Other Questions. - Identity Cards.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

85 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he is considering proposals for the introduction of an identity card for all non-nationals from outside the European Economic Area who are legally resident here; the way in which the proposed card system will work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27645/01]

It has long been the case that, subject to limited exceptions, every non-European Economic Area national present in the State for more than three months is required to register with the Garda Síochána in accordance with Article 11 of the Aliens Order, 1946. On registration, non-nationals are given a Garda registration certificate which includes biographical details, a photograph and passport details. There are two versions of the registration certificate. The older version is commonly referred to as the green book and the second version is a new high security electronically generated card, containing similar details. It is intended that the new card will gradually replace the green book and that within the next 12 months the majority of green books will have been replaced with elec tronically generated cards. The security features embodied in the new card make it extremely difficult for criminals to abuse the cards through counterfeit or forgery.

The new card is a product of the Garda National Immigration Bureau's new computerised information system, launched on 21 September 2001. It reflects a gradual transformation from an entirely paper based registration system to a computerised system. It is planned that the computerised system will be gradually rolled out from the immigration registration office to registration offices throughout the country. The new system facilitates faster throughput of non-national customers and its full effects will be felt when persons who are registered under the new system come to re-register for a second time. Their existing details can be easily accessed and a new card can be issued very quickly in most cases.

The card is a particularly prescient development in the light of the terrorist atrocities in the United States on 11 September. In the immediate aftermath of those incidents, extraordinary meetings of the European Justice and Home Affairs Council took place, at which an extensive and wide-ranging programme of tasks was agreed. In addition, UN Security Council Resolution 1373/2001 of 28 September 2001 imposed significant additional obligations on all UN member states. The obligations require EU and UN states to exercise the utmost vigilance when issuing residence permits and to take measures to prevent counterfeiting, forgery or the fraudulent use of identity documents. One of the main benefits of the new electronic card is that it is far less amenable to such activities than the green book.

Asylum applicants are not obliged to register with the Garda Síochána in the aforementioned manner. Instead, they are issued with a temporary residence certificate by the refugee applications commissioner, in accordance with the provisions of the section 9 of the Refugee Act, 1996, which was commenced in full by me in November last year.

Additional informationThe temporary residence certificate is evidence of the person's entitlement to remain in the State pending a determination of his or her claim for asylum. A person issued with such a certificate is deemed to have complied with the registration requirement contained in the 1946 order. The certificate is an electronically generated card which contains certain biographical details and a photograph.

Deputies should be aware that establishing identity is not an easy process. A birth certificate provides evidence of birth, but does not confirm that the person is still alive or that the individual producing the certificate is the person named on it. In the case of the temporary residence certificate card, it is often the case that there is little evidence available to an asylum applicant to substantiate assertions made as to his or her true identity. Similarly, it can arise in a small number of cases that those who present to the Garda registration officer are unable through no fault of their own to produce a passport or other documentation to establish satisfactorily their identity. This might arise in the case of a successful applicant for refugee status or in the case of a person who is given leave to remain in the State for humanitarian reasons. A balance has to be struck between the cost, practicability and inconvenience of checks and the consequent reliability of the card. This problem is faced by immigration authorities in all jurisdictions.

The aforementioned cards may be distinguished from national identity cards, issued to citizens in a number of European countries and which may be used in lieu of a passport for travel within the European Union. The issuance of such cards to citizens in those countries is subject to a similar level of checks on identity as a passport. The temporary residence certificate card and, to a much lesser extent, the Garda registration certificate card are not always issued on the basis of definitive independent information as to the person's identity. Consequently, while they constitute evidence that the persons named have complied with the requirements of immigration law generally, they are not intended to be used as cards which certify or guarantee the identity of the holder.

What categories of non-nationals would be required to hold such a card? Media reports indicate that it is intended to require such a card for other groups and not just asylum seekers. Is that true? Are only adults required to have a card or must non-nationals who are under age also have one? The Minister indicated that non-nationals would not be required to carry the card in all circumstances. Can he clarify when they would be required to have such a card in their possession?

Under Article 15 of the Aliens Order, 1946 every non-national is required to produce on demand, unless he gives a satisfactory explanation of the circumstances which prevent him from so doing, evidence that he is registered or deemed to be registered, has a Garda registration certificate or temporary residence certificate or a valid passport or some other document satisfactorily establishing his nationality and identity. A failure to comply with this provision constitutes an offence under section 6 of the Aliens Act, 1945.

Any person who, for example, in the future applies for asylum in the State would be obliged to have one of these cards which would be issued to the individual by the relevant authorities. In addition, any person who intends to stay within the State for a period of three months, or more, is obliged to have such a card. The card is renewable on expiration.

Does that include people on work permits or people who have worked here for many years? Many non-nationals have lived and been employed here for a number of years. Are they included in this and are people under adult age also included?

Any person in the State who, for example, obtains a work permit would also require permission from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and this would practically be automatic. A work permit would be for a given period of time and therefore the visa, if you like, would expire with the work permit but both are renewable.