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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 May 2017

Vol. 949 No. 2

Diplomatic Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on Second Stage of the Diplomatic Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which was published on 5 April. The purpose of the Bill is to enhance the efficiency, efficacy and clarity of various arrangements with respect to the staff of diplomatic missions and international organisations. To this end, the Bill proposes various amendments to the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act 1967, as well as to citizenship, immigration and employment permits legislation, which have been developed in consultation with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The amendments are largely of a minor and technical nature.

I will briefly outline the contents of the Bill which contains three Parts with 11 sections. Part 1 concerns preliminary and general matters. Section 1 provides for the Short Title of the Bill, while section 2 is a technical clause.

Section 3 repeals section 49 of the 1967 Act which requires the Government's consent to be obtained before an Irish citizen can be appointed to serve in the State with an international organisation covered by the Act. This provision which is now 50 years old is no longer in line with contemporary practice in international relations.

Members have requested a copy of the Minister's script.

I am sure we can supply it.

Another concern with section 49 is that it may be construed as interfering with an international organisation's right to freely appoint its own staff. Only a small number of Irish nationals serve in the State with international organisations covered by the 1967 Act. Furthermore, privileges and immunities enjoyed by officials of international organisations are of a much lesser and more functional nature in comparison with the wide-ranging privileges and immunities that apply to diplomats attached to foreign embassies. For these reasons, it is considered appropriate to repeal this provision.

Part 2 of the Bill amends the Government's powers to make certain orders under the 1967 Act. Pursuant to powers set out in Part 8 of that Act, the Government may make orders extending privileges and immunities to an organisation, body or individual. For shorthand purposes, I will refer to these as "Part 8 organisations". Such a procedure is considered desirable in order to extend routine privileges and immunities, as required, to give effect to the State's international obligations and to do so expeditiously without the need for primary legislation but in accordance with the principles and policies established by the Oireachtas. Some 60 orders have been made pursuant to Part 8 since the mechanism was established under the 1967 Act.

In 2006 amendments were introduced to Part 8 to clarify the parameters within which the Government may make an order, enabling the Government to confer on Part 8 organisations privileges and immunities similar to those conferred on diplomatic missions. However, in practice the nature of Part 8 organisations is likely to be more similar to that of the United Nations or other international organisations dealt with in the Act. Therefore, it would be preferable to enable the Government to confer privileges and immunities on Part 8 organisations comparable to those enjoyed by the United Nations or other international organisations. Part 2 of the Bill aims to enable this by broadening slightly the parameters of the order making power. It is intended that any such amendment would provide the flexibility required under the Government order procedure, while respecting constitutional limitations regarding the separation of powers. No Part 8 organisation could be given privileges or immunities unless they are equivalent or have like effect to what has already been conferred by the 1967 Act.

Part 2 of the Bill will also permit the making of a Government order under section 42A of the 1967 Act in respect of arrangements with international bodies that do not, as a matter of law, constitute international agreements, for example, because the body is not an intergovernmental organisation. An example of such a body is the International Committee of the Red Cross, with which it is expected the Government will in the near future enter into a status arrangement which will include provisions on privileges and immunities.

To give effect to such an arrangement, Part 2 of the Bill further permits the Government to make an order to provide for the confidentiality of ICRC communications. Ensuring the confidentiality of its communications is considered crucial for the ICRC in light of its unique role and mandate. Finally, Part 2 of the Bill contains a saver clause designed to ensure the validity of any orders made under Part 8 of the 1967 Act to date. This saver clause is modelled on section 50 of the 1967 Act, as inserted by the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities (Amendment) Act 2006.

Part 3 of the Bill concerns citizenship, immigration and employment matters. The State's long-standing policy in respect of staff attached to diplomatic missions has been to exclude them from mainstream immigration controls and thus from entitlements to citizenship flowing therefrom. However, in its judgment of 24 June 2016 in the Rodis and Tolentino case, the High Court determined that two members of staff of diplomatic missions were entitled to have their residence in the State deemed reckonable for the purposes of naturalisation. The court noted that a specific statutory exception would be necessary to provide otherwise. This Bill provides for such an exception in section 9. Section 9 also clarifies the position in regard to citizenship by birth, making it clear that a child born in Ireland to a parent exempt from immigration controls under diplomatic arrangements will not acquire Irish citizenship unless they are entitled to acquire citizenship through another parent, such as where that other parent is an Irish citizen. The amendment provided for in section 9 will only apply prospectively and will be without prejudice to any period of residence accumulated prior to the entry into force of the Act.

Section 10 complements section 9 by clarifying the relationship between immigration and citizenship legislation. It inserts a new provision into the Immigration Act 2004 listing specific categories of individuals who are exempt from the terms of that Act. Of particular significance is the fact that family members of domestic workers in diplomatic missions or diplomatic households will be expressly exempt from immigration controls for the first time. This means that those domestic workers will be permitted to be accompanied by their immediate family members for the duration of their posting in the State. This change is considered important in the first instance in order to respect such workers' right to a family life. There is also some concern that the lack of a family support network may increase a domestic worker's risk of exposure to isolation, exploitation and even abuse. A number of alleged instances of abuse of domestic staff in diplomatic missions and households have arisen over the years, which has led to the recent adoption by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of procedures and guidelines for missions. Facilitating the residence of family members of domestic workers will complement the safeguards introduced by these procedures and guidelines.

The final section of the Bill, section 11, amends the Employment Permits Act 2003. The 2003 Act, as previously amended, permits the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to issue a certificate to permit a foreign national family member of a foreign government employee on posting to the State, who falls within the terms of a bilateral arrangement entered into with another government, to access the labour market without the need for an employment permit. These arrangements, known as working dependants agreements, are not typically entered into between countries within the European Economic Area because they are seen as inappropriate in the context of freedom of movement rules. This means that a third country national family member of an EEA diplomat in Ireland must apply for a mainstream immigration permission in order to avail of the right to work under European freedom of movement rules. In doing so, that family member effectively relinquishes their status as a family member under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Section 11 aims to regularise this situation, by permitting such family members to retain their status under the Vienna convention, including their exemption from mainstream immigration controls, but to be able to work through the issuing of a certificate by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Making this amendment will only affect a handful of people, but nonetheless it is considered a useful tidying-up exercise in the context of a miscellaneous provisions Bill.

I look forward to hearing the contributions of Deputies. With that, I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill is of a technical nature, as the Minister has outlined, and Fianna Fáil will support it. I want to talk about certain aspects of it. It is imperative that as a country we ensure there is legal clarity in regard to our diplomatic missions and that we address any ambiguities that currently exist. State-to-state relations among nations, under the guise of diplomatic missions, are essential for the conduct of international relations, and I will return to that towards the end of my contribution. Diplomatic missions are essential for maintaining diplomacy, forging common bonds, achieving foreign policy goals, expanding political, economic, social and cultural ties and the strengthening of relationships between nations. This Bill is welcome as it will enhance the efficiency and transparency of arrangements with respect to the staff of diplomatic missions.

The Bill will make clear citizenship and immigration rules for foreign diplomatic staff, consular staff and their private staff by amending the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956. Amending that Act, as the Minister mentioned, will address a gap in the existing legislation which was exposed in the case of Rodis and Tolentino v. the Minister for Justice and Equality in June 2016 in which the High Court determined that two members of staff of diplomatic missions were entitled to have their residence in the State deemed reckonable for the purposes of naturalisation. The court noted that a specific statutory exception would be necessary to provide otherwise. The Bill will close this loophole. It also makes it clear that the amendment will apply prospectively only and will not prejudice any period of residence that would have been deemed reckonable for naturalisation purposes prior to the passing of the present Act. Amending the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 in this manner should also reduce the State’s exposure to further litigation, which is to be welcomed.

Furthermore, the Bill will also provide greater protection for domestic workers in diplomatic missions and households by amending the Immigration Act 2004. While I acknowledge the Minister introduced guidelines regarding the employment of private domestic staff in missions in 2014, this amendment will permit service staff to be allowed to be accompanied by their immediate family members for the duration of their posting and exempting them from mainstream immigration controls. As a consequence of this amendment, the State will be honouring workers' right to a family life and will also ensure service staff in diplomatic missions have a family support network that will diminish their chances of being exposed to isolation, exploitation and abuse. This is particularly welcome following a small number of reported incidences, as documented in a paper by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland in 2011, of personal and domestic staff in diplomatic households being subject to abuse and exploitation.

I call on the Minister to make known to all missions in Ireland their legal obligations in regard to their private and domestic staff. It is imperative they are made aware of these changes and that we ensure all missions are fully compliant in this regard. The amendment to the Employment Permits Act 2003 to permit non-EU, EEA and Swiss family members of an EU, EEA or Swiss diplomat or other foreign government officials to engage in employment without an employment permit is also a welcome move as it aligns Ireland's position with the main EU member states' practice. While this Bill is not thought to have any cost implications, are there any implications for the issuing of diplomatic passports? Perhaps we could address that. The Minister in his response might also comment on the process in existing embassies and offices as to how diplomatic passports are actually granted for travel between countries.

As I said, this Bill is a technical one and my party and I support its passage through the House. It is important this Bill streamlines diplomatic relations, as the Minister outlined in his speech. While we are talking about diplomatic relations, will the Minister advise the House on how Ireland voted on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women? Did Ireland support Saudi Arabia in its ascension to that committee? I do not accept the responses that have come from the Minister's Department. The Dáil is entitled to know, and I am certain the Irish people are entitled to know.

I find it incredible that Saudi Arabia, with its track record on women's rights and equal rights should be sitting on a commission in the UN looking at the future status of women. I hope Ireland played no part in facilitating that position. The Minister mentioned it has been practice that these votes are not made public, which may be the reason why conspiracy theories abound about bodies like the United Nations. This is not a policy issue; it was a vote about the composition of a committee. The Minister, on behalf of Ireland, abstained in a UN vote on a commission of inquiry into Gaza and that was made public. I have been looking through UN documents and websites today and in particular, the 61st session on women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work. One can see all the contributions from the various countries. Why is it we in Ireland are not trusted with that information? It is fundamental. Does our Government, through the Minister, deem it appropriate that Saudi Arabia should sit on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women? I do not. Is it a question of trade ahead of human rights? Is that the decision that was made? I have proposed a debate in the foreign affairs committee on the operation of voting at the UN and when it is appropriate for those to be made public. I am not being irresponsible about votes being kept private because of national security or other reasons like that. This is about a composition of a commission on human rights, effectively. How can people understand there is an issue in letting the Irish people know how our Government voted?

From reports, it appears five European states supported Saudi Arabia and were part of the 47 votes it received. Belgium was one of those five. The Belgian Prime Minister has already apologised and said it will not happen again. I want to know what our Government did. What did our officials do in the UN? Did they support Saudi Arabia in getting a position on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women? We deserve that answer. While it is fine to pass technical legislation on improving diplomatic relations, I do not accept the statements that have come from the Department since early this morning that we have no right to know. We have a right to know. We live in a republic. We live in a modern democracy. While people can hide behind statements and say it is not normal diplomatic practice, people are very concerned about this. Did the Department believe this would just go away with a hope no one would notice? If Ireland did not support Saudi Arabia, the Minister should say so. He should answer people. I am suspicious of the fact the Minister will not give an answer. It leads me and many others to believe we supported the Saudis. If we did, it is reprehensible. It is akin to letting the fox into the hen house.

Any person in their right mind who looks at the track record of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia would find it disgusting that the Irish State would support Saudi Arabia in its endeavour to sit on a UN commission on the rights of women. They would find it reprehensible. If the Minister did, will he explain why he supported it? If he did not, he should tell us that. Perhaps there is a reason I cannot think of. Perhaps it is purely because of trade we can set aside our morals and human rights. I do not think we should. I hope the Minister will use the time in this debate to answer those questions. I have also tabled it at the foreign affairs committee. I want to use this opportunity and this Bill to put those points to the Minister. People deserve to know. They have a right to know. We do not live in Soviet Russia. The Minister can trust the people with the truth. He should tell the people and me, as an elected representative to the Dáil, what our Government and representatives at the United Nations did in that vote. How did they vote and why? We deserve to know that. I implore the Minister to stop hiding behind statements from Iveagh House and answer the questions. The Minister is answerable to the Dáil. He should answer those questions.

My colleague made a fair point on the vote. I am conscious we do not normally get legislation before us on it. I welcome the Bill, which is very technical in nature. I might be in error in some of the points I pick out of it. If the Minister had sent us his speech we might have gotten a better sense of the errors we have made in our speeches on the Bill.

I welcome that the Bill will improve and formalise procedures for the operation of Ireland’s diplomatic relations. I have one concern, which I will come to later. First, in general, I welcome the introduction of the Bill, which will enhance the efficiency and clarity of arrangements with respect to the staff of diplomatic missions and international organisations. The lack of clarity has been commented on in the courts. The Bill will hopefully strengthen the rights of workers and their families. It is a positive development.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 codify what is perhaps one of the oldest and most accepted fields of international law, namely the formal relations between states and their official representatives. To facilitate the peaceful and efficient conduct of these relations, these treaties grant diplomats certain privileges and immunity, including immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state and immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction. While this is an important aspect to the functioning of peaceful international relations, granting such immunity has been abused by a small number of diplomats in Ireland and abroad. It is important we state that from the outset.

I welcome that Part 1 section 3 of the Bill repeals section 49 of the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act 1967 which requires Government approval for Irish citizens to be appointed to international organisations serving in Ireland. Having such a requirement seems unnecessary and archaic and I welcome it will be repealed. I do not fully understand why it was there in the first place. I am sure there was a rational reason behind it at the time. It is outdated and is being removed.

Part 2 of the Bill includes some simple technical amendments to sections 39, 40, 42A, 43 and 50 of the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act 1967. I welcome that it does not include an amendment to section 47 of the 1967 Act which was originally included in the heads of the Bill. Head 5 of the Bill wanted to amend section 47 by inserting "tribunal or other adjudicatory body or administrative authority," after "In proceedings in any court". In a positive development during the pre-legislative scrutiny work, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland pointed out this would extend immunity to the workplace relations bodies on matters of employment, which would be problematic and reduce workers’ rights and possible entitlements. It is critically important that employers, including embassies, are held to account by the employment laws of the State by the workplace relations bodies. While the issue of diplomatic immunity is contested in these settings, the Migrants Rights Centre has been able to file claims on behalf of domestic workers employed by diplomats and has had successful claims heard in the labour courts and other courts. While the original proposed amendment relies on the bodies to decide if immunity extends as a matter of law, the granting of certification in the first instance muddies the water by asserting that immunity does apply as a matter of policy. The impact of such a provision could disproportionately impact on the rights of workers to due process where their employment rights were deemed to have been breached.

It would have also acted contrary to the guidelines relating to the employment of private domestic employees by accredited members of the mission which were introduced by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2015. I welcome the fact such a provision has not been included in this Bill. We all know that with the vast majority of embassies there is no problem, but in a few well documented and controversial cases, major issues have arisen.

Between 2008 and 2014, the Migrant Rights Centre referred nine cases of alleged human trafficking for the purposes of forced labour involving domestic workers employed in embassies and diplomatic households to An Garda Síochána. In one of the more prominent cases, a 17-year-old girl travelled to Ireland to work for a diplomat’s family, having been told she would be allowed to work part time and pursue her studies. However, on arrival she found she would be required to be the sole carer of a child with severe special needs. Her day apparently started at 5.30 a.m. and her employer assaulted her when she asked to use the phone to call her family. This was all documented. She was not paid for her three years of work and, worryingly, she still has not been compensated. Another case involved three Asian women who were brought to Dublin as domestic workers for a diplomat and his family. They worked for an average of 108 hours a week. Two of them were paid €134 per month and the third was paid around €160 per month as she had been working for the family for longer. Anyone reading the details of these cases in the newspapers would be shocked and horrified that this could go on in Ireland in the 21st century.

Human rights workers in this area have said that because such domestic workers lose their visa status when they leave the employ of the embassy staff member, many feel bound to their employer and may be forced to stay in exploitative situations as a result. This is an anomaly that needs to be addressed. I thank the Domestic Workers Action Group which has done so much work in this area to highlight these difficulties. Under the Department's new guidelines, diplomats have to sign a contract agreeing to pay minimum wages, link workers with the Migrant Rights Centre and allow for labour inspections. This is significant and extremely welcome. However, we know that enforcement remains problematic due to the protections provided by diplomatic immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention so it is important we remain vigilant in this area. I support my colleague's suggestion that the Minister would write to the diplomatic missions outlining the rules and regulations that operate in Ireland. This could be done in a diplomatic way, pointing out that issues that have arisen in the past should not arise in the future.

Section 9 of Part 3 of this Bill is problematic and I am concerned over its inclusion. The section seeks to amend the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 to provide that any period of time spent in the State while exempt from immigration controls, as workers in embassies are, is not reckonable for residency in the context of naturalisation. I believe that this is an important right that should not be undermined or interfered with in any way. I am also concerned that the section states that children born to diplomats and associated persons who are exempt from immigration controls do not, except in certain circumstances, qualify for Irish citizenship by birth. I would appreciate it if someone from the Department could explain that to me. I cannot understand the purpose of excluding what would be a very small group of people in this way and to write that exclusion into the legislation. The section does not seem necessary or proportional. I ask the Minister to explain why it is included and why these workers should be treated differently from other workers. I ask him to provide details on how many people have applied for naturalisation or citizenship in this way in recent years. Such information is important and might explain the inclusion of this provision. Why is this something that must be changed now? What is the policy goal of such a change? This is extremely concerning for me and it needs much more detailed discussion. I intend to raise this again on Committee Stage, where my party will seek to remove or amend it. Otherwise we will be voting against this Bill, which we do not want to do because there are many positive elements to it.

Section 10 of Part 3 amends the Immigration Act 2004 in order to specify particular categories of diplomatic and associated persons who are exempt from mainstream immigration controls. This is welcome because it allows domestic workers in diplomatic missions or diplomatic households to be accompanied by their immediate family members during their posting in the State, which is a positive step. During the pre-legislative scrutiny stage of this Bill, representatives of the Migrant Rights Centre pointed out that the explanatory note defines domestic workers as inclusive of service staff but that subsections of the legislation were actually unclear as to whether service staff were included. They requested a subsection to specify that a member of the private staff is inclusive of service staff. I welcome that subsection (b) of section 10 of this Bill expressly specifies that private servants are included. I welcome the fact officials in the Department are listening as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation and are taking ideas on board.

Section 11 of Part 3 amends the Employment Permits Act 2003 to permit a foreign national family member of a foreign government employee on posting to the State who falls within the terms of a bilateral agreement entered into with another government to access the labour market without the need for an employment permit. This is a sensible and welcome amendment. It makes Ireland a much more welcoming place. However, we must ask about the situation regarding domestic workers in embassies and diplomatic households who are currently bound to their employers. If they try to leave, they lose their legal right to reside and work in this State. Should they not be included in an amendment to the Employment Permits 2003 Act and be allowed to apply for other jobs in the State? I am interested to hear the Minister's views in that regard. This is something I will also propose that we examine in more detail on Committee Stage. I welcome the fact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is updating and improving arrangements with respect to international organisations and the staff of diplomatic missions in Ireland. Some of the changes are very welcome but I am hugely concerned over section 9 of Part 3 of the Bill. I am not opposing the Bill at this Stage as much of it is very positive. I would like to have a more detailed and robust discussion about section 9 in Part 3. I particularly seek further information on why the Department has included it and unless I can be convinced of its merits and workers’ rights organisation in this area can support it, then I will have huge difficulty in supporting the Bill as a whole. I hope we can amend the legislation. I welcome the fact it has been brought before the House. Indeed, it is unusual these days for us to be dealing with legislation. The more information we get from the Department, the more we can interact in this process and improve this and future legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate. The Diplomatic Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 amends a number of Acts, namely, the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act 1967, as amended, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, the Immigration Act 2004 and the Employment Permits Act 2003, as amended.

The main purpose of this legislation is to enhance the efficiency and clarity of arrangements with respect to the staff of diplomatic missions and international organisations. It will do this in a number of ways, for example by removing the requirement for Government approval if Irish citizens are to be appointed to international organisations serving in Ireland; by revising the statutory provisions enabling the making of a Government order affording privileges and immunities; by providing that a period of residence in the State as a member of staff of a diplomatic mission, or as a family member of such a member of staff, is not reckonable for the purposes of naturalisation as an Irish citizen; and by clarifying the rules concerning entitlement to citizenship by birth of children born to members of staff of diplomatic missions. The Bill will also clarify the immigration status of staff of diplomatic missions, including family members, thereby strengthening the safeguards for the protection of domestic workers in foreign missions and diplomatic households and permit certain family members of employees of foreign Governments to access the labour market in this State while retaining their status under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. In essence, this legislation will improve the overall operation of Ireland's diplomatic relations.

I would like to look in more detail at the benefits that will be provided by this Bill. It will introduce more efficient procedures for legislating the conferring of privileges and immunities. It will improve the protections for domestic workers of diplomatic and consular missions and households. It will introduce much clearer immigration and citizenship rules. One of the main impacts of this Bill, when it is enacted, will be to enhance and enforce the ability of the State to meet its international requirements by transposing privileges and immunities into national legislation. This will result in less pressure on human resources in Government Departments. I am sure everybody agrees this will be welcome. The Bill will also provide clarity with regard to the State's immigration and citizenship rules. This should reduce the State's risk of exposure to further litigation. This legislation will align the State's position with the practices of the main EU member states regarding the status of foreign family members of diplomatic and consular staff appointed by those member states.

As I have said, I believe this Bill will enhance the efficiency and clarity of arrangements with respect to the staff of diplomatic missions and international organisations. When we are speaking about international relations, it is important to comment on the upcoming Brexit talks. I commend the Taoiseach on his efforts to date in clarifying this country's concerns about Brexit. His efforts have already reaped success, with the EU Brexit team confirming that an open Border between the UK and Ireland has to be maintained. As a native of County Louth, a Border county, I know more than most about the effects of a hard Border on trade and on the day-to-day lives of those who live near the Border. We must never go back to the Border of the past. It is unhelpful for other political parties to scaremonger on this issue by suggesting we might go back to the days of old when we had a hard Border with terrorists running amok. We must be clear that the UK made its own decision to leave the EU and must bear responsibility for its own actions.

While I agree that Brexit will be an enormous challenge for us in Ireland, I suggest we must also look at the positives. David McWilliams said shortly after the Brexit vote that the UK had handed Ireland one of its biggest opportunities ever. I tend to agree with him because I see opportunities for Ireland. Yesterday, a major financial services firm announced its plans to relocate 500 high-paid jobs from London to Dublin as a direct result of Brexit. Many Irish companies see the opportunities that exist. When the Taoiseach visited Dundalk recently, I brought him to meet the management team of Horseware Ireland, one of the real success stories of Irish business and which exports its products throughout the world. Since the Brexit vote, it has acquired British firms as part of its ongoing expansion plans. I agree that there are major challenges ahead, particularly for industries like agriculture, but every industry faces challenges. It is possible that in the long term, it will be better that our main industries are not so dependent on the UK market. We now have an opportunity to explore new markets. Surely this is an opportunity to make Brexit work for us. I hear a lot of people in Dundalk saying that the currency fluctuation will be a disaster. I agree that it is not helpful, but we should not forget that people along the Border have been living with the fluctuating value of sterling for years. This challenge did not start with Brexit - it has been here for years. Dundalk has had particular success in overcoming these challenges.

I welcome the agreement on Second Stage of the Diplomatic Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. As I have said, this Bill will enhance the efficiency and clarity of arrangements with respect to the staff of diplomatic missions and international organisations. It will clarify the immigration status of diplomatic staff and will improve the protections for domestic workers of diplomatic and consular missions and households. I commend the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on the hard work he has done in his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, including in respect of Brexit.

I thank Deputies for their comments and statements and indeed for their support for this legislation. As I said at the outset, this largely technical Bill is designed to bring a greater element of clarity and efficiency to the arrangements that are in place for diplomatic missions and international organisations operating within the State. It also aims to strengthen further the safeguards for domestic workers in diplomatic missions and households. I would like to pick up on the points made by Deputies Darragh O'Brien and Seán Crowe, in particular. I thank Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick for his positive comments.

Deputy O'Brien spoke about the communication of guidelines to embassies. I remind the House that I publicly announced the introduction of these guidelines in September 2014. Some of the groups that have been mentioned, including Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, welcomed my public announcement at that time. In addition, I invited the diplomatic missions to a briefing by my officials, who are continuing to engage at all levels with missions and their staff to ensure they are very clear on their responsibilities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to inform the heads of diplomatic missions of any changes in legislation, particularly as provided for in this Bill. I compliment my officials for their unstinting work on behalf of Ireland at home and abroad.

I would like to respond to Deputy O'Brien's point about the issuing of diplomatic passports. I remind the Deputy and the House that this Bill has no particular relevance to diplomatic passports which may be issued in certain circumstances to people who are not hosted abroad. The holding of a diplomatic passport does not confer any immunity or privileges. If the Deputy has particular concerns about such passports, I ask him to convey the nature of such concerns to me and I will be very happy to respond to him.

I thank the Minister.

I will now respond to Deputy Crowe's point about the alleged abuse of immunity. I thank the Deputy, and indeed Deputy O'Brien, for supporting this Bill. At all times, my departmental officials and I are determined to ensure privileges and immunities are not used as a cover for failing to comply with requirements under the Irish code of law. I referred earlier to the guidelines that have been introduced with the aim of minimising this abuse should it ever occur. I am very conscious of this issue. It is great that we have an opportunity to discuss it. If Deputies wish to highlight issues of a more detailed nature, I will be happy to engage with them on such issues on Committee Stage.

When Deputy Crowe spoke about the position of embassy workers in the context of our immigration laws, he made the point that they are excluded from citizenship. Exemption from immigration controls is required by international law, including the Vienna Convention, which is an important international convention. Citizenship remains a matter for each state to decide on individually. Ireland would share the view, which is common to many countries, that the spirit of the Vienna Convention envisages people coming to this State as employees of a foreign Government for a particular period of time and then returning to that country, or indeed moving on to another country if a further international assignment is made, which is what usually happens.

In these circumstances, it is considered appropriate to exclude them from mainstream citizen arrangements, just as they are exempt from immigration controls, one being something of a logical corollary of the other. In effect, employees of foreign governments are deemed to be their responsibility. In that regard, it is worth noting that Irish citizenship legislation which comes within the responsibility of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality makes provision for Irish public servants serving abroad to ensure their children, spouses or civil partners are effectively deemed to be present in Ireland so as to be able to benefit from Irish citizenship and Irish naturalisation rules. These are issues of a technical nature which we will have an opportunity to discuss in greater detail on Committee Stage. I welcome Deputy Seán Crowe's comments on the need for clarity on this issue and to ensure that what we enshrine in legislation will conform to best practice for everybody involved.

Deputy Seán Crowe also made a further point on whether staff of diplomatic missions should be given the option of remaining in the State long term through an arrangement involving, for example, a work permit. Excluding mission staff from mainstream immigration citizenship arrangements has been long-standing, not only in terms of practice but also policy. It also reflects common international practice. It is considered that such a policy is consistent with the spirit of the Vienna Convention, whereby individuals are typically posted to a mission for a specific period. I understand, however, that there have been instances where former staff of diplomatic missions have been permitted to remain in the State on humanitarian grounds following the completion of their posting. Again, if there is a specific example or an issue on which the House considers an improvement could be made, I will be happy to consider it on Committee Stage.

I thank Deputies for their contributions and commend the Bill to the House.

Are there answers to my queries about Saudi Arabia?

Why not? Do we not deserve an answer? I do not understand it. The people deserve to know how the Government voted.

Question put and agreed to.