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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007

Vol. 187 No. 4

Adjournment Matters.

Citizenship Applications.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He may not be directly familiar with this appalling case which I raised in the previous session. It constitutes a grave injustice and a violation of the principle of freedom of association, among other freedoms, and the right to a good name. It concerns a young man who is directly and personally known to me. He is a man of good standing and is a very gentle person. He came to this country in July 2001 and was accepted as a refugee. His brother was accepted as a refugee and is now a citizen and married with children. The man is an architect by profession and has no criminal record, nor has he carried out any misdeed whatever. I have questioned him about this and he has urged me to push this case to the limit. He wants to know why he is being denied fair and decent treatment.

On being granted asylum status, the man applied for naturalisation as an Irish citizen and this application was turned down. In the letter sent to him in this regard, he was told he could appeal but that he must include in his appeal the grounds for his application being refused in the first place. When he wrote to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he was denied that information. This is completely grotesque and what one would expect in a police state. It is simply unacceptable in a modern European democracy. I spoke to various officials and got the runaround myself on a number of occasions. I wrote letters and they were not answered efficiently. The man in question tried to employ the facilities of the Freedom of Information Act and this again was refused.

On the last occasion I raised this matter, the then Minister said the process would be re-examined. That is not good enough because it effectively penalises the person under review by making him or her wait longer with an indeterminate outcome. I was told by the former Minister that I did not want to know about this and that it was a security matter. I know all about these security matters and how they are dealt with. My telephone was tapped 25 years ago and when I contacted Senator Mary Robinson to ask her to raise the matter, she was told it was a security matter and that there was no way in which I could establish the reasons my telephone was tapped or even get an acknowledgement from the Government that it was tapped. I was innocent of any crime and of blameless record and that is why I feel so strongly about this matter.

What is the record? I want the person I represent to be given the opportunity to answer whatever baseless and unfounded charges are being made against him, which, in fairness and decency, he is entitled to do in a democracy. I would like to know the person who put them on the record. I would like to know what faceless pimp or spy put something down about this man. Perhaps it was done because he may be a Muslim. Perhaps he attends a mosque or perhaps he was photographed by some nark in a group. Does the Minister of State remember what happened to the former Minister, Deputy James McDaid, when he was photographed at the funeral of a neighbour's child who happened to be in the IRA? Was this a good day for Ireland? Are we to return to guilt by attainder, guilt by association or the star chamber?

I am advising the man in question and will help him in every way I can in anticipation of an unsatisfactory reply once again from a cowardly Government. I will advise him to take a judicial review. It is insupportable that somebody should have a black mark put against his name without explanation and without being allowed to know why or to defend himself.

I would not push this case so vigorously if the person in question were not known to me directly and personally. I want to know what has been said about him and who has said it. If we do not receive these answers, none of us is safe in this country. We will continue to push this matter and demand a reply. The very fact the man is encouraging me to demand the information is a clear indication of his complete innocence of any guilt, even by association, in this matter.

This is the first time I have had the opportunity to address this House. I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment.

I thank Senator Norris for raising this matter. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is occupied in the other Chamber.

It is understood that this matter was the subject of the Seanad Adjournment debate on 26 April last and that the Senator was provided with a comprehensive response at the time, including an account of the circumstances surrounding the refusal of the applicant's original application for naturalisation. In reaching a decision to refuse that application, the Minister exercised the absolute discretion as provided by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts. The position remains as stated in the original reply. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, provides that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. Those conditions are that the applicant must be of full age, or by way of exception, be a minor born in the State; be of good character; have had a period of one year's continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of the application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, have had a total residence in the State amounting to four years; intend in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation; and have made, either before a judge of the District Court in open court or in such a manner as the Minister, for special reasons, allows, a declaration in the prescribed manner of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.

In the context of naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State are excluded. These include periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State, periods granted for the purpose of study and periods granted for the purpose of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act 1996.

The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is an honour and applications must be processed in a way that preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure it is not undervalued and is given only to persons who are suitably qualified. Upon receipt, each application is examined to determine if the statutory application is completed fully. It should be noted that approximately one third of all applications for naturalisation received are not completed correctly, necessitating the return of the forms and accompanying documentation to the applicants with an explanation of the problems involved. Valid applications are examined to determine if the applicant meets the statutory residency criteria set out in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. Passports and other documentation are examined in detail and inquiries with the Garda National Immigration Bureau may be also necessary. Since this procedure was introduced on 1 April 2005, more than 1,500 applicants who applied after that date have been found to have insufficient residency in the State for the purposes of naturalisation. All such applicants are informed of any shortfall in their residency and will be able to reapply when they have the required residency.

The next stage of the process involves assessing the financial status of applicants — their ability to support themselves in the State — and may involve making inquiries with the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Inquiries are also made with the Garda Síochána to ascertain if the applicant can be deemed to be of good character. Circumstances in individual cases may mean such cases require a greater level of investigation than others. When the various inquiries have been completed, the file is referred for a decision to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister is satisfied that these procedures, which have been developed and refined over a number of years, are necessary to maintain the integrity of the naturalisation process. Senator Norris will appreciate that the processes can, by their very nature, take some time to complete.

The person referred to by the Senator arrived in the State on 27 July 2001. He applied for asylum on 30 July of that year, but his application was refused by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner on 12 April 2002. This decision was set aside by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal on appeal, however, and on 19 February 2003 the person was declared a refugee under section 17 of the Refugee Act 1996, as amended. On 24 October 2004, he applied for the granting of a certificate of naturalisation. After the application was considered under the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts 1956 and 1986, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided on 8 March 2006 not to grant naturalisation. A copy of the submission prepared by officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the time was forwarded to the applicant for his information. As I said at the outset, in reaching that decision the Minister exercised the absolute discretion made available to him by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, which do not provide for a formal process of appeal of a decision to refuse naturalisation. However, the Minister is obliged to make the reasons for his decision available to the applicant under the provisions of section 18 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997.

They refused that too.

The Minister understands that the applicant submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act for any records about this matter held by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A decision on that request was communicated to him on 15 May 2006. If, following an examination of the copy of his or her case file, an applicant considers that the Minister's decision was based on incorrect or incomplete information, he or she can seek a review of that decision. The applicant was also informed that he can reapply for the granting of a certificate of naturalisation at any time. The Minister understands that a second application was lodged in the Department's citizenship section on 23 March 2006. That section is processing applications that were made in the first half of 2005. Applications are dealt with in chronological order because that is deemed to be the fairest way of treating all applicants. Therefore, there is no question of any prevarication on the part of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in dealing with this application. As I have previously advised, the person in question can expect to receive a decision on his case in the latter half of next year.

It is customary to thank Ministers and ask them some questions at this point. I know the Minister of State, whom I congratulate on his appointment, is a decent man. His response was a disgraceful load of old blather. He might as well have read the telephone directory into the record. There was absolutely nothing in it other than a rehash of rubbish about technical ways of doing this, that and the other. It is a complete farrago of nonsense and a total injustice. The degree of the Department's respect for the security of the man in question is indicated by the appearance of his name, address and telephone number in the Minister of State's script, which was handed out widely all over this Chamber. I want the Minister of State to take this lapse very seriously, because under no circumstances should his name have been published in such a manner. This is an example of the respect for security associated with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The Minister of State referred to the Garda National Immigration Bureau. Is that from where the trouble is coming? Who is responsible? The questions I raised have not been answered. What accusation was made against the man whose case I have raised? The Minister of State said the man can appeal the decision that was taken, which is true. However, he would have to cite the reasons for refusal, which he has not been given. The Minister of State also mentioned the Freedom of Information Act, but the man in question has been refused under that as well. There is no democratic accountability whatever in this instance. I want the Minister of State to raise this issue with the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, so that it does not end here.

There has been prevarication in this case. The entire piece of nonsense that has been read into the record this evening is nothing other than prevarication. As someone who used to teach English, I know what the word "prevarication" means. I can recognise prevarication. This is nothing other than prevarication — there is nothing else in it. Will the Minister of State bring back the message to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the man in this instance is seeking a review of the decision? I am demanding that review on his behalf. It is a sad day for this country when people who fought and died for freedom are the subject of such an utter and contemptible violation of democratic accountability.

I understand that the person's name will not be published in the transcript of the proceedings of the House. The Minister of State's response will be on the record.

That dozens of copies of the Minister of State's response are floating around this Chamber — I do not blame the staff of the House for that — is an indication of the nonsense that is being spoken about security. The man in question is supposed to be a security risk — what rubbish.