Diplomatic Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 9

Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order as it is a potential charge on revenue.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

I would like to speak briefly about this section. I accept fully that our amendment is out of order. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the House. We would argue that this Bill is technical in nature. It makes clear citizenship and immigration rules for diplomatic staff and consular staff and their private staff by amending the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 and the Immigration Act 2004. However, while we supported the Bill on Second Stage in the Dáil, Deputy Crowe had one major concern that he wanted addressed on Committee Stage, namely, section 9, page six, lines 28 to 32. We submitted an amendment in the Dáil but it was disallowed on the grounds that it was a possible charge on Revenue in accordance with Standing Orders.

I will run through our concerns. Section 9 seeks to amend the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 to provide that any period of time spent in this State, while exempt from immigration controls as workers in embassies are, is not reckonable for residency in the context of naturalisation. We believe this is an important right that should not be undermined or interfered with in any way. We are 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. We 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. The Minister for Justice and Equality was asked to explain why it is included and why these workers should be treated differently from other workers. He was asked to provide details on how many people have applied for naturalisation or citizenship in this way in recent years. The information is important and might explain the inclusion of the provision.

We question why this is something that must be changed now. What is the policy goal of such a change? None of these questions has been answered. This section is very concerning to me and it requires more detailed discussion. Sinn Féin said that unless such clarification was forthcoming, we would have to vote against the Bill. We do not want to do this as the Bill has many positive aspects.

I am disappointed that our amendment was ruled out of order on the basis that it seeks to retain the provision that any period of time spent in the State while exempt from immigration controls pursuant to section 2(1) or 2(1A) of the Immigration Act 2004 is reckonable for naturalisation purposes. Apparently, this will potentially make people eligible for citizenship at an earlier date and additional costs may arise due to this earlier date of citizenship. The amendment must therefore be considered to be out of order on the grounds that it causes a charge on the Exchequer in accordance with Standing Orders. I find this a ridiculous use of Standing Orders especially when one considers that it costs an applicant €950 to apply for Irish citizenship. When we queried why it is so high, we were told it was to pay for the administrative work and reflects the high value in which Irish citizenship is held. If applicants are paying for their own application process, how can more applications be considered a charge on the Exchequer, or is it the case that citizenship applications cost the State money? Will the Minister of State please clarify this?

I cannot push this amendment so Sinn Féin reluctantly is opposing section 9.

There are two issues here. Amendment No. 1 is out of order and that is that. The Senator is still entitled to oppose section 9 as it stands, regardless of the amendment. I think that is the point that he is making.

It is not the Minister who rules something out of order, it is the Cathaoirleach, that is to say, not me, as Acting Chairman, but the actual Cathaoirleach.

There is a note here on the amendment but I do not think that the Senator needs me to read it all out. He is opposing section 9.

I appreciate the Acting Chairman's clarification.

I will ask the Minister of State to speak on section 9 if he chooses.

I acknowledge that several Senators have raised questions on section 9. Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised it last week on Second Stage, as did Deputy Seán Crowe in the Dáil. On several occasions during the Bill's passage through the Houses, detailed explanations were provided on the rationale behind this provision. I am aware that the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, MRCI, has signalled its disagreement with the provision. MRCI is an excellent organisation that does very valuable work and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a very good working relationship with it. It has made a valuable contribution to the introduction of procedures in 2014 for the protection of domestic workers in diplomatic missions and households. It has also worked with the Department to resolve individual cases from time to time. As part of that valued working relationship, the Department consulted MRCI as part of the consultation on the general scheme of the Bill and changes were made on foot of its valuable recommendations.

That notwithstanding, I consider section 9(d) to be an important part of the Bill and I am not convinced there is any merit in leaving it out. It would be reversing a very long-standing policy of the State. It may be the case that we will simply have to disagree on the inclusion of this provision. One thing I want to make very clear is that the Government will remain as committed as ever to protecting vulnerable individuals. I reiterate that there have been exceptional cases where former staff of diplomatic missions or households have been granted permission to remain in the State on a humanitarian basis. Such applications, which are very rare, will continue to be viewed sympathetically if they arise. Once a person is within the mainstream immigration system, under permission to remain, they will be on a path to citizenship and typically will be eligible for naturalisation after a number of years. It is not at all the case that we wish to deny citizenship to vulnerable people but we feel it is appropriate to exclude time spent working for a diplomatic mission as reckonable residence in line with international practice, and in the spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

I am genuinely disappointed. We would like to support this Bill. Unfortunately, this leaves us in a position where we are unable to do so. We will have to agree to disagree. The Minister of State is correct to acknowledge the excellent work of the MRCI. There is just a lack of generosity on the Government's part in this section. As the Minister of State acknowledged, several people have expressed their concerns on it.

Question put and declared carried.
Sections 10 and 11 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", put and declared carried.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 7.

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony; Níl, Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Paul Gavan.
Question declared carried.