I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring before this House my proposals for putting on a statutory footing the principles governing the power to deport and the procedures to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected when deportation is being contemplated in any case.
Before I deal with the specifics of this important Bill I would like to tell the House briefly about my plans in the coming year for a legislative overhaul of the State's laws in the area of immigration generally and in the related area of asylum and refugees. First, I am pleased to be able to tell the House that I expect to be in a position before Easter to bring forward to the Government proposals for a short amending Bill which will enable me to make the Refugee Act, 1996, fully operational. As the House will recall, that Act was enacted against a backdrop where we had 300 to 400 applications per annum for asylum. It provided that each individual application had to be considered personally by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, where applicable, each appeal had to be considered by a five person appeal board. Clearly in circumstances where the numbers of persons seeking refugee status here had increased from the low hundreds to almost 5,000 last year, those structures are totally unworkable. My amending Bill will primarily concentrate on amending those first instance and appeal structures so that they reflect the current realities and I look forward to having the Refugee Act fully operational in the near future.
Second, the work on drafting legislation to deal with those who seek to exploit asylum seekers by engaging in the appalling and odious trade of trafficking is nearing finalisation. I expect to publish that Bill within weeks.
Third, my Department is working on a major Bill to replace, modernise and codify the law on immigration and residence in the State. The principal legislative measure in place regulating immigration and residence in the State dates back to 1935, that is, the Aliens Act, 1935. I plan to overhaul this Act comprehensively and replace it with a modern code of immigration law which will provide a solid legislative framework for the development and implementation of fair and sensible immigration policies to meet the changing needs of Irish society. The new Act will also, of course, guarantee the rights of non-nationals in their dealings with the law. My intention is that this legislation will be ready for publication later this year. It will, in effect, be the first ever fundamental review of the State's principal legislative measure in the immigration area and I hope that it will give rise to an informed and considered debate both inside and outside the House.
These proposals taken together with the Bill represent my plan for ensuring that in all aspects of immigration law, the principles, practices and procedures will be clearly set out in a comprehensive, modern, fair and just code of statute law. I want to arrive at a situation where the people who operate the immigration and residence legislation and the people whose lives may be affected by its operation can clearly identify what exactly they can expect from the law and what the law expects from them.
I turn now to the Bill before us. It is a progressive measure designed to set out in clear and unambiguous terms who is liable to be deported, the principles and practices which I and my officials must observe in each case before a deportation order can be made and a set of procedures that give an opportunity for the person liable to be deported to make representations and have them heard before the decision to deport is made.
Deportation powers are essential in relation, for example, to those who flout the requirements of immigration and residence law and those who have been convicted of serious crimes or whose removal from the State has been recommended by a court in criminal proceedings. These are people who are liable to be deported under the laws of any state. The Bill identifies the categories of people who may be deported from this State.
The Bill spells out, for the first time in statutory form, the various aspects of each case that must be taken into account. As well as questions of character and conduct, the list includes such matters as the person's domestic circumstances, the nature of the person's links with the State, humanitarian considerations and the person's business and employment record and prospects. The Bill also spells out the requirement to give notice in appropriate cases that deportation is being considered, and gives the person the opportunity to make full representations which must be taken into account.
The immediate background to this Bill is, of course, the judgment of the High Court in the case of Laurentiu v. Ireland, the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, delivered by Mr. Justice Geoghegan on 22 January last. That judgment found that each step in the procedures followed in relation to Mr. Laurentiu's application for asylum, and his subsequent application for leave to remain in the State, was properly carried out. The adverse finding of the court, however, was that the power to make deportation orders vested in the Minister by the Legislature under the Aliens Act, 1935, was vested in a manner inconsistent with Article 15.2.1 of the 1937 Constitution. That article provides that the sole and exclusive power of making laws is vested in the Oireachtas and that no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State.
In so far as many of the provisions contained in this Bill are concerned, it had been my intention to legislate for these matters by way of ministerial orders. Much of the groundwork had already been done, and the relevant orders were about to be made. My intention was to have these provisions in place pending their incorporation in the comprehensive Bill, which I have mentioned at the outset, that is being prepared to replace and codify the law on immigration and residence.
As matters stand, there are no powers to deport non-nationals from the State. In the light of the High Court ruling, it was incumbent on me as Minister to bring forward legislation as a matter of urgency to ensure that the State would have the necessary powers. There is no state which does not have a power to deport. It is a necessary power of all states. Its place in the law has been referred to in a number of judgments. Mr. Justice Geoghegan's judgment in the Laurentiu case, for example, quoted with approval a passage of Mr. Justice Gannon in the 1986 High Court case of Osheku which characterised control of the entry of non-nationals into the State, their departure and their activities and duration of stay within the State as being in the interests of the common good, a fact "recognised universally and from earliest times". He went on to say that "the integrity of the State constituted as it is of the collective body of its citizens within the national territory must be defended and vindicated by the organs of the State and by the citizens so that there may be true social order within the territory and concord maintained with other nations in accordance with the objectives declared in the preamble to the Constitution."
Turning to a separate though related matter, the State's policy on refugees is, as it must be, in accordance with international obligations. These arise by virtue of Ireland's adherence to the principles enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and its related protocol. Simply stated, my policy is to ensure that every non-national who is genuinely in need of the protection of this State is identified and recognised as such as soon as possible after arrival here, so that they can immediately start the process of integration into Irish society and take up the rights to which they are entitled under the convention. The practicalities are that every non-national who enters, and stays in, the State needs to be dealt with as soon as possible after arrival here so that whatever rights they may have to remain in the State can be assessed humanely and fairly. As regards those who come seeking asylum, the resources and the systems are now in place to address every application within a reasonable period of time. This is because one of my first tasks on taking up office was to set about the business of obtaining resources necessary to do the job.
In fairness to those non-nationals who are genuinely in need of the protection of the State in accordance with the norms set down in international conventions, it is necessary to ensure on the other hand that there are no incentives for making ill-founded or speculative claims for asylum. This is because the work needed to deal with such applications gets in the way of the important task of giving early protection to those who are entitled to it. Applications for asylum from those who have already claimed it in another EU state, or who had the opportunity to do so but did not, are returned to that country under the Dublin Convention to be dealt with there.
Another important element is to ensure, as has been advocated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that those whose applications, after a proper hearing with all the necessary safeguards as provided under our present system, turn out to be unsuccessful return to their countries of origin. While some may return willingly, in the final analysis there must be a system of deportation for those who will not so return.
The policy of the Government on immigration is simple. It aims to facilitate people coming here for whatever reason, be it holiday visits, study purposes, business or employment. The expectation is that those wishing to come here do what is expected of any person visiting a country not their own, they comply with the laws of the land, including the requirements of immigration and residence law. The policy is one of welcome, consistent with the administration of justice.
This is not only the background to this Bill but the overall policy and legislative context in relation to all aspects of immigration. I will now discuss, in some detail, the more important features of the Bill.
The first element that is worthy of note is the use of the term "non-national", which is defined in section 1. This expression is more in keeping with modern usage than the term "alien" which has been used in the Aliens Act, 1935 and in all aliens orders made thereunder. That term has a strict legal meaning and is in widespread use in the context of international immigration instruments, for example, the Schengen Agreement. It owes its origin to the Latin noun and adjective alienus, which simply conveys a quality of “elseness”. Nowadays it is more likely to conjure up images of outer space than of people from other countries. I am happier to see its use discontinued. The repeal of the 1935 Act, which I propose in the comprehensive immigration and residence legislation under development, will put an end to its usage altogether.
That said, if there is ever an invasion from outer space, I have no doubt—