Passports Bill 2007: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, line 11, after "2004" to insert the following:

"or the corresponding provision of any statute repealed by that Act".

This is a technical amendment. I understand the Minister of State has received advice on this and that he spoke about it in the other House. However, if the corresponding section is not amended in the way proposed, there is a risk that birth certificates issued prior to the Civil Registration Act 2004 might be open to question. There was some suggestion that the Minister of State might return to this issue. It is a straightforward amendment that would obviate the risk of problems arising in future. It would be of assistance to the Minister of State to deal with that risk now by way of this amendment.

I understand the point the Senator is making. However, I have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that this amendment is unnecessary because the Civil Registration Act already provides for the issue raised. Section 5(1) of that Act provides that in so far as any certificate issued under any enactment repealed by section 4 of the same Act could have been issued under a corresponding provision of the Act, it shall not be invalidated by the repeals effected by section 4 but shall have effect as if issued under that corresponding provision. Accordingly, it is not necessary to provide a saver in respect of certificates of birth issued under any legislation prior to the 2004 Act. The amendment is unnecessary and I do not propose to accept it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 2 agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

I am not sure whether the point I wish to raise is relevant to this particular section. My son and some of his friends came to Dublin last week to process their applications for a J1 visa. They encountered no difficulties and submitted their passports to the United States Embassy as required. However, one of them had travelled from Cork on a Ryanair flight and because his passport was no longer in his possession, he was refused permission to board the internal return flight to Cork.

This is an abuse of the passport requirement for air travel. Ryanair staff were willing, as a last resort, to accept a driver's licence but this young man does not have one. The forms of identification he could offer, a student identification card, Garda identification card and international student card, were not acceptable. Such types of identification should be sufficient to travel from one city to another within the State without the requirement of a passport. I am not sure whether this issue might be dealt with in the regulations provided for in section 4.

I agree with Senator Cummins. We have had many examples of this. It is something that might be dealt with in the regulations, although not necessarily under this section. It is only right that people should be facilitated in the context of internal travel arrangements.

This section deals with the regulations, as Senator Cummins observed. However, these are not State regulations and requirements but simply the conditions laid down by the airlines. This was raised on Second Stage in both the Dáil and Seanad. Senator Keaveney, for example, spoke about people being questioned as they came off the Belfast to Dublin train. This section does not deal with that and there is no State requirement in this regard. We all should contact the airlines to make our views known. There is a difficulty in that some people do not have a driving licence. This is an issue we could raise with the airlines.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments. It is an issue that should be reviewed. It makes no sense that a person with three forms of identification cannot get home from Dublin to Cork. It is a ludicrous situation. I hope there is some follow-up on this.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
SECTION 6.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, subsection (1), line 4, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

My colleague, Deputy Timmins, tabled a similar amendment in the other House. There is no reason passports should not be issued at birth as is the case with birth certificates. Cattle, sheep and even donkeys seem to be assigned passports at birth and it would be of great administrative benefit if the same were true for people. We all are aware of the difficulties in Chad where children were exported or transferred to France where no one could identify them. I do not suggest that such a situation could arise in this country but automatically issuing passports at birth would be of assistance where any such eventualities might arise. I ask the Minister of State to consider the amendment as it would do nothing but good.

Section 6(1) of the Bill gives a citizen of Ireland the right to apply for a passport. Section 6(2) requires applications to be made in a certain form and to be accompanied by certain information and documents. In other words, a citizen can choose whether to apply for a passport. If he or she chooses to apply, the application must satisfy a number of mandatory requirements. If I were to accept this amendment, I could make it mandatory for a citizen to apply for a passport. I cannot agree to include such a provision in the Bill. While citizens have a right to hold a passport, they are not and should not be obliged to apply for one.

I disagree with the Minister. Passports should be issued at birth. It would solve many administrative problems later. I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 6 agreed to.
Sections 7 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 12.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, subsection (1)(c), to delete line 8.

Will the Minister of State give examples of conduct that is, in the words used in the Bill, "contrary to the common good" which may lead to the refusal of a passport? I suggest the term "common good" covers a multitude of forms of conduct. It smacks of the approach that was adopted in the Soviet Union in the past and is being adopted in China at present. If people go abroad to criticise the State or the Government, will they be perceived as behaving in a manner that is contrary to the common good? Such a view is adopted in some countries. People in Burma-Myanmar are not allowed to travel abroad if there is a possibility they will criticise that country's Government. I hope such a measure will not be introduced in this country. What does the broad phrase "contrary to the common good" mean? I suggest that it be omitted from the Bill because it is not necessary.

When I read the Bill, I did not like the use of the term "contrary to the common good" because I thought it had broad connotations. It is too broad for my liking. I would like to hear the Minister of State's views and comments on the matter.

I agree with Senators Cummins and Ormonde on this issue. The phrase "contrary to the common good" is not unknown to the law. It is used by the legal authority to which the Minister of State referred. The term is capable of extraordinarily wide interpretation. The phrase "contrary to the common good" is used in section 12 which sets out the circumstances in which the Minister, to quote the Bill, "shall refuse to issue a passport to a person". Section 12(1)(c) provides that a passport may be refused to someone if:

[T]he person would be likely in the opinion of the Minister, after consultation, where appropriate, with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Minister for Defence or both, to engage in conduct that—

(i) might prejudice national security or the security of another state,

(ii) might endanger public safety or order,

(iii) would be contrary to the common good, or

(iv) might endanger that person or others.

I have quoted that section to draw the attention of the House to the other categories which, correctly, are quite specific. One can understand why section 12(1)(c)(i), (ii) and (iv), which are quite clear, have been included in the Bill. Section 12, which sets out the Minister’s important role in refusing a passport, provides for three specific sets of circumstances in which a passport “shall”, to quote the Bill, be refused. The fourth set of circumstances in which a passport “shall”, to quote the Bill, be refused, namely, conduct that is, to quote the Bill, “contrary to the common good”, is set out in section 12(1)(c)(iii). Senator Cummins rightly argued that this provision is quite wide.

I do not suggest the Minister of State or his colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, would use this wide net for any nefarious or improper purposes. However, we make laws not just for the current Minister but for the future of the State. This is an important Bill because it represents the first time we have codified passport law into legislation. This Bill might be regarded as a safety net. Each of the other three provisions in this section, section 12(1)(c)(i), (ii) and (iv), is covered by using the term “contrary to the common good”.

I am tempted to conclude that section 12(1)(c)(iii) has been included in the legislation because officials are concerned that something which is not envisaged at this point might arise in future. Perhaps it has been decided that a broad provision of this nature needs to be included to allow us to act in circumstances which are not contemplated at present.

Another possible explanation of this measure is that the Minister of State has a view of what the phrase "contrary to the common good" means in the context of passport policy. If that is the case, he should inform the House. Can the Minister of State indicate what the phrase "contrary to the common good" might mean in the context of the issuing of passports? We can have a general discussion about what the term "the common good" means, but I would like an explanation of how the issuing of a passport can be, to quote the Bill, "contrary to the common good". Can the Minister of State give some examples of what he has in mind? Can he tell the House the circumstances in which the issuing of a passport would be, to quote the Bill, "contrary to the common good"? The serious issue that has been raised deserves to be addressed.

I am inclined to support the Minister of State in this instance at the risk of being regarded as right-wing or conservative. The word "might" is used in section 12(1)(c)(i), (ii) and (iv), whereas the word “would” is used in section 12(1)(c)(iii). This section gives the Government of the day the right to refuse a passport to a person who would be likely in the opinion of the Minister, after consultation, to engage in conduct that, to quote the Bill, “would be contrary to the common good”. I am not sure that I want people who engage in conduct that “would be contrary to the common good”, to quote the Bill, to be able to get passports. I can understand the balance we are trying to strike. Some countries make it difficult to get passports because they want to protect the right of their citizens to be the only people to access such passports. If a person claims to be entitled to the passport of one of these countries, he or she has to fight very hard to get it. I would like our passports to be valued very strongly. If a Minister refuses a passport application on the basis that the applicant is acting in a manner that, to quote the Bill, “would be contrary to the common good”, I will support him or her.

I thank Senators for their comments. The term "common good" is included in the legislation to give the Minister discretion in exceptional cases. In practice, it is unlikely a Minister will invoke the power to refuse a passport on the basis of the common good. This provision is also included in recognition of the explicit use of the term "common good" in the High Court judgment that first identified the unenumerated constitutional right to travel and as a limitation on that right.

The power to refuse a passport on the basis of the common good is not unlimited and is subject to a number of restrictions. The concept is defined and clarified further by reference to the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly Protocol No. 4 to that convention. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is obliged by the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 to perform his functions in accordance with the State's obligations under the convention and its protocols. This means,inter alia, that the restriction in each case must be proportionate and necessary in a democratic society. Furthermore, a refusal to issue a passport, including a refusal on the basis of the common good, may be appealed to the passport appeals officer and is also subject to judicial review.

I consider that there is value in retaining scope for discretion under the Bill, as Senator Quinn argued. I am opposed to this amendment as it seeks the deletion of the part of the section providing for such discretion.

Senator Cummins requested examples. If a person had a psychiatric illness and his or her treatment were discontinued if he or she left the country, that would be an issue. My officials checked on the number of passport refusals and, in the past three years, there was only one refusal. As I said, it is unlikely to happen. This provision is intended to provide discretion in exceptional cases.

Although the Minister of State said it is unlikely, it could happen. We are enacting this legislation for the future. I do not accept it is unlikely to happen. For example, if representatives of NGOs were going abroad to speak at an international conference about child poverty, protecting children's rights or autism in Ireland, this Government, or a future one, might believe that is contrary to the common good and may restrict passports for such persons. While that is unlikely, it could happen.

It is not necessary to include such a phrase in the Bill which has such broad connotations, as Senator Ormonde stated. We are going a little too far. I would be one of the first to say we should protect our passport holders and so on and, in many ways, I have a similar opinion to Senator Quinn in this regard. However, this line is unnecessary. There is adequate protection in the other three areas specified in the Bill.

I accept the Minister of State's reply on the basis that we are protecting against circumstances which may arise in the future. I would not consider a discussion on autism or otherwise, which should take place in the national parliament, as a reason to refuse a passport. It would be a more serious issue. I do not like the phrase "common good" but I understand why it is included in the Bill.

I support what Senator Cummins said. We probably would have been assisted if the Minister of State had at least advanced some examples of what he has in mind although, to some extent, I understand his difficulty. We are providing for quite a power. Senator Quinn referred to circumstances where a person would engage in conduct contrary to the common good. That has some sense to it but the problem is that we are including a discretion in legislation which will give the Minister, in consultation with his or her two colleagues in the other two Departments, the power to refuse a passport in circumstances which we cannot envisage. We have not been told what they might be.

I am not suggesting, nor do I believe Senator Cummins is, that the circumstances for refusing a passport would not be legitimate. If we are asked to scrutinise legislation, give our views on it and agree to it, we should know precisely what we are being asked to do. Unfortunately, that is not the case on this occasion.

I take on board the points made by all Senators. As I stated, there was clarification by reference to the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly protocol 4 of that convention. There is also an obligation on the Minister under the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003. The point Senator Cummins raised about NGOs travelling abroad is a very good one. To stop NGOs travelling would be very much against the human rights Acts and conventions. That would not arise. The proof of the pudding is that there has been only one refusal in the past three years. It is very unlikely the Minister would seek to invoke the power to refuse a passport on the basis of the common good.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 20.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, subsection (2)(a), line 35, after “or“ to insert “the person does not comply with section 18(6), or”

The proposal refers to section 12(2)(a). Again we are dealing with a circumstance whereby the Minister may refuse to issue a passport. Section 12(2) states:

The Minister may refuse to issue a passport to a person if—

(a) the application for the issue of a passport to the person does not comply with section 6, or

We want to insert, "the person does not comply withsection 18(6), or”. This deals with the cancellation and surrender of passports and that subsection provides as follows:

An applicant for a passport shall, if so required by the Minister, surrender a passport that was issued to him or her (whether or not it is valid) to the Minister before another passport may be issued to him or her.

It seems to follow logically that this should be a circumstance in which a Minister may refuse to issue a passport if such an applicant is a person who has been asked, and refused, to surrender a passport.

In reply to Senator Alex White, this amendment seeks to provide that the Minister can refuse to issue another passport to an applicant who refuses to surrender a passport previously issued to him or her. Section 18(6), as the Senator said, provides that an applicant for a passport shall, if so required by the Minister, surrender a passport issued to him or her — whether or not it is valid — before another passport may be issued. Section 6 provides that an application shall be accompanied by such information and documents in relation to the person as the Minister may require under section 7. The Minister is thus entitled to require an applicant to submit a previous passport as part of an application for a new passport. Furthermore, the Minister may refuse, under section 12(2) to issue a passport if an application does not comply with section 6. While I appreciate the constructive intentions behind this amendment, there are other provisions in the Bill which permit refusal — where an applicant refuses to surrender a previous passport — and I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I do not propose to press the amendment at this point. I might review the matter between now and Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Will the Minister of State say whether a person with a criminal record or somebody in jail can get a passport?

The answer is "Yes".

Section 12 agreed to.
Section 13 agreed to.
SECTION 14

Amendment No. 6 is in the names of Senators Alex White, Michael McCarthy, Brendan Ryan, Phil Prendergast, Dominic Hannigan and Alan Kelly. Amendment No. 7 is related, therefore, amendments Nos. 6 and 7 may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 10, subsection (1), line 6, after "child" to insert the following:

"and, if the father of the child is not a guardian but is named on the birth certificate of the child, such father,".

Section 14(1) provides that the consent of all guardians must be sought before issuance of a passport to a child or alternatively, as provided for in section 14(3), a court order dispensing with consent must be obtained. Under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 married parents are joint guardians of their children. By contrast, the father of a child born outside marriage is not automatically the guardian of his child. Where a father is not a guardian of a child, he may apply to the District Court to be appointed guardian, or he may become guardian by making a statutory declaration with the child's mother, agreeing to his appointment as guardian. These options apply whether he is named on the child's birth certificate.

Where a father becomes guardian, his consent must be obtained prior to the issue of a passport in the same way as the consent of any other guardians must be obtained. Additionally, section 14(2) permits the Minister to take account of the circumstances of a case in deciding whether to issue a passport to a child without the consent of a non-guardian parent. This discretion will allow the Minister to consider the views and rights of non-guardian parents in so far as these are known to him or her.

I appreciate the intentions behind amendment No. 6. However, changing the rights of a non-guardian parent is a family law matter. The Passports Bill is designed to regulate the passports service, and it is not an appropriate vehicle in which to introduce changes in family law. Such matters are best handled by other Departments.

Similarly, amendment No. 7 deals with issues outside the remit of the Passports Bill. The amendment seeks to impose restrictions on the removal of a child from the State. I understand the Senators' intention, but it is not appropriate to include it in legislation dealing with the administration of the passport service — and I cannot accept its inclusion in the Bill.

I brought this up on Second Stage and I find it quite confusing as regards how the whole system works with regard to the permission of parents and guardians, the consent of the father if his name is on the birth certificate, etc. While I accept that it is outside the remit of this Bill, nevertheless, the fact that it has come up for discussion here indicates that the public needs to have clarification in this area, because it is confusing. If I tried to explain to somebody in my office as regards consent — given that the fabric of society has changed so much — I should not feel comfortable in giving answers at present. Even though I understand where the Bill is coming from — and that raises another matter for debate, in regard to family law — I believe the Minister of State's officials should make it clearly known to the public how this legislation will be implemented when enacted. I brought it up on Second Stage and I am still unhappy at the way it is presented. Technically I understand from where it is coming but in terms of implementation the public will still be somewhat confused.

What Senator Ormonde says is very fair. There are complex issues associated with the question of guardianship. When I finish here I shall be attending the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, and we are wrestling with these issues, which are very complex and sensitive. These are issues which have come up in the course of public debate not just in this context of passports, but in the wider consideration of fathers' rights and the whole question of having births registered in circumstances where they are not births the within traditional family situation. I have some sympathy for what the Minister of State says, as regards whether provisions should be inserted into a passports Bill in circumstances where we are wrestling with wider issues. At the same time there is a provision here in respect of the issuing of passports to children, so we cannot just simply say it is a matter for another Department, another day or other legislation.

With the permission of the House, I shall not pursue either of the amendments but consider the question in more detail between now and Report Stage, when I shall, perhaps, revisit one or both matters.

I thank the Senators for their comments. This legislation is about the administration of the passport system and not about social policy or family law, although Senator Alex White's amendments in this regard are well intentioned. We are all concerned about child abduction, which was highlighted in respect of amendment No. 7, but it is not encompassed by this legislation. Other Departments are involved in dealing with such sensitive issues.

Senator White indicated he would withdraw his amendment and consider tabling it again on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 14 stand part of the Bill."

The process regarding long and short birth certificates should be more streamlined. Some will have the long one and others the short one, and invariably they will have the wrong one. We should just have one type of birth certificate because having two confuses many people.

I support Senator Paddy Burke. It is confusing to have two kinds of birth certificates. If it is more acceptable to the vast majority of applicants to have just one, it should be legislated for. Thus, we would have good legislation and regulation. Senator Paddy Burke should be listened to in this regard. The Minister of State is very approachable. I congratulate him because I have not yet had a chance to do so. I have not spoken in the House on any subject relevant to his portfolio since he was appointed. He is the longest-sitting Member of the Oireachtas and has a very distinguished family tree, which demonstrates the commitment of his family to public office. I congratulate him and look forward to working with him for the next four and a half years. It is a dream come true. To be in this House as a Minister of State is the pinnacle of his political career to date.

I support Senator Paddy Burke's call to have one kind of birth certificate because, if this were achieved, everybody would find the application system much more simple.

I thank Senator Paddy Burke for raising that issue and I thank Senator Cassidy for his remarks.

The main requirement is that adequate information be on the birth certificate. I understand that there was a change to the citizenship legislation in 2005 regarding non-nationals. We therefore require as much information as possible on the birth certificate. That is the over-riding concern. I do not have any difficulty with the length of the birth certificate as long as the information is available.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 15.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

This section concerns emergency travel facilities. One reason we need them more than other countries is because we have refused to sign up to the Schengen Agreement. Twenty-four other countries have done so. I urge the Minister of State to consider seriously the manner in which we can approach this issue. Both Ireland and the United Kingdom did not sign up to the original Schengen convention that allows free travel between the signatory states. We retained the right to opt out of the application of the rules after their conversion into European law. We have not ended border controls for passengers from other EU member states and we subscribe to the measures relating to police and judicial co-operation, which form part of the Schengenacquis.

Border posts and checks have been removed in the states within the Schengen area in respect of passengers from those states. The common Schengen visa allows tourists or other visitors access to the whole area. Holders of a residents permit to a Schengen state enjoy freedom of travel to all other Schengen states for a period of up to three months.

The reason we decided in 1990 not to subscribe to the agreement was very simple; we were already part of a common travel area involving the United Kingdom, which decided not to sign up to the agreement. Ireland had to pick one of the two common travel areas and it seemed the one in which we already were would be more valuable. This may have been the case at the time but it is no longer so. I suggest that we put in place a structure under which we can reopen our discussion on this important issue. Clearly, a more careful examination of the pros and cons is required and we should therefore seriously consider setting up an independent commission of some sort to do so.

There are two main reasons we should change horses at this stage. The first is that the benefits of the common travel area including the United Kingdom are being whittled away. Passengers travelling between the two countries have, for many years, been liable to police inspection at either end. It is not only the case between the two countries but between the two islands. Passengers are often required to prove their identity, so much so that the carrying of passports between the two countries became advisable as a way of avoiding hassle. As we know, and as stated by Senator Cummins, passengers from Cork could not even return to Cork from their point of origin yesterday because they did not have passports on them.

The latest news in this regard is that the UK authorities intend to tighten the controls on their jurisdiction and to draw the line around the border of the island of Britain. Their approach is so drastic that they are prepared to exclude not only the Republic of Ireland but the whole island of Ireland. This has infuriated many from the Unionist population. It is becoming very clear that the UK authorities are prepared to put up barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain rather than face the considerable expense and inconvenience of trying to control a land frontier. This means we will be guaranteed free travel across the Border into Northern Ireland while our common travel arrangement with mainland Britain — I dislike using the phrase "mainland Britain" but will do so in this case — will become meaningless.

The private sector has also played a part in undermining the common travel arrangement between Ireland and Britain. The airline Ryanair has imposed strict photographic identification requirements on all passengers, regardless of their destination, which means most Irish citizens must carry their passports to be allowed on a plane travelling to almost any Ryanair destination. Owing to the actions of the Special Branch and Ryanair, our common travel area, over a number of years, has become a common travel area in name only. One needs a passport to travel from this island to the other and that is the reality today.

We should detach ourselves altogether from the common travel area involving the United Kingdom and instead join the much bigger common travel area that already exists across Europe. This reflects the belief of all of us, namely, that our future lies in being European rather than being linked to one country. I had tabled an amendment to address this issue but I am pleased the Acting Chairman allowed me to make this point. The Clerk is looking aghast having allowed me to get away with saying so much.

My amendment on this matter, which I was told by the Chairman was not allowed, was to suggest we should establish an independent commission to report, in the coming year, on the benefits and disadvantages of our signing up to the Schengen Agreement and removing our link with Britain. The land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will not be affected in that it seems the British are putting into operation controls between the island of Britain and the island of Ireland. Signing up to the Schengen Agreement will remove the requirement for emergency passports because the existing passport arrangements will not apply when we travel to the 24 countries that have signed up to the agreement.

I welcome this discussion and the points raised by Senator Quinn. Now that the Leader is present, I suggest that we debate the Schengen common travel area in the House. I will probably suggest this on the Order of Business tomorrow. A debate would allow us all to tease out, in the presence of the relevant Minister, all the points raised by Senator Quinn. The Senator referred to the need to establish an independent commission and to the benefits that are being whittled away. He also referred to the movement of people between the North and South, to the barriers that will be created between the two islands, and he asked whether we should sign up to the Schengen Agreement in order to get away from the arrangement including the North, South and the mainland.

I never used the word "mainland".

I withdraw the word but I know where the Senator is coming from. It is worthy of a debate where all the Members can get involved with the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, to tease out the points raised. We have spoken about this on many occasions.

It is probably a matter for debate in some other way because I am advised that the Chair has already ruled that this matter is not germane.

I will raise it at another time.

Senator Ormonde should, of course.

I accept it is outside the remit of this Bill.

I have allowed a little latitude. Does the Minister of State want to respond?

While what Senators Quinn and Ormonde have said is interesting, we are dealing here with the regulation and the issuance of Irish passports. The amendment Senator Quinn tabled and which was ruled out of order referred to establishing an independent commission to prepare a report on the implications for Ireland if it became party to the Schengenacquis. Senator Ormonde has come up with a good idea, that we would debate the matter in the House and perhaps an independent commission would be part of that debate.

The issues Senator Quinn raised relate to Ireland's policy on the European Union concerning freedom of movement and border controls. I hope the House will have a debate on those issues. They do not relate to the regulation and issuing of Irish passports and, as such, it is not appropriate to include such a provision in the Bill.

I agree that we all would want to see easier travel to and from the European Union member states. I mentioned on Second Stage that we should be aware of the implications for British-Irish and North-South relations. The UK remains outside the Schengen area, as Senator Quinn stated, and we would not wish to risk a negative impact on the common travel area or the establishment of border controls within the island of Ireland. On Second Stage Senator Keaveney gave examples of travelling from Belfast to Dublin.

I take on board what the Senators have said. I will pass on their views to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. I look forward to hearing the decision of the House about a debate and if I can take part it, I will do so gladly. However, I cannot accept the points for inclusion in the Bill.

While I understand what the Minister of State said, the matter is worthy of discussion in a passport Bill. It may not be the correct place where I attempted to insert it.

I am advised that the Chair has already ruled that it is not relevant. Although I am reluctant to rule the Senator out, no doubt he will find another way of raising this matter and having a debate on it. The Minister of State has indicated he would be quite willing to attend if the matter were arranged in another way.

I accept entirely the Acting Chairman's ruling. That is a ruling on setting up a commission, as I had suggested in the amendment that has been refused. We should find in this Bill the opportunity to discuss the question of the Schengen Agreement. It is worthy of discussion in a passport Bill. Whether it happens at this stage or not, I will take the Acting Chairman's point.

The Senator will find another way.

I will continue to attempt to find one.

Question put and declared carried.
SECTION 16.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 12, subsection (1), line 26, after "duties" to insert the following:

"or for related or other purposes in accordance with generally accepted international practice".

Some of the provisions in section 16 are intriguing and worthy of further scrutiny. Section 16(1), which concerns diplomatic and official passports, states:

The Minister may, on application in that behalf to him or her in accordance withsection 6 by a person who is entitled in accordance with this Act to be issued with a passport, issue a diplomatic passport to the person if he or she is—

(a) an officer of the Minister of diplomatic rank, or

(b) a person, or one of a class of persons, to whom the Minister considers it appropriate to issue such a passport,

for the purpose of facilitating him or her to travel abroad in connection with the performance of official duties.

The provision at the end of subsection, "for the purpose of him or her to travel abroad in connection with the performance of official duties.", clearly comprehends both subparagraphs (a) and (b). In other words, any such person, whether he or she is covered by subparagraphs (a) or (b), can only have a diplomatic passport issued to him or her for the purpose of facilitating “him or her to travel abroad in connection with the performance of official duties”, to quote the Bill. That seems clear according to the Bill.

The following is the reason for my party's amendment. If the Minister is issuing a passport for a person who qualifies under subparagraph (b) but who does not have any official duties or is not a person who would ever be required in the normal run of events to carry out official duties, then as the Bill is currently constructed that person would not be entitled to use a diplomatic passport.

I understand all former Ministers as a matter of course are issued with diplomatic passports. I do not criticise that. That is not my reason for raising this issue. It may be open to debate but that is not my purpose. If a former Minister is issued with a diplomatic passport, however, he or she can only use that passport in circumstances where he or she performs official duties. That is clear from the way the Bill is set out. Is that the intention of the Minister of State? Any reasonable reading of the section suggests that such is the only conclusion to which one could come.

Take, for example, the case of a retired Minister, a judge or a retired judge. I am not sure whether retired judges belong to this class of person. I am almost certain that members of the Judiciary are issued with diplomatic passports under subparagraph (b). If a judge of the High Court travelling abroad on a diplomatic passport is attending a legal conference or an event associated with his or her duties as a member of the Judiciary, clearly he or she is performing official duties.

Has the Minister of State contemplated how persons using a diplomatic passport could perform official duties if they are retired? It would not seem to follow from the way matters would pan out. Is it his intention to require that they should be? Confusion seems to exist in this regard. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell me that the intention is exactly as set out in the Bill and that anyone who uses a diplomatic passport can only do so in the context of performing official duties in the way that Senators, Deputies or serving Ministers are supposed only to travel on a diplomatic passport in circumstances where they are on official duties. Is the Minister of State clear that such requirement applies in equal measure to all persons to whom he might issue a passport under subparagraph (b)?

It seems this is worth addressing and it can be done by our amendment. It provides that it must be for the purpose of facilitating him or her to travel abroad in connection with the performance of official duties or for related or other purposes in accordance with generally accepted international practice. It provides that having regard to international practice, the Minister can feel safe in issuing a diplomatic passport to someone who, although he or she may be a retired or former Minister, strictly speaking is not carrying out official duties. Clearly, such persons are not carrying out ministerial duties. However, it still may be appropriate for them to have and travel on diplomatic passports, as long as the purpose for which they using them is in accordance with generally accepted international practice. This would seem to facilitate the Minister and the Government in issuing a diplomatic passport to someone in those circumstances. This is the rationale for our amendment. We respectfully suggest that if the provision was to be changed in this regard, it would assist the Minister's purpose.

I agree with many of the points raised by Senator White. His comments made me ask myself if I would use a diplomatic passport if going on holidays. I would not. What use would it be to me or why would I want to use it?

The Senator might have lost her other one.

My passport stands as it is. I would not need to use a diplomatic passport. Will the Minister of State explain the role of a diplomatic passport? It does not get one through the airport any faster or allow one jump the queue. It is fine to use one if we are acting in our capacity as officials or Oireachtas Members and are on official business, but why would we want to use one if we were not on official business? I would not want to use one in that situation. Anybody not on official business who chooses to use a diplomatic passport is out of order. Perhaps some people would make up a reason to use it. I could pretend I was going to visit a third world country on behalf of the Minister and use it, even though I was not on official or authorised business, but I would not do so. Perhaps the Minister of State could clarify the issue. The bottom line is we are either on official business or we are not.

I have heard it suggested a Senator is always on official duties.

I listened very carefully to Senator White and must agree there is clearly an issue in this regard. His example of what happens is perfect, whatever about the example of going on holidays provided by Senator Ormonde. We have had a tradition of giving diplomatic passports to former Ministers and judges of the Supreme and High Courts, and I understand their need for them. Does the provision in the Bill mean they can never use those passports unless they are travelling in connection with the performance of official duties? The amendment stands up and is worthy of acceptance. The provision should include, "or for related or other purposes in accordance with generally accepted international practice". In other countries diplomatic passports can be used for duties that are not necessarily official, but which are considered as generally accepted international practice. I support the amendment and believe the Minister should give serious consideration to it.

I support Senator White's amendment. The current provision is too restrictive. The inclusion of Senator White's amendment would improve the Bill and cover the eventualities as enunciated by him. I urge the Minister of State to consider this. Perhaps he can come back to us on the issue on Report Stage, having given due consideration to it. I would welcome his views on the matter. The amendment would improve the Bill and should be accepted.

I, too, support Senator White's amendment. He has opened up debate on the issue. I often wondered about the benefits of diplomatic passports. If one goes abroad with a committee or on Oireachtas business, one is given a diplomatic passport valid for a year or 18 months. That passport does not get one through the airport quicker. I wonder what are its benefits, although I am sure there are some. Senator White's amendment would improve the Bill and I support it. I hope the Minister of State accepts it.

I thank those Senators who have contributed on this issue. My understanding is that section 16 permits the Minister to issue a diplomatic passport to an officer of the Minister of diplomatic rank, or under subsection (1)(b) to a person or one of a class of persons to whom the Minister considers it is appropriate to issue such a passport. This permits reasonably broad discretion to designate who should be eligible for a diplomatic passport. The section makes it clear that diplomatic passports are intended to be used in connection with the performance of official duties abroad. This is in line with international practice and is a reasonable requirement. Diplomatic passports should not be used for travel for unofficial purposes, such as personal or holiday travel. Individuals should use their personal passports for those purposes. Holders of diplomatic passports are not required to return them between trips abroad on official business. They are advised and expected to comply with the conditions under which the passports are issued and the requirement of the Bill, if enacted.

I do not consider it necessary to extend the purposes for which diplomatic passports may be issued and do not propose to accept the amendment, but I will certainly reflect on what has been said by Senators. I wish to emphasise that the Bill permits the issuing of a diplomatic passport where this is required for purposes related to official duties or in accordance with generally accepted international practice.

The intention behind the amendment appears to relate to the view that former officeholders are less likely to need to travel for official purposes. I will give examples of these people. The Department intends to address this issue post enactment of the legislation by including in all diplomatic passports an insert to remind holders that under the passports Act, diplomatic passports should be used only for the purposes of official travel overseas. With regard to former Ministers, former Minister Joe Walsh chairs the hunger task force and some of his committee were in Malawi recently and former Minister Chris Flood travelled to the areas affected by the tsunami. These former Ministers were issued with diplomatic passports and they work on issues and committees to which they were appointed by various Ministers.

I do not consider it necessary to extend the purposes for which diplomatic passports have been issued, but I will come back to the issue at a later stage.

I understand the point made about former Ministers being involved in official duties and have no difficulty in that regard. However, my understanding — please correct me if I am wrong — is that diplomatic passports were being issued almost as a matter of course to former Ministers. I would have to apply for a diplomatic passport if I were to travel overseas on official duties, but are former Ministers also required to apply? Does a former Minister have to apply for a diplomatic passport in reference to a particular trip in the same way I would have to apply?

Yes, they would have to apply. On account of having been former Ministers, they would be invited to events or occasions where they would have a particular role, as with the people I mentioned previously.

This question may be legalistic, but I will ask it. I understand the use of the term "official duties" by the Minister and in the Bill means duties associated with the State or a Government or quasi-Government activity. In other words, official means official State business of some kind. Am I correct?

Given that it is the lead-in to St. Patrick's Day and that a number of mayors or Cathaoirligh of various local authorities from around the country will go to New York or other locations around the world——

I hope the Senator's own matter is in order.

Would a mayor in a particular local authority, for example, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, be entitled to a diplomatic passport seeing as they will be going on official local authority business or representing their county at an association in the US or elsewhere?

I was about to ask the same question in respect of the Cathaoirligh of the various councils throughout the country who take time out to visit the US at this time of the year. What is the position in respect of these people? Can former Deputies and Senators apply for a diplomatic passport if they are on official business relating to an area in which they have a specific interest? Would they adhere to the same procedures? Does they apply to Deputies and Senators who are not former Ministers?

Does Senator Quinn wish to speak?

I will probably repeat the same question. I am fascinated by this matter and was not aware of the implications. In respect of somebody coming to Ireland with a diplomatic passport, would we recognise them as having some particular advantage, as Senator Ormonde has said? If someone who had a diplomatic passport ceased to hold that office for which the passport was used but continued to use the passport, are they in some way or other not acting within the law? I ask these questions to clarify the matter. I am impressed by the argument that Senator Alex White has made and believe it is worthy of consideration but it has raised a number of other questions.

Does Senator Cassidy wish to speak?

Time is of the essence.

I will try to deal with some of the questions. In respect of Senator Alex White's point about official duties, there are some examples I could give. A state funeral which a former Member of the Oireachtas or Minister might be asked to attend would be one. In respect of questions about the lord mayor or mayor of a city or county, those applications could be looked at on a case by case basis. Probably the best example of where we have issued many passports would be the United Nations contingent which has been serving overseas. The most recent contingent went to Chad. These people, who are working with the UN, would get diplomatic passports.

I find in my work that many former Deputies and Senators are very keen to work as observers in elections and do a very good job because they are the real professionals when it comes to observing elections and seeing if they are the free and fair elections we all want to have. Those are situations where people would get diplomatic passports, which is only right and fitting.

A diplomatic passport establishes a person's status. If one was looking for immunity, a court could take that situation into account. There might be a certain degree of courtesy extended by countries because one has a diplomatic passport. There are no hard and fast rules about that. It might be a custom but would not be claimed as a right.

On one occasion, when some of my colleagues and I were travelling from Israel to Jordan, we were amazed to discover that we did not have to pay the $60 levy because we had diplomatic passports. We would have had to pay this fee if we did not have these passports. There is probably a practical reason why one might have a diplomatic passport if one was travelling between countries.

I am impressed. I introduced a passport Bill here some years ago which was aimed at avoiding the implication of the passports for sale controversy. From what the Minister of State has said, I have just realised that perhaps there are benefits in having a diplomatic passport and how they can be issued. I believe the Minister of State mentioned $60. I find the debate enlightening.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement that local authority members, mayors and Cathaoirligh of various local authorities who go abroad on official business are entitled to diplomatic passports.

They are entitled to apply for one.

I welcome this news.

The Minister of State said that they would be dealt with on their merits on a case by case basis.

I am delighted to hear this. When the legislation comes into effect, perhaps we would alert county managers to the existence of this facility so that lord mayors and Cathaoirligh could apply because I am sure they are not aware of this and it would be an opportunity. When it is implemented, county and city managers should be alerted.

It has been an interesting debate. I am not fully satisfied that my amendment would not improve what the Minister seeks to achieve. I will not press the amendment at this stage but I will certainly revisit it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 16 agreed to.
Sections 17 and 18 agreed to.
SECTION 19.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 14, subsection (1), line 19, after "paragraph" to insert "(a),”

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 seek to include within the scope of the appeals mechanism decisions to refuse or cancel a passport that are based on citizenship. Decisions based on citizenship are not covered by the appeals mechanism because this area is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister for Foreign Affairs does not have competence to take decisions on issues which are the preserve of another Minister.

In line with existing practice, a person whose passport is refused or cancelled on the basis of citizenship may raise the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts already establish formal procedures which allow a person claiming to be a citizen to apply to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a certificate of nationality. I would again add that as with all ministerial decisions, recourse may be had to judicial review. I do not propose to accept these amendments.

I do not propose to press the amendments.

I am not sure I understand. Can the Minister of State explain that in words I understand? I am sorry to show my ignorance.

I am saying that these amendments were reinstating a right of appeal to the passports appeal officer in respect of decisions to refuse or cancel a passport on the basis of citizenship. I am repeating what I said in the Dáil. Citizenship comes within the competence of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and would not be relevant to the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 10 not moved.
Section 19 agreed.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.