SECTION 3.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, subsection (2) (a) (vi), lines 39 and 40, to delete "non-political".

This section details the rights conferred on refugees. The amendment relates to subparagraph (vi) which states that, without prejudice to the generality of the introductory part of the section, the refugee shall have the right to form and be a member of non-political associations and trade unions in the like manner and to the like extent in all respects as an Irish citizen.

I am puzzled as to why the phrase "non-political" is included. I cannot imagine what purpose it could serve. One may join associations or trade unions but one may not join a political association. Is a trade union not a political association here? Across the water, ever in the new Labour Party, it would be very much regarded as having political connotations. I realise that we are all in partnership now and happy — until Christmas anyway — but I would still have thought that there are political connotations to being a member of associations or trade unions. Why is the phrase "non-political" included?

For example, if somebody was fortunate enough to escape to this country from East Timor and if they were especially fortunate and were admitted under the Minister's new Bill, is it suggested here that they could not join the East Timor society?

No, just Democratic Left.

Well, we could live with that deprivation. Many of our citizens do not see the wisdom of that particular step. All parties in this House have met the East Timor society and would have a great deal of sympathy with the principles and objectives of it in light of what has happened in that part of the world. It seems extraordinary that a refugee admitted under the terms of this Bill may not become a member of the East Timor society. If there was ever an association that is political in its objective, it is the East Timor society.

There are many other examples. Why disbar them? I am puzzled as to the reason and I ask the Minister to rethink this provision. My amendment does not go so far as to deal with membership of Democratic Left or Fianna Fáil for that matter. Why should one not be permitted to join Fianna Fáil? I know it is a pretty homogenous and monolithic organisation.

It might deprive them of refugee status.

The Deputy is talking about the past.

The past, is it?

And Deputy Cullen.

I forgot about Deputy Cullen.

Who is Deputy Cullen?

He is a refugee.

He is a different kind of refugee.

He jumped off a plane at Waterford.

Can we deal with real refugees now please?

So we now have a pluralist Fianna Fáil. I am puzzled as to why the phrase "non-political" is included?

I was equally puzzled and I am accepting the Deputy's amendment. I did not want to disturb him when he was speaking.

I am grateful to the Minister. I think the Deputy Cullen point swung it.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 6, subsection (2) (c), line 2, to delete "a refugee" and substitute "and notwithstanding anything contained in section 45 of the Land Act, 1965, section 16 of the Mercantile Marine Act, 1955, or an order under the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1946, a refugee in relation to whom a declaration is in force".

The purpose of section 3 (2) (c) is to grant to refugees specific rights in relation to the acquisition and disposal of property. This amendment ensures that a person declared to be a refugee will have the same ownership rights as an Irish citizen as regards land, shipping and aircraft. The Statutes referred to in the amendment impose certain restrictions on non-nationals as regards the purchase of land and the registering of ships and aircraft and without this amendment there might be a doubt as to whether, for example, a refugee could own an Irish registered ship or aircraft.

Does he have to pay residential property tax?

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9a:

In page 6, subsection (2), lines 7 to 9, to delete paragraph (d).

This amendment proposes the deletion from the Bill of paragraph (d) of section 3 (2) which requires a housing authority, in making an assessment under the Housing Act, 1988, to have regard to the need to house refugees. I would like to make it clear at the outset that the effect of the amendment which has been suggested by my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, will be to improve the position of refugees in so far as housing is concerned. There are a number of points that arise in relation to the amendment.

Subsection 9 (2) (a) (ii) taken together with paragraph (b) of the same subsection establishes that refugees are entitled to precisely the same level of housing service as Irish nationals. Furthermore, the Minister for the Environment is concerned that paragraph (d) of section 3 (2) could have unforeseen implications in relation to the carrying out of assessments of housing needs by housing authorities under section 9 of the Housing Act, 1988.

The purpose of the assessments is twofold. First, it is to identify specific types of accommodation required from the authorities. For instance, the permanent housing needs of homeless persons can be entirely different to those of travellers and elderly persons.

The second aspect is to provide data on the extent of different types of need. The actual effect of paragraph (d) could be to introduce an additional category to section 9 that would be related to personal political status rather than housing need. This would serve no practical purpose in the context of housing and would tend to marginalise refugees by treating them differently from nationals. Another point which has come to my attention is that paragraph (d) might also have the effect of diminishing the housing prospects of refugees. Under section 11 of the 1988 Act, housing authorities must determine their priorities for letting houses to persons included in assessments under section 9 of the Act. At present refugees could, depending on circumstances, be regarded by a housing authority as homeless and be treated with appropriate urgency in line with the authority's scheme of letting priorities.

It would be undesirable to give effect in legislation to a situation where, by categorising them separately, refugees could potentially be afforded a lower priority than nationals in terms of housing needs. In addition, the current thinking of European housing ministers in relation to the housing of refugees would not favour the creation of separate programmes. The view is that housing of refugees should be part of the overall national effort with nationals and refugees being considered for housing on the same basis. As I have explained that objective could be compromised rather than assisted by paragraph (d). For the reasons I have given I hope the committee can agree to the deletion of paragraph (d) of section 3 (2) because it is unnecessary and could work to the disadvantage of refugees.

I received a message while the Minister was speaking so maybe I have lost the line of the debate. When I saw this first I could not understand what it meant. Guaranteeing refugees the same rights as Irish citizens is not a great advantage because in Carlow, for example, construction of houses begun in 1993 will be completed in July 1995 which is of no use to them. What is wrong with having refugees assessed the same way as everyone else? If there was a group of them might they not need special treatment, if they were a family, for instance? Is there anything to justify leaving them out of the assessment process?

In the case of Dublin Corporation there is a homeless category which gets a certain priority. If the person was a refugee and homeless there might be a category or priority more beneficial to that person than having to wait until May or November to go onto the housing list. Is the thrust of what the Minister is saying that these people would be better off in terms of the potential to be housed without this restrictive section? I hope that is the case and we are not being persuaded by the Department of the Environment to exclude from assessment for housing a category of people who should rightly be assessed.

I think Deputy Browne got carried away because what I am doing with this amendment is including refugees in the assessment process. The Minister for the Environment brought to my attention that under the Bill, as published, there was a danger that they might be left out of the assessment process, they would be categorised in a different area and we would now have three levels of special housing.

We are speaking here about the local authority making an assessment. The Minister wants to leave that out. They are already included. I am talking about assessment. They may be included under other sections but they are certainly being left out under the assessment process because the Minister is withdrawing it.

My mistake for not making it clearer. They are not being left out. What is happening is that they will be assessed in the same way as Irish nationals. Membership of a specific category will not militate against them. If they were put in a specific category on their own it could, under the Housing Act, 1988, militate against them. We are suggesting now that they be assessed on the same basis as Irish nationals. What Deputy Mitchell said is quite correct. If a refugee is homeless he or she is treated in the same way as a homeless Irish national under the assessment procedures and will not be put at the end of the housing list. Regardless of when houses are completed in different local authority areas they will be put on the housing list and assessed in the same manner as everyone else.

Housing is invariably based on the length of time an individual is on the housing list. In the city the system may be different but in the country if a person is not on the housing list for two or three years the chances of obtaining a house are limited. If refugees arrive in Carlow and there is no special assessment for them what will they do?

Under the Housing Act, 1988 various categories are set up under which people have to be assessed, by the local authority. The 1988 Act refers to every local authority not just Dublin city or county. In my city andcounty we have two local authorities. There are various assessment procedures to work out the order of priority because not everyone has the same priority. I am sure the same must apply in Carlow. For instance, a family with 12 children living in a two-bedroom house would have a far greater priority on the housing list than a family with one child living in, or renting, a house of similar size. Refugees will be assessed and allocated houses on the same basis as Irish nationals.

While I understand the Minister for the Environment contacting the Minister for Justice concerning this matter, when the Bill was originally drafted there was a necessity for this section. I agree with the thinking of the Department of Justice that the matter of refugee status and housing should be raised. By leaving it to the Department of the Environment the applicant refugee will lose something. Otherwise this section would not have been included in the original draft.

This issue brings to mind what occurred in my town 25 years ago when we had refugees from the the North. We have a difficulty at the moment with travellers and the length of time they spend on the housing list. The Department of the Environment has indicated that to put a length of residency clause into the priority listing would be inappropriate, not illegal, in the current move on legislation. On a general point, my area has had its share of refugees from the North in the past and this has had repercussions on the priority housing list. If anything was to happen in the North in the future what implications would this legislation have in that regard? Would it deal with refugees from the North on a similar basis to those from East Timor, for example?

The whole thrust of the legislation is that refugees, no matter where they come from, will be treated in the same way. If something unforseen were to happen in the north-eastern corner of this island then refugees from there would be treated in the same manner as refugees from anywhere else. On Deputy Carey's point, the section we are deleting was originally included because the officials in my Department felt this would grant an extra status to refugees, it would give them a greater priority than Irish nationals and would help them have their housing needs fulfilled. After the section was included in the Bill as published we continued discussions with the Department of the Environment. Having looked at the 1988 Act and considered the Bill as published, the Department of the Environment suggested that refugees would be disadvantaged by the section I am proposing to delete.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill".

The explanatory memorandum on the section states:

Section 3 sets out the rights of persons recognised as refugees in the State. The rights apply to persons who have been granted refugee status prior to the entry into force of this Bill as well as to persons granted refugee status under the Bill in the future. All persons in the State, whether or not they are citizens, have certain rights and such rights will apply automatically to a refugee in respect of whom a declaration has been made under the Bill. [I want to emphasis the following] Irish citizens have rights over and above these basic rights by virtue of their citizenship. The purpose of this section is to give recognised refugees the same rights as Irish citizens in specific areas, and to clarify the position were there any doubts.

Later the explanatory memorandum states "shall have the same or similar rights as Irish citizens as regards employment, education, health care, social welfare, property, access to the courts and religious freedom". What rights will Irish citizens have, by virtue of their citizenship, over and above the basic rights? For example, what specific rights will refugees not have? Is it only voting rights? I know that certain non-citizens can have full rights extended to them except in the election of a President, or referendum on constitutional amendments. Those rights are only being extended to British citizens at present. Are we only talking about voting rights? Would there be a time period before such rights would apply? For example, let us take the Vietnamese who have been here now for 15 years. Can the Minister say what rights do they not enjoy that Irish citizens enjoy? Can we get some detail as to what is being left out? We know what is being included. Similar rights are mentioned and the rights that are not included are not mentioned. Can the Minister give the committee some guidance on that?

I will have to come back to the Deputy on that. The main right that they do not have, which citizens have, is the right to vote. There are other rights that are conferred by the Constitution specifically on citizens which will not be carried forward to refugees until such time as they become citizens, or take out citizenship.

Would they have the right, for example, to stand in a local election? As far as I understand, you do not have to be a citizen to contest such an election. Other European citizens can stand in local elections. Is it specifically in regard to voting? Are there any other entitlements that they would not have? I accept that the Minister may not have a detailed note and would appreciate if she could drop me a note between now and Report Stage.

I am concerned that one would have two categories of people. Presumably, the Vietnamese who have been here for 15 years have established rights. At what stage did they become entitled to the same rights as a citizen, or indeed to citizenship? Perhaps we could get some detailed information on a situation where one is going to live here for the rest of one's life, and one's children are being brought up in this culture.

I will communicate with the Deputy as soon as possible on that issue. As regards the Vietnamese who have been here for 15 years, or anybody of another nationality who has been here for 15 years, the vast majority of those applied to be naturalised and were granted citizenship. They have all the rights that citizens have. I hope that over time some of the refugees, if not all, who come here will wish to apply for naturalisation and I would be well disposed towards granting citizenship. The Minister has the power to waive the residency conditions in relation to those applicants to allow them to be naturalised.

Question put and agreed to.