Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014: Instruction to Committee

I move:

"That, pursuant to Standing Order 177, Standing Order 131 is modified to permit an instruction to the Committee to which the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014 may be recommitted in respect of certain amendments, that it has power to make provision in the Bill in relation to-

(a) amending the Immigration Act, 2004 to provide for the prescribing of a registration district and the appointment of a registration officer for the purposes of that Act, the removal of the exemption for persons under 16 years from the requirement under that Act to register and the amendment of the provisions relating to notices under section 14 of that Act to allow a person to whom that section applies to be required to temporarily surrender his or her travel documents where this is necessary to facilitate his or her removal in accordance with the law of the State;

(b) amending the Aliens Order 1946 consequent on the above-mentioned amendments to the Immigration Act 2004 relating to registration districts and registration officers, and

(c) amending section 5 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 with a view to streamlining the procedures under which a person can seek judicial review in the High Court of certain decisions made under legislation relating to immigration and protection, and to provide for the updating of the list of decisions to which that section applies, and

to change the title of the Bill and make other consequential amendments required to take account of the changes above."

I am introducing, on behalf the Minister for Justice and Equality, amendments to section 5 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 and two amendments to the Immigration Act 2004 to be set out in Part 4 and Part 5 of the Bill respectively. Deputies will recall that the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, indicated on Committee Stage of the Bill that I would be bringing forward these amendments on Report Stage. I understand that Deputies have already received an information note setting out the purpose of the amendments.

The Minister for Justice and Equality wishes to bring forward a number of technical amendments to the Immigration Act 2004 and to the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 which will provide for urgent and badly needed efficiencies in the operation of the immigration system. The changes to section 5 of the Act are to streamline the judicial review system in respect of asylum and immigration cases.

The Minister for Justice and Equality also wishes to provide for a number of technical changes to the Immigration Act 2004. These are to provide for the transfer of the immigration registration function from An Garda Síochána to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service; the removal of the exemption from registration for persons under 16 years of age; and changes to section 14 of the Act of 2004 regarding reporting requirements.

I am happy to facilitate these changes in the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill as it enables these efficiency and cost-saving reforms to be progressed in a speedy way. Although practical in nature, they will give rise to ongoing savings of €4.3 million per annum if the plan to transfer the registration function from the Garda is fully realised, including savings that will result in the release of gardaí to core duties, which is estimated at 50 full-time equivalents. They will also give rise to the possibility of rationalising registration services, a process which is currently carried out in approximately 90 Garda stations throughout the country. They also provide for the removal of the "on-notice" provision in section 5 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 and for a number of other amendments and new subsections. These other amendments provide for the inclusion of certain safeguards which are considered necessary owing to the removal of the "on-notice" provision. They also take account of other developments relating to judicial reviews in the asylum and immigration area.

The amendments to the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 primarily arise from advices of the Attorney General that consideration be given to removing the "on-notice" provision in section 5 of the Act of 2000, with a view to assisting the courts in streamlining the processing of asylum and immigration judicial review applications. At present almost half of all judicial review applications taken in the State each year relate to asylum and immigration matters, and it normally takes a number of years for these cases to be finalised. The majority of other leave applications before the courts are ex parte. Some 376 new applications for judicial review were taken in asylum and immigrations cases in 2013. These applications were taken against decisions made by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal or the Minister. In total, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service has approximately 1,350 judicial review cases ongoing at present. The speedier processing of judicial reviews will in turn reduce the length of time applicants have to wait for a final decision on their application and correspondingly the length of time they may have to reside in the direct-provision system of accommodation in the State.

All the proposals made by the Minister for Justice and Equality support the aims of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2013-2016, the Haddington Road agreement, and the commitments therein to change the way in which the public service does its business, to reduce costs and continue to meet the need for services and improve the experience of service users with reduced numbers of staff.

I will now outline the key provisions of the amendments. The amendment to section 5 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 by Part 4 of the Bill primarily provides for the removal of the "on-notice" provision in section 5 of the Act of 2000. A number of other amendments and new subsections are also included. These other amendments provide for the inclusion of certain safeguards which are considered necessary owing to the removal of the "on-notice" proposal. They also take account of other developments relating to judicial reviews in the asylum area.

In summary, the other changes to section 5 of the Act of 2000 are as follows. The list of decisions covered by section 5 of the Act is being updated. The "motion on notice" requirement is being removed. The period of time allowed for making an application for judicial review is being extended to 28 days - from 14, I believe.

The rules of court may require an applicant to lodge all papers in regard to an application for judicial review with the court at least four days in advance of the ex parte application. The court can direct that an application for judicial review should be heard on notice in certain circumstances. Where leave to apply for judicial review is granted, the court shall specify the reliefs and grounds in respect of which leave is being granted. The Minister may prescribe other decisions under relevant enactments to be a matter to which section 5 applies. The removal of the "on notice" provision in section 5 is likely to give rise to reduced waiting times and cases on hand in the courts, as well as reduced costs to the State. The speedier processing of judicial reviews will in turn reduce the length of time applicants must wait for a final decision on their application and correspondingly, the length of time they may be obliged to remain in direct provision.

The amendment to the Immigration Act 2004 primarily concerns the registration of non-nationals in the State to achieve the following aims. First, it is to provide for the transfer of the registration function from An Garda Síochána, which currently is responsible for it, to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, of the Department of Justice and Equality. Second, it is to provide registration facilities to non-nationals, which may be from a single central location or through a number of regional locations around the State and third, it is to remove the exemption to register for persons aged under 16 years.

As part of the reforms being undertaken by the Minister for Justice and Equality in the immigration area, it is proposed that the registration function for non-nationals will be transferred from An Garda Síochána, which currently has statutory responsibility for this function, to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. This function is administrative in nature and requires the person to supply certain particulars such as their biographical details, address in the State, occupation etc., as well as to supply biometric details in the form of a fingerprint. It also encompasses the issuing to the person of a registration certificate at the end of the process. In addition, it is proposed that this function be provided from a single central location or possibly through a regional structure of two or three offices in locations around the State. This will replace the current arrangements whereby the registration function is carried out by An Garda Síochána in Burgh Quay for the Dublin metropolitan area and in approximately 90 stations around the country. The amendments provide that the Minister for Justice and Equality may prescribe registration districts, which may consist of the whole or any part of the State, and may appoint a member of An Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent or one of the Minister's officers not below the rank of assistant principal officer to be a registration officer. There will be a need to continue with Garda involvement in the registration process for a period to allow an orderly transition of the function from An Garda Síochána to INIS, hence the need to retain the power to appoint a member of An Garda Síochána as a registration officer. It is estimated that the transfer of the registration function will result in ongoing savings of €4.3 million per annum if the plan to transfer the registration function from An Garda Síochána is fully realised, including savings that will result in the release of gardaí to core duties, which is estimated at 50 full-time equivalents.

At present, section 9(6)(a) of the Immigration Act 2004 exempts persons under 16 years of age from the requirement to register. It is proposed to remove this exemption. The exemption is not considered advantageous from a number of perspectives, not least in terms of the risk to children, from traffickers in particular, where there is no record of their presence in the State, but also in terms of the State taking a cohesive approach to the immigration status of children who may have been in the State for a considerable period before they come to the attention of the authorities when they are required to register at 16.

A further change is proposed to section 14 of the Immigration Act 2004, which provides for the issue of a notice by the Minister to a non-national who is unlawfully in the State requiring him or her to comply with either or both of the following conditions, namely, that he or she reside or remain in a particular place or that he or she report at specified intervals to an immigration officer or member of An Garda Síochána specified in the notice or to his or her registration officer. The amendment proposes the deletion of the current section and the insertion of a new section 14. The amendment repeats the provisions of the current section but also provides that in addition to the Minister, a member of An Garda Síochána or an immigration officer may also issue a notice under section 14 of the Act. It adds a further condition, whereby the person may be required to surrender his or her passport or any other travel document he or she holds but this only will be in circumstances where, and only for so long as, it is reasonably necessary to facilitate his or her removal from the State in accordance with any enactment or other law. The amendment is primarily a practical one in that at weekends and out of hours, it may be difficult to have an officer of the Minister available to issue a notice and making provision that a member of An Garda Síochána or an immigration officer can issue such notices will avoid the need to have someone on call and will ensure 24-hour cover throughout the State. The requirement to surrender a passport or travel document may be necessary to make travel arrangements, including the purchase of tickets or obtaining transit approval from the authorities of other states.

There is a consequential amendment to the Aliens Order 1946. By virtue of section 2 of the Immigration Act 1999, certain orders made before the passing of that Act have statutory effect. The amendment ensures that the changes to the definition of "registration district" and "registration officer", as well as the removal on the exemption from registration for persons under 16 years are reflected in the Aliens Order 1946.

While I thank the Minister for his attendance, I wish to express a concern. These are very substantial amendments with which I am comfortable only because I am a former spokesperson on justice. Members only received them at 5 p.m. on Tuesday evening and both Deputy Tóibín and I were in the Chamber, together with the Minister, for most of the day yesterday. Consequently, our capacity to consult with our colleagues in justice was quite restricted. I welcome the amendments - although I have a query on one - and they certainly appear to be fair. I welcome anything that will put more gardaí on the street at this time in particular. I hope the estimated 50 full-time equivalents the Minister has predicted will be on the streets and will be available to assist people there. I am concerned about the proposal to rationalise the registration functions services from 90 centres to what I gather from the Minister's broader remarks may be three or four such facilities. Some of the people concerned have very few resources and as for placing an expectation on them to avail of public transport to travel to a registration centre, which may be quite a distance from where they are based, I ask the Minister to tease through how that will work. What provision will be in place for those who have minimal resources to allow them to do this?

I welcome all the other measures, as there is no doubt but that at present, the review process is long and arduous. People are stuck in it for too much time and are left in limbo with regard to their position in the country. Anything to resolve this or to make it more fair is better and I also welcome the extension of time. However, I wish to register formally my concerns about the short notice Members received in this regard. The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, signalled that this would be introduced only last week and it is a pure coincidence that I am familiar with the brief from my tenure of a previous portfolio. I am otherwise happy to welcome the amendments, subject to the Minister clarifying the position on the rationalisation of the registration function.

I wish to add my voice to the point indicated by Deputy Calleary. Every year, at the end of the year, there appears to be a rush of legislation through the last few weeks of the session. It makes it difficult for proper oversight of the legislation. In most cases, Members experience the delivery to them of legislation in a reasonable manner. I am unsure what situation arose in this case but it definitely has been very difficult to provide oversight of this legislation. Before Committee Stage, there was an avalanche of amendments and it appeared to me as though the drafters of the legislation may not have been fully happy with what had been produced initially and were trying to fix things. In this case also, it is impossible for Deputies and the staff available to them to immerse themselves in the requisite level of detail and consequently, I wish to register this complaint.

I will put the question.

Can I get clarification first?

There is no provision for a reply but I will allow one.

I beg the Ceann Comhairle's pardon.

You are okay. Go on.

I accept fully the point made by the Deputies that the time is restrictive. However, I understand these amendments have the support of the Judiciary and the Attorney General and are perceived as measures that do not infringe in any way on the rights of those concerned. In fact, the removal of the "on notice" requirement to make it ex parte does not infringe in any way as it is the State, if one likes, that arguably is not getting notification. It simply means the State will not be obliged to turn up, with all the attendant legal costs of turning up at an ex parte hearing.

All that would be done in any case would be short-listing and the weeding out of cases. From the State's point of view, this measure will save money without in any way eroding the rights of those seeking a judicial review. It is a good and sensible measure, which will help put gardaí back on the street, thereby saving money. The judicial system has become terribly tangled up. That more than half of cases arise from judicial reviews in this area illustrates the need to streamline the system.

The Minister for Justice and Equality will consider reducing the number of registration centres, while remaining conscious of the requirement to have due regard to the needs of clients. She intends that any rationalisation will be accompanied by customer-friendly developments such as online appointment systems and greater use of online applications. She is also willing to engage in consultation where concerns arise regarding the revised structure. She will be sensitive to the needs and views of those who will be directly affected by the introduction of an alternative structure. The large number of registration centres and the commitment of Garda resources this entails is not a good deployment of scarce Garda time.

I thank Deputies for their willingness to accommodate this welcome reform. The sooner the changes are made, the sooner their benefit will emerge.

Question put and agreed to.