European Union (Accession of the Republic of Croatia) (Access to the Labour Market) Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage

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

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill to this House. The Bill is short and technical in nature and gives effect to the Government's decision on 30 April 2013 to permit access to the Irish labour market for nationals of Croatia upon its accession to the EU from 1 July 2013. The Bill was introduced and supported unanimously by the Seanad, and I look forward to our discussions here today.

I propose to summarise the background and context for the Bill and I will then explain the primary purpose of the Bill before briefly describing its sections. I welcome the cross-party support expressed so far to open access to the Irish labour market to Croatian nationals. The importance of maintaining and developing further Ireland's already excellent relationship with Croatia was acknowledged by all contributors to the debate in the Seanad, and the Government's decision to open access was warmly welcomed by the Croatian deputy prime minister on her recent visit to Ireland. The Government's decision supports Ireland's position on the need for continued EU solidarity and will facilitate productive engagement at EU level in the future. The timing is also opportune in that Croatia will now join the EU just after the conclusion of Ireland's Presidency of the EU, having applied for membership of the EU under Ireland's last Presidency.

I will turn to the background and context for the Bill. On 9 December 2011, Croatia signed the treaty of accession to become the EU's 28th member state and Ireland signed the instrument of ratification for the Croatian accession treaty on 21 September 2012. I understand that the ratification process by the parliaments of all 27 EU member states is concluded and that the accession of Croatia to the EU is to take place on 1 July 2013. At its meeting on 30 April 2013, the Government considered the EU accession of Croatia and, based on Forfás analysis and other information available to my Department, agreed to permit access to the Irish labour market for nationals of Croatia upon its accession to the EU from 1 July 2013. This decision reflects the low likelihood that Croatia's entry to the EU could have a distortionary impact on the Irish labour market. The Government agreed, therefore, that transitional arrangements should not be applied in the case of Croatian nationals seeking to work in Ireland following Croatia's accession to the EU.

The Government considered a number of factors when making its decision. It is highly unlikely that significant numbers of Croatians wish to migrate to Ireland given that Ireland's current economic status presents a very weak pull factor for Croatians and also international studies show that migration is heavily influenced by existing migrant populations and established social networks in the destination country. There is not a sufficient population of Croatians in Ireland at present to create an attracting factor. There is a very low propensity for Croatians to emigrate and where they do, they tend to emigrate to neighbouring European countries or North America. The size of Croatia's labour force is relatively small, with a total labour force of 1.78 million, with some 350,000 people in the 25 to 34 age group, which is generally the most mobile demographic of a country's population. Ireland's labour market, in line with EU obligations, is already open to an EU work force of 229 million people.

The Government decision pertains only to employment and Croatians would, in any event, enjoy certain rights afforded to all EU citizens from 1 July and would therefore be able to reside in Ireland subject to the residence directive. Such nationals will be able to study, work as self-employed, or establish businesses here, and applying restrictions to employment when it is possible to work as self-employed can increase the potential for undeclared work. Experience suggests that opening access to the Irish labour market may not have a significant impact on the State's services. The experience in respect of Bulgaria, a country with a labour market twice the size of Croatia and to which Ireland gave full access to its labour market in 2012, suggests that only a modest increase arose in respect of PPS registrations, which could not be described as having a distortionary impact on the Irish labour market. The rate of employment permit grants to nationals of Croatia has been running at approximately 12 per annum. At a practical level, were Ireland to restrict access to the labour market for nationals of Croatia, a separate employment permits system would have to be maintained to manage approximately 12 employment permits which would be difficult to justify.

As I have already mentioned, the Government also noted that Ireland has an excellent relationship with Croatia and that it is important this relationship is developed further for the benefit of both countries. It should be remembered that this is a reciprocal agreement which may benefit our nationals as well. As Ireland is opening access to its labour market to Croatian nationals, so too will Croatia open access to its labour market to Irish nationals.

With regard to the need for this legislation, under section 2 of the Employment Permits Acts 2003 to 2006, a foreign national is not required to have an employment permit where there is an entitlement to be in employment in the State pursuant to rights from the treaties governing the European Communities, including treaties as amended by the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Croatia. However, under paragraph 2 of annex V of the treaty, the entitlement of Croatian nationals to employment for the first two years post-accession must be provided either by way of national measures or measures resulting from bilateral agreements. Therefore, a legislative amendment to the Employment Permits Act 2003 is required in order to exempt Croatian nationals from the requirement for an employment permit while not conferring any greater rights than those included in the treaty.

As I have already stated, the Bill is short and very technical in nature and it is hoped to be enacted by 1 July 2013. I will turn to the content of the Bill and outline briefly the content and purpose of the provisions, section by section. Section 2(1) (a) gives Croatian nationals employment rights equivalent to other EU nationals for the first two years post-accession and section 2(1)(b) ensures that Croatian nationals have the same employment rights as other EU nationals after the first two years post-accession. Section 2(2) ensures that the family members of Croatian workers have the same entitlements as the family members of other EU workers.

Section 3 amends the Employment Permits Act 2003 so that Croatian nationals who have equivalent EU employment rights do not need an employment permit.

In conclusion, I would be happy to expand on any of the provisions during the course of this debate if Deputies wish to raise any particular issues and we will have an opportunity during Committee Stage to examine the Bill in detail. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Deputies during this debate and to the co-operation of the House in securing the Bill's early enactment. I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this legislation, which gives effect to the accession to the EU of Croatia. Over the past two days, I had the opportunity to attend the COSAC meeting hosted by this Parliament in Dublin Castle, which was attended by the Ceann Comhairle who made a fine contribution to the workings of that event. The importance of the continued enlargement of the EU was very clear to those of us who are members of the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs and who attend the various events around Europe associated with the continuation of that European project. The next phase of that enlargement is the accession of Croatia. Indeed, other countries at the meeting hold a status that will ultimately see them become members of the EU as they go through the various chapters of the east central Europe, ECE, region and reach the standard set for accession to the EU.

It is right and fitting that we continue to encourage those countries to work on the reorganisation of their economies and democracies and in addressing fraudulent activity that is endemic in some countries. We must give them encouragement to want to become part of the EU. A key part of that is showing that member states put no restrictions on membership. The EU has become important for many because it allows the free movement of people, goods and capital. If we at the outset were to start restricting in any way access to our labour market, it would send a very negative signal. I am struck by the level of negativity that exists among the population of our nearest neighbour, the kind of dialogue emerging there, particularly fronted by UKIP, and UKIP's efforts to depict the enlargement of the Union as a negative impact on the economies of member states. From the outset the founding fathers of the EU recognised the importance of sharing and pooling sovereignty to ensure that Europe was not just an economic powerhouse but the best potential for ensuring that the issues that divided the states of the EU for so long would no longer be part of the future. This is why some of the politicking from those who seek to use immigration as a platform for political success does far more damage to their own countries and citizens than they might like. It is why it is important for us to open our labour market at the outset to people from those countries which want to become good Europeans and participate in the EU.

As the Minister of State noted, the Bill is part of the integration of Croatia into the EU and is fully supported by Fianna Fáil and others in this House. The liberation of eastern Europe was one of the most momentous events of the 20th century. All former Communist countries should have an opportunity to share in the freedom and opportunities that membership of the EU brings. This includes access to labour markets. Ireland has had a very good relationships with Croatia, which first applied for candidate status during Ireland's last Presidency in 2004. There has been ongoing dialogue between parliamentarians, successive governments and elements of civil society. There is a Croatian community here, albeit a small one, that has business links and links through the various chambers of commerce. We have had some very good ambassadors from Croatia who have worked to develop a knowledge and understanding of how Ireland participates in the EU and who would admit they have gained a lot of knowledge that has assisted them in reaching the standard required to be a member of the EU.

All of this has not come without pain for Croatia. I have had the opportunity to visit Croatia on a number of occasions. The difficulties it has had in changing public service employment and support for the shipbuilding industry, which had be to de-leveraged from state ownership to join the Union and open up the market, are very clear. The changes did not come without a price. Unemployment has risen from about 14%, which is around the level here, to about 21%. It is very clear that Croatia has taken very significant steps that have impacted in the short term on its economy to reach the standard required to join the Union. Obviously, we wish Croatia well in that regard.

We must resist the scare-mongering about the impact of opening up our labour markets to additional accession countries. Erroneous assumptions regarding migrant intentions and behaviour must be challenged and we should see open labour markets as mutually beneficial for all EU states. I often think of the presence of so many nationalities in this country who perform such an important function in supporting the foreign direct investment that comes here. It is not just because we are an English-speaking country and have access to European markets that global leaders in the technology sector base their headquarters for Europe and further afield here. If we were to take a very negative position regarding encouraging people of other nationalities with their respective languages to come to work and live here, we would not be as attractive to the large multinationals. One sees the ongoing work in companies like Google and Facebook. The multiplicity of citizens from various countries who work in these companies are able to localise technologies and information for their respective markets. It is all being done here so if somebody thinks the potential for a relatively small number of Croats to come to live and work here is a negative, I would challenge that and say it is quite the opposite. It makes Ireland an attractive proposition for the further reception of foreign investment and the headquarters of those companies which form such an important part of our economy. In any case, under the EU residence directive, Croats would have the right to study, work as self-employed persons or establish businesses here. The Minister of State already mentioned that. Restricting the right to employment to someone who can work in a self-employed capacity will increase the potential for undeclared work.

After the Second World War Croatia became a single-party socialist federal unit of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ruled by the communists, although it enjoyed a degree of autonomy within that federation. Croatia is, as the Minister of State noted, the second former member of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to join the EU after Slovenia joined in 2004. Again, I had the opportunity to talk to some Slovenians over the past few days. The benefits to them have been enormous and the same benefits will accrue to Croatia. Under the treaty of accession, member states can choose to restrict the right of migrants to work in a particular sector for a two-year period. Following a review, this can be extended for a further three years. I am very pleased that the Government has decided not to use that provision. I welcome the Minister of State's decision in April to open up the Irish labour market for Croatian nationals upon Croatia's accession at the end of this month or the beginning of next month. The size of the Croatian labour force is relatively small, at about 1.78 million people with some 350,000 people in the 25-34 cohort.

That is usually from where the most likely migrant workers will come. Even with that particular cohort and given the percentage that has travelled here in the past, it is highly unlikely that it would have a destabilising impact on the economy. Notwithstanding the current level of unemployment, the Government's decision pertains only to employment. Croatians would, in any event, enjoy certain rights afforded to EU citizens. At the moment the Croatian economy is not competitive with ours. It is in its fifth straight year of recession and unemployment is at 21%. The current Government has embarked on a series of painful structural reforms including cuts to the country's bloated public services, a process that will pay dividends in the long run for Croatia but in the short term it will be very difficult for them.

I welcome the opportunity to support the legislation. I wish the Croatian people well in their accession to the European Union. I hope they have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits that Ireland has enjoyed. Notwithstanding the real pain being suffered through the current crisis, they have some very strong strands to their economy, particularly in the area of tourism, which I think will be enhanced due to accession, and one on which they can build. They are also a very friendly people, very similar to the Irish in many respects. I think that is why we have succeeded in building strong links with them. Mr. Neven Mimica who a former deputy prime minister and a good friend of many in this House because of his membership of the European affairs committee of the Croatian Parliament will become the Commissioner. He is a man of great intellect and ability and will be of great benefit to the other smaller member states which, in the past, have sought to club and pool their resources, ideas and collective strengths to act not as a bulwark against the larger member states but as a balancing influence on decision making within the European Union. Our relationship with Croatia and those bonds and links that go back to 2004 and further will be helpful from an Irish perspective in having a friend around the table from which we will share some ideas. It will be to the State's benefit that we have built that relationship in advance of their accession to the European Union.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Cuirim fáilte freisin roimh mhuintir na Cróite atá ag teacht isteach san Aontas Eorpach i mí Iúil. Sinn Féin recognises the benefits and achievements of the European Union. The values that founded the EU could and should underpin the values and actions of today. Those values are solidarity, equality and the mutual benefit and growth. It is on these values that the many successes of the EU have been built, from reconstruction following the Second World War, tackling discrimination, the reunification of Germany, recognising and safeguarding human rights, protecting the environment, and promoting workers' rights. The European Union has played a valued role in the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the State and played a vital role in directing funds to support the peace process in the North of the country. When it has failed to uphold these values and founding principles it has caused great problems. When it failed to uphold solidarity, equality and mutual benefit and instead upheld the interests of particular states and particular nations or sections of the economy it has let down the people of the European Union.

Recently the economic management by the European Union has not reflected equality, solidarity and mutual benefit and growth but has been sectional in who it has sought to represent. The idea of a union of nation states gathering and working together in harmony and in consensus to arrive at a better future has been corroded and replaced by a number of nations working for their own specific interests to ensure their own bondholders and own banks have been repaid, to the extreme cost of many others. Many analysts have indicated that the tensions within the European Union are far greater than they were ten years ago and that there is anger and bitterness among those on the periphery in regard to the uneven development throughout Europe. The policies of austerity pursued by the current generation of political leaders in Europe continue to cause great damage to the economies of Europe and the vast majority of the people, particularly those on the periphery. The citizens of this State continue to pay the cost of bailing out the European banks and the bondholders and will do so long after this generation of politicians in this Oireachtas plus the European technocrats have retired.

There is a need for the EU to return to its roots and core values. There is a need for a social Europe, a Europe with people at its heart. That is why we will support the Bill. Croatia has sought to join the European Union and that has been agreed. Workers from Croatia should be entitled to enjoy the same rights as workers anywhere else in the European Union. The rights to free movement should not be restricted to goods and capital. A citizen of Croatia is fully entitled to reside in this State and, if so, is fully entitled to work and contribute to our economy and society. They must be given the same protections afforded to all workers in society such as the minimum wage and the terms and conditions of employment.

There are some in the State who may fall back on xenophobia and prejudice on this matter and will decry the opening of the flood gates. However, they should focus on the need to create a truly social Europe. They should not be allowed to scaremonger that development in the future. The current policies of the EU and the approach adopted by the Government has held down growth and sustained high unemployment, leading to increased poverty and disadvantage. As a result of the Government's policies, there is net migration away from the State. In the two years that the Government has been in office, 167,000 people have left the State through emigration. We are halfway through a decade of a lost generation. It is clear from the economy of Japan that due to its policies, it experienced a complete decade of a lost generation. Unfortunately, instead of experienced net inward migration, 240 people leave the State every day.

Croatia has a small population with a labour force of only 1.78 million. Of those currently resident in the EU, 91% reside in Germany, Italy and Austria. Under EU legal provision, citizens of Croatia are entitled to be self-employed and reside in this State. It is clear that it would be wrong if they were not to enjoy the same guarantees and protections as workers in the State. To make a half provision for Croatian workers would undermine their integration in the State. In the past two decades we have witnessed an enormous number of new Irish enter the country, many of whom are still on the edges of society. The State machinery which is necessary to integrate them into Irish society has been weak and has been weakened further through the policies of austerity of the Government.

Tomorrow a number of organisations will come to Leinster House and I hope that the Minister of State might be able to meet them. Cultúr is one of the organisations attending. It has been designed to help migrants integrate fully into society and the workforce but it faces funding challenges at present. I would love if the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, could attend the presentation tomorrow in the audiovisual room in Leinster House to hear from individuals who work with migrants.

It is important to examine the experience of Irish people abroad. Tens of thousands of Irish people have emigrated to the United States over recent decades and they are not afforded the right to work if they do not meet the necessary visa requirements and many of them have been caught in a trap. Members will know of individuals who have worked in the United States without the protection of labour law and do not get to contribute to the state through taxation. Many of them cannot travel home to Ireland on visits even in cases where there is an emergency at home such as a funeral.

These Irish people work in an environment that allows for exploitation. We cannot and should not push any workers, including Croatian workers, into a legal grey area in which they can reside and be self-employed but cannot take on formal work. That makes no sense and is wrong. My party supports the legislation ós rud gur sin an rud ceart le déanamh le haghaidh gach oibrí a bheidh ag obair sa tír seo. It is right to ensure that Croatian workers have the full protection of legislation, that they are free from exploitation and can contribute fully to the economy. Their skills can help to drive the economy forward and enrich society. Croatian workers, although small in number, will add to our nation.

The legislation, like much other legislation in the State, has identified an anomaly between the North and South, and the previous speaker alluded to it earlier. Westminster will seek to have a different regime in Britain and the Six Counties of the North. At present, the control of immigration is not a devolved power but is retained by Westminster and is shaped to meet the needs of the British economy and British political system. It is led by the Tory Party which has no representation in the North of Ireland, having been rejected at general elections held there.

Differing approaches to immigration and workers' rights in the North and South on an island of this size makes no sense. We have an all-Ireland labour market that should not be contained by an arbitrary line on a map. The British Government has at this point made it clear that it will introduce restrictions on the employment of Croatian workers. Not only is that wrong but it creates major difficulties in the Irish context. Will a Croatian worker based in Dundalk be able to work for a company in Newry, six miles up the road? Will a Croatian living in Derry be able to find work in Lifford but not Strabane? On an island with a population of six million there should only be one immigration policy. Right now we are clever enough to have an all-Ireland policy and regulations for livestock but we will have different regulations on workers' rights on the island. I hope the Government will raise the issue with the British Government and stress the need to devolve such powers to the North to allow for the development and implementation of an all-Ireland approach to immigration.

The EU has provided many benefits for its members. It has delivered much in terms of workers' rights and created an enormous amount of growth. My party has been strongly critical of the EU's recent change of direction to a more centralised large country decision-making process and also to a marriage with austerity that has led to severe economic pain across the EU. My party has been critical for the purpose of trying to change those economic policies and creating a more social and equal Europe. Despite what the Government may claim, the policy of austerity has failed and has especially failed the economy.

The EU cannot solely be about the movement of capital and trade. It must be about the people. It is clear that Croatia has sought to join and this has been agreed. It is clear that we must afford Croatian workers full safeguards and protections in future. We support the legislation because it is the just thing to do for workers in this State as it will help prevent a two-tier experience for workers and ensure they compete against and work with other workers on the same level and not in a black market. The provision should be extended to the North of Ireland and I hope the Government will raise the matter at the next opportunity.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this new legislation, the European Union (Accession of the Republic of Croatia) (Access to the Labour Market) Bill 2013. I warmly welcome the debate as, once again, it gives us all an opportunity to discuss Croatia, the European Union in general and other countries near Europe. The legislation comes at a very important time, particularly with the economic crisis and, as we have seen in recent days, some of the banking scandals that have happened in Ireland and other countries.

It is important when debating the accession of Croatia and the opportunity for its workers and people to come here that we broaden the debate and link it to the European Union and what kind of European Union and economic co-operation people want. Do they want a Europe comprising independent states or do they want closer integration? These issues are very important but they have been pushed under the carpet many times by many people, not only in this country but also across Europe. There is a huge disconnect between many citizens in Europe and the leadership of the European Union. Today's debate is important because it links into the broader aspects.

On examining the details of the legislation one can see that it deals with access to the Irish labour market by Croatian nationals following Croatia's accession to the European Union in July 2013. It also amends the Employment Permits Act 2003 in order that Croatians will not need work permits to work here. It also clarifies the rights of family members of Croatian nationals. Essentially, that is what the legislation is about.

I welcome and support the legislation. It is important that every Member examines every piece of legislation. We, in the Independent Group, will always adopt an independent view. If something is positive for people, the citizens of Europe or this country or for the rights of the citizens of Croatia, then it will have my 100% support. We can examine the nuts and bolts of the legislation later.

During today's debate we must also debate racism in society. We need to keep a close eye on racism because it is rampant across the European Union. Many people are very concerned about the emergence of racism again. It does exist but is under the radar. Many people seem to think it is not on the political scale in this country. However, many politicians will know from dealing with people one to one that racism is an issue for a minority in the State who have a lot of prejudice. We, as a society, must be vigilant and ensure that parties or politicians who represent that view are challenged. We know from history, from what happened during the World Wars and in South Africa, that racism issues can easily be on the agenda and have led to a lot of death and destruction. We must be vigilant.

There have been many cases of racism in this country. In the past 24 hours, the Stephen Lawrence case in London has emerged again as a race and racism issue. The Lawrence family has experienced major prejudice and there was gross incompetence on the part of the police force which dealt with the case. These types of situations happen in Ireland but people do not seem to think that they do. They happen regularly but many of the instances go unreported and it is only the ones resulting in fatalities that one reads about in the newspaper. We need to be vigilant and it is essential to state that during today's debate on Croatian accession to the EU.

As for the details of this legislation, the Republic of Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union when it joins on 1 July 2013. While Croatian nationals will then have the right of free movement within the European Union, member states are permitted to apply national measures regulating Croatian nationals' access to the labour markets and this can be done initially for a period of up to five years. Measures regulating or restricting access to the labour markets are put in place for Romanians and Bulgarians by many European Union member states. However, Ireland has chosen not to restrict access to the Irish labour market by Croatians. This is based on a belief held by many in the Government and the establishment in general that Croatians are unlikely to come to Ireland in such numbers that would distort the labour market. This means that restrictions similar to those placed on Bulgarians and Romanians will not apply to Croatians. The 2011 census showed that only 846 Croatians were living in Ireland and employment permit data show that only 12 employment permits were issued for Croatian nationals in 2012. Other countries, such as Germany, Austria and Britain are choosing to apply transitional access measures. This is what is going on in the current climate and Members should note the number of people who are coming here, in that 846 Croatians live in Ireland at present.

It is important to note that Ireland has a responsibility as a host nation to ensure their rights are protected as citizens both of this State and of broader European society. This leads on to the emigration issue because Ireland has its own problems with many people leaving because of the economic crisis and the great hardship experienced by many families. However, one issue that has never been mentioned in the context of discussions on emigration concerns the hundreds of millions of euro that are being spent to train teachers, nurses, professionals and physiotherapists. I have met many such people in recent weeks and reiterate that millions are being spent on their training but they are leaving for Australia, the Middle East or Europe. This is an issue in the context of the expenditure of public money, as this suddenly becomes money down the drain because such people are being forced to emigrate as a result of the economic crisis. This is an important point because while I have no problems about people who wish to emigrate and who seek adventure in their lives - good luck to them and I always encourage young people to do this if they get an opportunity, that is, those who have a choice - I refer to those who were leaving out of economic necessity. It is very sad when young and brilliant nurses or teachers who wish to work in their own country but who cannot get a job must go to Australia, New Zealand or Canada to get something. In addition, however, from an economic point of view hundreds of millions of euro have been spent training such people to work in another economy. Equally, when one considers this issue in the context of the broader European Union, it is important to note the inflow of immigrants who are professionally trained from other countries, particularly poorer countries, into Ireland. They are coming to Ireland because of economic necessity for them as well. My point is the European Union and its leadership must get its act together. Today, Members are discussing Croatia and defending people's rights as citizens but it is important to make the point that the European Union also must get its act together in respect of protecting and defending the rights of its citizens.

In the context of the debate on Croatia's accession, the current view is that it is highly unlikely that significant numbers of Croatians wish to emigrate to Ireland. The size of Croatia's labour force is relatively small, with a total labour force of 1.78 million people, of whom approximately 350,000 are within the 25 to 34 age group. Experience suggests that opening access to the Irish labour market may not have a significant impact on the State's services, especially when one sees figures such as the 846 people who are currently resident here. Allowing a person to be self-employed but not to be an employee can increase the chances of that person falling outside the tax net and this is a matter about which one must be vigilant. In addition, Ireland's current economic status means it is not a massive factor for people coming from other countries because the number of job vacancies is low, with the exception of areas experiencing shortfalls of skills. As for the skills issue, with which the Minister of State is dealing, Ireland has a major problem with regard to information technology skills and additional migrants to such sectors also would be very welcome.

International studies also show that migration is heavily influenced by existing migrant populations and established social networks in the destination country. EUROSTAT estimates that approximately 350,000 Croatian nationals currently reside within the extant European Union, with Germany, Austria and Italy accounting for 91% of such people. In addition, as I noted, 846 Croatian nationals are resident in Ireland. Therefore, there is not a sufficient population of Croatians in Ireland at present to create an attracting factor. A number of polls show the numbers of Croatians with firm intentions of leaving Croatia are relatively low. I understand that 0.1% of the adult population, or 4,000 people, have considered moving permanently from Croatia in the following 12 months and Ireland did not really appear on their listed destinations. This corresponds with the employment performance data, which indicate that only 12 employment permits were issued in 2012 in respect of Croatian nationals. Consequently, this pertains to a relatively small group of people and that is an important point when considering this issue.

Section 2(2) of the Bill addresses the rights of family members of Croatian nationals. Generally, when the national of a European Union member state requires a permit to work in another European Union member state, the family of that national are not then required to have work permits before they can work legally.

Before I continue, could the Ceann Comhairle consider my sharing five minutes at the end with Deputy Wallace?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As the Ceann Comhairle is aware, I am a very inclusive politician and I love sharing time with Deputy Wallace.

Does this mean the Deputy will be bringing him back into the Technical Group?

Especially when he had a go at me last week in the Chamber.

I did not name the Deputy.

To revert to the Bill, section 2(2) addresses the rights of family members of Croatian nationals. This is an important section because one must understand the importance of family. It is all very well for someone to come to Ireland with a particular skill but such people must have rights here and their families and spouses also must have the right to be respected. Members have witnessed so many horrific cases in this regard and I heard of one case last week in which the State is attempting to deport a man from a violent country in crisis in Africa. There was a big hoo-ha at Dublin Airport but, eventually, I understand the deportation of the man was halted through the intervention of Deputy Mathews. In respect of such issues, it is important that families be kept together.

However, to return to Croatia, Members are aware from their geography and history books that Croatia has a population of 4.5 million, of which 86% are aged between 15 and 64. As I stated previously, the labour force comprises approximately 1.7 million people and its unemployment rate is approximately 18%, which is considerably higher than that in Ireland or Britain. An estimated 9,000 Croatian nationals live in Britain at present, while approximately 750,000 live in other countries. The number of Croatians who are resident in Britain only equates to approximately 5% of those who live in Germany, where I understand 245,000 Croatians reside. When one considers the skills that people from Croatia could bring to the State, the three principal spoken foreign languages for Croatian nationals are English, German and Italian, which are spoken by 49%, 39% and 14%, respectively. Already, one can observe the international situation and how languages have become both a means of communication between peoples and a significant potential for job creation, particularly in Ireland, as many different nationalities want to even up their game and bring business to this country to learn English, in order that they can get ready to deal with the international markets. Consequently, it is important to deal with this issue.

In conclusion, I strongly support this legislation. It pertains to dealing with neighbours and colleagues and treating them with respect. Importantly, it also is about treating the citizens of Croatia and Ireland with dignity and respecting human rights properly.

I also welcome the decision to allow Croatians to work here once Croatia has joined the European Union, which is a positive measure. Too often, we have been more eager to facilitate the movement of goods than the movement of people and in the past, I recall we often were giving refugee status to people here but would not allow them to work, which was nonsensical.

I employed many hundreds of eastern Europeans in the construction business. They were very good workers, with a great attitude to work. Those people made a serious contribution to the Irish economy and many of them are still here. I assure people that the notion that these people are here to be subsidised by the State is completely wrong; any eastern European I ever met was very eager to work. Their attitude to work is very healthy.

The Irish have travelled the world to work and we take that for granted. God knows we need that at the moment as a release valve because there is no work here. Sometimes, however, we hear Irish people giving out about foreigners coming here and taking our work. It is mad that we think we should be allowed to go anywhere to work while putting restrictions in place for people coming here to work. It is very unfair. I am all in favour of the free movement of people and the right for people to work where they please.

Deputy Finian McGrath raised the issue of racism and I agree it is much more prevalent in Ireland than people would admit. I see a lot of racism all over the country and a greater mixing of cultures helps to combat that. Racism stems from intolerance. For too long we had the whole island to ourselves and then we suddenly had people of different creeds and colours coming in and it was a challenge to tolerate that. It is vital we do that because we will not be a mature race until we can accept the attitudes and opinions of others. God knows even at government level in many developed countries, there is a significant intolerance of others. Internationally, the most obvious example is the way we regard people of a Muslim background. It is very unfair. Anyone who looks Muslim going through an airport is far more likely to be stopped and searched than someone of Irish background. This is nothing short of racism. If we want peace in the world, the developed countries must be far more tolerant and accepting of Islamic culture. We have a lot to learn in this area.

Not only does Ireland need to grow up and tolerate other cultures, but Croatia must also learn something in this area. Only recently there was a qualifying game for the last European Championships in Italy involving Serbia and the game had to be called off because of racist behaviour. We have seen outbreaks of racist behaviour in eastern Europe and it will be good for them to mix more with other cultures. If they experience more of Europe than the countries on their borders, which has been the case until now, it will improve matters for them and help them to see that if we are going to be good human beings, we must learn to live with each other and respect the entitlement of others to their views.

For the last 16 years I have brought a group of under-16 soccer players from Wexford to Italy. It always comes as a shock to them that there is a different way to look at things, on and off the pitch. It is an eye opener for them that not everyone sees things the same way they do. That is why it is good travel and that is why I welcome Croatian accession.

This has been a very interesting and informative debate and I thank Deputies for their comments. From a business point of view, this is the right thing to do, as well as from the viewpoint of international friendship. I recently went to Zagreb and there are tremendous business opportunities for SMEs. There are many similarities between the sectors in Croatia and Ireland. The Croatian economy is driven by the SME sector so there are great opportunities for Irish SMEs to do business in Croatia. Companies in Croatia want to internationalise. No doubt they have met Enterprise Ireland and are looking at levels of co-operation. With Ireland being an export-led economy, we can benefit from accession.

It is appropriate at this point to revisit the purpose of the Bill. On 30 April, the Government, having considered the EU accession of Croatia, agreed to permit access to Irish labour markets for Croatian nationals upon accession to the EU on 1 July 2013. This decision requires a legislative amendment to the Employment Permit Act 2003 and the Government, in reaching the decision to open access to Ireland's labour market for Croatian nationals, considered analysis conducted by Forfás and the Department. The Government is confident Croatian entry to the EU is unlikely to have a significant distortionary impact on the Irish labour market. The decision will mitigate the increased risk of undeclared work, which results in untaxed income and the displacement of legitimate employees through undercutting and will do much to maintain and develop Ireland's already excellent relationship with Croatia.

I thank Deputies Timmy Dooley, Peadar Tóibín, Finian McGrath and Mick Wallace for their contributions and agree with the point made by Deputy Dooley on the importance of maintaining Ireland's relationship with Croatia. At a series of recent meetings with the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, the Croatian Deputy Prime Minister welcomed the Government decision to open the labour market to Croatian nationals. That reflects a significant level of co-operation.

Deputies Tóibín and McGrath pointed out that Britain will impose transitional arrangements and this position reflects political considerations. In addition, any decision taken by the British must take into account the fact that transitional arrangements remain in place for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals until the end of 2013. Equally, Germany and Austria are likely to introduce transitional employment arrangements and these decisions are influenced by the fact that Germany accounts for 68% of Croatian nationals resident in the EU, with Austria accounting for 16%. Germany has indicated, however, that it is likely to provide for favourable measures for those Croatian nationals who are highly skilled and Ireland must compete with other countries for those highly skilled migrants. It is worth noting that Italy, which is ranked highest destination country for Croatians, has already opened its labour markets to Croatia and the majority of Croatian workers in Italy are cross-borders workers. I welcome Deputies' comments and agree that we are adopting a position that sends a strong message of solidarity across the EU.

Deputy Mick Wallace made a number of good points on multiculturalism, the importance of exchange and opportunities for business. The European Union is a free market which is open for trade. Many of those from eastern Europe who have come to Ireland are working effectively and doing an excellent job. I concur with the Deputy's comments in this regard.

The accession of Croatia to the European Union will give Irish business people an excellent opportunity to establish businesses in Croatia. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is a win-win scenario for the Irish and Croatian economies. Further, it will create another friendship for Ireland internationally, it has few risks and it will be good for tourism. During my trip to Croatia, I met representatives of a number of Croatian companies which are anxious to develop business opportunities. They view Ireland's expertise in developing export-led growth as a unique opportunity. I thank Deputies for their constructive contributions to this debate.

Question put and agreed to.