin where he might have faced persecution or death. The Bill contains a rule opposing refoulement but the low burden of proof on the garda wishing to deport somebody does not inspire confidence that the rule will be strictly complied with.

Section 59 also does away with the current provision whereby the Minister must notify a person whom he proposes to deport and the person has 15 working days to make a case that he or she should be allowed to remain. The Minister has argued that people who get this notice simply disappear. This may well be a problem but it cannot be an excuse for the Government to commit human rights violations and it seems clear that this is what this section does. In its commentary on the 2008 Bill, the UN human rights committee declared this measure to be incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. Our own Supreme Court has ruled that the power to deport must be exercised in a manner consistent with the constitutional and European convention rights of the people affected. That is clearly not possible where someone can be deported on the basis of one person's opinion, with no opportunity to challenge that decision. There is, thus, a possibility that this provision could be struck down by the courts, leaving the State with no way to deport people who do not have a right to be here. That is the danger if the Minister proceeds with the section, as drafted. That is clearly not his intention but it could easily happen if this section is passed unamended.

Section 59 is also of concern because of the ease with which people might find themselves unlawfully present. The Migrant Rights Centre has stated that it deals with huge numbers of people who became "illegal" through no fault of their own when their employer failed to renew their permits on time. I have dealt with a number of people who have ended up in those circumstances. Workers also have been subjected to such great exploitation that they felt they had no choice but to leave their jobs and many of them simply could not get new work permits because of the hurdles involved in the process. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation could do much more to address this situation but he has continually refused to allow workers change jobs within their categories without getting a new permit. I urge him to change that policy immediately. The work permit should be granted to the worker rather than the employer. The removal of the current procedure, which allows people facing deportation to apply for permission to remain, leaves a worrying gap in the law. It is not clear how migrants who are, or who have become, undocumented will be able to seek to regularise their status. It is likely to encourage them to disappear, since there will be no other option open to them.

The second serious flaw in the Bill is the vast ministerial discretion it allows. The legislation was supposed to clarify and to nail down once and for all the issues in order that it would be clear to everyone where they stood. One of the biggest problems with our current immigration system is its arbitrary and ad hoc nature and the provision of ministerial discretion, which leaves people in the system confused about their rights and entitlements and subjects them to wildly inconsistent decisions with insufficient means of recourse. This Bill does little to change that; it simply gives statutory approval to maintain an arbitrary system. A glaring omission is the “visibly independent appeals process” promised in the 2007 programme for Government. That promise was noticeably absent from the renewed programme for Government and perhaps a Green Party member could participate in the debate to explain why the party caved in on this provision.

An independent appeals tribunal would help us to meet our obligations under the ICCPR. It also has the potential to save significant money for the taxpayer. Given what we are going through, I presumed the Minister had contacted the Minister for Finance to tell him he could save him a fortune. Instead, he seems to be willing to spend a fortune in the High Court and the only people who will benefit in those circumstances are solicitors and barristers. During the Committee Stage debate on the 2008 Bill, the Minister said that immigration and asylum cases amounted to 60% of all judicial reviews taken to the High Court and that the cost of such reviews was between €11 million and €12 million in 2007. By contrast, according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the total cost to the British taxpayer for each appeal to the asylum and immigration tribunal in the UK was £762. We are constantly told of the need for cuts to address the crisis in the public finances, yet the Government refuses to entertain a measure that could save us significant amounts in the long term. We should introduce an independent appeals tribunal on the basis of fair procedure and not on the basis of savings.

Section 139 deals with the victims of trafficking and suffers from a similar flaw. Victims are not allowed to apply for recognition under this section, nor have they any means to challenge a decision to refuse them recognition. More generally, this section continues the approach the Government has taken of tying protection for trafficking victims to their willingness to assist the Garda Síochána in prosecutions. I have argued this point with the Minister on a number of occasions when the issue of trafficking has arisen. This approach violates the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking, which the Government ratified only a few months ago. Victim protection should be aimed at addressing a person's needs and not based on his or her willingness or, indeed, ability to co-operate in a criminal investigation. It is to be welcomed if a victim can help in any way and such assistance should be encouraged but it should not be the only reason a victim is given the protection of the State as this should be provided automatically in the case of trafficking.

In the time remaining I will deal with some of the issues which are less critical but nonetheless contribute to the deeply flawed nature of this Bill. One issue is the absence of any provision for permanent residency. The most that is on offer is permission to remain for five years. This can be renewed but why should it have to be renewed? Provisions are already in existence to revoke residency status, which I understand are rarely used. A person should be given permanent permission to remain. It is difficult to believe that the small number of people whose renewal would not be approved justifies forcing everyone to apply for permission to remain on a rolling five-year basis. There is no need for such a requirement which only causes stress and inconvenience to applicants and needless bureaucracy for the State. This would be another cost-saving measure for the State.

The absence of clear measures in the area of family reunification is something the Government has been consistently criticised for, both inside and outside this House. It bears repeating that we are the only EU member state without primary legislation on the subject. It is also worth noting that not only migrants but Irish citizens are disadvantaged by this gap in the law. Refugees and EU citizens from elsewhere in the EU are the only categories of persons with family rights. We have all heard the allegations that immigrants receive favourable treatment in comparison to Irish people. Most of the time this is completely false but in this area it is partially true. Most people would agree that Irish citizens should have at least the same entitlement as other EU citizens to the companionship of their family members in this State. Migrants who are contributing to our society should also have those rights.

The Bill establishes a single-application procedure for asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain. On the whole this is welcome as we all recognise that the current three-step procedure needlessly prolongs the application process. It is unfortunate, however, that a person must make a single application for all three applications. A person may be well aware that he or she does not meet the convention definition of a refugee but may believe he or she has a case for subsidiary protection or humanitarian leave and will merely need the system to deal with that application rather than as an application under three determinations. A person should be able to specify if he or she does not wish to be considered for refugee status. There is no point dumping someone into the asylum system when he or she knows the application could be more quickly dealt with under the other headings.

Section 33 deals with carrier liability. The previous Minister expressed surprise that I would object to those provisions. His surprise proves he has never read the submissions by the UNHCR and the various NGOs because they all raised the same objection. The Bill provides no defence for an airline to say it allowed a person to board because it genuinely believed he or she was in danger of persecution. There can be no question but that the introduction of carrier liability laws across the developed world has made it more difficult for people with a genuine need for protection to get it. It has also been a boon to the human smuggling and trafficking industry since it has made it far more difficult to cross borders safely and legally, leaving people who want or need to migrate no option but to pay large sums to criminal organisations to get the documents they need.

I have a number of issues which I will raise on Committee Stage if the Bill reaches that Stage. Impím ar an Aire glacadh leis na leasuithe a chuirfidh mé faoi bhráid an choiste nó ar Chéim na Tuarascála. Glacaim agus glactar leis go bhfuil gá le leasú d'ár gcóras imirceach, ach caithfear sin a dhéanamh i mbealach cothrom, bunreachtúil oscailte agus, dar ndóigh, i mbealach a chloíonn lenár ndualgais faoi dhlithe idirnáisiúnta chearta daonna. Is féidir airgead a shábháil má déantar na leasuithe seo, ach sa deireadh thiar thall is cearta daonna atá á phlé anseo agus sin an fáth gur cóir go mbeadh an Bille chomh beacht agus is féidir a bheith ionas gur féidir leis seasamh mar eiseamláir don chuid eile den Eoraip agus don domhain.

This Bill, despite minor improvements over its predecessors, remains deeply and profoundly flawed. We are all in agreement over the need to reform our immigration system but we must reform it in a way that is fair, transparent, constitutional and consistent with our obligations under international human rights law. I urge the Minister to accept the amendments. If I have an indication that the Minister will take on board the key concerns I have raised in this short contribution, I will not oppose the Bill.

Having listened to most of the speakers in this debate, the only conclusion I can make is that any law should be fair. Fairness should be determined by the way in which we ourselves would wish to be treated in a foreign country. This criterion should apply with regard to immigration laws. I hope this is the case although I am not certain. I am not so certain whether this Bill addresses the issues that appear to cause a problem or if it merely tries to tap into a certain antipathy in recent times and which seems to coincide with an economic downturn.

This society must recognise that it cannot change its mind on humanitarian issues just because times are tougher. This is the way we test ourselves. We must test our moral fibre as to whether we are capable of carrying out the same assessment fair and free, in respect of everybody, whether they are from this country or from some other jurisdiction, in all circumstances, notwithstanding the difficulties in which we find ourselves. I believe we can do this and many people are doing so.

I refer to the way the immigration system does not work satisfactorily. It is cumbersome. Some people have been in the country for ten, 12 and more years. Some people have been here since the mid-1990s and still do not have any status. They still have the same circuitous arrangements by which they go around in circles, come back for an extended residency for two or three years and ultimately the Minister, with his absolute discretion, has the right to make a decision. There are children who came to this country and who are now adults. They may have arrived aged two or three, in some cases as unaccompanied children. They have Irish accents, have lived most of their lives here and know no other life. There are being deported because of the failure to provide the necessary procedures to allow them to remain or to say that they do not comply with our immigration regulations and should not be here. We are doing damage to the prestige of our country. We are failing to recognise that people outside this island look at the way we do things. We are also failing to recognise that many Irish people are leaving this jurisdiction, as they did for hundreds of years, and travelling abroad. I hope the immigration laws in other countries treat Irish citizens in the way we would like them to be treated.

Let us consider other matters. The immigration system encourages people to be devious because immigrants know that if they answer questions in a certain way, they will receive a further query or an inconclusive answer. In an application for naturalisation, one of the most repeated mistakes by applicants who qualify for naturalisation is the answer to the question of whether they intend to remain in this jurisdiction after seeking naturalisation. It is a trick question that someone decided would be a good question. I have dealt with many cases where applicants answered "No" because they thought they were answering a different question. I cannot understand why people introduce questions of this nature but there must be some reason for it. When the application is decided we must start the process all over again, which costs taxpayers' money, and the person concerned qualifies in most cases.

What bugs me most of all is a practice that smacks of the cynicism about which I am worried. It concerns a person who has lived and worked here for six or seven years on foot of work permits. For reasons that are no one's fault, work permits are not always processed at the desirable speed. The result is that there are gaps in the work permits from the time one ceased to the time another was initiated. In the wisdom of those who make such decisions, when calculating the reckonable period for entitlement to naturalisation by reference to work permits, in some cases a number of days have been cited to refuse the application because of the alleged gaps in the system. I have no reason to disbelieve people when they and their employers tell me that this is a case of the same people working in the same jobs for more than five years, which is all they need in order to qualify for residency without a work permit. The amount of time and energy it takes to go through the repetitive system suggests it is not there for people's benefit.

Reference was made to the number of judicial reviews. I understand and sympathise with why judicial reviews take place. I was dealing with a case last week where the person concerned had spent a long time in this jurisdiction, having been on an extended period of residency and then remaining illegally because of a failure to renew stamp 4 or stamp 3. I became suspicious and I asked for further papers to see the background to the case. My suspicions were correct because the application for refugee or asylum status was dealt with by an individual who had never been known to grant asylum or refugee status to any of the 1,500 or 1,600 applicants involved. In a perfect society, there are perfect people but I fail to understand how in any job anyone could have 1,500 or 1,600 applicants and none of them qualified for anything. Eventually, the case was referred to the courts and that person no longer carries out that function.

I would be equally suspicious if all 1,500 or 1,600 applicants had been granted asylum status. I would also find that difficult to understand. If we do unconscionable things, people become suspicious and they start to treat Irish people outside this jurisdiction in a similar fashion. I do not want to see that happen, nor does anyone in this House. It is very easy to go along with the crowd or tap into antipathy and have the wind at our backs. The problem is that the wind will not always be at the backs of our people all the time. We must also think of those situations.

Another problem is references in hearings. I am certain there are many cases where a quick determination could be made on whether a person had valid reasons to remain in the country or to seek asylum. Seeking residency in the country on foot of a work permit is a different story. People from this country and all over the world have always had a right to seek employment and to move around for economic reasons. It is up to the nation to which they travel to have statutory provisions to ensure that it can refuse if the country does not want people but if it does want people we cannot be two-faced about it. We must be honest. I remind Members on the Government benches that a senior Minister told this House five or six years ago that we needed at least 500,000 people in this country to supplement the workforce. We cannot be hypocritical and tell people we want and love them in Ireland and want them to help us and then when the job market goes bad tell them that we no longer want them.

Many of the people who came to this country worked solidly. In some cases they were employed for reasons of compassion by employers who recognised they were not legally entitled to remain here but gave them employment for humanitarian reasons and felt they were doing the employees a favour. As it happens, that was not the case. We need to be careful when we become arbitrary and condemnatory. When we hear the folklore of atrocities and sponging and all the money everyone gets except us, we need to check beyond the urban myths. There is always a little bit more involved. Very few people want to go that route. More than ever, we need to have the moral courage that many people have. Such people always recognise fair play and want the nation to be seen to carry out its laws under the general regime of fair play. That will always remain.

Why were people barred from seeking employment and working? I can never understand that because there was no reason to do so. While seeking asylum or residency, there is no reason people could not be allowed to work on a temporary basis for six months or one year. A permit could be renewed on an annual basis. There could also have been a special category created. We are bound to observe our laws, international laws, human rights laws and UN conventions. We are bound to do that. We cannot devise the rules to suit particular situations.

Women, young girls and children are particularly vulnerable in the kind of situation developing currently. In one case I examined it appeared on the face of it that the person concerned did not have a valid reason for wishing to remain in this country because the person had refugee status in another country. However, on closer examination it transpired that other countries within the European Union have problems as the unfortunate person in question had to leave another European Union member state because that person had been forced into prostitution. I have no doubt that because of the method of dealing with their cases several young women, and boys for that matter, have been forced into prostitution because they have no money. They have no money to start with and once they are confined to the waste sector nobody looks after them. Let us not forget about all the foreign national children who went missing in care in the past six to seven years. Nobody cares about them. Our caring society needs to examine itself from time to time and not just stand on the sideline and presume this does not affect any of us.

In all of the cases I have followed and in the hearings that have taken place, both the initial hearings and the appeal hearings, the phrase that one hears again and again is "the applicant claims" and "it is claimed". The word "claim" indicates disbelief. If the person making the decision disbelieves the person making the claim or the application in any country in the world we well know what that means. I expect the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, would agree with me. The belief is that if one makes a claim, what one is saying is untrue. I object to that. We are quite entitled to say that a person does not qualify or that the application is not in accordance with the rules or the law but we are not entitled to say we disbelieve whatever the applicant says. That is a different story. I reject the use of the word "claim" in that context. We must treat people in the way we would like to be treated ourselves, with no exceptions. We may wish to change the law for dealing with other nationalities, as Irish citizens make applications to other nations, but we must all expect the same treatment.

A visit to the immigration centres is an interesting experience, especially if one visits them often. As Irish people we have probably more experience as emigrants than people in most other countries. It is demeaning, sad and poignant to see people waiting to be called and not knowing what the outcome will be. It is not easy for them. Everyone in this House has relatives who sat in immigration centres in Staten Island, Sydney and elsewhere. It is not easy. It is not sufficient to say we were treated in that way as well and it was not fair. That we were ever treated unfairly anywhere does not justify a continuation of that unfair treatment anywhere.

I hope the Bill will bring about an improvement in this area. That remains to be seen. I hope in future to see fewer references to "claims" by applicants. It could be replaced by references to "statements", which is what is acceptable everywhere else. We have the right to disbelieve, reject or prove wrong applications but not to come to a conclusion on some vague premise that we have known about such a similar case in the way that one hears of a person who has not committed a particular crime but he could have committed another one. That approach is not acceptable, as the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, well knows.

I do not have time to deal with trafficking but, as Deputy Creighton indicated, it is appalling. We have all dealt with serious cases. Trafficking affects young women in particular, some of whom have come from regimes that are less than conscious of international law on human rights and who, by virtue of their very disposition, are vulnerable and resign themselves to being used because they have known nothing else. We have a duty to try to give them a clear understanding that everything is not rotten in the world, that there are people who consider their situation. I hope Irish people abroad who may be vulnerable get fairly treated by a system that is conscious of their situations and willing and caring in the way we would like.

I thank all Deputies for their contributions to the debate. The issue has been discussed at length in the context of the 2008 Bill. I thank Deputies on all sides, especially Opposition spokespersons, for facilitating the withdrawal of the 2008 Bill and the introduction of an amended Bill. I accept the compliments they have made to the effect that this Bill is better than the original. That is the purpose of a Committee Stage. We had one of the longest Committee Stage debates on record, 33 hours and 13 sitting days. Deputy Rabbitte outlined that there were 18 different sessions. It is important that we move on swiftly with the Bill because it is necessary from the country's point of view and for those genuine people who come to this country looking for asylum, refugee status and visas.

Some Deputies have commented that the Bill does not set out the rights of foreign nationals who are granted permission to enter or be present in the State. However, they have not given any indication of what rights they have in mind. It is, of course, the case that the presence of foreign nationals in the State does not, except in certain circumstances, flow from the exercise of any right to be present in or to reside in the State; rather, it is on foot of a permission to enter and reside which is granted by the Minister and is subject to conditions that the Minister considers should be imposed on that presence — for example, conditions regarding access to the labour market and State-funded benefits, among other matters.

There are some important exceptions to this general rule. I have, for instance, spoken in my opening contribution of the rights which the State has committed itself to giving to refugees. I am conscious of the fact that this country has a significant refugee resettlement programme. When I go to the European table and see what other more prosperous, larger countries provide, I realise we are one of the best in the class in respect to the resettlement of programme refugees. Therefore, when we speak of the rights of foreign nationals, we must distinguish between those categories of foreign nationals who might be present in the State at any given time. The Bill attempts to make that distinction. It treats a foreign national who has been granted a long-term residence permission and his or her family as if he or she is an Irish citizen in many respects. The only action such a person will not be allowed to take is vote in a general election, which is obviously a matter of constitutional right and reserved to citizenship.

If he or she is the holder of a renewable residence permission, the conditions of that permission will, as provided for in section 141, set out the nature of rights attaching to that permission, for example, whether he or she can bring family members to Ireland and the extent to which he or she can access publicly-funded services. If he or she is the holder of an entry permission or a non-renewable residence permission, the likelihood is that he or she has applied to come to the State for a limited period only. This could be for a holiday visit, to study or to engage in seasonal employment. In these circumstances, his or her intended stay is limited and the permission will set out a limited eligibility for benefits and the like. There is no right and no expectation of family reunification for such a migrant, nor can there be such an expectation of access to State-funded services, as a long-term resident would have, for example, and is entitled to as of right under the proposed legislation.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide mechanisms to allow the Government to manage migration to the State in a coherent fashion. The Bill provides clarity in regard to whether a foreign national's presence in the State is lawful or unlawful, and that is as it should be. The Bill sets out the requirements which must be satisfied where foreign nationals want to visit the State, whether for a long or short-term period, and that too is as it should be. The Bill provides mechanisms for review of negative decisions in regard to applications for visas, and, again, that is as it should be. The Bill provides for review mechanisms to ensure fair procedures where permissions are not renewed or are revoked. The Bill also sets out a more streamlined process for the determination of protection applications.

Aside from setting out the benefits associated with a protection declaration given to persons granted protection in the State and those associated with long-term residence, the Bill does not set out the benefits associated with other less permanent forms of permission to be present in the State. Rather, as I mentioned previously, a good deal of the policy of the Bill will be fleshed out in regulations.

That is not to say, of course, that foreign nationals are without any rights while present in the State. On the contrary, any entitlements under, for example, our health system, education system or social welfare system are set out in the relevant domestic legislation governing those systems. Similarly, access to the labour market is governed by employment law. While present in the State, foreign nationals enjoy many of the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by Irish citizens; they also enjoy the protections afforded, for example, by our equality laws. If they are working lawfully, they are entitled to be treated fairly under the laws governing employment. This Bill does not need to set out those matters again — they are already on the Statute Book.

I stress there is a need to balance rights and responsibilities. Persons who play by the rules, and the majority of our migrants fall into this category, have nothing to fear from this legislation. On the contrary, it enhances their status and allows the Government to provide greater transparency in the system.

A number of Deputies, including Deputies Shatter and Rabbitte, have commented that the Bill does not set out family reunification rights in regard to foreign nationals. Dealing with family reunification for all migrants in primary legislation has a number of difficulties. Family reunification will not apply equally to all types of migration, nor should it. Other countries seek to exercise discretion over which migrants they wish to attract. Ireland is no different in this regard. Experience shows that the largest ongoing source of migration is from family members. It does not make sense to attempt to deal with such a large proportion of our likely future migration in a way that denies the State the capacity to adjust its systems as it needs to do. Such an approach would be inconsistent with what is done in regard to primary migrants who will be governed by regulations and schemes precisely for the reason that the system needs to retain the flexibility it has to manage their cases. There are many people in our system who obtained some form of status here, not necessarily in accordance with any intention of the State that they should be here. It does not follow that the State should now look at bringing in families as a further reward for that behaviour.

I would remind Deputies that, just as a foreign national cannot assert any right to be allowed to reside in the State, that being a matter which is subject to a permission, his or her family members cannot assert any right to be allowed to join him or her in the State, that also being a matter which is subject to a permission. At EU level, the family reunification directive requires member states to grant family reunification to a foreign national who has permission to reside in the member state and who has a reasonable prospect of obtaining permanent residence. The directive allows member states to require foreign nationals to have resided in the member state for up to two years before allowing his or her family members to join him or her. I do not accept the proposition that a foreign national has a right to migrate to Ireland against the wishes of the Irish Government and people simply because he or she has a family member residing here. It should also be remembered that family reunification can also take place in the home country of the foreign national. The special position with regard to refugees acknowledges that this would not be possible in these cases.

Our policy on family reunification cannot be one that accepts across the board that any person with immigration status in Ireland would be joined by family members irrespective of the capacity of that person to support them or of any consideration of whether having that family in Ireland is desirable for the State. We cannot have a situation where migration to Ireland by an individual leads irrevocably to movement of a larger number of family members. It is highly debatable, for example, as to whether the State should undertake the cost of educating a substantial family on the strength of the migration of a single individual. Again, this has been adjudicated in the courts many times.

It would be possible to believe from some of the public contributions in this area that the State does not permit family reunification under current laws. This is not the case. The problem is one of lack of transparency, which I accept. As I have said, the position of the most vulnerable group of migrants — refugees — is already provided for. Family members of EU nationals exercising the rights of free movement are also covered in secondary legislation. Spouses and children of Irish citizens are generally permitted to reside in the State also.

We then look at employment permit holders. Green card employment permit holders are granted immediate family reunification for the nuclear family. Our proposals for family members of long-term residence at section 46 are reasonable. At the other end of the scale are students who are not eligible to have their families with them. Student permissions are a limited permission in recognition of the ease of access they have to the State, and most students coming to Ireland would not qualify on any other basis.

Let me indicate, however, what my intentions are in this area. I intend to develop a combination of administrative schemes and regulations to cater for some of the more pressing areas. I will deal with the family reunification of the spouses and dependent children of Irish citizens. I also intend to provide in regulations for the reunification practices currently set out for work permit holders and the high skilled green card employment permit holders. Ultimately, I intend setting out for each immigration status in Ireland on a sliding scale the family reunification possibilities that flow from that permission.

Again, I want to stress that the Bill does not provide for summary deportation of foreign nationals. As I mentioned in my opening contribution, under the Bill, a foreign national will usually become unlawfully present in the State by his or her own conscious act, either by entering in such a way as to avoid the immigration process, or, having been given a permission, by remaining in the State after it expires or is revoked. In essence, therefore, what is described as "summary deportation" is, in fact, a requirement to leave after having deliberately overstayed a permission or having being refused permission to stay, having gone through a fair process. It is unfortunate this is not being recognised in public statements.

The proposition that the Bill allows a foreign national who is unlawfully present in the State to be picked up on the street by an immigration officer and removed from the State without any form of notice, without any opportunity to seek a review or to have an opportunity to make representations, and without any consideration of whether the removal would amount to refoulement is, quite frankly, untenable. Detailed processes for non-renewal and revocation of residence permissions are contained therein.

The Bill contains extensive notice requirements and review processes for the different types of decision that arise at various stages of the immigration process. The Bill places an immediate and continuing obligation on a foreign national who is unlawfully present in the State to leave. Failure to do so is an offence and the person committing it can be arrested and detained for the purposes of being removed from the State. In so far as the removal of foreign nationals from the State is concerned, section 59 requires the immigration officer to be satisfied that the foreign national is unlawfully present in the State before initiating the removal process. Therefore, some investigation must take place to establish the fact of unlawful presence. Following on from this investigation, sections 60 to 62, inclusive, which provide for the arrest and detention for the purpose of removal as well as alternatives to arrest and detention, will normally be triggered.

The use of the term "summary deportation" is inappropriate and fails to acknowledge the actual provisions in the Bill that have been designed to provide fair procedures at each stage of the immigration process. It is axiomatic that any functioning immigration system must contain provisions for removal from the State of foreign nationals who either should not or should no longer be present in the State.

Sections 6(5), 59(1) and 60(1) lay down some general principles relating to the removal of foreign nationals unlawfully present in the State. Section 6(5) provides that a foreign national who does not comply with the obligation under subsection (4) may be removed from the State in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The obligation under subsection (4) consists of an immediate and continuing obligation to leave the State. By virtue of section 6(3), unlawful presence is an arrestable offence. Deputies will notice that section 6(5) does not state the foreign national will be summarily deported or immediately removed. Rather, it provides that he or she will be removed in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

Part 6 was the subject of extensive legal advice from the Attorney General and I am satisfied it is compliant with the constitutional and European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, standards. Removal cannot occur unless the immigration officer or the member of the Garda Síochána is satisfied that the foreign national is unlawfully in the State. It is worth noting there are rules and regulations governing the treatment of persons arrested and detained for immigration reasons. Included in these rules and regulations is the right to consult a solicitor.

The Bill contains ample provisions to ensure that the arrangements for the removal will be in compliance with constitutional and ECHR requirements. Paramount in this regard is the overarching prohibition on refoulement in section 58. It is no coincidence that this is the first section in Part 6 dealing with the removal.

Some Deputies have called for an independent review of immigration matters. I draw attention to the extensive review processes built into the Bill for the different types of decision that arise at various stages in the process. For example, section 21 deals with visa review applications and section 53 contains review mechanisms for the non-renewal of residence permissions and a revocation of an entry or residence permission. Sections 51 and 52 contain processes for making representations as to why permissions should not be revoked. Section 111 sets out the processes for the revocation of a protection declaration. Foreign nationals affected by any of these decisions giving rise to such reviews have the option to seek judicial reviews of those decisions by the courts where they consider there has been a procedural irregularity.

In the debate on the 2008 Bill, I indicated that these provisions laid the foundation for the fulfilment during the lifetime of this Government of a commitment in the agreed programme for Government to ensure a visibly independent appeals process in immigration matters. The Bill makes significant progress in this regard. To verify this, Deputies should compare this Bill to the existing legislation. I have also indicated my intention to appoint on an administrative basis initially following the commencement of the Bill a person to act as chief review officer, with the function of ensuring consistency and a high level of decision making among those dealt with under the Bill for visa reviews. We discussed this matter on Committee Stage.

Based on that system, how would anyone know whether there was consistency? It will all be secret.

No, it will not. We have indicated in the Bill that we will provide statistical data. The model——

Statistics will not tell one anything or provide information on the reasoning or background.

A substantial number of sections relate to statistical data, which was another matter discussed on Committee Stage when I accepted that, heretofore, a body of information had not been built up to provide lawyers, NGOs and so on an opportunity to examine the trends and carry out research. As we undertook to do, the Bill contains provisions in this respect.

We require more information than statistics.

We need to distinguish between the type of decision being made in a protection case and those that arise in respect of an immigration permission. Protection matters are governed by our international commitments and are determined by reference to international standards in a rigorous manner. This is as it must be, given the issues involved. On the other hand, immigration decisions are at the discretion of the State. The State sets out how it proposes to dispense its discretion in legislation. Fundamentally, immigration is not a right. Rather, it is granted by the State. Deputies drew attention to the fact that the UK has a tribunal hearing immigration and asylum cases. However, this is not the best fit for Ireland.

A number of Deputies wanted to retain the section 3 process. They asserted that the Bill fails to reproduce section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 dealing with the process leading to a deportation order. As the Bill introduces a new removals process, it does not reproduce section 3 verbatim, nor does it need to. However, it is not the case that the protections in section 3 have been discarded or are somehow absent from the Bill. Section 3 provides a process whereby a person whose removal from the State is in contemplation must be given notice of the intention to remove and an opportunity to submit representations to the Minister as to why that course of action should not be taken.

As far as the process goes, it is self-evidently fair to the person involved. However, since it must be used not only for the removal of persons who have the residence permission but also for people who are already unlawfully present in the State, it is to that extent inefficient and cumbersome. It is important to point out that the length of any permission granted under the Bill will typically be set at the point of granting of that permission. In each case, the person knows why the permission is given, for how long it will be and whether it can be extended. Many thousands of such permissions are given under the current system each year. In most cases, the person observed the conditions by leaving the State on or before the permission expired. The overarching prohibition on refoulement in section 58 must inform the decision not to renew a permission or to revoke that permission.

To dispel any misgiving that may persist, I wish to spell out exactly how the Bill offers further procedural safeguards designed to meet the exigencies of every circumstance. In the Bill, an exact mirror of the section 3 process appears at section 52, which deals with those whose residence permissions are being considered for revocation. An important feature of this process is that, until it is concluded, the person's presence in the State remains lawful. The obligation to leave the State and with it the risk of being detained and removed against one's will do not arise until the final outcome of the process has been notified to the person. Even then, for certain people who have been lawfully living in Ireland for longer than five years, there is a three-month grace period in which they can wind up their affairs.

The section 52 process applies to anyone with a long-term residence permission or an ordinary residence permission that is expressed to be renewable. For people who are in Ireland on renewable residence permissions and where it is proposed at renewal time not to renew their permissions, sections 40, 53 and 54 of the Bill set out a process equivalent to section 3 of the 1999 Act. The person is notified of the decision not to renew the permission and the reasons for that proposal. He or she is given an opportunity to seek a review of the decision. The person's presence in the State is deemed to be lawful until a final decision on the review is notified. The obligation to leave the State does not arise until that point is reached, so the person is not exposed and does not expose himself or herself to any risk of being detained for removal until the process has been exhausted.

For people who have been given a finite entry permission or a residence permission, section 50 sets out a process equivalent to section 3 of the 1999 Act. The person is notified of the decision to revoke the permission and the reasons for that revocation and given an opportunity to seek a review of the decision. Under section 50(5), the person's presence in the State is deemed to be lawful until the final decision on the review is notified. Once again, the obligation to leave the State does not arise until that point has been reached, so the person is not exposed and does not expose himself or herself to any risk of being detained for removal.

The current process under section 3 of the 1999 Act applies to everybody who is at risk of being removed from the State, including those who have applied for asylum and whose claims have been rejected by the independent first insistance and appeals procedures. The section 3 process incorporates an examination in any case where it is claimed of whether the person is entitled to subsidiary protection in the State, as well as giving the person an opportunity to offer reasons related to matters other than the protection issues as to why they should be allowed remain in the State. All these matters, both protection related and otherwise, will be examined within the single process set up by this Bill. There will be no need at the conclusion of the process for an extra layer of procedure that the existing section 3 process involves. I reiterate the entire rationale of the Bill is to bring in a single procedure for decision making. Those who emerge from the protection process will do so with a complete answer to all their wishes to remain in the State. That is the effect of Part 7 of the Bill.

Where a person has entered the State clandestinely, having made no attempt to seek permission or have any contact with the immigration authorities of the State, that person knows what is the position. Staying in the State covertly is unlawful and while the individual may not be fully aware in precise detail of Irish law on this point, it can come as no surprise when the authorities find out and put in train steps to remove that person forthwith. Part 6 of the Bill deals with removal in that respect. In addition to more notice requirements, provision is made under sections 61 and 62 for the imposition by the immigration officer of a residence and reporting requirement on a foreign national instead of that person being arrested or detained. For this category of foreign national there is neither need nor justification for an equivalent process to section 3. There is, of course, by way of safeguard built into the Bill in regard to all potential removals the protection against refoulement. This is backed up in a practical way by the provisions of section 81 which ensure that an expression of fear by a person, whether lawfully or unlawfully present in the State, must be treated as a potential protection application. This is yet another protection in section 81 which is built into the Bill.

Therefore, I believe we have a proper balance between the forthright power to ensure that a person unashamedly present unlawfully in the State observes the obligation to leave on the one hand, and, on the other, a duty to listen to and act on any indication from that person, however expressed, that removal from the State would be and would constitute a refoulement.

Some debate has taken place on the position of a potential victim of trafficking in that situation. The position is, to some extent, analogous to that of a potential protection claimant. If, when the person comes to immigration authority notice, there is an indication, whether from that person or otherwise, that he or she is a victim of trafficking then in the normal way a garda has a duty to follow up that indication that the offence has been or is being committed. The provisions of section 139 of the Bill will then activate themselves in those appropriate circumstances.

Arguments are sought to be made that there should be a last-chance equivalent to the current section 3 process for all or some of the cases I have outlined but no argument has been made or can rationally be made in law or in equity that we would require or justify such a process in any circumstance. For those who have already been through one of the processes in Parts 4 or 7 of the Bill there is nothing more to be looked at. For those who are unlawfully in the State, either as over-stayers or clandestine entrants, the proper course is to observe the personal obligation they have brought upon themselves by their actions to leave the State. If there is any potential refoulement or protection issues, I reiterate that a safeguard is present in sections 58 and 81.

Deputy Durkan argued that asylum seekers should be treated in exactly the same way as others seeking to migrate to Ireland for economic purposes. I emphatically assure the House that to do so would be to encourage and support misuse of the protection process, and that I have no intention of equating the two. We have a process for those seeking to migrate to Ireland for work or other economic purposes. I do not claim the process is a perfect one and I acknowledge there are serious inadequacies in it. However, the processes are there and are being availed of by many thousands of people who wish to migrate here from outside the European Union or the European Economic Area. The asylum process is there for people who have a genuine fear of persecution in their home territories and who need the protection of this State. One cannot equate the two, as Deputy Durkan endeavoured to do. Arguments that asylum seekers have no option other than to take protection claims because they have no other way of getting into Ireland are utterly spurious. One might equally argue that a tax evader must evade tax because he has no other way of becoming a millionaire. The two arguments are morally analogous because in neither case is there a right as such to achieve the end goal but the end goal is attainable through lawful means.

Extending the right to work to those claiming protection would have a negative impact on the number of asylum applications, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so. The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December 1999 compared to an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999. Asylum application numbers have fallen significantly in recent years and, on the evidence of past experience, a decision to grant asylum seekers access to the labour market would reverse this trend. It would also undermine the current effective work permit system which provides a comprehensive channel for legal migration to the State. It would further widen the gap in a negative manner in terms of reward between those who access the labour market properly and legally through the work permit system and visa channels and those who simply abuse the asylum process to gain entry.

I believe I have given a comprehensive response to most of the broad points raised by Members on the opposite side of the House. I thank them again for their co-operation in getting Second Stage passed and I look forward to Committee Stage where we can look in more detail at specific points that were raised regarding the changes that were made to the Bill and the amendments to come from the Opposition in this respect.

Is the Minister in a position to indicate when he might take Committee Stage?

I am not sure. As the Deputy knows, most of the amendments we introduced are contained in the Bill. I am advised there are to be a number of small amendments which will be put to me next week for consideration. Committee Stage will follow. Obviously, we will give the Opposition notice. The Bill has been published for some time, has it not?

It was published in June.

It will be a short time afterwards.

That will be in two or three weeks.

Question put and agreed to.