Visa Applications.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to respond to my motion concerning the refusal of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to grant visitor visas to Nana Kwyku Agyeman, who was born on 23 June 1994, and Kofio Oppoku Agyeman, who was born on 7 July 1990. They are both minors. These boys have applied through their mother, Mrs. Agatha Agyeman, and her husband, both Irish citizens, living in Newtownforbes, County Longford, to come to Ireland on visitor visas to see their young sister, Nina, aged three years, who is terminally ill. It is important for them to make this visit while her condition still allows her to recognise them.

Nina suffers from metachromatic leukodystrophy, a degenerative, progressive brain disease, which is likely to be fatal. Nina is unable to walk or sit and drools while trying to speak or eat. Her condition is deteriorating and her prognosis is extremely poor as she experiences rapid regression in all aspects of development together with a loss of all cognitive abilities. The diagnosis and Nina's condition are causing great distress to her parents. Their emotional state and well-being would be greatly helped by seeing their sons and having them meet their sister while she is still able to recognise them. I cannot stress more strongly the extreme need for this family to be united for however short a time.

There is absolutely no grounds for thinking these boys will not honour a visitor visa and I ask the Minister of State to outline further requirements that could be fulfilled to enable the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a positive decision in favour of them and allow this little girl and her parents the comfort and joy of seeing these boys again.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am pleased to respond to the matters raised by the Senator. The case centres on the Ghanaian parents of an Irish born child who have been granted permission to reside in the State on that basis. The parents came to Ireland through the United Kingdom and made asylum applications in December 2000. One month later they had a child in Ireland and withdrew that claim. The child is seriously ill and the prognosis is poor. Her parents applied for residency on the basis of parentage of that child and this was granted in February 2002. The visa applications are for the purpose of allowing their two Ghanaian sons, aged 9 and 13, to come to Ireland. Both children are attending school in Ghana and are being looked after by relatives. For the purpose of completeness, it would appear from information supplied in connection with their asylum claim that they have two other children, aged 15 and 12, who are also resident in Ghana.

Only two wish to travel to Ireland.

However, there are another two children. The Refugee Act 1996 contains provisions which oblige the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to allow family reunification to certain family members of refugees, including a spouse and dependent children. This provision operates on the premise that, since a person who has refugee status is unable to return to his or her country through fear of persecution, it is a reasonable and humanitarian gesture to allow other close family members to join them in Ireland. However, the couple in this case are not refugees. Nonetheless, it has also been the general policy of successive Ministers to operate a similar policy in respect of persons who were given leave to remain in the State on the basis of having an Irish born child. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the policy was a concession and that the family in Ireland did not enjoy a statutory right to be joined by the family member in question.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases of L and O, the separate procedure which then existed to enable persons to apply to reside in the State on the sole basis of parentage of an Irish born child ended on 19 February 2003. The Government also decided that the general policy of allowing such parents to be joined in the State by other family members would no longer apply. Accordingly, the immigration division of the Minister's Department does not generally approve visas for family reunification in such cases.

As Senators will be aware, the issue of claims for leave to remain in the State by the non-national parents of an Irish born child has been a matter of serious concern to Government for some time. A claimed right to reside in Ireland based solely on the birth of a child in Ireland came to be used as a method of attempting to circumvent normal immigration controls. The scale of this issue had grown considerably in recent years.

Evidence suggested that a significant proportion of adult female asylum applicants were pregnant upon arrival in the State and that their decision to seek asylum in Ireland was, at least in part, motivated by the anticipation of the benefits which might accrue to themselves and their families as a result of that child being born in Ireland. That concern extended to the knock-on consequences of granting permission to remain to the parents of Irish born children and the extent to which the vehicle of family re-unification was being used to bring other family members into the State. In many cases the extent of the prior existing relationship between parent and child was by no means clear. It has been estimated that for every applicant for leave to remain on the basis of an Irish born child, there are an average of two family members who could seek to join them in the future.

The general position on the granting of visas is as follows. In Ireland, as in all countries, the visa system is predicated on credibility. Is the stated purpose of the visit the true purpose of the visit? Every visa applicant is required to make a declaration to the following effect:

I declare that I have understood all the questions relating to this application and that, to the best of my knowledge, the details I have given are correct and complete.

The thrust of Senator Bannon's motion is to ask the Minister to review, on compassionate grounds, the decision to refuse visitors' visas, and he put the case very well. One of the considerations that attends a determination of this nature is, of course, the reality, despite the unfortunate circumstances of the case, that the acquisition of a visitor's visa could be used as a means to circumvent the general policy being adopted on family re-unification in these cases.

The details of the visa applications made in this case are relevant in this context. The applicants are 13 and nine years of age respectively. Both visa applications stated that the purpose of the visit was to re-unite with members of the family who are resident here. Lest there be any doubt about this matter, the box for the date on which the children in question proposed to leave Ireland was left blank. Instead, the application contained a statement to the effect that they would leave "as soon as practicable". Consequently, these visa applications were considered as applications to come to Ireland to reside permanently with the family.

Therefore, the proposition which the Minister is being asked to address in this debate was never put to his staff in the first place. What was put to his staff was a proposition that the children be allowed to re-unite with their family and that the intention was that they would return at a date which was practicable. It would appear that the children will arrive unaccompanied from Ghana and there is no information on the manner in which the children will return home.

Given the unfortunate circumstances of the case and the proposition contained in Senator Bannon's motion, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is prepared to instruct his staff to give consideration to this matter on the basis that it constitutes an application for a visitor's visa. What he wants, however, is a truthful account of the intentions of the family in question and an indication that those who have supported these visa applications are satisfied that the children will return home. If the true intention is to visit their sister, the Minister would like an indication of when it is intended that the children will return home. He also requires details of the arrangements which will apply to their return home, for example, who will accompany the children, will return tickets be purchased and will the arrangements which currently apply for their care in Ghana be available to them when they return? A letter containing this additional information should be sent to the visas section in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, whereupon the matters will be reconsidered as applications for a visitors' visas. Should Senator Bannon need more information I will be happy to give him my advice and assistance.

I will bring the information given by the Minister of State to the notice of the family and to the social workers dealing with the case.