I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it this morning to brief it on the current legislation. I am joined by my officials Mr. Jimmy Martin, assistant secretary, Ms Yvonne White, Mr. Brian Merriman, Mr. William O'Dwyer, Ms Regina Terry and Ms Eileen Devoy.
The Government remains firmly of the view that the best and only way to ensure an orderly UK withdrawal from the EU is to ratify the withdrawal agreement. Having said that and in view of the ongoing uncertainty in the UK, I and my Department have been intensively advancing preparations and planning for every scenario, but particularly for a no-deal or worst case scenario. If the UK becomes a third country on 29 March next, without having ratified the withdrawal agreement with the EU, then a very wide range of EU rules relating to justice and security will no longer apply to or in the UK. On the other hand, should the withdrawal agreement be ratified before 29 March, many of the preparations and contingency measures that I am about to detail will not be required, at least in the short term. The purpose of the legislation before the House is to offset some of the damage which may arise if the UK departs without a deal being in place. While there are a number of Brexit implications for the justice sector, key risks have been identified in two areas, namely, extradition and immigration. These two areas require primary legislation to be in place and are set out in Parts 13 and 14 of the Bill.
Turning to Part 13 in the first instance, the Bill provides for two amendments to the Extradition Act 1965. One of the key issues identified by the Department of Justice and Equality is to ensure that effective extradition arrangements are maintained between Ireland and the UK. In the event of a no-deal Brexit the provisions of the European arrest warrant would no longer apply to the UK and at 11 p.m. on 29 March persons detained on foot of European arrest warrants would be released. It is critical, therefore, that extradition provisions are in place immediately following the UK's exit from the EU. The optimal solution identified by my Department is to apply the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, to which both Ireland and the UK are party, to extradition arrangements between Ireland and the UK. The provisions of the convention are given effect by Part II of the Extradition Act 1965.
While the extradition procedure under the convention is not as effective or as efficient as that of the European arrest warrant, in the event of a no-deal Brexit it would provide a workable solution. The intention would then be to legislate for and move to an extradition arrangement with the UK similar to that which obtains in the European arrest warrant. However, the 1965 Act does not permit extradition of own nationals "unless the relevant extradition provisions otherwise provide" and transmission of extradition requests is via the diplomatic channel and in hard copy. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that clear provision should be made in section 14 of the 1965 Act providing that the ban on extradition of own citizens should not apply in reciprocal circumstances where requesting states also extradite own citizens.
The amendment to section 14 in respect of Irish citizens acknowledges the need to amend that Act to ensure that the current European arrest warrant arrangement relating to extradition of own citizens continues and that, in applying the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on Extradition, extradition of an Irish citizen will be permitted on the basis of reciprocity, where the law of the requesting country does not prohibit the surrender of its citizens. In this regard it should be noted that the United Kingdom has already indicated that it intends to continue to extradite its citizens post Brexit.
The second amendment relates to section 23 regarding requests for extradition. In this regard, the Act is being amended to alleviate the burdensome extradition procedure with receipt of requests to the Minister for Justice and Equality via the diplomatic channel in hard copy. The amendment to section 23 provides for direct transmission of extradition requests to the Minister for Justice and Equality rather than via the diplomatic channel and for the transmission of such requests by modern means of communication - that is, by electronic means or otherwise. The amendment gives the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade an order-making power, following consultation with the Minister for Justice and Equality, to provide for requests for extradition to be made directly to the Minister for Justice and Equality where this has been arranged with a country by direct agreement.
I now turn to Part 14 of the Bill, which contains a number of amendments to the Immigration Acts. The amendments in section 88 and 89 of the Bill are for the purposes of correcting a lacuna in the provisions relating to non-refoulement in our law. I should point out that refoulement considerations were in fact being undertaken at all times. This provision provides legal certainty in this area. The amendment is required as failure to introduce this amendment would expose us to the risk that removal would be unsuccessful and thus undermine arrangements to operate a Dublin regulation-style arrangement if needed.
Section 90 of the Bill amends the Immigration Act 2004 to provide a legal basis for fingerprinting Irish visa and transit visa applicants. The taking and sharing of biometrics is key to the operation of the British Irish visa scheme, which enables a short-stay visa issued by Ireland in respect of certain countries - currently, China and India - to be used to also travel to the UK without the need for a separate visa. This requires biometric data to be captured and checked against both Irish and UK systems. The continuance of this scheme is considered very important to both the tourism and business sectors.
In addition to the above amendments, some pieces of secondary legislation are required to be in place by 29 March 2019. These will cover issues such as facilitating the recognition of UK solicitors' qualifications in the State and, in the context of asylum claims, designating the UK as a safe third country. There are other important issues that my Department continues to address and to prepare for. However, I believe the two I have covered today are the most pressing. I thank members for their attention and I am happy to respond to any questions, observations or submissions they may have.