Dáil debates

Tuesday, 18 June 2024

International Protection, Asylum and Migration: Motion


4:50 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I remind Members that this debate will adjourn at the end of the second speaking round and resume tomorrow.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to accept the following measures: (a) Directive (EU) 2024/1346 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast),

(b) Regulation (EU) 2024/1347 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection and for the content of the protection granted, amending Council Directive 2003/109/EC and repealing Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council,

(c) Regulation (EU) 2024/1348 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 establishing a common procedure for international protection in the Union and repealing Directive 2013/32/EU,

(d) Regulation (EU) 2024/1350 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 establishing a Union Resettlement and Humanitarian Admission Framework, and amending Regulation (EU) 2021/1147,

(e) Regulation (EU) 2024/1351 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 on asylum and migration management, amending Regulations (EU) 2021/1147 and (EU) 2021/1060 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 604/2013,

(f) Regulation (EU) 2024/1358 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 on the establishment of "Eurodac" for the comparison of biometric data in order to effectively apply Regulations (EU) 2024/1351 and (EU) 2024/1350 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Directive 2001/55/EC and to identify illegally staying third-country nationals and stateless persons and on requests for the comparison with Eurodac data by Member States' law enforcement authorities and Europol for law enforcement purposes, amending Regulations (EU) 2018/1240 and (EU) 2019/818 of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Regulation (EU) No 603/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and

(g) Regulation (EU) 2024/1359 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 addressing situations of crisis and force majeure in the field of migration and asylum and amending Regulation (EU) 2021/1147, a copy of each measure having been laid before Dáil Éireann on 22nd May, 2024.

I am sharing time with the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important issue before the House today. I thank the Minister for Justice for leading the Government on this issue.

Earlier today, the Cabinet met to discuss this pact, which will shape European migration policy for the next decade. As we begin the debate on the pact in the Dail, it is important to first assure the public that there is a strong cross-government response to migration and the increased number of people seeking international protection in Ireland. We understand that the Irish people want to see people fleeing war and persecution treated with compassion. That is what we want to do here in Ireland - treat people with compassion - but we also need to see that balanced with common sense, which means rules being enforced without fear of favour and systems working efficiently. It means government working coherently, not operating in silos, constantly monitoring the situation and consistent, clear decision-making. Today, the Government did just that. We approved a proposal from the Minister for legislation to increase airline fines for people who arrive in Ireland without documents. We agreed a proposal from the Minister to increase the number of people working on processing asylum applications, meaning faster decisions for all, which is in everybody's interest. We agreed to free more gardaí from desk duty, allowing them work on enforcement measures.

In recent weeks, the Government has taken several measures aimed at managing our migration system better. We have designated more countries as safe, meaning quicker processing times. We have started to means-test welfare payments for asylum seekers and have begun reducing the payments to those claiming welfare while working. We have increased workplace inspections to prevent people working in the shadow economy. Through our embassy network, we have made it clear to those seeking asylum that access to accommodation is a huge challenge. The Government will shortly consider further measures on welfare and related matters. These decisions are necessary to ensure Ireland is not out of kilter with our European neighbours.

Ireland is a country shaped by migration. Our history has been woven by generations of Irish people leaving in search of a better life. That has left scars for families across the country, with every community having its tale of loved ones travelling to different corners of the globe. Today, people come to Ireland in search of a better life for themselves and their families. As a nation of migrants, Irish people know the benefits that inward migration can bring. We know migrants are often the people building our homes and infrastructure. They are the nursing home workers, the doctors and the nurses protecting us when we are at our most vulnerable. We know migrants are often the people serving us food in our hotels, restaurants and cafés and driving our taxis, buses and public transport. We know because we were them. This is also our story.

We welcome people to our shores because we know diversity is good, not just for our economy but also for our society. Ireland benefits from immigration. However, Ireland and all countries must have rules that govern the asylum system and must be upheld. Those who enter Ireland and are determined not to have a right to be here will be processed more quickly and asked to leave more quickly. This year alone, 100 people have been prosecuted for failing to have the necessary documents. Deportation orders signed in 2024 are 83% up on the same period last year. Enforced deportations are up 126% and voluntary returns are up 129%.

There is no disguising the fact that inward migration and the scale of increase are posing challenges for communities and societies across the country. We need to be honest about that and to rise to meet those challenges and engage with communities. Towns have seen their populations grow significantly over a short period. Many communities have seen hotels and other facilities taken from public use. These were the unfortunate realities of an emergency response to a number of crises across the world. Today, we are beginning to see some progress because around 15% of hotels that had been used to provide asylum accommodation have now been returned to communities. Over the summer months, more will follow and will be returned back to their original use.

Communities have often been pitted against migrants when, in truth, we need a more managed response and sufficient services for everyone. This is the key point. We must not try to divide communities versus migrants but put a more sustained system in place. By shying away from difficult discussions, those discussions do not disappear. All that happens is that this ground gets ceded to extremists who are then allowed to shape and misshape the conversation and debate. By staying silent, we would allow falsehoods and lies to become common in conversations. As politicians of the centre, we must not shirk our responsibilities. We have a duty to engage with people on the realities we are facing. Ireland is not immune to the rise of the far right and in recent elections, we saw the breakthrough of some candidates. That cannot be overstated but nor should it be underestimated. Those who campaign on the politics of division should not be sneered at or ridiculed. However, their narratives should always be challenged. There is an onus on those of us in public office to do so. This includes our politicians but also people outside of public office and there is the role of media and social media companies.

Over the course of this debate, people may well hear many claims that have little regard to fact. Therefore, let me be clear. There are no unvetted male migrants in this country. There is no "implantation of men" in Ireland and Ireland most certainly is not full. Crime does not increase in locations where asylum seekers are living. These are myths but they are worse than that. They are more than myths. They are designed to sow division and spread fear and it is these narratives that can cause riots in our capital city such as those we saw just last year. It is these untruths that have helped to bring people to politicians' homes to subject some of our families to intimidation. It is this hate that is poisoning people across the country to believe a migrant is the enemy. It needs to be called out because it is this radicalisation that has the potential to spin and spill into violence. It needs to end.

As Taoiseach, it is my absolute priority and duty to ensure Ireland has a coherent and effective migration policy and a whole-of-government approach. It is also my duty and obligation to challenge the extremists who claim to speak for this country, generally with no mandate. Waving a tricolour does not make you a patriot. It does not give you the right to intimidate. Equally, though, we must in these debates be willing to differentiate between the extremes - those on the far right, the so-called patriots with their flag-waving - and legitimate concerns and questions that people in communities across Ireland have and which deserve to be answered.

Ireland cannot allow traffickers and smugglers to decide who enters what country, while making significant money and depriving the most vulnerable of their dignity and belongings. Therefore, our goal must be to join forces with friends and colleagues in Europe to fight illegal migration. That is why this migration pact is essential. Let us be honest. There is no European state, big or small, that can single-handedly resolve this problem. Those that have tried have seen their migration numbers increase. The pact before us is a united effort from Europe, after excruciating work and negotiation over a long period, to ensure we have full control of and responsibility for our European borders and that we have a system in place that works across the European Union for once and for all. This means effective registration and monitoring. It means an effective policy against organised crime gangs and faster, legally binding decisions.

Europe is too divided and too fragmented when it comes to migration policy. By each country just looking at protecting its own border and its own rules, we risk ineffective policies that cause fragmentation and secondary movements. Reducing secondary movement to the European Union is of particular benefit to this country. Due to our geographical location, the majority of applicants have already travelled through another EU country. This pact will prevent that. It will allow return operations for all those ineligible for asylum.

In opening this debate, an important debate and one which the Government will absolutely give ample time to, let me conclude where I began. Ireland is a compassionate country full of decent people. Communities have welcomed refugees to their communities and in the overwhelming number of cases without fuss or fanfare. Communities have shown flexibility and have shown care to those who need it most. They want their Government and their public policymakers to ensure the migration system is bedded in common sense. That is what we are working to do across government. However, we cannot do it on our own.

This European pact provides us with the tools, the laws and the structures we need to combat illegal migration while protecting the most vulnerable from the clutches of criminal gangs. Over the next two days we will hear many colleagues across the House proclaim there are easy solutions to the most challenging circumstances. There are no easy responses on this, but there are practical measures we can take in the here and now, and this pact is one of them. Let us not fall for the trap that the small far right has created. Let us unite in the face of hatred, division and racism. Let us listen to our communities and their genuine issues of concern. Let us show the citizens of Ireland and of the European Union that we, the policymakers, are capable of building a migration system that works. This pact is the first step of cohesion.

5:00 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The measure before this House represents a balanced, ambitious and important initiative to improve the ability of Ireland and our fellow European countries to address very real pressures which have grown due to the scale and nature of migration from outside of Europe. It seeks to ensure that we share burdens, co-operate actively and protect the integrity of the system for protecting those seeking asylum. The asylum and migration pact represents a large-scale restructuring of Ireland's asylum system, a restructuring which will be both firm and fair. It will ensure a faster and more effective system for dealing with applications and directly address issues which have arisen because of the new patterns of migration that have emerged in the past decade.

Let us all be very clear on one thing: those who want to seal off Ireland from the world, those who aspire to some mythical purity on this island know nothing of our past and have nothing to offer a country whose progress and prosperity is fundamentally based on its diversity and engagement with the world. Their attempt to import the "little Englander" mentality continues to be overwhelmingly rejected by the Irish people. As we see every day in culture, sport and enterprise, the Irish people are deeply proud of the diverse faces and histories which represent us to the world. Irishness is not, never has been and must never be something that is fixed and unchanging. The people who fought for and founded our State saw it as a place with multiple identities, open to the world and embodying the most important republican principle of all - to reflect the diversity of its people.

The attempt to exploit sincere concerns about the impact of new levels of migration to Europe must be roundly rejected. We here as democrats must both protect the principles of humanitarian protection and ensure it quickly and efficiently enforces these principles.

A new era of migration is a global phenomenon and one which is impacting on Europe in particular. In one of the most barbaric examples of the threat to shared values in the modern world, we have even seen countries like Syria and Russia seek to use migration as a weapon against democracies.

No country can deal with challenges of migration alone. To address the pressures of migration in each of our states, we must have greater co-operation and co-ordination among countries of origin, transit and neighbouring countries. It is essential that EU member states stand together and respond as one to establish a more coherent approach to migration, asylum, integration and border management. Effective partnership among ourselves and with third countries is indispensable if we are to achieve sustainable results and better management of migratory pressures.

Our work in this area must be always fully consistent with our international legal obligations. We have to address all of the aspects of this extraordinarily complex issue, including responding to the root causes of migration. We need to look for alignment with our European partners in the area of asylum and migration. We need this to strengthen our ability to meet challenges head on. That is why joining the asylum and migration pact is so important. Through this we can deliver an asylum system that is both firm and fair, a system which is more efficient and capable of providing certainty and clarity at a faster rate for those seeking asylum, a system which protects rights but recognises that when a person is not seeking asylum because of legitimate concern about persecution, their cases should be dealt with quickly and they should return to their home countries.

Opting into the pact will allow for better co-ordination between member states particularly by enhancing data sharing. The pact will also facilitate the faster processing of applications as well as quicker returns of inadmissible and failed asylum applicants. Ireland experiences high levels of secondary movement of people who move from other safe countries before applying for asylum here and because of this, the reforms of the pact are essential for us. On top of this, without opting into the pact we would not be able to abandon any solidarity or burden-sharing mechanisms which could, if deemed necessary, alleviate pressures on our asylum system.

The Government has not been waiting on the pact to deliver reform. We are significantly ramping up resources at every stage of the international protection system. This is and will continue to be vital. The Government also introduced accelerated processing for applicants coming from countries that are considered to be safe in November 2022. This has led to a 50% reduction in the applicants coming from those countries. Since then, further countries have been added to the list with more under review. Ireland consistently promotes respect for the obligation on states to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons regardless of their migration status and has taken this approach into all of our international and multilateral engagements.

Through a programme for international development Ireland seeks to address the poverty, instability and lack of opportunity which can leave many people feeling they have no option other than to seek a better life elsewhere. We are committed to working towards a world in which migration is safe, orderly and regular, as called for in the global compact for migration.

We also work with international organisations for migration on issues around disinformation on migration and on harnessing the potential of diasporas to contribute to development in countries of origin and destination.

At the second global refugee forum in December 2023, Ireland made a number of pledges, including on resettlement, complementary safety and legal pathways for admission of refugees, and increased support for international agencies. It is important for us all to note the huge amount of work that will need to be undertaken to operationalise the pact at the same time as other member states in 2026. Work on transposing legislation will begin as soon as possible. Therefore, it is vital that the Commission is notified of Ireland's intention to opt in in the coming weeks. The European Commission has published a common implementation plan to support the development of member states' national implementation plans, which must be produced by December. The European Commission will also support member states with a substantial European Union budget to support implementation of the pact as well as technical and operational support to overhaul their national systems over the coming years. This funding will be distributed through the European Union Asylum Migration and Integration Fund and will help member states in areas such as IT and systems development.

I strongly believe that Ireland's opting into the asylum and migration pact represents the most realistic chance of creating a system that can process asylum applicants as fast as possible and as fairly as possible, and protect the integrity of the asylum system. Our opting into the pact at this stage demonstrates our engagement at an EU level on a global challenge. Through greater co-ordinated action with other EU member states, we can address gaps and key inefficiencies in our current system and ensure those with a valid asylum claim are offered the protection they need.

The pact will ensure a fair sharing of responsibility through stronger governance of asylum and migration policies across the European Union. Central to the pact is reducing movement within European countries, greater data sharing and situational awareness, faster processing and an increased focus on swift returns. Each of these is vital for Ireland in dealing with a challenge of a scale beyond anything we have experienced in the past.

We know that migration requires a humane, comprehensive and co-ordinated European response. The decision on who comes to Europe cannot be left to smugglers putting vulnerable people's lives at risk. The pact will ensure fair, efficient and effective action to manage new pressures from migration. Participation in the pact is essential for Ireland, and moving forward with preparations must start as quickly as possible.

5:10 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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It is a really important debate we are having today, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the benefits of the migration and asylum pact and to outline once again and to stress that inward migration has been hugely positive for Ireland. It has provided significant benefits to our economy and to our society. We can all see this in our hospitals, in our nursing homes, in our hospitality sector and in our agriculture and food processing sectors. We only have to look at the figures. Last year alone, 31,000 employment permits were issued, more than 10,000 of which were issued to people in the health and social work sector. We all have our own stories. My little boy, when he was six months old, had to go into hospital for a number of days. Many of the staff, the doctors and nurses who looked after and minded him, were not born in Ireland or the European Union. We all see the benefits and know that so many of our sectors would be lost without these people. They also contribute significantly to our tax revenue by €3 billion every year. In discussing migration, I am also conscious that Irish people emigrated to every corner of the planet in search of a better life. For a country with a population of more than 5 million people, there are 70 million people who are part of the diaspora and claim Irish descent. Migration is clearly a part of the Irish story.

In the context of the pact we are discussing today we see more people on the move than at any time since the Second World War. War, conflict, famine, persecution, climate change and poverty are driving these people to seek a better life. The invasion of Ukraine, the war in Syria, and ongoing wars and conflicts in Africa are all driving migration. As we have heard, we are also seeing migration weaponised by countries, including Russia, that seek to undermine our democracies and radicalise political discourse. This was made clear to me in the past few days by ministers in the Scandinavian and Baltic member states, in particular, when attending the Justice and Home Affairs Council. They outlined their concerns and the challenges they are facing. What is clear from these conversations and those referenced by the Taoiseach is that we cannot deal with what is a global and European challenge on our own. The EU migration and asylum pact, which has been negotiated over many years, has now become EU law and represents the collective effort of the European Union to manage this issue and to develop an approach which is firm, but fair, while working with countries to address the root causes of migration. We are here opting into the EU migration and asylum pact. There are those who claim we can go it alone. There are those who claim that Ireland is full, but they have no plan. They have no plan to deal with this challenge and no plan to provide support for those who need it. They have no plan whatsoever.

All the while, like many countries, we have seen and continue to see a significant increase in the number of people applying for international protection. However, it is clear that our system was designed to deal with a volume of applications far lower than we are currently dealing with. Our international protection system is under considerable pressure, but we are responding. We are not waiting. We have ramped up investment in staff, introduced and accelerated our processing system and are strengthening our returns system. The pact presents a significant opportunity to further reform and improve the operation of the international protection system. The legislation we have, which is the 2015 Act, is no longer fit for purpose. Subject to motions being passed in the Dáil and Seanad, I will begin preparations for implementation of the pact, and this will include a new Bill to repeal and replace the International Protection Act 2015. This will be done in parallel with a complete re-engineering of our entire system from start to finish. We need a system that works faster, that enables people granted protection to quickly obtain status, integrate and start a new life, but also ensures the efficient removal of those who are not entitled to be here.

I will give a brief overview of the pact. First, the screening regulation will apply where a person first enters the EU irregularly or is identified in a member state without permission. Such people will be required to undergo a screening procedure within seven days at most. This will consist of identification or verification of identity. There will be health and vulnerability checks, security checks, fingerprints and registration in what is known as the Eurodac database. While we cannot opt into this measure because we are not members of Schengen, we will align our laws with this system to ensure we can benefit from the data which is gathered throughout Eurodac, while also providing this data to other member states. At the end of the screening, all people will be directed to relevant procedures. There will be four procedures, all common across the EU. There will be a border procedure, an accelerated procedure, an inadmissibility procedure and an ordinary or standard procedure.

The most significant change is the introduction of a new mandatory border procedure. This will apply to people who have misled authorities, by destroying identity documents for example, who are a danger to national security or public order, or who come from countries with a 20% or lower approval rate for asylum applications across the EU. Those who are processed under the border procedure will not be authorised to enter Ireland and will be accommodated at designated locations. Their applications must be processed within three months, and if unsuccessful, they will be removed within a further three months at most. Ireland already operates an accelerated procedure, for people from safe countries of origin, for example. Since this was introduced in November 2022, the number of people applying from these countries has dropped by 50%. The new regulation will make accelerated processing mandatory for certain applicants and include a three-month deadline for first decisions on such cases. Ireland also already operates an inadmissibility procedure, for people who have already been granted asylum elsewhere. Again, the new regulation requires decisions to be made in the first instance within two months. The ordinary procedure, which is the standard process for international protection applicants introduces a six-month deadline. We will also legislate for appeals timelines, and will, of course, be ambitious in our targets. On identity checking and secondary movements, the Eurodac regulation will give Ireland access to improved IT systems that allow us to carry out these additional checks.

The new regulation expands the scope for wider immigration purposes to include asylum applicants, irregular migrants apprehended at the border, irregular migrants found to be illegally staying, new categories for people who have disembarked following search and rescue operations and beneficiaries of temporary protection. It will also now include children aged six and above, in particular to enhance protections for children and to combat child trafficking. Accessing information on which member state is responsible will help with returning secondary movers to the correct member state. We will, importantly, have access to this security information, where applicable, from screening checks in other member states.

As a country we experience a high level of secondary movement. This is where someone applies for asylum in another member state and then applies in Ireland. The pact provides us with the legal tools necessary to ensure we can return an applicant to the first member state where an international protection application is already lodged. We have heard time and again that the Dublin III regulation is not fit for purpose. It does not work. It will be replaced by the pact. If we do not opt in, therefore, we will have absolutely no legal basis to return people to other member states. The pact will make the transfer process clear. It introduces timelines for the issuing of transfer notifications. It replaces the current take-back request with a simpler take back notification, which will reduce administrative burdens on the current system. It will allow us to identify and return secondary movers to the correct member state responsible, freeing up our own system to assist those seeking international protection swiftly and efficiently.

There are also those who say this will be a cost to Ireland. Of course, there will be a cost in making sure we can ramp up our processing. However, there will be more significant costs if we do not opt in. It is likely we would face higher levels of secondary movement, slower processing and a less efficient returns system. This would result in applicants staying much longer in accommodation and making sure we have to pay for that, as well as other supports. We would not have access to the €1 billion of funding, which will be available to member states to implement the pact across the EU. Further funding will be made available. We need to invest in the system now to make sure it does not cost us in the long run. There are Deputies in the House who say we should abandon European solidarity in favour of going it alone. There are no plans being provided for this option.

Other measures in the pact include a harmonisation of reception conditions across member states, including accommodation and subsistence provisions. Again, this is to reduce incentives for individuals to move from one member state to another. The pact also establishes a new solidarity mechanism to ensure the fair sharing of responsibility across the EU. We will decide annually how we opt into that. It is not true to say that we will have to accept 30,000 people every year, which is being said by Deputies and Senators. Nor will we be fined hundreds of millions of euro. We will be asked to accept 648 people every year or pay a financial contribution. That decision is completely up to us. Any decision to change those figures or that overall system would have to be agreed by all justice ministers across the EU. What this has done is to show solidarity with member states.

We think of those countries on the front line, where there is an unprecedented number of people seeking protection along their shores, such as Greece and Italy. We have to show solidarity and support.

Of course, we are not waiting on the pact to introduce changes. Already, I have doubled the number of staff in the International Protection Office, which has tripled the number of decisions, with further increases planned for this year and next. I introduced fast-track processing in November 2022, as I mentioned earlier, leading to a 50% reduction in applications from those countries. I have suspended visa-free travel for certain refugees and added more countries to the visa-required list. We have ensured over 3,000 doorstep operations were carried out on flights that posed a risk of irregular migration, to the end of May of this year. I am legislating to increase fines on carriers from the current maximum of €3,000 to €5,000. All these changes have meant that in the past two years, the number of people coming through our ports and airports without the correct documentation has reduced by 40%. I am freeing up 100 gardaí from back-office roles to support immigration enforcement activities, including deportations, and we have seen over recent months prosecutions for people arriving without appropriate documentation, a significant number of whom have been imprisoned.

I am continuing to look at additional measures that can be taken in the coming weeks. This includes continuing to ramp up investment in staffing and capacity. Today, I brought a memo to Cabinet setting out how we will hire 400 more staff to bring us in line and to ramp up the system from start to finish. I will complete the review of additional safe countries in the coming weeks, extend restrictions on visa-free travel for certain countries and complete a tender for charter aeroplanes to return unsuccessful applicants. All this work is under way to make sure we are ready to join the pact in two years' time.

As I have said, the pact presents us with an opportunity to completely reform and re-engineer our systems, and I ask those Deputies who are opposing it what their solutions and plans here are. I have outlined some of the benefits to Ireland from joining the pact. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out, and this goes to the Taoiseach's point, that we are a compassionate country and that we want to support those who need our protection and our help. The pact holds benefits for those applicants themselves. It will establish a faster, fairer processing of asylum applications across the EU, providing for appeals and safeguards for vulnerable people, in particular protecting children who are seeking our protection. The pact is a way for us to deal with and respond to what is a global and significant challenge, ensuring we have a system that is firm but fair - fair to those who genuinely need our protection and help but firm to those who do not. I commend this motion to the House.

5:20 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Government is wrong to adopt the EU migration pact. That it did not even consider, it seems, exercising Ireland's opt-out from any element of the pact is shocking. Migration is a challenging issue. We must, of course, respect international law and co-operate with other states but, ultimately, migration policy must be set by an Irish Government elected by the Irish people. We must retain the flexibility we currently have. Only by retaining the powers to make our own decisions on migration will we have a rules-based system that is properly managed and fair, that applies common sense and common decency and that recognises the unique challenges Ireland faces. The reality of the common travel area with Britain has not been calculated or considered at all by the Government, it seems. Retaining the power to make decisions in Ireland - standing up for Irish sovereignty - is a key principle in a healthy relationship with the European Union. It informs our position regarding retention of powers in Ireland on taxation, on foreign affairs and defence and on migration. In each of these cases, power should remain with the Irish Government.

The world is, as has been said, experiencing an ever-increasing rate of instability and volatility and this is a major factor in how the issue of migration manifests itself in the here and now. Putin's criminal invasion of Ukraine has seen the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War, dramatically increasing the number of people seeking refuge across the EU. The impact of climate change, persecution, war, famine and natural disaster sees people flee the global south for their lives and run the gauntlet of conflict, boiling hot deserts, human traffickers, sexual violence and extortion. Thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to make it to Europe in search of safety and sanctuary. This human catastrophe is born of global inequality and injustice that has persisted for generations, an inequality rooted in western colonialism and its devastating legacy of exploitation of resources, structural disadvantage, construction of divisions that fuel conflict and civil war, and the failure of the West to address these injustices. Becoming a refugee is a desperate act of survival. Those seeking refuge in Ireland must be treated with respect and dignity, their human rights fully vindicated. A fully resourced, efficient immigration system is central to vindicating those rights. A transparent system of rules, rules which are enforced, is at the heart of protecting the vulnerable and ensuring a system that works and enjoys public confidence and public support.

The truth is the Government has failed to plan and resource a functioning immigration system and that failure belongs to this Government alone, just as the Government failure to provide homes, medical care, childcare and so many other basic essentials to our citizens also rests with the Government. Those who would seize on Government failure in order to whip up fear, tension and division are wrong. They want to punch down instead of up, to blame the immigrant for everything and the Government for nothing, it seems. The reality is the Government's approach has been utterly shambolic, a chaotic mess, evidenced best by the tent cities that sprung up in Mount Street and along the banks of the Grand Canal here in Dublin. It is, therefore, no surprise that people wonder whether anybody competent is in charge. The Government has caused a scenario of division and tension within communities. It has caused ordinary people who have no truck with bigotry or racism, but who are concerned, to feel isolated and unheard for fear of being branded a racist should they open their mouths. That is wrong. The lack of proper community consultation from the Government has been a disaster, and those on the Government benches should take responsibility for it. They have served to fan the flames of distrust and tension. Just as they correctly call out the far right, the hard right or those who seek to weaponise resource shortages against vulnerable people, their responsibility for this mess has to be named and identified also.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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And yours.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The increasing number of people seeking asylum places an onus on every government, including theirs, to plan and resource an immigration system that is fit for purpose and that safeguards social cohesion as well, and that has not happened. Now, by opting in to the EU pact, the Government compounds its failure and shirks its leadership and responsibility. It proposes to hand responsibility and power for Ireland's immigration policies over to Brussels lock, stock and barrel. Signing up to this pact in its entirety ties the hands of future Irish Governments to set common-sense policies that are best for Ireland. These decisions are best taken here in Ireland. Agreeing to this pact represents a dangerous erosion of Irish sovereignty.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It does not.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am an Irish republican. I lead an Irish republican party. I believe passionately in the principles of equality and inclusion. I despise every form of bigotry, sectarianism, racism, exclusion and discrimination. For our part, our commitment to equality includes tackling wealth inequality, standing up for working-class communities, for ordinary people and families and for carers, and investing in communities that have been failed and ignored by successive Governments. This is the lens through which I, as an Irish republican, view everything, including migration. It must be for an Irish Government to decide key aspects of our immigration policy. That is how we best achieve an immigration system that is fair, efficient and enforced, an immigration system that protects the human rights of applicants and safely returns those who are not granted status here, a system that upholds the functioning of the nation for all who call Ireland home, a system that ensures fairness, decency, common sense, the protection of human rights and that also commands public support and public confidence.

5:30 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "to accept the following measures" up to and including the words "migration and asylum and amending Regulation (EU) 2021/1147" and substitute the following: "(a) Regulation (EU) 2024/1351 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 on asylum and migration management, amending Regulations (EU) 2021/1147 and (EU) 2021/1060 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 604/2013, and

(b) Regulation (EU) 2024/1358 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2024 on the establishment of 'Eurodac' for the comparison of biometric data in order to effectively apply Regulations (EU) 2024/1351 and (EU) 2024/1350 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Directive 2001/55/EC and to identify illegally staying third-country nationals and stateless persons and on requests for the comparison with Eurodac data by Member States' law enforcement authorities and Europol for law enforcement purposes, amending Regulations (EU) 2018/1240 and (EU) 2019/818 of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Regulation (EU) No 603/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council".

We oppose this motion. Where Sinn Féin stands on the issue of migration is similar to where the vast bulk of Irish people stand. We believe in common sense and common decency. Most people recognise that where people are genuinely fleeing war and oppression, they deserve protection and support. Most Irish people recognise that many migrants make a huge contribution to Irish society. Most people also agree that this must be on the basis of rules and where there are rules, they must be applied. They want to see resources prioritised to those who need them most. It is clear resources are currently scarce and under severe pressure. People do not want to see a migration system that is unmanaged. They do not want to see a system that is slow, inefficient and fails to follow through. They want to see a system that is fair, efficient and enforced. The rules must be followed up on and where someone is deemed not to be in genuine need of international protection, he or she needs to be returned.

Irish people want to see a system that applies common sense and common decency. There is no sense in the Government's approach to the migration pact. The Minister confirmed to me at the justice committee that absolutely no consideration was given to not opting in to all of this pact.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I would not have done-----

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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That is what you said. I asked a you a very straight question and you said the answer to that first question is "No." That is what you said. We can look back at the record afterwards but you said very clearly that no consideration was given, and I checked it again this morning. It was a reckless and not thought-through approach.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I am not disputing that there is nothing that does not benefit us.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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You can clarify that in the closing remarks but what is on the record is crystal clear, Minister. This is a reckless and not thought-through approach and the public would be absolutely astonished at this. We are in a unique position. We share a common travel area with Britain as we have for the guts of a century. We have considerations that no other country has because of that travel area. It is my view that it is a mistake not to ensure we have flexibility. If we are tied in to the EU system entirely we reduce our ability to respond and legislate in a bilateral way with Britain. We are not blind to the necessity of international co-operation where that is necessary and where it makes sense. We would and do support measures that are in the interest of Ireland where we believe international co-operation makes sense. We have to be able to return those who seek to make an asylum application here to the first country where an international protection applicant has made a claim. That is why we support opting into the asylum and migration management regulation. We have to be able to access the fingerprint database at Eurodac and all the data associated with that to ensure we have information on who enters the State and to assist with vetting, conducting checks, tackling child trafficking and returning asylum seekers where appropriate. That is why we support the Eurodac regulation which makes provision for those legislative powers. However, we will oppose opting into the measures that are not helpful and which give powers to the EU and will tie the hands of future Irish Governments. We oppose opting into the procedures regulation, the crisis and force majeure regulation, the qualifications directive, the reception conditions directive and the EU resettlement framework. We do so because we are opposed to the Government's plan to opt Ireland in fully to the migration pact. This is an issue of Irish sovereignty and flexibility into the future. Signing up to the migration pact will tie the hands of future Irish Governments. There are decisions that are better to be made in Ireland and the Minister herself has outlined the various things she believes she can do without the migration pact. It is our view that much more can still be done.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin is opting in to the bulk of it.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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No, if the Tánaiste listens back that is not the case. Only by retaining the powers to make our own decisions on migration will we maintain a system that is properly managed and fair and that applies common sense and common decency. It does not make sense to give up that flexibility.

Sinn Féin also opposes the migration pact because there are significant human rights concerns. Several human rights organisations outlined a number of concerns to the justice committee regarding the potential in some of the provisions of the pact and the welfare of vulnerable asylum seekers. We know the stories about detention centres in countries such as Greece. In recent days the BBC carried horrific reports of migrants deliberately thrown into the sea and put out to sea. These are stories that would make one's blood run cold. The EU is complicit in this. The EU migration pact does not address these serious shortcomings in EU migration policy. Migration does not arise from nowhere. It is caused by war, conflict, poverty, inequality and climate change and Ireland should have a role in peace and conflict resolution.

I will comment briefly on the plague that is racist commentary and that unfortunately has become too commonplace in society and particularly online. It is truly a disgrace that people chose to attack someone who brought such pride to Ireland as Rhasidat Adeleke with some even seeking to question her Irishness. It is a disgrace that we have seen people attacked and killed for not speaking English as was Josip Štrok in west Dublin. We must take every opportunity to stand against such hatred. There are people who seek to stoke division. This is quite different from those who have genuine concerns about migration. There are undoubtedly ways of raising those issues. I recognise that people have concerns and it is important that Irish politics does not repeat the mistakes made elsewhere of discarding entirely people who have such reservations. People are entitled to have their views and express them. Many people have expressed such concerns to me in respectful ways that I can comprehend but that can never justify violence and racism.

I acknowledge some recent developments. I note the Government has now moved on what Sinn Féin said with regard to chartering flights. I also welcome what the Minister said about 400 additional staff which is another thing Sinn Féin would have been calling for in addition to the point about increased fines on airlines. This is another point Sinn Féin advocated for and I am glad the Minister is listening to some of those points and I hope she will listen to further points. With regard to chartering flights, where this has utility and we do not disagree with it, it would be far more effective to ensure the rules are in fact applied and enforced because the attitude of this Government seems to be that it is not worth the trouble of following up and ensuring people have left. Just as I said that people recognise the need to provide protection for people who need it, people also recognise the rules must mean something. In 2022, there were 5,711 applications for asylum refused, withdrawn or inadmissible with 948 - or 10% - of applicants issued with orders and only 52 of those orders enforced by the GNIB. Of that 948, 317 applicants were then confirmed to have left by the Department of Justice. That is a small portion of them. In 2024, of 586 orders there were 220 confirmed returned by the Department of Justice. Again this is a minority of those concerned.

This Government's policy is not to follow up on applications and expect unsuccessful asylum seekers to debark themselves without oversight and verification. If someone is willing to leave themselves, voluntarily, that is better for everyone, but if that is not the case the rules have to be enforced and it has become clear the authorities do not know where many international protection applicants are. Our system must be fair, efficient and enforced and in my evaluation it fails on all three counts.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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This is a welcome but delayed debate. The justice committee completed its report on the migration pact on 2 May but the Government postponed the debate until after the election. A response to a parliamentary question submitted in April confirmed the Government was in preparation for the implementation of the pact and it said that:

While Ireland has not yet opted-into most of the Pact measures ... other Member States will be bound by them two years after they are adopted [and] Member States are beginning to prepare their transposing legislation ... for the Pact to go live in 2026.

Meanwhile, others have been using migration to undermine the case for a new Government, for a fresh approach, and change that is needed in housing, health, employment and education. In the local election debate, I saw some people trying to drag the debate and other politicians into the gutter, telling untruths about asylum seekers, about politicians, about the Garda, and questioning the right of Irish citizens to even run in the election. Sinn Féin supports a regulated system of immigration and asylum that allows for asylum seekers to be processed expeditiously and for those with qualifications in areas where there are shortages, such as in our nursing homes, to be welcomed here. The asylum system has been broken for some time. The Government has failed to accommodate people, failed to give them proper decisions expeditiously, and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in charge of this entire mess for decades now. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seem to oppose their own policy on asylum and migration or certainly have not budgeted for it when they trumpet the announcement. Green Party Ministers are being left isolated and left to deal with the mess within accommodation and we are left with a not-for-profit approach followed steadfastly by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael since the former introduced it nearly 20 years ago as a supposed stopgap but it has cost the State more and more and has created divisions within communities.

The removal of asylum seeker tents and the lack of consultation with communities arose from this approach and while the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the increase of international protection applicants are challenges, the Government has shown no real inclination to fix the issues up to now.

One of the simple reasons this is the case is reliance on private operators and ignoring State-led solutions. When left to the market, accommodation will inevitably only be provided where it is profitable to do so. This means interim accommodation in villages, towns and areas outside towns where property prices are low and businesses are struggling. People living there are inevitably struggling themselves meaning resentment can be stoked by the far right, which is increasingly organised and dangerous. I saw some videos that were treated as amusing in the local elections at the beginning but, in their attacks, were certainly not funny. Previous analyses have showcased that some areas have had to carry a larger share of the burden. It is within this context that we must consider the pact and the measures therein.

We need to retain our common sense remembering our history of emigration and reaching out in support of people in countries that have struggles, and we need flexibility. There are major human rights concerns in this criticism of the pact and the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice highlighted this. We listened to the concerns of organisations regarding the border procedure, the possibility of detentions and the welfare of vulnerable asylum seekers and we share concerns around detention, assessments, inspections and implementation. We heard reference to the nine migrants overboard and are also aware that in 2023, more than 2,500 human beings were reported dead or disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea. People escaping conflict and persecution or seeking economic security have faced illegal pushbacks and arbitrary detention and rescue at sea is not addressed here.

It is possible to adopt some of these regulations and not others. We should control our immigration rules at national level. Most of the measures in the pact are not in Ireland's interest. We must retain our discretion. We are unique within the EU in having only one land border - one we, of course, want to remove. We are also the only jurisdiction that speaks English, our island cannot be easily reached by small boats and we have a unique culture of emigration and solidarity.

There are also unknowable elements in the future. Signing up to the pact wholesale will limit Ireland’s ability to respond to these challenges. Preparing our own safe country list is also vital. Regarding the assessment of conditions in other countries, while we should look at what happens in the UK and the rest of Europe, we should take into account what Human Rights Watch and the UN are saying.

We need to understand and appreciate the reasons for this crisis and opt into regulations where European co-operation is crucial, including an approach that opts us into Eurodac for vetting and allowing safe return but not considering our own policies and other regulations is irresponsible. For those reasons, we cannot support the pact in full and will vote accordingly.

5:40 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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There is no logical basis for a wholesale opt in to the EU asylum and migration pact. Ireland has opt-outs for a reason. We are an island nation divided into two political jurisdictions, one of which has been forced out of the EU; our nearest neighbour has left the EU; and we are a part of a common travel area. Future Governments will need flexibility to deal with future challenges. What the Government is proposing to this House is that it will tie the hands of this State to meet those challenges.

How many times in this Chamber does a Minister respond to a sensible and practical proposal with the assertion that it cannot be implemented because of EU constraints? Today the Minister wants to add to those constraints. We can opt into some parts of this pact and opt out of others and that is what we should do. We should opt into those parts that are necessary to have a fair, efficient and enforced asylum system, namely, those parts that provide for the return to international protection applicants and those that allow for the sharing of information, and opt out of those that are not necessary, namely, measures that could as easily be enacted domestically or that could prevent governments taking emergency or speedy decisions. That the Minister has confirmed that she has not even given any consideration to opting out of most or even some of this pact is not only a failure on her part, it verges on maladministration. If the Government moves full throttle to sign up to every part of the migration and asylum pact, the only meaningful outcome will be the undermining of sovereignty and our ability to make decisions at home. It will not change the fundamental failures of this Government. It will not address the accommodation shortage that has disgracefully resulted in vulnerable people being forced to sleep on the streets or in tents. It will not address the concerns of communities that have been ignored and dismissed by Government, which has allowed private operators to make millions of euro while ignoring the capacity of those local communities and the public services on which they rely. It will not deliver a fair, efficient and enforced system. To be clear about what that means, a fair system is one that treats those seeking asylum with dignity and respect and ensures adequate engagement with communities before, not after, decisions that affect them are made. An efficient system is one that processes applications quickly and ensures that those who are eligible to remain are welcomed into society and supported in entering into their communities to make a positive contributions to them. An enforced system is one that quickly returns those who are not eligible to remain to their state of origin. None of that is beyond our ability, although it does appear it is beyond the competence of the Government. Things can be done better by a better government but this Government is trying to make things more difficult for its successors by signing us up to a pact from which we will not be able to withdraw. It is not acceptable and this House must make a stand by rejecting the Government motion before us.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Labour Party in this debate. Recent debates on immigration have been dominated by disinformation. This is regrettable because it is essential we stick to the facts. It is important to state unequivocally that seeking asylum is a human right and that under international law, everyone has the right to apply for asylum if they are fleeing conflict or persecution nor can any state opt out of that fundamental international legal obligation. One might not think this was the case listening to some electioneering and scaremongering in recent weeks but that is the fact.

A further fact is that when we talk about immigration and the right to seek asylum, we are speaking about people - human beings like us who are seeking refuge here. Ours is a welcoming country. Sometimes the bad news stories dominate. Across the country, communities have welcomed and offered huge supports to those who have come here fleeing the war in Ukraine and war and persecution elsewhere. In my constituency, I have been proud to work with residents' groups and committed volunteers through Dublin 6 and Dublin 4 for all groups. It has been really emotional to meet with some of those who sought asylum here. These are people who when I first met them six or eight months ago knew nobody but are now embedded in their community such as the young man in Rathmines I met this morning who came here fleeing persecution and who now has a job and is embedded in sports clubs. Knowing and befriending many of those who have come to seek refuge has deepened my own dismay at the toxicity of this debate. I acknowledge the very positive messages and speeches from the Government side on the benefits of inward migration for Ireland. My own family is a testament to that. My grandfather sought refuge here with his young family after the horrors of the Second World War and built up Waterford Glass. Those are the sort of positive benefits we have seen. All of us must stand firm against racism and anti-migrant sentiments. We have seen far too much of that in the recent elections, particularly directed against candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, which was appalling to witness.

We in Labour agree with the need for a cross-EU approach to migration and migration policy. We cannot pretend that this is something that any EU state can go it alone on because people will always be forced to leave their homes to go somewhere safer. As global conflicts worsen, the climate crisis deepens and as we see appalling horrors in Gaza and so many other countries such as Afghanistan, we know people are fleeing their homes for safer places. That trend will not reverse so the notion that we can go it alone when this is a global issue does not hold water. I do not agree with those in opposition who suggest that this is the case. Even this pact has many positive aspects such as measures to speed up the processes because long delays in our own asylum system have been chronic and the effects of those delays on the welfare of individuals and families have been well-documented by many journalists such as Shamim Malekmian of the Dublin Inquirer. We also need measures like the Eurodac regulation because we know the status quo in Ireland is not working and is failing those trapped for too long in the international protection system and those being moved along in tents in my constituency and elsewhere without any adequate provision of accommodation. We agree in principle with a cross-European approach. I am a committed European as are my Labour colleagues. I believe that the EU, founded as a peace project, can be a social Europe that protects and bolsters human rights across the continent but this involves solidarity with the global south and persecuted peoples around the world. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is a hardening of attitudes against those from the global south. This has been well documented by Irish writers. In her amazing book My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World's Deadliest Migration Route, Sally Hayden charted the unthinkable human cost of detention camps in other countries that are operated in complicity with the EU.

She spoke so eloquently about EU complicity with human rights abuses in the Mediterranean Sea where so many people have tragically met their deaths while attempting to enter Europe. I am thinking of the Irish writer Paul Lynch, whose Booker winning Prophet Songsets out in articulate detail how families can get to a point where they are forced to put to an unsafe sea to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Warsan Shire, a British Somali poet, wrote "[N]no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark ... you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land". That is the crux of this issue when we debate migration.

Seeking asylum, fleeing one's home and risking one's personal and family safety is not something anyone does lightly. Asylum seekers and those who seek refuge should be treated with dignity because all people should be treated with dignity. We are fortunate that we are in a safe and peaceful country, but many others are not. The EU should, therefore, be able to devise a more humane approach in solidarity with those who flee persecution. What we should be seeing from the EU is a greater commitment to establishing cross-European legal pathways for those who wish to bring their families here, and bring their skills and expertise and forge a better life. Why not an EU-wide or Donnelly visa approach which operated successfully for so many Irish people in the US? That is the sort of solidarity mechanism the EU should develop.

Instead, in other aspects of the migration pact, beyond those I have mentioned, we are seeing, unfortunately, a worsening of human rights standards. That is why we in Labour have strong objections to elements of the pact, while acknowledging that the principle of co-operation is necessary. As I said, we have seen the hardening position on migrant rights across Europe and elements of the pact bear out that. We have strong misgivings about the impact of some elements of the pact on the right to claim asylum and the potential for worsening conditions in detention and reception centres.

As I said, our current lack of capacity to accommodate those who seek refuge here is already untenable. It is indefensible that the Government has not implemented the Catherine Day report and put in place the necessary capacities. It is unsustainable and inhumane to keep putting up barriers to prevent people from sleeping in public places, and yet not providing them with anywhere else to go. We are seeing that daily on the canals and in public parks a stone's throw from here.

Our current system is not sustainable, but there are worse systems already in place in other countries. Detention measures have been implemented in other countries such as Italy, where Giorgia Meloni's far right government is in situ. We are concerned that mechanisms such as the asylum procedure regulation, APR, will render Ireland in a position whereby we are taking steps that are incompatible with human rights protections. The APR contains a border procedure which could block the entry of asylum seekers to member states, thereby creating a legal fiction of non-entry where a person is physically in a country but not legally regarded as being present in that country with, therefore, an erosion of human rights. This could impact in particular on survivors of human trafficking with limited access to legal representation.

We will also see a worsening of the conditions in which people may be detained. In Ireland, we have correctly criticised that sort of mechanism where it has happened elsewhere, such as on the border in the US or in Russia. Yet, there is no clarity as to how this measure will be implemented here. We need clarity. I am mindful that organisations like the Irish Refugee Council have warned that the migration pact, if implemented here, will lead to fewer safeguards and increased levels of detention and destitution among people seeking protection in Ireland.

We must also recall that there has been a lot of discussion about illegal entry to the country, without document or passports. We have to recall that there are countries like Afghanistan from where so many people have been forced to flee. Most who manage to get out of Afghanistan have no alternative but to travel without a passport or any legal document. Those without documentation are being unnecessarily disparaged in public discourse.

Under the APR, it is not those without documentation who would potentially be subject to a lessening of human rights protection; those arriving from countries with a recognition rate of 20% or less would also be affected. The APR procedure, coupled with limited vulnerability assessments, make up a dangerous combination when it comes to ensuring the continued human rights protections of those who are among the most vulnerable on earth.

As a former legal practitioner, I want to close by mentioning my concerns in respect of people's recourse to the courts under aspects of the pact. When we opt into a discretionary EU measure, we vote to suspend the application of the Constitution to that. While the EU charter on human rights will continue to apply, our courts will lose the ability to apply Irish constitutional principles. That is not to be taken lightly. It makes it all the more regrettable that we have not been provided with the opportunity to debate each aspect of the pact in the Oireachtas, as we sought. Instead, we are being given the opportunity to vote on a take-it-or-leave-it approach. That is a mistake and it is regrettable that we will be forced to vote against the Government motion tomorrow.

As I said, we are concerned about aspects of the pact and that some measures of the package will result in a deterioration in standards and the introduction of an asylum procedure which does not respect basic rights or contain safeguards for vulnerable applicants. We are concerned that, just as occurs currently with our emissions targets and other legal limits, the solidarity measures in the pact may see Ireland simply paying out from a budget surplus rather than offering support to our fair share of those who need help. While the Government has provided assurances that our way of implementing this pact will be more humane than other countries, nonetheless there are aspects of the pact that raise serious concerns about human rights protections.

5:50 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Opting into the pact is Ireland's opportunity to undertake co-ordinated wide-reaching reforms in an area that has seen mounting public interest in recent times. It will provide better co-ordination between member states, the faster processing of applications and return of inadmissible and failed asylum applicants, reduced secondary movement and enhanced data sharing and screening through an improved Eurodac system.

We in Ireland have seen record numbers of asylum applications in recent years, with 13,651 international protection applications lodged in 2022, representing a 415% increase from 2021 figures. This trend is broadly comparable to what we are seeing in Europe, where there was a large influx of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 and again in 2022 and 2023. The reforms as presented in the pact can be seen against a backdrop of the long-standing challenges faced by member states in dealing with the increase in the number of asylum applications. There is also an indication that this record will abate in an increasingly unstable world.

One challenge the pact seeks to address is the enhancement of security and data collection in the area of migration. In this vein, the pact outlines strategies for increasing security along external borders. This includes frameworks for pre-entry screening, establishing an asylum and migration database, efficient boarder procedures for asylum seekers and crisis protocols. Under the pre-screening entry regulation, a uniform pre-entry screening procedure will be introduced for third country nationals who arrive irregularly at an external border or are found staying illegally in a member state. Screening consists of a preliminary health and vulnerability check, an identity check, the registration of biometric data in the appropriate databases and a security check through a query of relevant national and Union databases.

This particular regulation is a Schengen measure and thus Ireland will not be able to opt into it. However, this is a prime example of why it is important that we viewed the pact as a package and not a legislative pick-and-mix, choosing only the regulations we deem that best suit us. Each of the regulations work in harmony with each other. The pact's strengths lie in the fact that it provides a universal and not selective approach. We cannot opt into this particular regulation, we will reap the benefits of it through opting into the Eurodac regulation. Through this, we will be able to access an enhanced Eurodac system which will contain information captured by Schengen countries through the screening process. Opting into the Eurodac provision is of particular importance to us in Ireland as not only will we be able to access further information around any potential security threats, we will also have access to further information around secondary movements.

We are all too aware that Ireland, due to its geographic location, experiences high levels of secondary movements. It is estimated that at any given time upwards of 50% of international protection applicants arriving in Ireland have been in another member state prior to their arrival.

By opting into this regulation, we will have further information on these applicants, including their fingerprints, photographs and any potential security flags. It will also allow us to access this information quickly and will aid us in returning secondary movers to the correct member state.

Enhancing security on our own borders is also provided for in the pact with the introduction of mandatory border procedures. Those applicants who have entered the State irregularly and pose a security threat as well as those who present with false documents or are citizens of countries with low recognition rates, will be subject to this procedure and will not be authorised to enter the State. They will be accommodated at designated locations and their applications, appeals and removal decisions must be processed within three months. The aim here is to issue decisions in the quickest time possible to those less likely to have an entitlement to international protection.

As I previously mentioned, the pact emerged from the migrant crisis of 2015 and 2016. We can see the imprint of this on the crisis and force majeureregulation proposed in the pact. This regulation allows for countries in times ofcrisis and force majeure situations limited derogations from asylum procedures. These would be temporarily available to member states and would include options such as the option to extend processing times or immediately provide a protection status equivalent to a subsidiary protection. Managing migration must not be presented as a zero-sum game. However, continuing down a path where there is no common system for migration across all member states, leads to a situation where we all lose.

The pact is a balance between proper border management and an asylum and migration system that is fair to those in need of protection but firm with those who are not eligible. People have always migrated and will continue to do so, driven by poverty, war and climate change. We have a responsibility to help those people. However, our system is being congested by those who do not have legitimate reasons for applying for asylum. This diverts much-needed resources from those who genuinely need them. That is why we need swift and fair procedures, similar to those proposed by the pact.

6:00 pm

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the pact, a matter of profound significance and immediate concern to the people of Ireland. It is a subject that touches the very fabric of our society and calls for a unified European response. Migration is one of the most important issues of our time. Ireland, for the first time in our history, is experiencing significant inward migration. This influx, driven by those fleeing war, the impact of climate change and economic factors, has become a cornerstone of our nation. Migrants now constitute 20% of our workforce. They have become integral in such sectors as healthcare and construction, where their contributions are invaluable.

The EU pact on migration and asylum represents a landmark shift in our approach to asylum and immigration. By opting in, Ireland will fully align with the EU, enhancing our border security and ensuring faster processing of applications within legally binding timeframes. We will see rapid processing at designated centres, especially for those without documents or from countries not afflicted by war or persecution. Moreover, there will be greater focus on returning unsuccessful applicants to their home countries and other countries through which they have passed.

I commend the efforts of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, who has taken significant strides in this area, doubling the staff in the International Protection Office and tripling decision-making, with plans for further increases; introducing fast-tracking of applicants from ten safe countries, those already protected in Europe and the most representative nationalities of the previous quarter; implementing more than 3,000 door step operations on flights that pose risks of irregular migration; An Garda Síochána’s successful prosecution of individuals arriving without proper documentation, and a substantial increase in deportation orders and enforcement of deportations, reflecting our commitment to a firm but fair immigration policy.

Let us be clear. Ireland cannot face this challenge alone. Without the migration pact, we risk becoming an outlier, left with less effective measures and no means to return individuals to other EU states. This could lead to an unsustainable increase in applications. We need co-operation and we need other countries to be willing to accept people who should not be processed here. This approach offers us all in Europe a real opportunity to work together to design a system that is firm but fair, based on a fair sharing of responsibility that works for everyone. Therefore I urge that we formally request to opt in to the pact as soon as possible. This will not only ensure that we stand readily alongside other European counterparts but also allow us to access vital implementation supports from the EU Commission.

Ireland's response to migration must be a co-operative effort. We need a system that is firm but fair, one that is based on fair sharing of responsibility, and works for everyone. The EU pact on migration and asylum offers us a chance to work together to build a future that represents the dignity of every individual while safeguarding the integrity of our borders.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Fundamentally, this is a debate about sovereignty. It is about how sovereign states manage migration. It is, and should be, for every nation to determine its own migration and border policies.

Ireland should have its own rules-based system that needs to be fair, efficient and enforced. A one-size-fits-all approach to migration throughout the European Union is not the best solution for this country. Ireland is unique as only one of two EU member states with opt-outs from the common EU migration policy. The Government should exercise that right so that we can decide our own migration policy for ourselves. Instead the Government is importing a policy from Europe because its own policies have failed. That is the wrong decision because it will tie the hands of future governments on migration policy and further erode our sovereignty, at a time when there is a growing tide of far-right and extreme sentiment in many countries in Europe.

For that reason Sinn Féin will oppose the Government's plan to give over responsibility to Europe and remove the hard-won flexibility to decide our own migration policies. Europe should have no role in determining our migration policies. There are areas where we should and must co-operate with the European Union and other member states. I have no difficulty with that but to hand over the responsibility and power of managing our migration policy and setting our migration policy to the EU is a fundamental mistake. Sinn Féin wants Ireland to have control over its own borders. We support a migration system that is matched with our ability to integrate, develop public services and grow our economy.

The vast majority of Irish people are good, honest, decent people. They want a fair migration system that supports access to work and that supports people fleeing war, violence and persecution. They are asking for a migration system with integrity that they can trust and have faith in. They want to know that the same rules apply to everyone, that the system is efficient, that applications are processed quickly and that decisions are enforced. Unless a rules-based system is enforced, we cease to have a rules-based system. That is part of the frustration that many communities feel. What people see, unfortunately, is the opposite. They see a system that takes too long to process applications, has failed to provide appropriate accommodation for those who are genuinely fleeing war or persecution, has privatised services and has funnelled profit into the hands of a few who have benefited from the Government's mismanagement. They see a system where rules are not enforced. When you do not enforce rules, you did not have rules. A rules-based system is essential to fairness. Everyone deserves a fair shot on the same rules, underpinned by fairness and human rights.

Government policy has been failing on this for years so, when a surge came, the system was wholly inadequate and unprepared. Nobody is to blame for the chaos across our towns and cities except the Government and the parties opposite. The new Irish communities that have grown over the past two decades are welcome here. They are Irish and their contribution to our society is overwhelmingly positive from healthcare to hospitality and the tech sector. While we oppose this pact, we do not discount that there is a huge role for the EU in respect of the causes of migration, promoting global climate action, peace, development aid and fair trade agreements. There are many reasons for migration including war, violence and persecution.

There is also massive social and economic inequality, which is supported by the West, developed countries and, at times, the European Union. The hypocrisy of the European Union in this regard is clear. For example, the Mercosur trade agreement would facilitate the destruction of the Amazon without consequence when we know that global climate change will be a large driver of migration in the years ahead. Europe and the West must face up to their role in the contributing factors that drive migration and prevent people from living prosperous lives in their home countries. Without tackling global inequalities and economic disadvantage, we will not address the root causes of the problems to which this pact is a response.

The extreme voices in this conversation are not interested in solving this problem. They do not have the answers and cannot solve the problem. They have their heads in the sand on the causes of migration. Talking tough is not going to solve the problem. The Government’s incompetence has given these voices space to peddle fear and division. This must be tackled proactively and head-on by the Government and Opposition. We need a migration system that is fit for purpose, restores and invests in housing and public services.

6:10 pm

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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The way this pact has been handled is an insult to the Dáil and the people who elected us. At every step of the way, the Opposition has pleaded with the Government to treat this issue carefully and allow for sufficient oversight and debate. At every step, however, the Government has ignored those pleas. The only actual scrutiny of the pact before today was two three-hour sessions in the justice committee in late April. One of those sessions was only added at short notice when the Government's cavalier approach to oversight was the subject of significant public anger. At the time, we were told the committee debate had to be curtailed because the Government wanted to hold a Dáil vote on the pact in early May. Here we are, six weeks later, only now debating this pact in this House because the Government buried it until after the elections. People can see through this cynical manipulation. The Dáil debates on the pact this week are designed to give a veneer of democratic oversight but in reality it is being rammed through these Houses with almost no debate or scrutiny. At the end, we will have an all-or-nothing vote, instead of a vote on individual measures.

Meanwhile, media reports today have revealed the plans to fast-track legislation giving effect to the migration pact. Clearly, the Government views today's debate as nothing more than a rubber-stamping exercise. There is no intention to take any of our legitimate human rights concerns into account. Rushing this debate is not just cynical. Rather, it is dangerous because the absence of considered and informed debate in this House has ramifications for our society. It allows misinformation and disinformation, particularly online, to spread like wildfire and with very little push-back from anyone in the Government. To make matters worse, we are still waiting for the Government's long-promised communications strategy on migration. I do not know if it will materialise before the general election or if the Government is waiting until afterwards but the lack of urgency is incredible.

The Government’s entire approach to migration has been panicked, reactive and shambolic. It is leading to chaos, division and rising hate across this country. This persistent Government mismanagement is causing real and lasting harm, particularly for minority communities which are experiencing racist abuse and violence as a direct result of incompetence. The level of virulent racism in this country is disgusting and shameful. The targeting of candidates from minority communities during the recent elections was just one example of this. It was a direct attack on our democracy.

When is the Government going to get it together on this? Talking tough on migration and echoing the language of the far right is not a strategy. We need a fair, humane and efficient asylum system. Crucially, we need to vastly increase resources, training and staff at the International Protection office in order that claims can be dealt with speedily and fairly.

There has been a lot of right-wing commentary about the migration pact, borders and sovereignty. Bizarrely, much of this commentary, straight from the Tory handbook, has come from the Sinn Féin benches. As a result, much of the opposition to the migration pact has been framed in this divisive and insular way. I want to specifically distance myself from those kinds of objections. Instead, I want to talk about the very serious human rights concerns the Social Democrats have with this pact, including the border procedure, the potential for detention camps, the stripping away of the right to legal advice and the fiction of non-entry to Europe. We are far from the only ones who are expressing these concerns. Over 160 NGOs, including Oxfam, Amnesty and Médecins Sans Frontières, are opposed to the pact. All of these human rights experts agree that the pact is dangerous because the fundamental right to claim asylum and international protection, which refugees have enjoyed for more than seven decades, is being eroded. Eve Geddie, from Amnesty International stated:

This agreement will set back European asylum law for decades to come. Its likely outcome is a surge in suffering on every step of a person’s journey to seek asylum in the EU.

Even former Green Party MEPs shared these concerns, which is why they voted against most of the pact in the European Parliament. We cannot say we were not warned about this pact and what it will mean if all of it is enacted. It will lead to more people in detention centres at EU borders, including families with children and unaccompanied minors. It will also lead to reduced safeguards for people seeking asylum, substandard border asylum procedures and more people being refused a fair and full assessment of their asylum claims. None of the pressing problems facing our own asylum system, and others across Europe will be solved by adopting the pact in full. It will not solve the chronic underinvestment or complete absence of the six State reception centres which were promised years ago. It will not prevent EU countries from continuing to use illegal and often violent push-back policies. In fact, it facilitates them. The pact makes clear that outsourcing immigration processes will continue to be a core EU approach. It is one that the Taoiseach himself has endorsed. A few weeks ago, he said:

... processing asylum applications in a third country is worth considering. The EU Migration Pact allows some states the option to shift asylum applications to safe, third countries.

What is the reality of that outsourcing? It is our own cruel Rwanda policy, a policy that the Tories never managed to get off the ground, and a policy of preferring that thousands of people drown, rather than resourcing search-and-rescue missions. Since 2016, search-and-rescue missions led by member states in the Mediterranean have been replaced with deals supporting coast guard agencies in north Africa. Of course, that is not news to Fine Gael, whose MEPs voted against a move to enhance search-and-rescue operations for migrants in 2019.

People attempting the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean are intercepted by these agencies and often end up in detention centres in appalling conditions, for example, in Libya. Facilitating torture and human rights abuses in third countries is not a policy we, or anyone in this House, should stand over. A good EU asylum law should instead include safe and legal routes to Europe and properly resourced search-and-rescue missions. The priority should be stopping the deaths at sea, investing in better asylum systems and treating people humanely. Instead, we are looking at a system where many asylum seekers will be put through fast-track border systems and treated as de facto criminals, with their right to claim asylum seriously undermined.

People processed in this way all across Europe, including children and families, will be sent to detention centres for 12 weeks. There will be no right to legal aid and, in fact, no right to even claim they have reached the EU. The Minister has stated that Ireland will not introduce detention centres, but the legal basis will be there to facilitate them. We have had no clarity on a whole range of issues such as where these centres will be located and whether children will be entitled to attend school. These are not questions we should still have and the ambiguity is concerning.

I wish to address the dehumanising language that has become normal when discussing migration. Asylum seekers are referred to as "burdens" or problems to be solved. They are not. They are human beings who deserve to be treated with compassion and decency. This should be the case regardless of whether their claims are successful.

Not everything in this pact is bad. There are some measures that we should opt into. For example, the reception conditions directive would provide minimum agreed standards of accommodation so that asylum seekers would not sleep rough. The solidarity mechanism would ensure co-operation across member states so that individual member states on the borders of Europe would not be left to deal with large numbers of arrivals in isolation. The Eurodac regulation is largely welcome in terms of information sharing, but there needs to be clarification around serious data protection concerns. For example, if the fingerprints of a six-year-old refugee are taken for the child's safety and to ensure the child is not being trafficked, we need to know how long the fingerprints will remain on the database. There are some sensible and necessary aspects to this pact, but they are grouped with regulations that are designed to cause absolute misery to incredibly vulnerable people who arrive on our shores.

We in this country are in a unique position. We do not have to opt into every measure, so it is bizarre that the Government is doing so. Adopting this pact in full sends the wrong message globally. It sends a message that we are willing to downgrade the right to claim asylum and to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses when it suits us. That is not a message that the Social Democrats can stand over and, for that reason, we will be voting against the migration pact.

6:20 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate. Immigration is one of the most pressing issues facing the international community. We can see this across European member states, the UK and within our own country. Therefore, I welcome the Government's decision to opt into the EU migration and asylum pact. It is not only a necessary agreement, but one that will lead to a stronger, more robust and more responsive immigration system at home and abroad.

To that end, I pay tribute to the Department of Justice, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her officials for their efforts to date. We are already seeing the fruits of the labour that has gone into addressing the large number of asylum seekers who have entered Ireland in recent years, with the number of international protection staff doubled and the number of decisions issued tripled. This is on top of the additional 100 gardaí being provided to support immigration services and the 3,000 "doorstop" operations carried out on flights. I also note that the fines on carriers have been increased by 66%, which will help to ensure that passengers have the correct documentation when beginning their journeys to Ireland.

While these are positive developments, we must also recognise that the International Protection Act 2015 is no longer fit for purpose. We must therefore ensure that we take the necessary steps, in tandem with our European partners, to improve our laws and operational systems, as we cannot go it alone. It is vital that we build a system that is sustainably resourced with funding and staff in order to ensure that we have a system that is flexible and adaptable to whatever circumstances arise. I ask Deputies to take themselves back just three years and compare the number of asylum applications then to the number this year and last year. To this end, I am pleased that the Department has plans to increase the requisite staffing and resources.

The world is changing around us. We are seeing an erosion of democracy around the globe, a rise in conflict and a rise in misinformation and disinformation, including in Europe and, sometimes, in this Chamber. We are faced with a weakened international order, with international institutions we have relied on for decades being undermined. We are also living through a period of climate crisis. All indicators suggest that the world is not yet taking the decisions needed to limit the worst effects of climate change. This will undoubtedly lead to greater pressure on immigration services, particularly in the European Union.

In our interconnected world, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that events in one corner of the world will not have consequences for our own. We cannot go it alone. War and its impacts represent an enormous challenge to the international community, with the potential to see tens of millions of people on the move across multiple continents, including our own, in the decades to come. We must therefore ensure that our systems are not only able to adapt to the pressures of today, but are also future-proofed to deal with major international events that may lie ahead. The EU migration and asylum pact represents a positive shift towards this goal. By integrating information and processing systems, we can have a much more effective method of providing help to those who need it while processing those who do not have the right to stay within the State.

The reality is that, as an independent country, we cannot solve this challenge on our own. We must work with other EU member states. It is a facile, pointless and irrelevant argument to suggest that, with the common travel area and common movement across the EU, we could somehow decide that parts of this pact do not suit us and we should instead go it alone. By opting into the EU migration and asylum pact, we will be in a position to return individuals to other EU countries where appropriate. We simply cannot do that if we choose to opt out. We cannot deal with an increased level of migration that is nearly overwhelming our system if we go it alone or cherry-pick elements of the pact that suit our political narrative. We have spent years negotiating all elements of this pact, so why would we not opt into measures that we know will benefit us? Those opposite keep talking about a commonsensical approach, yet they have not made any suggestions as to what they would do. Nor have they said what they would do that they would otherwise be constrained from doing within the pact. Perhaps other Deputies opposite will set those details out later, or perhaps not.

If we do not opt in, we will not be able to participate in the Eurodac database, which will hold information such as fingerprints, allowing us to accurately identify individuals and where else they have been in Europe, again reinforcing our ability to determine whether they should be allowed to reside within the State. Information will also be collected on children older than six years. This will be a key step in preventing child trafficking and child exploitation, something to which we must redouble our efforts and something that a number of Members have raised over the years, particularly on the justice committee, which I have had the pleasure of being a member of. This aspect speaks to a wider need to ensure that human trafficking is routed out and those responsible for running criminal gangs dealing in the trade of other human beings are crushed, their profits seized and the full force of the law brought to bear upon them. An Garda Síochána has a strong track record of working with international partners to tackle criminal gangs operating across international borders. We must engage with partners on the goal of preventing human trafficking in Europe.

I am appreciative of the efforts under way and the continued progress that Irish immigration services are making as regards faster processing times for international protection applications. I note that the rapid processing system for those without documents is being developed apace. The EU migration and asylum pact will see the harmonisation of these processing times across the EU bloc. Given our current progress in processing times, this will facilitate a seamless integration into the wider European framework. Ultimately, this will lead to stronger borders, supported by a system that is responsive and efficient and has the tools to identify where an individual should be accommodated.

Regarding accommodation, the large-scale facilities set out by the Department of integration are needed now more than ever. While some locations have been identified across the State, it is essential that both sides of the House continue our efforts to engage with communities in a meaningful, truthful and fair way to inform them as to what has to occur in any given community. Where mistakes have been made in the provision of, for example, hotel accommodation in certain areas in the country, we must do our best to ensure that communities are not overburdened.

I know every single county has an asylum facility of some kind where we are accommodating those in international protection, not just our friends from Ukraine but also individuals from all over the globe. It is a reflection of the global trends that those numbers will not decrease but increase. Therefore, we must be able to facilitate in the most humane and appropriate environment the individuals who seek protection.

The inclusion of the solidarity mechanism in the pact will represent a pathway for countries to co-operate without mandatory measures being imposed. This is a welcome inclusion that will allow the Government to determine the best course of action for our people. I also recognise that a great deal of misinformation is being disseminated about what the pact will mean for member states, including Ireland. An extraordinary level of misinformation and disinformation is present, as I have referenced. I ask anybody watching this session of the Dáil to familiarise themselves with a recent Sky News survey of the source of much online discussion on this matter. It showed that with regard to the riots, 80% of the information being disseminated was emanating from the UK and with regard to migration and those other incidents that have occurred in recent times, something like 90% of the information was being spread from outside the State. I find this extraordinary but those apparently are the facts that were available on the X platform. It is imperative that the facts are heard and people are not gaslit into believing that we are some sort of lawless society where anybody can enter unchecked. The reality is that we have a robust system based on rules of law. The nature of the EU migration and asylum pact will enhance our system, make it stronger and allow us more flexibility to address the challenges, whatever that may be.

To opt out of this pact would make us weaker. It would limit the scope of our options when processing individuals and despite what is being claimed in some corners of the Internet, opting out of this pact would mean we would become a more popular destination for those with invalid circumstances because of the lack of options. We would be unable to cope and, dare I say it, the 100 or so tents on the canal could potentially become thousands.

I also highlight some of the facts about our immigration system. Compared with this time last year, undocumented arrivals in Ireland are down by 14% and this figure is down by 42% when compared with 2022. This is all the more noteworthy during a time when we have seen an increase of 44% in all types of passengers. It shows that the operations carried out by the Garda, border security and immigration services are working. Furthermore, we have seen an increase this year of 83% in deportation orders compared with this time last year. Enforced deportations are up by 126% while voluntary deportations are up by 129% when compared with this time last year, both having more than doubled.

I again thank the Minister for her work on this matter. As a member of the justice committee, I know we have had the opportunity to discuss this with the Minister and her officials and I am pleased it has been of significant import in the general debate in recent months. I look forward to working with colleagues on this issue and delivering results that reflect our moral responsibilities in the interests of the Irish people.

6:30 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome that such a generous amount of time has been provided for the Dáil to debate the EU asylum and migration pact. The Sinn Féin position is clear. It is that the vast majority of measures included in this EU pact are not in the best interests of Ireland. We must ensure we have sovereignty over how we manage our immigration system and that we have a system that is fair, efficient and enforced. For these reasons, we will not be supporting this pact.

I strongly believe the legacy of this Government will be one of sowing the seeds of division in our society and treating those who arrived here disgracefully. Irish people are inherently decent but the way the Government is treating new applicants is far from decent. Voluntary groups do more than the Government to support integration of new arrivals.

The Government has created division in Irish society with its management of immigration. This division is nowhere deeper than in the inner city. Years of neglect have made people angry. I do not believe the vast majority of residents in the inner city are racist; they are angry at decades of neglect and that is not the same as being racist. The Government knows the neglect that communities in the inner city have been subjected to and knows the anger and apathy, yet it does nothing to address that other than to put up more barriers around the inner city, issue press statements and then move applicants when they reach the number of 100. It is like the Government has an acceptable level of chaos when the reality is that it clearly cannot manage the situation. Residents feel that the Government has torn up the social contract. Its policies are dividing communities. The Government's lack of policy and process on immigration and lack of engagement on the ground are causing the erosion of social cohesion in many communities. The Government is failing to engage with local communities and is guilty of leaving a void open for disinformation to run rampant.

The latest figures show that it is taking almost 19 months for a decision on an IP applicant. This could not be any further from an efficient system. How is that fair to anyone? It is clear that the international protection system is in urgent need of an overhaul. We need to see sufficient investment of resources in the system and reform to address these delays. The International Protection Office on Mount Street only operates from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. This office needs to be managed and staffed 24-7 so all applicants who arrive can be triaged and offered accommodation rather than wandering the streets looking for a tent. When issues arise, residents have no contact with the management and staff in the office on Mount Street. This must change. There must be a form of liaison so local residents can contact the office to iron out difficulties and support the office in resolving the various issues that arise.

There is speculation that the barriers around Mount Street and along the canal will be removed from the end of June but, again, the residents are not being consulted. The Minister might clarify what is happening with regard to the barriers. There does not appear to be any Government strategy on this issue. Who is in charge? No amount of press releases will cover the mess the Government has made. We need an efficient, compassionate and enforced immigration system, just like Canada or Australia. We need effective control of our borders. People are frustrated when they hear stories of people arriving on flights with no passports – it drives people insane. It has to be an issue that can be resolved. It cannot be beyond the wit of man or the Government to resolve that issue. It is something that needs to be done.

People do not have any faith in the Government process for dealing with these cases. We need to address these issues, treat people humanely and compassionately and, at the same time, make sure the system is efficient and enforced.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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People Before Profit will be opposing the Government motion on the migration and asylum impact and the pact itself, not for the reasons that some in this House may put forward but because we believe the European Union and, sadly, our own Government are beginning to make concessions to anti-immigrant hysteria and to the scapegoating of immigrants by the far right in a dangerous way that is not prompted by a desire for a more humane system but, in fact, is going to result in a less humane and less fair system of international protection and asylum.

The criticisms of the migration pact by those who are genuinely concerned with human rights and giving people a fair hearing have been well articulated and I am sure the Minister is more than familiar with them. What we are actually going to see is, for example, fast-track approaches dealing with people who come from so-called safe countries. If you take even the most cursory look at countries that have been designated - and I have just spent my time looking at them as I was listening to the debate - in almost all the countries that have been designated as so-called safe countries, when you look at what human rights organisations are saying about those countries, you see very serious problems indeed. This would lead one to understand immediately that there would be very legitimate reasons for people fleeing those countries. I looked, for example, at the Amnesty report on Algeria, which has been designated a safe country. What do you see in recent times? You see journalists arrested and detained, human rights organisations shut down, opposition political parties shut down and banned, people being arrested and so on. Of course, there would be good reasons people might flee countries like that. The Minister can go through the list of all of them.

What the new pact will also mean is people who are lodging appeals against decisions can actually be deported while they are awaiting appeals, as well as legal grounds for greater levels of detention of people making asylum applications. There are major problems but all of this is underpinned by our own Government and the European establishment leaning into the scare tactics and hysteria being whipped up by the right and the far right. They are essentially adopting Tory tactics. It surely should be something of a lesson to an Irish Government, when one looks at the Tory Government that has relied on the scapegoating and attacking of immigrants, that it is about to be swept out of power because everybody in Britain finally understood that all these attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers were the Tories' desperate attempts to deflect attention away from the real issues that people have a right to be angry about, that is, on the cost of living, the housing crisis, the lack of public services and so on. Instead of addressing those issues, however, we scapegoat vulnerable people who are fleeing war, persecution and oppression or who are just looking for a better life.

What really worries me about Government interventions, and indeed some of the Opposition interventions, is that language of "a burden", suggesting that human beings - and that is what we are talking about, human beings - are somehow a burden. The reality is that human beings generate all of the wealth and richness of our society. The vast majority of human beings, wherever they are from or whatever colour or creed they are, enrich our society. They make it better. They add to our society economically and culturally. Anybody who thinks there is some sort of ideal Irish purity should just think about it for a little while. When you go back to the 1950s, 1940s and 1930s in this country, when masses of people were leaving the country, did reducing the population of this country make it better? No - it made it poorer and worse and, of course, it was a period characterised by the Magdalen laundries, the industrial schools, the shocking treatment of women and of children who were not born in supposedly legitimate family relations, and all of this horrible stuff.

There is the idea that Ireland is full. I mean, it is ridiculous. There were 8 million people in this country at the beginning of the 19th century. Unless people are going to suggest that the Famine enforced on the Irish population by the British Government, which halved the population, was somehow a necessary thing to reduce the population - which I do not think any sane person would say - the reality is the reduction of our population led us to being a much poorer country. Decades and generations of emigration made this country a poorer place at every single level. If you even look at the basic thing of population density, the Netherlands is two thirds the size of this country and it has a population - I was just looking at this before the debate - of 17 million. Similarly, Switzerland, which is less than two thirds the size of this country, has a population of 8.7 million. These are wealthy countries. The idea that low population density is somehow good economically is simply not true.

If you look at the tax contribution of immigrants in this country and if you look at our health services, there are 51,000 non-EU citizens working in our health services at the moment. There are 36,000 working in information and communication; 24,000 in industry; 24,000 in hospitality; 20,000 in the professional and scientific sectors; 17,000 in wholesale and retail; 13,000 in administrative services; 11,000 in financial services; and 34,000 in other areas like agriculture and so on. Our economy would literally collapse without the contribution of immigrants. Surely we should know that as a country that helped build other countries. We faced the same racist scapegoating that the far right and now, sadly, our own Government are echoing when we went to those countries. The divide-and-rule tactics that were used by successive Tory and British Governments against Irish immigrants were actually a weapon to divide the British working class and distract from their own failings to provide things for ordinary working people in Britain. The Irish and black people were used as scapegoats, and now European leaders and the Government are leaning into it.

The Minister, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, is shaking his head. I ask him to look at the amount of measures that have been taken in the last few weeks, facing into an election, which were all directed at sending signals that the Government is getting tough on immigration, that is a burden that has to be addressed and so on. The problem in this country is not immigrants; the problem is the failure of successive Governments to address the housing and accommodation crisis, to properly resource and staff our health service, to address the problem of the lack of GPs and so on, and critically, to distribute the enormous wealth that exists in this country, where 10% of the population owns 57% of the wealth. Ireland has never been richer but nor has it ever been more unequal in terms of the concentration of wealth. We have more than enough resources and wealth to solve our problems.

When you talk to people, the vast majority of people in this country are absolutely not racist. They are welcoming, decent people but they are frustrated about the lack of GP services, the fact that their daughter or son has been on a housing waiting list for ten or 15 years, or that they go into the emergency department and find they are on trolleys for hours or even days. They are angry about that but of course, some people want to suggest it is immigrants when in fact, it is immigrants we need. We have labour and skills shortages in almost every area. We are lacking taxi drivers - I was listening to it on the radio today. We are lacking bus drivers, and people in retail, the health service and construction. There is an idea that Ireland is full but immigrants will not do anything other than help us solve the problems that need to be solved as a matter of urgency. That is the truth we should be telling people and Government should be acknowledging its failure to address those things but not leaning into the scapegoating of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants or whatever they might be.

Human beings enrich our society. They make it better and they are not a drain. We need people. Just as the world benefited from Irish people going to countries all over the world, we benefit from immigrants. We should not scapegoat them and we should reject the attempt by the European Union and our Government to do it. Let us address the real problems and admit our responsibility for failing to solve those problems until now.

6:40 pm

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Deputy. We move now to the Government slot, and I believe the Minister, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, is sharing time with Deputy John McGuinness. The Minister and Deputy McGuinness have five minutes and eight minutes, respectively.

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I thank the Acting Chair. I welcome the proposal by the Minister for Justice, and I and my Department look forward to working with her and across Government on its implementation.

Ireland, like many other European countries, is experiencing a significant increase in the number of people seeking international protection. The arrival numbers remain significantly elevated. Up to mid-June of this year, over 10,000 people had arrived in Ireland seeking international protection from the State. The average in 2022 and 2023 was in the region of 250 per week.

That placed Ireland at the EU average per capitafor numbers of people seeking international protection. We have gone from a situation in which the numbers seeking international protection in Ireland were, comparatively, extremely low to a situation in which we are receiving the EU average. That has created challenges, undoubtedly. They are challenges to which the Government continues to respond. It has required us to completely rebuild our international protection system to meet these EU-average numbers coming to this country. That means improving the processing of applications and increasing the amount of accommodation we have for people while their applications are being accessed.

In order to provide that additional accommodation, since January 2022, the Government has brought more than 200 properties into use to ensure a supply of accommodation for those seeking shelter in Ireland. Currently, there are 31,000 people accommodated in the IPAS system, of whom just more than 7,700 are children. This is compared to 8,700 at the end of February 2022. As we face into the challenges of processing and accommodating all of those seeking international protection, the EU asylum and migration pact will be crucial in ensuring cross-border co-operation in what is a fundamentally global phenomenon in the years ahead. I welcome that this pact will introduce legally-binding timeframes for making decisions on international protection applicants and appeals and will ensure fairness for those who are applying for international protection. They will have the knowledge their application will be dealt with in a timely manner. We all know of instances in this country whereby people have been seeking their international protection application for three, four, five, six, seven or eight years. They are in stasis and in limbo. They are unable to actually get on with a life in Ireland or unable to get clarity that their future does not lie here. By speeding up international protection applications and by making clear statutory timelines to which State institutions have to adhere, we are giving people the opportunity for clarity as to what their position is here in Ireland.

The pact will also address a previous lack of targeted mechanisms to deal with situations of extreme crisis. In recent months, a significant increase in applications has been seen, not just in Ireland but in the UK and right across Europe. These new mechanisms will allow member states to approach any future crisis situation on a European-wide basis.

The measures my Department is working on are pragmatic. There are strategic solutions contained within the comprehensive accommodation strategy that was approved by the Government in March 2024. The work of the comprehensive accommodation strategy aligns with some of the measures foreseen by the pact identified as practical solutions for our State within a reality of long-term migration. My Department will provide infrastructure, human resources and funding for integration efforts. Material reception conditions should be available to applicants when they express their wish to apply for international protection. We will put in place mechanisms for accessing and addressing the needs of the reception systems, including mechanisms for verifying applicants' actual presence in the accommodation. Obviously, such mechanisms should not restrict an applicant's freedom of movement.

My Department is focused on the delivery of State-owned accommodation. As we know, we have been overly reliant on the use of private accommodation. We are moving our system towards one that has a core of 14,000 State-owned accommodation beds. The comprehensive accommodation strategy also seeks to address the current accommodation shortfall while making that move to a longer-term system.

As for the updated strategy, accommodation is being delivered through a blended approach between the purchase of large-scale turnkey properties and the delivery on State-owned sites. In the months since the launch of that strategy, we have already brought two State-owned sites into use and work is under way on a third site to bring it into use.

I wish to take this opportunity to commend the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on her work in increasing the speed by which the applications of international protection applicants are processed. Significant resources have been put into the IPO and we are seeing the benefit of that.

Clearly, global migration is not something to which Ireland responds alone. We have seen what has happened when our closest neighbours decided to go it alone and to withdraw from EU mechanisms. They have even less control of their borders than they did prior to Brexit. States must work together to address major crises and this is why I am happy to support the EU asylum and migration pact.

6:50 pm

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Like most conversations that now take place throughout the country, they begin with the phrase "I am not a racist" because people are trying to protect their own position and integrity against accusations of racism or online abuse. I do not condone racism; I am not a racist. I wish to ensure that local communities are helped and that we play our role within Europe. I have to put on record that the Government in its efforts, since the beginning which goes back two years, has failed miserably in convincing the public it has a handle on all of this. It caused consternation in local communities and in the planning services. It pitched neighbour against neighbour and it pitched a lot of people against the State. There was little explanation coming forward and that is still the case. I do not know how someone like me, who deals with people on a regular basis within their communities trying to support them and to support the Ukrainian families and others who are here, is expected to believe the Government is going to do all of what it says. This has continued for two years. The complaints and the issues were raised at parliamentary party meetings, and indeed within my own party, but nothing was done.

In the context of this debate, I wish to highlight that some communities are now engaged with An Bord Pleanála to find a solution to the problem. What assurances will be given to those communities that what they have been through will be acknowledged and that the offers or actions which are there now on record will be withdrawn? I refer to the Wallslough community in Kilkenny. It has housed and supported Ukrainian families; it has done its bit. It was then told it would have further international protection applicants housed in the community, bringing the total population to outnumber the local population. The community is still in the dark about all of that. What assurances will be given to those in Maudlin Street, Dublin Road, Kilkenny, who have been told of international protection applicants being housed? There were no plans; the council does not even know about it. In fact, the building being proposed was not accepted as a housing proposition by Kilkenny County Council. All of this needs to be clarified and it needs to be clarified now.

Furthermore, if one looks at all of the debate around this, it started in 1999. There is nothing new about this. This House was not kept informed. The public was not kept informed. That is why there is such anger out there that the Government would attempt, almost in secret, to allow the bureaucrats of Europe to bring forward proposals without the appropriate consultation. That is what raises the questions around sovereignty and issues to do with racism. The Irish people, know full well, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, that they went away, worked and built New York, London and many other capital cities sending money home to benefit the family members who were left behind with very little. My family was one of those. We respected the fact that employment was got in all of those countries. It gave people at home a reasonable living. Compare that to a man who came here with his family 24 years ago. His family has now got naturalisation but he has not, because a police report, somewhere in the world, said he had questions to answer. He wrote to the Minister and the Commissioner to say he would give himself up to go to the country that raised the question and he would allow himself to be interrogated by the Garda in Ireland, but that did not happen. That was not accommodated.

The man now lives with a cloud over him and his family. Nothing is being done by the Department of Justice to resolve the issue. I could say the same about people who are living in Ireland who want to make a contribution to the State but cannot change their status. The application processes, under the EU treaty are a nightmare. I am saying this in the context of what the Minister for Justice is telling us about this pact and what it will do. The Minister needs to give more clarification about what is going on. She needs to inform the public and address issues like those of the man I spoke about

I have listened carefully because the latest part of this debate is how the EU will be funding €1 billion. For the past two years we have not heard that. In fact, we have not had a decent debate about this in the past two years, simply because it was not accommodated in this House. Yet, at committee level we were told in the discussion about the pact that 80% of individuals are coming across the Border, fleeing from the UK because of the Rwanda policy there. Yet, we did nothing about it. There was, and still is, an incompetence in the State in dealing with these matters. I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that there are queues everywhere, for everything. The failure within the State came across during the canvass for the European and local government elections. This is a failure to spend the money wisely and to deliver the services to the public. In all of the debate here, I have heard little praise for the communities that have reached out and helped Ukrainian families. I have heard little commentary about the expectation created by encouragement from the Department for business people to do up properties that are now left to carry a burden of debt. Many issues have emerged here and I am delighted we can have a debate without any rancour. However, I would expect, on behalf of the people I represent, that the Minister would clarify what is to happen in all of the outstanding applications to the Department for both Ukrainians and international protection applicants. That is the least people deserve. Common courtesy and decency go a long way. Please give full information and full transparency to the Irish people as we debate this matter.

7:00 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Sinn Féin opposes the migration and asylum pact for very good reasons and we will vote against it. In our view, the majority of the measures contained in the pact are not in Ireland’s interests. Instead, we must retain our sovereignty on these matters if we are to have an immigration system that is fair, efficient and enforced. We must also recognise our particular circumstance in that we share a common travel area with Britain. Sinn Féin’s position is the same as that of the majority of the Irish people, in my opinion. Most people recognise that when people seek asylum they need protection and support and that must be provided. Most people recognise the huge contribution that migrants make to Irish society and most people also want to see a migration system that makes sense, with the rules being fair and applied to everyone and that they are applied. They want to see a system that is fair, efficient and enforced, that applies common sense and common decency. They want a system in which they can have confidence, that reassures them and recognises their concerns, hears their questions and answers them. When we do not have this it creates a space for people to spread hate, fear and division. The truth is that Ireland can have a fair, efficient and enforced system without the EU pact. Such a system would involve quicker decisions and greater enforcement. Decisions on asylum applications take far too long here. Almost 19 months for an IPO decision under standard processing cannot be described as efficient. This must be addressed. Sinn Féin would overhaul the international protection system by accelerating decisions through increased resources and legal reforms and by prioritising the safe return of people to their home countries if their applications fail and they are found to be not eligible for international protection.

An improved system would also involve greater engagement with communities. The shambolic approach by the Government is continuing to this day. The Government has no plan, no consistent approach and is not working with local communities. There is a drip feed of information, all of which is partial and some of which is disseminated only to be directly contradicted later. Thornton Hall is a case in point. At a briefing on 28 May, local Oireachtas members were told that part of the site was fully serviced and would come into operation as an accommodation centre by the end of June. Media reports last weekend directly contradicted this. Questions remain unanswered in relation to timelines at Thornton hall. What are they now? What is the situation with planning compliance including among other things in relation to proximity to the airport and aircraft noise? What is the situation regarding infrastructure availability and capacity for example as was reported at the weekend in terms of sewage? What are the details of the proposed dedicated bus service? Is it still proposed, what will its schedule be and where will it go? Importantly in relation to ancillary supports and services, health, mental health, education, community, social protection etc. where are these to be sourced? It is patently clear that the capacity does not exist locally so what is the plan or is there a plan at all? If there is, then public representatives, community representatives and residents do not know about it. I have written to the community engagement team in the Department and to the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and McEntee. However, I have had no update other than to say there will be an update in due course. This is not good enough and it must be addressed. We need straight answers provided in a timely fashion and we are not getting them. This is something I and other representatives will continue to pursue. We need a migration system that works, one that reflects the inherent and long-displayed decency of the Irish people and one that supports people in need. We need a system that is fair, efficient and enforced. We can have that without opting into the EU pact. In fact, we can have that without opting into the EU pact. That is where the focus should be.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I want to address Ireland’s relationship with the EU and how this plays into that relationship. Currently I believe the biggest threat to the EU is more EU. The creep of democratic powers from nation states towards Brussels is creating great resistance in societies across the European Union. If we look back, not all of Ireland's relationship with the EU is positive and that has to be outlined. The economist Paul McCulley stated that the former Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, had a loaded gun pointed to his ear when it came to the ECB letter sent to the Irish Government in 2010. Later, the new Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, confirmed that he received a call from the then president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, blocking the imposition of burden sharing at the time. Noonan said that Trichet warned him that an economic bomb would go off in Dublin if Ireland pursued the option of imposing losses on senior bond holders. With a population of 1% of the EU total, Ireland paid 42% of the total cost of the European banking crisis. This was a cost of about €9,000 per person,according to Eurostat. We know that at times the large European states make decisions on the basis of their own national interests and at the cost of so-called other members of the European Union. At the moment legislation is coming thick and fast from the European Union. Most of it is unquestioningly rubber stamped here without any concessions to this House and much of it is flawed. The nature restoration law is an example of this. This law has been handed down to farmers with rigid targets and little detail on how it will be implemented and totally absent of the funds necessary to ensure farmers can make a living.

Another example of the drift of power from nation states is Ursula von der Leyen's plan to create a European defence union.

This would be a union that would make decisions on the basis of the needs of France and Germany but would ignore the views of the Irish people. It would be a union that would, in the medium- to long-term, expect young Irish men and women to put their lives on the line for it, but only for German and French strategic interests. If the Government thinks it would be able to influence Ursula von der Leyen, let it just look at the amount of influence it imposed on her when she strode the world stage offering Israel a blank cheque for the murderous campaign killing 37,000 people in Palestine. It is an Irish Government with no influence over Ursula von der Leyen in that regard.

Now the Government is already preparing the way for the European defence union. The Tánaiste has indicated he wants to get rid of the veto we have over military issues in the treaties and the Taoiseach has indicated he wants to get rid of the triple lock. Even the Government's attitude towards sovereignty is incredible. The Tánaiste stated that he wants nothing to do with a backward idea of sovereignty but Aontú certainly does not agree with him. We believe the sovereignty of the Irish people is really important. Decisions made here, by the people and close to the people, are better decisions so that we can hold the decision-makers to account and influence those decisions. We, like most people, are supportive of the original premise of the EU, which is as a trading partnership that works together in the interests of the nation states, and we seek a partnership of nation states working together. However, what is actually happening on a range of different issues is that the Government is ceding significant power and sovereignty to the EU.

From the very start, the Government's policy on immigration has been an absolute disaster. It is true that the Minister for Justice has been asleep at the wheel for at least four years and the only reason she has awoken is the work we, in Aontú, have done over that period. It was Aontú that found out that 85% of people who were served with deportation orders in this country never had their deportations actioned by the Government. When I asked the Minister where these people were, she replied to me in black and white that she did not know. She could not confirm whether these people had been deported. It was Aontú that found out that 5,000 people came through Dublin Airport with no travel documents last year, which again is an incredible figure. Two years ago, I asked the Minister for Justice where people were registering for asylum when they came to this State. I found it very strange that the answer given to me at the time was that 75% of people were registering for asylum at the International Protection Office on Mount Street. I felt it was odd. I imagined when people registered for asylum they would have registered at the airport or at the ferry ports. I asked the Minister how these people were coming into the country and astoundingly she said she did not know. Worse than that, she said the staff were not asking the question of the people as to how they came into the country when they attended the IPO. Logically, it seemed to me that most of the people who were registering at the IPO must be coming across the Border. Two years ago, I asked that question of the Minister and she said she did not know and that this question was not asked. I asked again last year. The answer changed. The Minister said the information could not be extracted from the data and again, at the start of this year, the answer was the same. Amazingly, a couple of months ago the Minister then admitted under pressure that 80% of the people were coming across the Border to register at the IPO. There is a very simple statement in management that says if you cannot measure, you cannot manage. This Government was not even measuring the really important statistics to help us manage this issue for the past three or four years. That has led significantly to the crisis we are in at the moment. Now, incredibly, the Government has created this new situation where it is putting checks on the Border for people coming across.

7:10 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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No we are not.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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There are spot checks happening in relation to-----

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Do not mislead the Chamber.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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-----people coming across the Border at the moment and it is pointless. It is window dressing. There are 290 roads North to South. There are 10,000 fields North to South. Bringing people back to Newry does not mean they are not going to find another route into the State. The fact that Sinn Féin has supported that particular element of the Government's policy is also incredible as the raison d'être of the party was supposed to be to erase the Border, yet four times in the recent European election campaign, Sinn Féin candidates stated they agreed with the Government's policy of spot checks on the Border for people coming into the country, which is again quite incredible.

Another potential reason there is a high number of people registering at the IPO is people trafficking and people smuggling. As the Government is not measuring that, it means we were not able to tackle that. Another issue is people staying in this State on expired visas. I asked the Minister just two months ago how many people were currently residing in this State on expired visas and she said she did not know. She said we had no mechanism to check the exit of people from the State. Again, it is quite incredible that this answer was given just two months ago.

The EU migration pact is another massive transfer of sovereignty. Nobody knows what the future will hold. We do not know the numbers or the cost. However, at least if we can determine our response to it, we can control the issues of numbers and cost. However, the pact creates a mandatory pool. States must contribute to this on the basis of the fair share principle. It means we have to contribute either financially or be in receipt of people coming in to this country. That undoubtedly creates a situation where we could have to pay significant money to meet our responsibilities under the pact. Second, the pact can be changed in the future and we would not have the ability to stop that change because it will happen under majority vote. We are signing ourselves up not just to the current regime indicated in the EU migration, but to a potential change in the future that we would not be able to resile from as well.

I asked the Taoiseach how much the European migration pact will cost the State and he stated he does not know. This is an astounding admission. It was probably the first blank cheque he actually signed up to in this Government. The Government is committing to the European migration pact and telling us it does not know. Spending other people's money is something the Government does very well. We can see that right through a range of different projects. However, already the Government is breaking so many commitments it has to the European Union that it is being fined tens of millions of euro on an annual basis to pay for those broken commitments. The environmental commitments we have made for 2030 are going to be an example where we will have to spend potentially hundreds of millions of euros in fines due to not meeting those commitments. Here we have the Government hardwiring into new commitments for which there will be a cost. Poland and Hungary already stated they do not support this and they are unlikely to fully fulfil this. The EU has stated that there will be fines and penalties for countries that do not implement the pact. Many of the provisions in this pact that could be good for this country could already be done by the Government. We, in Aontú, have long highlighted the fact that the Government spends such a length of time processing people, which is neither fair on them or to the State, and actually creates a cost to the State in that regard. Speeding up that process is in the Government's gift currently. All it needs is the resources to provide for it. The fact that, up until about last year, thousands of people were waiting two or three years for their first application to be processed is incredible, and given that it can take up to ten years when appeals are made, this shows just how dysfunctional the system over which the Government presides is. Many of those things that are positive in the pact could be delivered by the Government.

The Taoiseach said we are only a small country in the middle of the ocean and that we cannot go it alone, but I am sure people said the same to James Connolly and Pádraig Pearse regarding Irish sovereignty as well. We are better off being able to work co-operatively with other countries but not in a situation where there are mandatory requirements that we do not control.

The inability of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to provide accommodation has led to significant problems in this country. He purchased 30 buildings two years ago for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers. One of them is in use. Again, this is another example of a Government unable to deliver serious infrastructure in Ireland. I have spoken to many immigrants in recent times and they have told me their lives have changed for the worse in this country. They have told me they are receiving a high level of abuse and attacks, both verbally and physically, in Ireland.

7:20 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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So the Deputy is for immigrants now.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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They feel that the chaotic arrangement of the Government has actually led to the breakdown in cohesion in recent years. Aontú believes that the colour of a person's skin is of no more significance than the colour of their eyes. We believe that all citizens must be treated equally and fairly in this country. During the recent election campaign, I talked to many people who are from different countries and who are not white. They told me of their children who were born in Ireland, who are playing hurling and who are speaking Irish in school being attacked physically and verbally in Ireland. Young people who know no other home are being told to go home by certain people in Ireland. That is absolutely wrong and must stop. One of the ways we can rebuild cohesion is to make sure that we have an immigration system that is actually implemented fairly and equally.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this debate and speak in favour of this motion. This gives us a great opportunity not only to speak to the detail of this pact but speak more widely about the issue of migration. Many people have been calling for that and it is important.

I spent four and a half years having to listen to Nigel Farage's contributions to Brexit debates but little did I know that I would see it repeated here for a good three and a half minutes by Deputy Tóibín. That was spectacular Eurosceptic nonsense that was absolutely mind-bending.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Euro-critical. I am not looking to come out of the European Union.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy Tóibín.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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It took him 90 seconds to raise the canard of the EU army. I was just waiting for him to talk about straight bananas; that is how ridiculous he got at one stage. The absolute twisting of truth is lessening this debate. It took Deputy Tóibín seven minutes to actually mention the pact at hand. He was citing issues, talking about a hard border, checks at a border, no checks at a border. He was talking about welcoming immigrants and then talking about a firmer system. He then talked about this entire notion, which I will come to in a minute, that somehow we can do this all on our own and we would be better on our own. Taking the names of Connolly and Pearse into the context of this debate lessens the debate. It just shows the sort of populist nonsense he has been doing. He is very welcome back to the Chamber; I appreciate he spent the past number of weeks campaigning.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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The Minister of State is calling names; he is not addressing anything at all.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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All right, I will address the issues. Some of the issues the Deputy raised are ridiculous.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Again, he is calling names.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Talking about a European defence union and an EU army has no place in this debate.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Of course, they have.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State without interruption.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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It is that sort of level of debate that unfortunately leads us having to spend the whole time myth busting.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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What about sovereignty?

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The issue I would like to address is the pact at hand.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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But sovereignty does-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State without interruption.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I will speak more pertinently to the issue of sovereignty. Deputy Mattie McGrath is due to speak in two slots and I will listen to his contribution then. I look forward to it as ever.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I will talk about the same issues.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Very few people have talked about the detail of the pact and the fact that this took eight years to come about. It took eight years of contribution by Irish people in Brussels at every level to ensure that we talk about this. When I was on the EU's committee of the regions, I sat on the CIVEX committee. All my colleagues from the Mediterranean wanted to talk about Mediterranean crossings, migration and the asylum crisis and the fact that this was seen in a total vacuum as some sort of humanitarian issue alone in Ireland. The issue has been moving on further and further. It is quite clear that the Dublin III regulations are completely out of date and no longer fit for purpose. What this pact seeks to do, can do and is absolutely right to do, is make sure that the system across the European Union is better harmonised, quicker and more cost-effective. It needs to be fair to those who are seeking refuge and to those who are migrating, but also crucially it provides a pathway for EU member states to address the challenges that are being very clearly presented in every community and every village across this country as it has been doing for other member states for quite some time.

One of the root causes of the issue that so many people face is the scourge of human trafficking and smuggling. I recall the report launched by the former Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, when he was a Member of the European Parliament back in 2004 citing the issue of human trafficking and how this was absolutely plaguing not just those who are being trafficked but communities across the European Union. This is where the root of the need for reform and the absolute need for this pact lies.

When talking about the pact, I use this opportunity to respond to some of the claims that will be made in this Chamber or that have been consistently made or indeed that all of us are receiving consistently into our office by email or are seeing on social media. Often it is being presented as absolute fact. I will talk about sovereignty in a moment and our entire role within the European Union. A common tactic is to say that this will lead to 30,000 individuals, asylum seekers, migrants or whatever we call them being forced upon Ireland. This is a very deliberate tactic used by those who are looking to spread disinformation. That is absolute nonsense. Anyone who has read the pact further than the first page will know that if the solidarity clause is invoked in Ireland, Ireland will only have to accept a fraction of this - exactly 648 people - or pay us far smaller financial contribution to the solidarity fund if we choose; we are not forced to.

Not only will this allow us to have a quicker turnaround time but will also provide a far better way of returning those who have failed in the asylum process to member states. I take great issue with the line that I think Deputy O'Rourke used in that somehow we are far better to do this independently - ourselves alone, that old trope. This is a global phenomenon. When we are talking about migration, we have to talk about far more than just accommodation. We also have to talk about the motivating trends which can be war, climate change, the pursuit of a better life, escape from persecution and so much else. The very notion that we can do it on our own is an absolute fallacy.

We only have to look across the United Kingdom, which left the EU for many reasons but one of which was used most egregiously by the hard Brexiteers was that somehow this would address immigration. We see the election platform launched by the Reform Party yesterday, which absolutely ruled out any further immigration. We are not talking about illegal immigration or asylum seekers, but absolute non-essential immigration into the United Kingdom going forward. One of the issues it cited is that somehow Brexit will help the UK process asylum seekers much more quickly, which we have obviously seen to be false because what we have seen post Brexit is that the level of migration into the UK has gone up, including legal migration, illegal migration, asylum seekers and cross-channel crossings. The ability to utilise the provisions under EU law in terms of returning people who failed asylum applications or in terms of reunification is completely lost on the British Government. This notion that is being put across repeatedly that somehow we should do this on our own, that we are an island and that we can solve this is absolute nonsense. It is a recipe to cause trouble and make sure that our systems absolutely fall apart.

A number of comments have suggested that somehow this is a surrender of sovereignty. It is an issue as old as time. This comes back to Deputy Tóibín's comments when he suggested going back to what the European project was originally about - some sort of free trading area. Anyone with a scant knowledge of European or Irish history knows that that is not what it started as. It started with the European Coal and Steel Community. It started with the pursuit of peace, bringing people together and providing better lives to the largest displacement of people on this Continent in history. That is where the European project started. The European Economic Community came much later. It came after Euratom, after the development of the Common Agricultural Policy and much more. The notion of a European project has always been about far more than a collection of member states. It has been far more than a loose trading agreement. It is not some sort of North American Free Trade Agreement for the Continent. It is far more than that and is far more important than that. It is absolutely about pooling sovereignty and sharing ideas. It is not about taking edicts by some foreign power.

The two previous Secretaries General of the European Commission were both from Dublin. Throughout the over 40-year history of the European project, we have seen Irish men and women serving at every single level of the European Union with distinction. When Irish Ministers go into European Council meetings, they represent Irish people but they look to get a common solution and a common good developed across the Continent.

We need to nip in the bud this notion that somehow making the decision to opt into a pact is somehow giving up sovereignty. We are making a decision that will allow us to do things better, quicker and fairer. It will ensure that it is absolutely Irish people who have a say. We will not see decision being imposed. Ireland will still retain the veto power. It was already said a minute ago that the rules are going to change, that we will be forced into an EU army and that we will lose QMV. These notions and discussions have been allowed to seep into debate without people calling them out to say that they are absolutely false. That is really important.

Some people have suggested that the nature restoration law was somehow forced upon us before the European Parliament came back into sitting. Anyone who says that does not realise that the nature restoration law has been passed by the European Parliament and it is a matter for the European Council. It is the ordinary legislative procedure, yet people want to ignore the rules, ignore legislation and ignore constitution to score cheap political points and clearly spread fear about very important issues.

I understand that some people have concerns with the EU migration pact. Some people will say it is too hard and others will say it is not hard enough. However, it is a compromise by 27 sovereign states, members of a collective union who have made a decision to work together for the better good of their citizens, for those seeking asylum, and of promoting the EU as the best place in the world, the largest economy and a place that people understandably want to come to. This has unfortunately just given rise to an easy bit of EU bashing with absolute ignorance and scant regard for what is an important pact. It is the product of eight years of detailed negotiation between ministers, officials, Members of the European Parliament and many more. It is crucially important that Ireland opts into it at this time, but we opt in by giving clear information to people. This is an opportune time for a lot of people to discuss migration more widely. We have heard contributions from Deputies, some of which were raised many times previously. They want to talk about issues such as accommodation in their local communities. They are entitled to do that, and they are entitled to seek answers. They are also responsible to make sure we say we are first and foremost discussing this pact.

If this leads to a wider debate on migration, we have to put things clear on the record. I have no hesitation in saying that immigration is a good thing for our country. It is a good thing for our economy and a good thing for our society. When I had the privilege to serve as Minister of State in the Department of enterprise, I was proud to issue 31,000 work permits to people from outside the European Union who are coming here to work in our hospitals, on our building sites, in our multinational companies and in our communities, and to contribute so much. That is why it is vitally important we have an immigration and migration system that works. That is why it is so important we opt into this migration pact, to make sure that those who come here to seek work go through the appropriate channel looking for work permits. Deputy English, when he was Minister of State, managed to get that waiting time reduced from three months to 12 days. It was an exceptional piece of work with dedicated officials. We see ongoing work from Deputy McEntee's officials and others to make sure the visa system is sped up. A lot of people have said the Government can allocate more resources now. The resources are being allocated. Today the Minister for Justice announced more officials to work in the visa processing system and the asylum processing system to make sure it works. We need to reform our system and we need to speed it up.

I will briefly comment on an event in my constituency yesterday. For a number of weeks my constituency has been the focus of a lot of commentary about IPAS centres and community engagement. That is a complete understatement. There were unfortunately a couple of unsavoury incidents that required arrests and the presence of An Garda Síochána, and a number of people from outside the constituency were arrested. What I witnessed yesterday in the pastoral centre of the Holy Cross Church in Dundrum was something we do not see enough on the news. They expected a crowd of between ten and 12, but we saw more than 120 people. We saw asylum seekers, people born and reared in Dundrum and people who came to Ireland in the past couple of years come together to network, meet and arrange. We saw representatives from two different football clubs and cricket clubs who wanted to work, integrate and welcome people. I believe that is inherently at the soul of Irish people. We are a welcoming people. This is the land of 100,000 welcomes. We need a system to make sure those welcomes are reflective of what is needed in society. I fundamentally believe that the more we do it in co-operation with our European partners, the more we will get a system that works better. The people in that pastoral centre yesterday came from all countries and local areas. There were people who have been in Ireland their entire lives and who were born and bred here. There were people who only arrived a number of years ago but are as Irish as we are. We hold our passport proudly and we see athletes proudly representing our country who perhaps were not born here, or whose parents were not born here. It does not make them any less Irish than us. We have to remember that. They have to know the system works. They want to know we will debate fairly about how we improve that system and make sure that system is truly representative of what we want to achieve. In order to get a system that works, I fundamentally believe that we need to pass this motion as speedily as possible.

7:30 pm

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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This is an important pact for us to make a decision on, and it is my view the Dáil should vote against the Government's decision to fully opt us into this pact. As a result of that I will be voting "Níl". It is often that we hear from Ministers that they cannot do X or Y because of some EU regulation, and it is out of the hands of the Ministers and Government and their hands are tied. Here they are choosing for their hands to be tied and to lose any room for manoeuvre. Here we have a pact we can opt out of. We are in a unique position in our ability to do this, yet instead the Government is taking an all or nothing approach on this. This makes no sense at all to me.

We have all been knocking doors over the past months. The first thing people will say when they talk about immigration is that their hearts go out to the people fleeing war. We need to recognise the causes of immigration and the role the west plays in this. We need to talk about the role the west plays in wars and in climate change, which force people to leave their homelands. We need to recognise the role we play in these wars through the continued use of Shannon Airport. Wars leave destruction around the world, and we must be strong advocates for peace. We must use our military neutrality to work towards peace. We must also be strong in Europe on this issue. We are seeing an increasing militarisation of the EU. Ursula von der Leyen is on record as saying that it is her intention to transform the European Union into a geopolitical bloc, and as part of the next Commission, she wishes to establish an EU defence Commissioner and an EU rapid reaction force, which is an army by another name. She wants to massively increase investment into the European arms industrial complex. Increasing militarisation and increasing wars lead to more migration and the displacement of more people. We must be a voice for peace and the EU must go back to its fundamentals, which were born out of the horrors of two world wars. Even in research at third level, the distinction between civil and military research is being eroded. There is now the new term of dual-use research. That is bad for Ireland in many ways but could also impact our access to funding in the future.

This is also a question of sovereignty. We should be able to make decisions here through a government elected by the people and held accountable by them. We are in a unique position in this State in that we do share a common travel area with Britain, and we should keep flexibility to make changes here when we need to. I also have serious concerns about the EU's policies and attitudes to migration. Many human rights organisations have raised serious concerns about this pact. We have to look at the number of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean. Between 2014 and 2019, more than 19,000 people drowned there. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that refugees could not be returned to Libya by European boats because it would endanger the lives of the people. We know now that the EU managed to circumvent this by training the Libyan Coast Guard, which does interceptions, and brings people back to what can only be described as the largest human market in the world. We should not be holding the EU up as a beacon of human rights and humanity on this issue. As the Minister, Deputy McEntee, said, it took the EU many years to agree on this pact. If there are issues with this pact, my concern is it will take many years to fix them too. Sometimes we do not need a one-size-fits-all approach and model. We have a right to decide our own approach, and I believe it is our responsibility to exercise that right if we feel it is in our own best interests.

Agus cúpla soicind fágtha agam, tá mé ag iarraidh é seo a rá arís i nGaeilge.

Tá sé fíorthábhachtach nuair atáimid ag plé na cúrsaí seo go mbreathnaímid freisin ar na cúinsí ina dtarlaíonn sé go gcaithfidh daoine a dtíortha féin a fhágáil. Caithfimid a bheith ionraic faoi seo gur minic nach bhfuil daoine ag iarraidh a gcuid teaghlaigh féin a fhágáil ach mar gheall ar chúrsaí cogaidh, nach bhfuil cinneadh ar bith eile acu agus go mbíonn orthu fágáil. Caithfimid breathnú air seo agus a chinntiú mar thír go n-úsáidimid an guth láidir atá againn san Aontas Eorpach chun chuile shórt a dhéanamh chun stop a chur le cogaidh. Tá mé buartha go bhfuil an tAontas Eorpach ag dul i dtreo atá ag breathnú ar chúrsaí míleata i bhfad níos mó agus gur chóir dúinn stop a chur leis sin.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Rural Independent Group and I are fundamentally opposed to the migration pact and have made our opposition known for several months. The Dáil justice committee wrapped up its discussions on the pact more than a month ago.

7:50 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important debate in the Dáil, outline my views on the pact and why I am supporting it and respond to some of the claims I have heard about the pact during this debate.

It is very easy, when discussing something that can be technical at times and involves the movement of many people, to lose sight of the human face of this issue and the human stories that should illuminate our ability to discuss very complex policy issues like this. I have experienced a number of human stories in my constituency over the last 18 months that lead me to the view that this pact is appropriate and the right thing for our country. They also reinforce the importance of this debate overall and the need to take care about the claims we make and the language we use.

The first story in my mind, as I listen to this debate, is about attending a ceremony in my constituency to mark a change in patronage in a primary school. The change was part of a process that had been worked on collaboratively with the local church, reflecting that the Catholic ethos and patronage of the school were no longer appropriate for the school community and the school community to come. The Minister, Deputy Foley, and I were present for the ceremony to mark this change. As I looked into the audience and saw all the young girls and boys who were present, all of whom were infants, including many born here and many born in other parts of the world, I saw that they were thinking about the school and their future. It reinforced for me the common views and needs we have, as humans and people living on this island. What those kids are looking for, regardless of where they were born, is an environment in which they are safe, are schooled and can play their role in the society in which they live. As I consider that experience, I find it very difficult to relate it to the claims I hear made about the dangers of migration and of what can happen if migration flows become unregulated. The very purpose of this pact is to put a regulatory framework on migration.

The second story relates to when I visit the centres in my constituency that house people seeking asylum in our country. I and, I am sure, other TDs have visited these centres and met people who have come to Ireland from circumstances I cannot imagine and who, frequently, have experienced danger and difficulty that are outside my ability to comprehend. I had one particular conversation with a man around my age that made me reflect on the fact that there but for the grace of God go I, or any of us. There but for the grace of God go we, and we have avoided that fate because we had the good fortune to be born in this part of the world in a stable, safe environment that allows us to avoid having to deal with those kinds of terrible challenges.

The third story is the many citizenship ceremonies that take place in this State. People who have come to our island go through very rigorous and arduous processes to become citizens of Ireland and to be treated with utter parity with all of those speaking in this debate. I contend that these are deeply valuable and positive experiences that are related to this debate and to the fact that 20% of the labour force come from outside the country or have moved here. It relates to the fact that every workplace in this country has changed and become so much more diverse. If we accept the economic reality that this country will need more workers in its public services and for its employers, and if we look at the human experiences that I am sure all of us have had and relate those to migration, the question becomes this: how can one accept, on one hand, that migration brings positive benefits and has much to offer our society and economy, while, on the other hand and at the same time, buy into the kind of approach that says we can have closed borders and that anybody who comes to our country seeking refuge is doing so in a way that is deceitful and less than honest? How can one accept the benefits migration can bring overall and then not treat the migration challenge in our country with a balance of competence and compassion? The great risk I fear we have to be aware of and navigate through is that we begin to equate migration, its benefits and the need for people to come into our country with the challenges we have with asylum-seeking, and that we get to a point that we begin to view it all as the same thing.

Openness has brought great benefits to Ireland. Without openness we would not have the public services or economy we have today. What this pact and the Government aim to do is to balance that openness with the need to respond to a migration of human beings that has taken place across the world, which has been caused by three wars, the breakdown of states and the climate change we see take place all around us.

The Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Government have made the case for this pact throughout this debate. I, in turn, want to deal with some of the charges made against the pact this evening. First, I have heard the approach set out that any sharing of sovereignty is a bad thing, any pooling of sovereignty with our neighbours is intrinsically wrong and we should view with suspicion any efforts that seek to do this, either through the pact or any other form of co-operation. That is not the route to progress or for responding to the challenges of this century and what is to come. That is a step backwards. The reason we need to co-operate across borders and pool sovereignty on this issue is that the challenges we face here are too great for any country to deal with on its own. That is the very essence of the European Union and it is coming to life in this pact in recognising that we need a higher form of co-operation and co-ordination and that seeking to do this in a solitary way will ultimately be unsuccessful.

As for those who make the case for that approach, having listened to Deputy Mairéad Farrell's speech, I was honestly no wiser at the end of it as to what Sinn Féin's policy is. Perhaps Deputy Ó Laoghaire can respond on this. I heard Deputy Mairéad Farrell speak about dual-use goods, the future of the European Union project, geopolitical claims and President von der Leyen. I heard her speak about many other issues and I am no wiser as to what Sinn Féin's approach is to the migration pact and the great challenge we have in making the case for migration and dealing with the challenge of a greater number of asylum seekers coming to our country. I am afraid I have reached the view that Sinn Féin's policy is either shockingly naive or shockingly cynical. I hope Deputy Ó Laoghaire can prove my claims and fears wrong and outline what Sinn Féin's policy really is. If it is saying it wants to withdraw from many elements of this pact or, more precisely, not participate in them, what would Sinn Féin do instead?

What is its alternative? It can step back to the past and evoke images of other points in our history and talk about what it believes the EU should be but if it is not willing to co-operate with those that are on side with this framework and does not believe we would be in it, why should they co-operate with Ireland? If we decide to go on our own path, why should they decide that they will go on it with us? That is the really practical question I hope Deputy Ó Laoghaire can answer because no Sinn Féin speaker has done it so far and no Sinn Féin speaker has outlined what Sinn Féin would do. I have heard much about what Sinn Féin is against and why it does not want to be in the pact but I have not heard it say what it would do differently or how it would be able to respond to this. I look forward to hearing the Deputy say it.

I have also heard the views about requirements. I have heard it said that we should not have requirements placed upon us to do things in a particular way but if we are saying we are not willing to accept requirements on us to act in a certain way, why should other countries accept requirements on them? If we are saying that there are particular targets we should not meet or particular ways of handling this great challenge we should not conform to, why in turn should we expect other countries to co-operate with us? If we are not willing to meet particular standards and do things in a particular way required by this pact, why are we expecting other countries to do differently? That is at the heart of all of this. What is at the heart of all of this is dealing with a challenge that at a very human level moves across borders. As part of our membership of the EU, we have a political union that helps us create policies that are greater than what we can achieve on our own. To be inside this framework is the best practical prospect open to Ireland regarding how we can respond to what has become a defining challenge in many other democracies. I fear that opting out of this framework would create great risk and great challenges. Those who are making the case for doing so should explain to the Dáil what they would do in its place.

I go back to where I began in this debate about the many different and complex but very human issues. In the midst of this debate, let us not lose sight of having an open economy and an open society, treating others as we wish to be treated and using the fact that our economy has resources at its disposal to help those who are truly vulnerable and destitute. Let us not lose sight of all of those really important attributes of our country and society and let us locate that in this debate on pact and remind us of the need to treat those who are in those vulnerable situations with competence, fairness and compassion. It is for that reason that I support this pact.

8:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I listened to the Minister carefully. This Government has led a divisive campaign about refugees and asylum seekers. This has led to a situation where we have two tiers. The Ukrainians came in with full rights compared to those ensconced in direct provision. This Government has stood over direct provision, a system that was not fit for purpose, for over 24 years. There were numerous reports, starting with the modest report of Mr. Justice Brian McMahon at the time and going on to the Catherine Day report. A decision was made by the Government, which I welcomed, to stop direct provision, the serious for-profit system that was undermining human rights and feeding into a horrible narrative.

I have also gone through the elections supporting people and experienced that narrative, which I deplore, but the Government has had a hand in that. Today, the headlines are that the Government will bring in legislation to revoke people's citizenship. Can the Government imagine the narrative it is feeding into? I come from Galway city and county and have watched what has happened to my dismay and horror. I have deplored the comments made in Oughterard, which I described as the worst meeting of my life. Then I saw what happened in Rosscahill and lately in Carraroe. All that time, the Government has learned nothing. I deplore the comments made in Carraroe. I would lose votes rather than support any of those comments or that narrative but the Government has persisted with the policy of taking over hotels and not providing extra services to the areas. There is also the added insult of English classes in a Gaeltacht area. These are small examples of the Government's failure to learn and to deal with direct provision in a more human way and deal with the people coming to our country seeking asylum. They are not immigrants but people seeking asylum and under international law, we have obligations to look after them and make quick decisions. If they are not entitled to asylum, there should certainly be a quick return but none of this has happened. The Government has allowed this horrible narrative, which I deplore, to build up such as the argument that Ireland is full or questioning whether we can take any more. It is horrible language.

This pact has seven parts but nobody has explained why there is only one vote. Perhaps I am wrong. Is it one vote on seven individual parts? There has been no explanation as to why this will happen. There is no ability for us to tease this out because it went to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice for one day. There was pressure to get it debated in the Dáil. There was one day when people came in to make presentations. I understand the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is on record as saying that it did not have enough time to make a presentation. Can one imagine? An organisation of that status did not have enough time to make a submission on this. We were led to believe that it had to be pushed through before the local and European elections but suddenly it did not have to, just like the copyright referendum that was supposed to be held. That was put off as well. That went by the board as well even though we were told that had to be held. Suddenly, this was not to be done before the elections and here we are.

I am on side with the tenor of what the Minister said about the unacceptable nature and our obligations. My difficulty concerns what has happened to the European project, the lens we are looking down and the tunnel vision we have. An article by Sally Hayden in today's edition of The Irish Times tells us about the situation in Sudan. The article quoted people saying "We are looking for help, we are looking for humanity". It is an impossible situation with 10 million people displaced in Sudan. What are we doing? Absolutely nothing. On Leaders' Questions today, my question was about Palestine where people are being slaughtered. What are we doing? We are waiting for our big sisters and brothers in Europe to tell us what to do. Oh yes we are. The Government is going to vote for Ursula von der Leyen.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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That comment is below the Deputy.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I did not interrupt the Minister. What are we looking at here? The UN estimates that at the end of 2023, there were more than 117 million displaced people in the world. I understand the number has gone up to almost 120 million. What are we doing about that? What lens are we looking through to see what is happening in the world? What voice are we using? Are we using our voice as a neutral and independent sovereign state to ask what is happening and what we will contribute to that debate as a small country? Our voice is much stronger given our history and I would like to hear it. If 120 million people are displaced, no amount of border protection, detention centres, prisons or walls will sort that out. For as long as I am here, whether it is for a few weeks or a few more years, I will use my voice to say that is wrong. Do not build Europe up as a fortress. Mr. Borrell is telling us that everything outside the walls of Europe is a jungle. Remember that? Ursula von der Leyen tells us that what Benjamin Netanyahu is doing is okay.

That is the type of Europe we have. I will not be part of that Europe and I am a committed European. I have had the privilege of living in Germany and learning the language. I have family there. I am a European in a different sense to what von der Leyen and Borrell are telling us.

We are not allowed to vote on the seven individual parts of the pact. NGOs have spoken about the pact. I can pick from a number of papers. The Irish Refugee Council stated 161 NGOs called on members of the European Parliament to vote against the pact and that it will have devastating implications for the right to international protection and will greenlight abuses across Europe, including racial profiling, default de facto detention and pushbacks. The Irish Refugee Council prepared a briefing paper, which stated that it believes the reforms reflect an effort to limit access to protection for refugees in Europe and will result in fewer safeguards, increased attention and destitution among people seeking protection. I could go on.

I realise other submissions stated there were some good and bad things in the pact. I realise that. I have read every one of them. Overall, the pact is channelling a discussion in a particular fashion and way and for a particular narrative that allows people who have been regarded as being on the right to use it in a way that suits their arguments, as opposed to asking how we stand together through solidarity with the 600 people who went down on a ship this month last year. I did not hear von der Leyen say one word about those 600 people.

I hope to watch a BBC 2 documentary which aired last night on what is happening with the Greeks, who are under pressure, and how they are throwing people back into the water. Figures were given. How do we stand in solidarity with countries in the world which are the poorest and are taking the most asylum seekers and refugees? I would have loved if a Minister, or the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, had quoted figures for the countries which are the poorest and are taking in the most.

Europe's percentage of refugees and asylum seekers has decreased significantly over the past number of years. The richest entity, which is on its way to becoming a military power and empire, speaks about a rules based order within its walls while everything outside of that does not deserve respect. People are treated with utter contempt, as if they go into a ship for the love and fun of it and to get fresh air in the Mediterranean. They are running for their lives and from appalling conditions.

Ireland and Europe are not looking at what part Europe is playing in those conditions, given the type of business and model we are pursuing. We can take a tiny look at this and say we are standing in solidarity. We are making a mockery of language because we are certainly not standing in solidarity with those who need our help. Von der Leyen does not need our help.

Our voices need to be heard loud and clear. We need to say that we have challenges in terms of the number of asylum seekers and refugees running from their countries. We need to ask why that is happening. We need to ask what we, as part of Europe, are going to do about that. We need to make words mean something when we stand in solidarity and show some human outrage at the 600 people that we know about who went down on one ship. That still continues to this day. I will not be supporting the pact.

8:10 pm

Photo of Violet-Anne WynneViolet-Anne Wynne (Clare, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to voice my views on the EU migration pact and will do my very best in my limited time as I have a lot to say on the matter. It is completely disingenuous of the Government to steamroll ahead with a single vote on this pact. There is no need for that, it has the public's back up and I take real issue with that.

One point has been completely lost by the Government. It is abundantly clear, much the same as the recent referendum, that the heels have been dug in and there is no sign that the Government wants to work collectively in this House on the issue of migration. At the same time, it is speaking to the need to work on this issue collectively in the EU. That seems hypocritical and sends a loud message that has been resounding for the past two years.

I called for increased engagement with communities. Instead it seemed that such a small but significant step, which is vitally important for integration, was too much to cope with and too big of an ask. Instead, it was considered fair to put vulnerable people in rural and peripheral rural parts of Clare into towns and villages with high levels of deprivation, a lack of employment opportunities and with reduced or non-existent public services - I am referring to very basic public services. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind. The Government pitted vulnerable people against each other, who then felt they had more competition to fight against. That is exactly what has unfolded. That was dangerous and anything but fair.

The truth is that the Government has lost credibility and has not demonstrated its capability to deliver accommodation in this never-ending housing crisis. Can it respect that this affects trust, confidence, social cohesion and attitudes towards migration? I will not support the EU migration pact. I want to briefly mention communities in Clare which have done amazing work in assisting and supporting people with very little support from this Government.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I will preface my remarks by stating what a remarkable institution the European Union is. It is unique. It was formed by statesmen determined that in future, difficult global problems would be resolved co-operatively and peacefully among the countries involved. For Ireland, membership of the European Union has been the gateway to take our place among the countries of the world, as Parnell spoke about.

For a small country to exercise sovereignty in a meaningful way on global issues is to share in decisions and in making and reaching decisions on issues that, had we not participated, would affect us anyhow without our voice being heard. I see this debate very much in the context of the European Union and Ireland as an integral part of it trying to resolve what is undoubtedly a highly divisive issue. We see that right across Europe, where these issues are becoming divisive in European politics.

Migration has been hugely accelerated by war, as we all know. Ireland has maintained its fair share. It is not carrying more or less but it is carrying its fair share in dealing with international protection and the nearly 6 million people displaced by the Ukrainian war. This debate and these issues will test our values and ability as a member of the European Union to work with others to try to resolve the common difficulties we face. This series of tests comes at a time when there are serious forces out there seeking to fan the flames of divisiveness with their xenophobia, Euroscepticism, battles over identity and conspiracy theories.

We are working in a dangerous environment and it is important that we see the pact in that light. This is an important effort by the European Union to address the massive problem of displacement that is now occurring. As many others have said, it cannot be resolved by one country acting alone. This has to be a collective approach. As the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, pointed out, people are legally here seeking our protection because of the circumstances in their countries. Many talk about them as being illegal immigrants. They are here legally and are exercising a right we have recognised time and again in international treaties.

Every EU country is struggling in the same way to manage these flows.

I get annoyed when I hear and see the protests stating that Ireland is full and that we should have a fortress Ireland. Do the people who advocate for that just ignore the tremendous changes that have happened in Ireland over the past decades, because we have opened up and because we have moved away from this fortress idea? The bedrock values of the European Union, from which we have derived so much benefit, are the free movement of labour, of goods and of capital. That is why we have been so successful. So many of our enterprises and services, such as the health service, depend entirely on the existence of migration and the support of people who decided to make their futures in this country. That has to be at the heart of the way we look at this challenge.

However, mutual co-operation is absolutely essential if we are to manage this and maintain the sort of open societies from which we have derived benefit. If we start to balkanise our approach with each country taking its own individual approaches, as advocated by those who oppose this, we will sacrifice the openness we have all enjoyed so much. The EU has had a common system in this area for 25 years. The notion that we co-operate together is not a new EU approach. It has been established practice for 25 years.

Moreover, this pact was difficult to agree and no doubt there was give and take. Different countries have different interests and they all had to be accommodated. Like all agreements, it comes at the end as a package. People make compromises to agree something on which they can all agree. That integrity requires that participants cannot pick and choose what bits they like and do not like. I can understand how politicians want to come in here and oppose this treaty at all costs. They will find something in the treaty they do not like. I can understand that instinct because this is a very divisive issue. However, let us be honest. At the end of any negotiation that has gone on as long as this has, there comes a time where we have to decide whether we are opting in or out. Ireland has absolutely rightly decided that we are opting in.

Is it perfect? Certainly not. Is it the last word on migration? Certainly not. However, it is a very good effort to improve what is happening in the European Union at the moment. It offers real concessions or improvements that help us to manage our migration more effectively in both a fair and firm manner, as the Minister for Justice has repeatedly stated is her objective. It reduces gaming of systems between countries and secondary movements. It introduces standard approaches in all countries and copper-fastens those in new ways. It shares information from the vetting process that is exercised in each country. It makes it easier to trace those with criminal intentions in order that such people do not come here and slip through the net. It speeds up the process of application, particularly for inadmissible applications. It creates a workable system for returns, which had not been there under the Dublin Convention. It creates new institutions at the EU that will provide financial support to member states to try to manage this more effectively.

This House has been looking for every one of those elements. There has been criticism of the Government for not processing cases faster and worry that people with criminal intention may be slipping through, although the evidence shows that is almost negligible in its level. It is making sure we share information, which makes it easier. It has a return system, which people in this House have been demanding. It now offers financial assistance to help member states to work together. These are elements we have all looked for and this is a collective agreement that allows them to happen in each member state so that we do not have the balkanisation of the systems that allows people to game one state against the other. It becomes a fairer approach.

To see the merit of this agreement we only have to look at the UK. The UK left the EU largely in the belief that by taking back control, to quote Dominic Cummings’s great insight, it would take back control over migration. That has certainly not happened. Migration into the UK is at record levels. It is looking to pay £500 million to France to try to shore up a system in an individual bilateral agreement. It spent £600 million on a Rwandan scheme under which I understand one person has actually been deported. The imaginary objective of taking back control has proved entirely illusory. As well as that, it has sacrificed many of the benefits the UK could have derived from many of the other common policies of the EU.

Much is also being made of the solidarity agreement. On the night the Minister announced the pact had been agreed, on social media I got these claims that Ireland was going to have a burden of €600 million and we would have to take in 30,000 migrants every year. I am sure others received this too. It was just terrible disinformation designed to undermine people's confidence in the pact. It is far from what has been actually agreed. The modest proposal here of solidarity when a country gets overwhelmed is an important element, because any country could be overwhelmed in this way. At the heart of the approach to migration of the European Union is that there would be solidarity and fair sharing of the burden.

In the few minutes left, the last comment I want to make is that we need think much more deeply about the issue of migration and displacement than perhaps we have in recent times. The concentration has been on people moving so quickly and trying to accommodate them. There is no doubt but this will continue. Climate will continue to disrupt. We are seeing growing forces in the world who see benefit in exploiting the sort of differences that have created war and famine across our planet. The EU must continue to be the strong advocate for policies that will build capacity to stop the source of these problems. That is such an important element of any approach to this. We concentrate ourselves in the short term on the problems of those turning up on our shores. However, we need to have serious policies to build capacity. We are in a privileged position to help to do that. As we approach this and try to balance the humanitarian crises with our own capacity to absorb and manage flows, we must also think about how to reduce the preponderance of humanitarian crises, many of which are being created by our failure to act sufficiently quickly on issues like climate change. We need to develop the multilateral capacity of countries to impact on these really difficult humanitarian crises that are creating such damage in people's lives, who are turning up on our shores.

8:20 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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My colleagues in Sinn Féin and I will be voting against the EU pact on migration and asylum. We do not believe that opting into this pact is in the best interests of Ireland. From the outset, the Government's approach to the area of immigration has been absolutely shambolic. It has consistently been found wanting, invariably scrambling to catch up on events as they are developing. The bottom line is, there has been no plan and there is no plan. Now, with the EU migration pact, the Government is attempting to crowbar Ireland's immigration problems into what it wrongly believes to be a catch-all solution, without any regard to the fact that Ireland's interests would be better served by exercising our sovereign right to develop our own individual responses to the immigration crisis when so doing would offer a better solution than the migration pact.

I find it difficult to believe, although I should not, that the Minister confirmed that she did not even consider that Ireland might adopt a more nuanced approach of opting into some areas and out of others. Like the rest of the Government, the Minister has failed to acknowledge that the majority of the EU migration pact simply is not in the interest of the Irish State.

Ireland has the right to choose to develop its own policies on migration. That does not put us at odds with the EU. It merely acknowledges Ireland’s sovereign right to take decisions in Ireland about matters that affect Ireland on the island of Ireland. Ireland’s position is unique and it is necessary to deal with the complexities that could arise from our common travel area with Britain. It allows the State to opt into elements of the migration pact that serve Ireland’s interests and opt out of those that do not serve our interests. This is the approach that Sinn Féin has advocated. If the Government is successful and the EU migration pact is adopted, then that is it: we are in it and there is nothing we can do about it. By remaining outside most of the pact we retain the flexibility and the agility to respond in real time in a way that is in Ireland’s best interests.

Ireland requires an immigration system which is fair, efficient and enforced. One that serves Ireland’s interests but that also maintains a human rights standard. A number of human rights organisations have brought forward serious concerns about the provisions of the migration pact. These include concerns around the potential for the detention of refugees for totally inadequate assessments and the welfare of vulnerable asylum seekers. I share those concerns. Ireland must play a stronger role in the international community in working to address the underlying issues driving migration across the globe. Ireland must regain its international voice. It must use the international moral standing of the Irish nation to demand that the international community gets real in addressing ongoing conflict and inequality and the impacts of climate change that are blighting large parts of the globe. Our history of neutrality and of struggle against colonial occupation gives Ireland a unique credibility among nations when it comes to speaking on these issues. The Government would do well to remember that when Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council, it was the votes of the non-aligned, island nations and former colonies that put us there. Sinn Féin is opposed to Ireland opting into the procedures regulation, the crisis and force majeure regulation, the qualifications directive, the reception conditions directive and the EU resettlement framework. The rationale for our opposition has already been outlined by my colleagues who have spoken earlier. However, Sinn Féin does support the measures that do make sense. We support the asylum migration management regulation, which would allow Ireland to return individuals who make asylum applications here to the first country where they have made a claim for international protection. We believe it is in our interests to be able to access the fingerprint database, which would allow the State to ensure that it has more information on those who do enter Ireland. This will aid in vetting processes, help in child trafficking cases and conducting checks and, where appropriate, to returning asylum seekers safely. The Eurodac regulation involves a database of the fingerprints of all asylum seekers who have registered in EU member states or associated states.

We have a broken immigration system. Our system is completely overwhelmed. This Government’s failure to introduce a fair, efficient and enforced immigration system has impacted on the social fabric of many communities across the State. The Government’s failure to enforce its own rules has allowed the numbers to continue rising at a completely unmanageable rate. In 2019 there were 4,781 international protection applications. By 2023, this had risen to 13,276. This year it seems as though the figures might surpass 20,000. Yet asylum applicants endure an average waiting time of just under 19 months for a decision. This most decidedly is not an efficient system. The whole thing appears to be something of a “whatever you’re having yourself” approach. There is evidence of haphazard enforcement of decisions when they are eventually reached. There is little or no follow-up and there is a reliance on failed applicants leaving the State voluntarily. The absence of oversight or verification is absolutely ridiculous. Over 11 years when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were either in government together or providing active support to each other, some 10,622 deportation orders were issued and only 1,948 of those orders were enforced. That is a mere 18%. In 2022, when 928 deportation orders were issued only 52 of those were acted upon. In 2023, there were 80 deportations enforced of a total of 734 that were signed. It appears that the Government does not know where these unsuccessful applicants are: whether they are in the State and, if they are, where in the State they are. It does not compile that information.

The Government has failed to enforce its own policies or system of rules. It is a laissez-faireapproach where it appears that it is left to individuals to leave by themselves. This has created bottlenecks and has meant that a completely overwhelmed system does not serve the best interests of those who it was set up to serve. The single most damaging and shambolic aspect of the Government’s failed immigration strategy, however, has been its failure to communicate and consult with local communities. Most damaging of all is the way the Government has allowed the communications gap to be filled with lies, hate and prejudice. Sky News recently revealed that 56% of online content relating to one particular protest originated in the US with 10% in Britain and only 20% originated in this State. Responsibility for this lies firmly at the door of the Government. Communities require the Government to be honest with them about what is occurring in their midst. Instead, the Government has straight-out lied to communities, which has led to anger and resentment on the ground.

Ireland needs a fair, efficient and enforced system of immigration. We have the means to exercise our sovereignty and to act in the best interests of our own State and our own island, developing our own solutions to the unique character of the problems here. I have outlined the individual measures which are not in Ireland’s interests. We must oppose them. By ceding sovereignty to the EU on the issue of migration, the Government is moving to undermine the State’s capacity to effectively address the issue. That is why I, and my colleagues, will vote against the EU migration pact.

8:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak on this truly important issue. I will make a few general points before I deal with the specifics in the proposal before the House. This is a fundamentally important set of proposals that seeks - I think in an honest way - to address an issue which is of deep concern to the majority of the Irish people. It merits, therefore, the kind of scrutiny and debate that these measures were given in the European Parliament itself with a focus here in our discussions on how each of these provisions will be enacted and the implications for Irish policy.

That has not happened, though. The truncated opportunity given to the justice committee when important national institutions felt that they had not been given enough time to make their presentations was not an adequate way of dealing with such an important issue.

As the Minister is present, I have to say that the approach taken to this set of issues by the Government changed during the European and local elections. It is now a policy platform, it appears to me, that is driven by electoral politics rather than by fundamental principle. That is underscored by the announcement this morning of laws to strip citizenship from naturalised citizens in certain circumstances. The Minister’s proposals may well be well founded, but such important matters are now delivered by media release in advance of telling anyone in this House, presenting anything to committees or presenting anything to the plenaries of this House. The matters now compete on social media with appalling views coming from other quarters.

It is the Labour Party’s strong view that the asylum and migration issue can only be properly dealt with on a pan-European basis. This is not an issue that can be dealt with by ourselves alone. Our party leader said that there was much in this set of measures that was welcome and that we would support. The problem for us is that we have real and substantial concerns about some of the provisions. It is also a fact that, unlike a constitutional proposal, the Government has not spelled out how we will legislate for each of these proposals. The Oireachtas is being asked to accept all in a single vote and await the detailed specific legislative provisions later.

Like every other Member, I have seen in my constituency of Wexford the welcome afforded to asylum seekers as well as Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s tyranny. In every part of my county, communities, clubs, schools and individuals have done extraordinary things to make people welcome, to ease their burdens and to support integration, but that significant effort often goes unreported.

As the Minister told the House, opting into the pact will mean the full repeal of the International Protection Act 2015, which we introduced while in government. It will be replaced by as yet unseen legislation, with the Government to publish an implementation plan by the end of the year and the law to come into effect in July 2026. We have a number of concerns about, for example, the asylum procedure regulation, especially the Border procedure, which creates the fiction of non-entry, a situation where an asylum seeker will be physically present in the State but have no legal entitlement to actually enter the State or to be recognised as being here.

What are the Government’s plans in respect of detention? The nature and character of detention should be known to us in specific detail before this House votes. God knows, we have all vented our views on how those detention centres apply in other parts of Europe and, most especially, on the Mexico-US border. I do not believe for one minute that anything like that is envisaged for here, but what is intended should be spelled out so that we all can have confidence.

We also need to be specific about what the UNHCR has said. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into the details, but the UNHCR is asking for specific guarantees on matters of fundamental rights and importance.

These are complex and challenging issues. I agree with Ministers that there is no simple or simplistic solution and I know that an agreed EU framework is not an easy thing to achieve, but I had hoped that the same care would be taken by the Government in explaining in detail and hearing the views of this House rather than showing us a fait accompliand telling us we could have a few hours to vent our views, but nothing would change and we would have to vote yea or nay on a comprehensive set of difficult and challenging proposals.

8:40 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Molaim go bhfuil an díospóireacht ar siúl anocht agus measaim go bhfuil tuairimí éagsúla sa Dáil faoin gceist. Is é mo thuairim láidir, ámh, go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach go mbeimis ag cabhrú leis na tíortha eile san Aontas Eorpach agus go mbeadh an dearcadh céanna ag gach tír agus go mbeidh an polasaí, más féidir é, a bheith chomh séimh agus a bheith ag obair i ngach áit. Is trua liom nach bhfuil an polasaí i gContae Lú, go háirithe, ag obair in aon chor mar tá daoine ar buile faoi na rudaí a thit amach. Goilleann na rudaí atá le rá agam anois i mBéarla, go háirithe, go mór orm.

It is important that, as common countries in the European Union, we work together to deal effectively, humanely and appropriately with all of the issues that arise in this context. I support the Minister in her proposals. This is the only way forward. We cannot pick and choose. We have to act together and have the same frontier and policies. An issue I would like to see addressed, though, is that of the list of safe countries. As I understand the matter, different countries in Europe have different lists. We all need to have the same list, if possible. Some countries that are nearer to the Mediterranean Sea have more countries on their lists than states like we do, but we need a common policy that works.

We have just come through local elections. In County Louth in my constituency, particularly in my town, the issues of international protection, race, colour and the D Hotel were to the fore. Notwithstanding all the arguments and criticisms, we elected Drogheda’s first black councillor ever. She is an immigrant from Nigeria who settled in our town. She has lived here for 33 years and done a magnificent job in the health services. As the Minister pointed out, immigration adds to capacity in the health services, IT services and so on, so we must be focused and practical in what we do. If we have a shortage of skills in our economy and cannot, for example, build the houses we want to build today or tomorrow as a result, and if some of our international protection applicants or people from Ukraine have those skills, I do not see why we should not be able to match their skills with our needs. When people are coming to the country who have the skills we need, we should use them productively. Doing so would be important.

The criticism is that we do not favour humane and appropriate policy. We do - I certainly do, and I stand firmly on that platform - but the Government, in particular the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, and his Department, has got it entirely wrong in Drogheda. Let us consider the figures in the nearby counties. Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan are a natural combination of four counties that works in many ways. The number of international protection applicants in Cavan is 155. In Monaghan, it is 693. In Meath, which is a larger county than Louth, it is 1,001. Louth, however, has 1,165. The Government has doubled the number of applicants in County Louth over the past year. There is no issue with that provided appropriate accommodation is provided for them, but the Government has lost us our only major hotel. The D Hotel will be gone for two years, causing untold harm and friction in our community, which is entirely unacceptable and has not been addressed by the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, specifically or by the Government. I have with me a report that was commissioned on the economic impact of losing the D Hotel in Drogheda. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, is aware of it, as are the Taoiseach and other Ministers. This independent report from PMCA Economic Consulting calculates that losing our only hotel is a loss to our tourism industry and our wider economy in the order of more than €20 million over the two years. That is unacceptable.

We need an initiative. I welcome that the Minister for Justice is a frequent visitor to our town and that she is familiar with and has met many people there. The Taoiseach will visit shortly. Our town needs a lift after what has happened.

We need to ensure there is significant local benefit to our community as a result of losing our D Hotel. Along with that, we need transparency around the decision as to why we lost it and how we lost it. It concerns me that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is refusing to act in an appropriate way and to be accountable to this Oireachtas and the parliamentary questions I am putting in. He is obfuscating and not telling the truth about what is actually going on and what is the true cost.

The true cost appears to be that accommodation for IPAS applicants in private accommodation has gone from €34.99 per day in 2018 to €80 per day in 2024. To me, part of that is the reason. He signs up 500 beds in Drogheda - which could not possibly be put into the D Hotel and used - when in fact he is limited to 250. There is huge waste of money in what he is doing and as I said, there is no local economic benefit that is substantial or an equivalent increase in facilities. We have scores of people walking our town, day in, day out, with nowhere to go. They are in a hotel that has no recreational amenities. They walk the streets of our town and they are at a loss, as we are, as to why this was done when there is actually, I believe, no need to do it.

The failure of the Minister to provide State-owned accommodation is stark and absolutely unacceptable. The Government needs to ensure that State-owned accommodation is the order of the day, and it exits from all the private accommodation it has, and places people appropriately in State-owned accommodation. It will avoid the hassle and the conflict that is there at the moment and it would be fair to everybody if that was the case. It is also fair that around the country, each county stands up and plays its part. Louth is more than playing its part because the smallest county in Ireland is looking after - there is not an issue with this, if they were in the appropriate accommodation - more IPAS applicants living there than 22 counties that are all smaller than us in terms of physical size. We need to be fair. We are happy to play our part but other counties need to play a greater part, and that is where the reality of this issue lies.

I know I have only one and a half minutes left. We need a moratorium in Drogheda on any further contracts awarded in the town centre for private contracts. If further investment in private contractors in our town is allowed, that will create serious friction and problems that are exacerbated by the loss of our hotel, and the fact there is no equivalent local benefit to our community. If the Minister wants to have future prosperity for everybody, all of the communities need to be looked after and the pressure reduced on services that are being pressurised in Drogheda. In particular, I go back to the loss of our hotel which is and remains entirely unacceptable.

8:50 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I am opposed to a full opt-in to this pact because there are so many aspects of it that are not in Ireland's interests. The all-or-nothing approach taken by the Government is reckless, unnecessary and mystifying. Why did the Government not look at this pact and decide to opt out of what is not good for us? Why is it not the Government's automatic reaction to put Ireland's interests over the EU's institutional neoliberal interest? This is the same EU institution that gives its full support to the massacre of the Palestinian people. That alone is a red flag and that alone should make the Government determined not to cede our sovereign power on immigration to a neoliberal EU, an EU increasingly removed from the decency and goodness of its people, evidenced by protests against the war crimes and crimes against humanity it is supporting in Gaza.

In this uncertain political world where good is bad and bad is evil, it is vital that Ireland retains its sovereignty over asylum and immigration because nobody knows what is coming down the line. We have a duty to our people to make sure immigration is in our hands and not in those of Ursula von der Leyen or her EPP cronies coming after her. All in Fine Gael and the EPP gave succour and cover to the far right, refusing to tackle it because it was not affecting their vote. Party first, citizens a very poor second. The centre right legitimises the far right and today, we have the front page of the Financial Times saying that big business is courting Marine Le Pen to keep out a left government in France. What does that tell you about the interest of business in democracy? It says give us Le Pen, not decent wages or equality for our ordinary workers.

Thanks to a long, cynical silence, vigilantes are accosting migrants across our country. They are cruising in our towns and cities abusing gardaí. Immigration locations are being set fire to, and roadblocks and identity checks are being set up. A Croatian man, Josip Strok, has been killed. We have an elected councillor in Kildare telling us he wants Irish women to breed more. Ireland is full one week, and the next week he wants, in his words, "indigenous... women" breeding more. Beef to the heels, the lot of us.

These people start with women's rights and status, and then they come for members of your family who are gay. Next they will come for members of your family who are disabled. That is the playbook of the far right's useful idiots, and that is what they are playing. That is what this Government has turned a blind eye to. We need a vastly different and better system of immigration that is tightly managed and regulated, one that is compassionate and that protects people seeking refuge from war, famine, persecution and human rights abuses. They should not be vying for services with people who have been generationally neglected by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, people who are really hurting. They are people I see every day in my clinics, and I read their pain in my emails. They are suffering because of this Government's brazen recklessness.

I want better for all our people. I do not want Ireland cowed by thugs who would give their eye teeth to behave like the fascist squads of old. The Minister must do her duty and stop this lunacy of blanket opt-in. The Government must look after our people, our refugees and immigrants who have come to contribute to life in Ireland, and make all of us its priority, not the demands of the EPP and Commissioner von der Leyen.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I want to begin with a very simple premise: that is, that migrants have contributed hugely to our country, as we did when we went overseas and contributed to others. I think it is important to start there.

Ireland would grind to a halt without the work of migrants who live here and have contributed both through their labour and their enhancement of our culture. They have powered our industries, which would completely collapse without their service. Some 40% of our doctors are migrants. Our healthcare system, public transport and retail sectors would cease to function without them. Hospital waiting rooms, which are already overcrowded, would overflow to an unimaginable degree. The trolley crisis would reach heights beyond our comprehension and lives would be lost if we did not have migrants who came here to contribute to our republic.

Some 95% of migrants in our country are working but they are valuable for much more than their contribution to the economy. They enrich our society, families and culture. They are friends, neighbours and loved ones. They are people no different from any of us here and they should not be evaluated or judged any differently from how we look at ourselves.

Migrants and people who have come here in search of sanctuary deserve better than this process, which has been rushed and seems to be devoid of any degree of humanity. This chaotic approach is causing real harm. Refugees fleeing war and famine have been left on the streets in tents. They have been moved from place to place every single stay, with no circumstance of destitution sufficient enough to abide the callousness of those who seek to create division from their presence here. This approach, or lack thereof, has created a void and it has been allowed to be filled by division and hate.

In this Chamber, we do not seem to be able to even agree on numbers or data, never mind a strategy. Minority communities are experiencing racist abuse and violence as a direct result of incompetence. We need a fair, humane and efficient asylum system, something we have seen no sign of yet, and there has been no indication of progress, certainly not in this debate so far.

We need to increase the resources and staff at the IPO and IPAS so that claims can be dealt with fairly, humanely and with some degree of flexibility and speed. The backlogs found in these organisations have crippled staff and hindered the efficiency of our entire migration system. The only scrutiny of the migration pact in the Oireachtas extends to two three-hour sessions in the justice committee, which is far from enough considering the gravity of its effects. There has been almost no debate and no scrutiny of the measures. Any Dáil debate there has been on the issue in recent weeks has been during Private Members' time in the Dáil, and it has given time to those who wish to espouse their hate and division. The Government is ramming it through with just one vote, even though there are seven separate regulations and packages of measures, and even though when this was passing through the European Parliament, they were able to vote on each individual issue.

There has been a deplorable communication strategy that is now being masked by performative cruelty on the part of the Government. The Tánaiste has said on numerous occasions that Government communications and engagement on migration must improve on all fronts and that we need a Covid-style response. Would that not be lovely? We have heard the same thing from the Government repeatedly for more than two years. Can we ever expect this to change or is that not within the capability of the Government? To be fair to the Minister in charge and the Tánaiste, it is very difficult to communicate a strategy that simply does not exist. As it stands, the strategy only seems to extend to the occasional desperate appeal to the private sector for some dilapidated buildings. Short-termism and desperation have underpinned this approach, allowing the far right to challenge the narrative with their hateful agenda.

We will be voting against this pact but we will be doing so for very different reasons from those that have been communicated by others in the Chamber. There has been very little discussion on the various human rights concerns that many people have expressed. The Social Democrats have concerns about aspects of this pact, with the border procedure, the potential for detention camps, the stripping away of the right to legal advice and the fiction of non-entry to Europe to the fore. We also have questions about the uniqueness of Ireland's situation with regard to the North and this has in no way been alleviated. More than 160 NGOs, including Oxfam, Amnesty and Médecins Sans Frontières, are opposed to this pact and experts in the field feel it violates human rights law. There have been attempts by some in this Chamber and elsewhere to undermine the work of these organisations but they do valuable work every single day and their voice should be respected. They agree that a fundamental right to asylum and international protection will be severely diminished by this pact.

To have more people in detention centres on EU borders, including families with children and people in vulnerable situations, does not paint a picture of a fairer Europe. We should not be treating those more vulnerable than us in a way that endangers them further. A system with reduced safeguards for people seeking asylum, substandard border asylum procedures and more people being refused a fair and full assessment of their asylum claims is not a system that we should be adopting. Given the horrific history of institutional incarceration in this country, we should be very careful before we impose any other institutions of incarceration on people.

9:00 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome this debate. It is very important that the Oireachtas takes the time to discuss the migration issue generally but also the international protection system. It is also important that we give significant and appropriate time to discussion of the migration pact. I recognise the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for her work in this regard but also for making sure it has received significant debate at the Oireachtas committee level, which is important, in today’s debate and, if necessary, in further debate in the Dáil and Seanad. The legislation that will follow will present a significant opportunity for the Houses of the Oireachtas to assess and tease out the proposals and make sure they are fully considered.

I will take up Deputy Gannon’s point at the start of his contribution. It is important to recognise the significant contribution that migrants make on an ongoing basis to this country. We are very fortunate to have people who are contributing in all areas of society. With 2.7 million people at work in Ireland, it is vital that we have a strong employment permit system in place to allow non-EEA nationals to fill significant skills and labour gaps that cannot be filled in Ireland or, indeed, in Europe. Migrants today make up 20% of our workforce and are crucial in many sectors, not least healthcare and construction. Their participation in high-skilled roles in engineering, science and ICT across the economy contributes to the strong economy and society that we have. In 2023 alone, more than 30,000 work permits were issued to non-EEA workers.

Alongside the significant contribution that migrants make to our economy and society through work permits and participation in the Common Market, it is also important that we have systems in place to support people in need of international protection. Of course, our country stepped up significantly in regard to the terrible atrocity of the illegal invasion of Ukraine. We welcomed people to different parts of our country at a time of dire need and provided shelter and refuge for many people. We saw that in communities across the country and it continues today.

In recent times, we have seen particular challenges within the international protection system, in particular a significant step change from pre-Covid to last year and this year in terms of a significant increase in the number of people seeking international protection. It is important that we respond appropriately by making sure we have the processes in place to deal with those seeking refuge in this country, that they get a fair assessment of their application and that those who require protection receive it. We also need to make sure that for those who do not meet the criteria, there is an effective system in place to process their applications, they get a prompt answer and there are systems in place to have them returned.

We have seen a significant increase from approximately 3,000 applicants pre-Covid to approximately 13,000 last year and it is likely to be in excess of 20,000 this year. The Minister for Justice, working on the accommodation side with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has responded to that increase in number. It is important that significant resources have been provided to ensure that processing can be administered as quickly as possible. We have seen a doubling of the number of staff working on that aspect and, of course, there are plans in place to significantly increase that, which is important.

It is crucial that we co-operate with other countries to have an effective system in place. That is why, alongside putting in place systems in our own country that can meet the increased number of applications, we are also working at European level and with our neighbours in Britain and the wider UK to ensure there is co-operation on the processing of applications and information sharing. That is where the EU migration pact has emerged from, with EU countries coming together for what is a shared challenge and a shared responsibility in making sure we provide refuge to people who are coming from many parts of the world where they may be experiencing dire circumstances and danger. We are working across borders to make sure there are systems in place. If we do not do that, it will be impossible for any one country in isolation to be able to deal with the challenge that will be with us for many years to come.

As we know, the world currently has significant dangers and conflicts. I saw that most recently as part of the St. Patrick's Day visit I made to the Horn of Africa, where I visited Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia. I visited one refugee camp at Kakuma in northern Kenya that had 700,000 refugees in place. Of course, significant ongoing conflicts and recent conflicts have led to many people being displaced. In South Sudan, for example, more than million people have been displaced as a result of the civil war there and 1 million people have been displaced in northern Ethiopia as a result of the war in Tigray, with 600,000 people killed during that civil war. Of course, we know the challenges, the trauma and the terrible devastation in Palestine, alongside what is happening in Ukraine.

These conflicts are going to be present in a number of forms for years to come and the world is a much smaller place than it ever was before.

We have to work to be able to have a system in place that provides refuge to those who need international protection and works effectively. The EU migration pact is going to be crucial in that regard.

Those who oppose this system are not putting forward alternatives. It is not possible to do this alone. The only way forward is to work together to share this challenge, which every country in the EU is facing, and to ensure we are humane, provide support to people who need it and the systems in place are robust, fair and well implemented. I recommend the adoption of the pact as a way forward. It is important that the Oireachtas puts the legislation in place over the next two years and makes a decision at this point that we are signing up the EU migration pact so that those processes can start and we can all move together in a way that shares this important challenge facing all member states. I thank the Minister for Justice for bringing forward the motion. I also thank all those who contributed to this debate and those who will contribute to the processes that will move forward in the time ahead.

9:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Tá muid ag dul chuig Sinn Féin anois leis an Teachta Patricia Ryan.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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For hundreds of years, Ireland's people have been immigrants, leaving our shores for other countries, both near and far, whether driven by famine, unemployment, as in previous years, or, more recently, because they cannot find or afford housing. These immigrants faced rules and regulations at their destinations because the countries in question put in place controls and requirements. Common-sense laws and regulations all applied at the point of entry and were accepted by those seeking entry as part of the process.

For the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and this Government to expect blind acceptance of their reckless all-in consent to this EU migration pact is truly breathtaking. The Minister has admitted she did not even consider partial adoption of the pact. This is the political equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In this case, the baby is Ireland's sovereignty and its ability to create a fit-for-purpose, fair and efficient immigration system that is managed and makes sense. This pact is not that.

We Irish deeply understand what it means to be an immigrant and to be driven from one's homeland to seek refuge in another foreign land, whether by hunger, war or persecution. We understand more than most how many people fleeing horrible circumstances need protection and support. We all understand the value and the huge contributions that can be and are being made by many migrants and the skills they bring with them. All we need do is look at our hospitality sector and hospitals and at the impact our own emigrants had. Mother Jones came from humble beginnings in Cork to become an anti-child labour activist. Let us not forget Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Obama who celebrated their Irish immigrant routes.

Retaining our power to legislate on immigration matters is absolutely essential in ensuring we have an immigration system that works to protect Ireland’s interests and allows us to control our immigration rules at national level. We cannot hand over all power on this to the EU. Legislative powers on this issue must remain in our hands. Mr. Raymond Crotty proved that in 1982. Is the Government deliberately flying in the face of the Constitution?

The Minister's decision to effectively surrender Ireland's sovereignty is both thoughtless and reckless. It is a mistake which would leave us with no control on key immigration issues, ranging from the criteria which define genuine asylum applications from others to deciding what countries Ireland should accept refugees from. We must retain sovereignty over our immigration system. That system must be fair, efficient and, most important, enforced. This Government's all-in approach to the EU pact is wrong and will not deliver that. Sinn Féin is opposing this motion and we urge all in the House to do the same.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It is 35 years this November since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Where are we 35 years on? There are 1,800 km of walls and fences built or being built on Europe's borders, the equivalent of 12 Berlin Walls. In Hungary, the European Union helped to build a steel fence, ringed with barbed wire between the border of Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, giving €22 million in funding. In Poland, there are 180 km of barbed wire separating the country from Belarus. The police force established to maintain this frontier, Frontex, had a €6 million budget in the year 2005, which will swell by the year 2027 to €900 million. The number of staff will increase from 1,400 to more than 10,000. This is fortress Europe.

The UNITED List of Refugee Deaths calculates that between the years 1993 and 2024, there have been 60,620 deaths as a result of fortress Europe, with more than 3,000 people dying in the Mediterranean Sea alone last year. I am opposed to the EU migration and asylum pact because it strengthens fortress Europe. Those who are deemed on the initial check to be unlikely to be granted protection will not be allowed to enter a state and will be accommodated at a designated location until their application is ruled on. Dr. Ciara Smyth from National University of Ireland, Galway, says that it kind of creates an excised grey zone where the applicability of fundamental rights is unclear. That is precisely the reason for it. Refugees will be forced to stay in, or be sent to, dangerous so-called safe third countries. Already, these externalisation policies have led to migrants being abused in Tunisia and tortured in Libya.

Shorter decision times will make it extremely difficult for those seeking protection to access legal aid. Immigration lawyer, Mr. Cathal Malone, says the stakes are incredibly high and by artificially shortening those timeframes to such a degree, we are in real danger of putting people into situations in which they may be tortured or killed. I am reminded of the comments of Mahatma Gandhi when he arrived at Southampton in England in the early 1930s. He was asked by a reporter what he thought of British civilisation. He replied that he thought it would be a very good idea. His words came to mind when I read that this agreement will mean those without proper documentation will be registered on the Eurodac database which will include mandatory fingerprinting and facial scanning on all irregular migrants over the age of six.

Who has been campaigning for these policies? It is the European far right. Who is implementing these policies now? It is those who self-describe as the European centre right and, shamefully, those who self-describe as the European centre left. If the centre is implementing this programme, it is what Tarek Ali correctly described as the extreme centre. It is to the particular shame that the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the sister group of the Labour Party, is signing up to this pact.

Of course, some will wonder whether, if the restrictions were not so tight, many people would come to Europe and there would be an even greater crisis in services, social services, housing and so forth. That need not be the case if the wealth that exists in Europe were used for the benefit of all in society instead of being controlled by a small minority and a number of big corporations. The Fortune 500 reckons that the top 500 companies have a total revenue of $13.9 trillion, which is three and a half times greater than the GDP of Germany. European big business excess profits were worth €310 billion in 2022 according to the Left group in the European Parliament. Of the population of Europe, 10% controls 67% of the wealth. The poorest 50% controls a mere 1.2% of the wealth according to Credit Suisse. If there were real wealth taxes on that wealth and nationalisation of companies and if that wealth was then put to the benefit of society, we could certainly accommodate more asylum seekers and refugees and have a better life for all in this continent of ours.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The next slot is a Government slot. Does Deputy Coveney wish to speak?

9:20 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this debate on the EU migration and asylum pact. As we know, inward migration has become central to the political discourse and debate in Ireland particularly in last year. The truth is that strongly-held views on immigration are no longer only coming from people of one political persuasion. The discussion has become very much mainstream. Any Government that is doing its job needs to respond to that in a responsible way by addressing myths, bias and fears and by facing down discrimination and at times, downright racism. It needs to invest in capacity building and new accommodation solutions. It needs to ensure a fair but also efficient decision-making process that can make decisions between people who are generally vulnerable and at risk of persecution and people who are not. It has to prioritise scarce resources for those who most need them and work with international partners to address what is an international problem shared across this continent and many others.

The Government is doing all of these things through the leadership of the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and O'Gorman. Most importantly though, given the capacity pressures Ireland has been experiencing and the tension that is being created as a result, we must try to set the tone for how this debate on migration is conducted. The coarseness of language sometimes used in the debate needs to be counterbalanced. Many have noted tonight that inward migration has been very good for Ireland from the point of view of economics, education, and healthcare and also from the perspective of social well-being. Does anybody seriously think that the big multinationals that Deputy Barry is so quick to criticise almost every time he speaks here, such as Google, Dell, Apple, Microsoft, Eli Lilly and Meta, would have invested as heavily in Ireland as they have done if they were not able to put international teams in here? Google headquarters in Dublin has 73 different nationalities working there. In Deputy Barry's constituency, Apple has around 90 different nationalities working there. Ireland has become a place where the international community comes together to do global business. That has been very good for Ireland on many levels.

Outward migration is also embedded in the Irish story. We are a migrant people globally and we should not forget this when we have these debates. That said, many of the pressures we face today from a capacity perspective will not be solved by kind words or focusing solely on the supply side in the context of accommodation, in particular. We need to be realistic and we need to understand what is actually happening in the world today. This is not primarily about Ireland; it is about what is happening in other parts of the world that is now impacting our own country. Vast numbers of people are on the move internationally, many of whom are seeking international protection from war, conflict and persecution. There are many who are simply seeking economic opportunity and understandably so. There are 125 million people today who are displaced from their homes. Many of them live in refugee camps and many others are on the move within or across borders. Every country in the democratic world today is discussing how to deal with the scale of migration that is currently happening and also predicted for the future in the context of the pressures that conflict, climate and lack of economic opportunity will drive.

We have a choice here. Do we try to deal with the scale of this challenge on our own in isolation or do we try to do it with friends and partners within the European Union? As with all the big international challenges, a collective approach protects the small countries. Ireland has been protected on many occasions by that EU that many of the Members opposite have chosen to try to demonise this evening. People quickly forget how we were protected by France and Germany and many others, through the Covid years. People forget very quickly how the European Commission ensured that small countries like Ireland got Covid vaccines rather than them only flowing into the bigger and more powerful countries. People quickly forget how this country has been transformed on the back of EU membership, working in a Common Market across the European Union through my lifetime and the lifetime of many in this House.

Ireland displayed a very real role in the negotiation and design of this EU migration and asylum pact, just like it has done on other big policies that we have shared and agreed within the European Union. It is not perfect, but there is no perfect solution when it comes to trying to deal with the challenge and scale of migration we are seeing today. This represents a significant improvement in terms of the certainty and predictability that it will bring for the future. It will make changes like, for example, a new asylum procedures regulation. For the first time, this delivers a common procedure for international protection applicants across the EU. In other words, every country is going to do the same thing. That will bring a consistency of approach that will be hugely valuable for a country like ours. The procedure contains four elements. There is a mandatory borders procedure. This means that people who come here and may have destroyed documentation or are seen as high risk for a number of reasons, will be taken to a separate designated location for their applications to be processed. There will be an accelerated procedure for people who have come from safe countries of origin, so that we can make decisions with a turnaround time of no more than three months. There will be an inadmissibility procedure in the case of people who have already been granted asylum somewhere else in the European Union but have chosen to move on and come to Ireland. A decision will be made within two months for that category of person. Let us not forget that the majority of people who come to Ireland come through other countries first, whether that is the UK or other EU countries. There will be a so-called ordinary procedure, which is what we do for most applications today, whereby a decision will be required within six months. Of course, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Government are putting the resources in place to try to get there, regardless of this migration pact.

There will also be an asylum and migration management regulation. This will replace the Dublin III regulation. It will reduce timeframes for determining which member state is responsible for processing an application. If people come to Ireland via other EU countries, we will now have a system that actually works to be able to return them to the EU country to which they first arrived. This will be hugely valuable to Ireland but we cannot avail of it if we do not opt into this pact.

There will be a new solidarity mechanism, which many people have exaggerated the effect of. I encourage people to inform themselves in terms of what Ireland is actually being asked to do, which is pretty modest, in the bigger scheme of things. The choice is clear. On the one hand, isolation, going it alone, taking all the risk that comes from that when we know that our closest neighbour, with all of its resources, population and influence has been unable to manage the migration question and it now dominates politics there. On the other hand, we can choose to try to do this as a collective within the European Union - after two or three years of negotiation which we have been involved in - to try to make sure that we have a common standard with realism across the European Union.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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It is clearly not in our interests to opt into all of the parts of the migrant pact that will unfortunately tie future Governments into this pact. Ireland can create a fair, efficient and enforced immigration system. I note that Ministers and Government Deputies all day said those same words. Fine Gael has been in power for 13 years and Fianna Fáil for the past five years. They have had the time to do it and they have failed miserably. They are now trying to play catch-up using these words and it is many years too late. Decisions should be made closer to home and future Irish Governments must be able to decide on key aspects of our immigration system.

I live in one of the most diverse communities in the State. There are some natives in Dublin 15 but the vast majority of us are blow-ins, many from other parts of Dublin and the surrounding counties but many others from outside the country. These are immigrants who came here to work in our hospitals, care homes and social care providers. Others work in construction, IT, pharmaceuticals, hospitality services and many other types of jobs.

Migrants, with those who were born and bred in Ireland, have played a massive part in building Dublin 15. We are a much better place with them coming here to make a better life and contribute to our economic life, music, sports, education and health systems and the many other areas to which they positively contribute.

In recent months, I canvassed thousands of doors in my constituency of Dublin West. I thank everyone who engaged respectfully on the issue of migration, even those who disagreed with me. However, there are a very small but growing number who were emboldened to spew hateful, racist and homophobic abuse. These racist and hateful people should be faced down and their abuse should never be tolerated. I note that social media companies, particularly TikTok, are absolutely toxic. TikTok is a wild west that allows racist and violent content on its platform. It allows the most horrendous abuse without removing it. Today, I watched a video of a foreign man brutally beaten by these so-called patriots who made unsubstantiated claims about this person. He was punched and kicked in the head while on the ground and one thug had a so-called knuckle-duster with which he rained down punches. This video is freely available to be viewed by millions on TikTok today. The days of hands-off self-regulation must come to an end. They have shown that the negative content, lies, misinformation, hate and racism this platform spews out every day are about making money. That is all it is about. TikTok does not care about people and the effects of its content on society.

The majority of the people I spoke to are decent, hard-working and kind. They want to see a system that makes sense and is rules-based and they want those rules enforced. They understand that Irish people have travelled the world and laid down roots in many countries across the globe. This is seen in the hundreds of St. Patrick's Day parades held in March every year. They want to see a Government that is listening to them and that takes their hopes and concerns into account. What we have seen is a completely disjointed and badly communicated process when it comes to accommodation for asylum seekers.

We have made it clear that this migrant pact is not in Ireland's interests. It hands over our sovereignty to the EU and will make it impossible for Ireland to determine its own immigration system in the future. I will be voting "No" because it makes no sense to give up the flexibility we have within the EU on decision-making regarding migration.

9:30 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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The management of migration and application for refugee or temporary status in this country has been dysfunctional in many ways for years. Historically, with relatively low levels of migration, the number of applications for international protection status hovered between 1,500 and 2,500 per annum. Even then, our system of direct provision left people in limbo for years in shoddy accommodation with little opportunity to improve their lives or general circumstance. Despite our membership of the EU, we were, by dint of geographic location, largely excluded from the increasing migration into Europe. Our past economic performance also meant we were not viewed as a target location, but in recent years this has changed. We are now seen as a successful economy and therefore a place in which those seeking a better economic future will want to settle. In truth, our economy needs a certain amount of net inward migration to combat our falling birth rate, continue to provide the economic output and ensure all citizens can receive adequate social and economic protection as they age.

The problems of inward migration have become significantly acute in the past number of years. The increase in world population, which has largely gone unacknowledged, the Ukraine war and climate change have all played a major role. The State has also contributed to our more recent migration problems due to our failure to adequately and proactively plan to deal with our known responsibilities.

I acknowledge that the State has seen an influx of refugees from Ukraine and that no one could have envisaged the numbers of refugees who have needed and have been provided with protection in this State. The Irish people are to be commended on the many efforts made to provide accommodation in various forms to over 100,000 Ukrainians. However, the rise in the number of applications for temporary protection has been well flagged, considering the level of migration across the southern borders of Europe in recent years. European solidarity has dictated that Ireland too must play a role. Unfortunately, the Government and its associated offices did not take the appropriate action and steps to meet this challenge head on.

I am one of the TDs who put early questions to the Minister regarding border controls exercised by Ireland in respect of inward economic migration. I pointed out the lack of credible enforcement of border controls at Dublin Airport and our ports and that we were allowing people to present for temporary protection who had clearly hidden or destroyed their travel paperwork before meeting immigration officers. In an interview in recent days, Michael O'Leary of Ryanair clearly described the orchestrated destruction of travel paperwork by people looking to access the IPAS and IPAT systems from safe countries. He also described how the airlines have been offering technology to identify passengers by seat allocation and origin of departure but that there has been little to no engagement from Department officials. In addition, Ireland has operated a different safe country list from the rest of Europe. Until recently, the subsistence payments we were making were many times more than other EU states. All of this speaks to an obvious recipe that has been driving illegal migration to our shores, which in turn is damaging the legitimate cause of those who would and should qualify for legal and refugee protection under EU law.

We have had the arbitrary selection of hotels and guesthouses down the country to hide our lack of capacity in refugee planning systems. We have had the giving of tents along the canal bank walk. We have had the suggestion of revitalising an old prison plan to create a national refugee centre, along with more blue-sky thinking to magic up another five national centres around the country. Now, we have the European migration pact, a plan which Hungary and Poland attempted to block. This should sound some alarm bells. It is being presented as a catch-all solution to the migration crisis, a crisis which has been allowed to happen mainly because Europe's asylum-seeker laws have not been updated for over two decades. Now, we are being told by the European Commissioner who presented this plan, Ylva Johansson, that if we do not sign up to it, we could face legal action. What we are being asked to sign up to is a reactionary measure which is being cast like a net across the EU member states, regardless of each country's efficiency to implement it. In Ireland, we will be signing up to taking close to 30,000 migrants at a time when many of the migrants we have are sleeping in tents at the side of the road or in accommodation that HIQA is horrified by.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is just not true.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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That is not correct.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is better than that.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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Others are being bused into towns and villages throughout Ireland, often without the knowledge of local residents, and left in hotels miles away from resources. Refugees are walking for miles to get to the nearest shop all because Ireland is saying "Yes" to a situation for which we have not properly prepared.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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That is a complete lie.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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We want to help people who are fleeing hunger, murder and tyranny, but wanting to do something and being properly prepared to do it are two different matters. This migration debate has caused huge division in the country and we have to stop thinking about it as one with a right or a wrong answer. One should never be criticised for saying we should stop, slow down or that we are not ready for this. The reason we are not ready is that, too often, we have had a slow and chaotic response.

This debate has reluctantly been agreed to by the Government because it knows it is vulnerable on these issues. It should also know that we are acting outside the best interests of the Irish people, as well as the interests of migrants whom we are blindly welcoming at this time without adequate resources. The direct provision system was failing long before the war in Ukraine. It shows Ireland needs to sort out its own house before it can bring more people into it.

One of the caveats in the European migration pact is that countries can impact their impact their intake of refugees where they can demonstrate activities in the origin countries to instigate social and economic change benefiting those communities that may otherwise migrate. This is something Ireland should be doing far more of. We need to do far more activity on the ground. As I said to the Minister previously, we should harmonise our safe country list and have exactly the same system and parallels throughout the European Union if we are active people. Most of all, we have to look at the proper resourcing and execution of facilities for dependent migrants.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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There are many people who see the adoption of this pact as the grave into which we are going to place our national sovereignty on the issue of asylum and migration. I agree with that view. In the fullness of time, we will be worse off socially, financially and politically because of it. Many also share the view, articulated some months ago by Senator McDowell, that what we are dealing with here, while it may not rise to the level of constitutional change in the strict sense, seeks to bring about constitutional-level changes and, as such, requires far greater levels of public consultation and consent.

Have we seen much consultation taking place? Have we seen many discussions taking place with the Irish people who will be directly affected by this opt-in to the pact? No, we have not. Why is that? In a series of parliamentary questions that I submitted to all Departments, I have established that Government spent almost €14 million on digital advertising and €23 million on Irish print media advertising in the last number of years. The issues ranged from the banal to the serious. Has there been a widespread campaign alerting people of what we are dealing with here today? Has the Government encouraged the voices of ordinary people to be heard on these issues? We all know the answer to that. We all know how debate was stifled in this very House when I brought it up 22 months ago. I certainly was not given a fair platform, and in that discussion and that exchange I was labelled in a way which was totally unfair and out of order. In a democracy all views should be welcomed and respected.

There are probably two reasons that the Government does not want to hear the voices of ordinary people. The first is that is the Government is terrified of their replies and the honesty that they would receive. The second is that Government is simply indifferent to people's concerns on this particular issue. We live in an utterly changed European environment. We know, for example, that in France, President Macron's coalition championed the pact suggesting it could improve the EU's governance framework on migration policy and take better control of the Continent's external borders. What was the response of the French people? Their response was the obliteration of his party and his coalition at the first available opportunity.

The simple fact is that the deep structural problems created by uncontrolled levels of mass migration cannot be solved by the very people who allowed these problems to become a reality. The people of Ireland and indeed the people of many EU member states are light years ahead of their governments on this issue. They want a solution to this problem that undermines the nation's sovereign decision-making capacity. The pact is morally and politically bankrupt. It is the product of an EU establishment that is rotten to the core and which treats the views of ordinary citizens as political poison. I urge all Members to reject it. I urge all Members to avoid becoming complicit in the high-level political theatrics that this pact represents. The pact is weak where it should be strong and strong where it should be weak. It is weak on protecting national sovereignty but it is strong on maintaining in place the very many protections that are in place even for those engaged in illegal immigration. It is all wrong and I will not be supporting the EU migration pact.

9:40 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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It is heartbreaking to see people in this country use those who are in an extremely vulnerable position as a political talking point, as if stances regarding migration are merely a matter of opinion and not a matter of human rights and a matter of right and wrong. We cannot stand here and debate whether people have a right to live, a right to safety, a right to a life other than the one many have been so unfairly dealt. We can never know what it is like for people to wake in a war-torn country, anxious and afraid, living day-to-day because they have no idea what their future looks like, where their next meal will come from or whether they and their family will live to see the day through.

I know there has been much interest in this debate and potentially many people watching and so I want to appeal to people’s humanity. I know there is much to be discussed and figured out when it comes to migration and I agree that the Government has handled this terribly in recent years. However, we must not look past the human beings at the centre of this or blame them in any way for the difficult and devastating lives that many have been forced to live. I understand that people feel angry and possibly protective, but we cannot let this feeling override logic or worse, our humanity.

Many migrating to this country share the same fears as those who are wary of their arrival. They too are feeling fearful and protective of their families. This is what has driven them to leave in the first place. We all share the same emotions and the same fears. We too can share the same hopes and the same goals but only if we allow it and only if we do not let fear and hate divide us.

I cannot even begin to imagine the situation that so many migrants have had to face before coming here, weighing up the dangers of staying and the dangers of leaving, having to make a choice for themselves and their children, deciding to travel into the unknown, hoping and praying that they will survive and that the kindness of strangers will allow them and their family the opportunity of a better life. We have the ability to give so many people a better life here. This world is unjust in so many ways but we are in the position to make it fairer, to right some of its wrongs.

Unfortunately however, this EU migration pact will not make things fairer in any way, which is why I am opposing it. The pact will have devastating implications for people's right to international protection. It will allow for human rights abuses across Europe, including racial profiling and de facto detention. I am particularly concerned about the pact’s expansion of biometric data gathering from migrants. It is for this reason that I will be voting against this motion. The pact goes too far in limiting the rights of those seeking protection. The choices of asylum seekers are already limited and this pact threatens their basic human rights even further by introducing fewer safeguards, increased detention and destitution among people seeking protection.

I believe the committee was deliberately stifled in being able to have public hearings on the pact. We were curtailed because the Government intended to introduce this two weeks before the European elections, which it failed to do. We ended up only having one hearing, which was wrong.

More than 160 organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have expressed concern regarding this pact, which seeks to fingerprint children as young as seven. The profiling of minors, of seven-year-olds, should not be condoned in any way, never mind legislated for. This pact will have detrimental consequences for the rights and well-being of children seeking protection. I find the arguments of those speaking against this motion for other reasons to be unreasonable, inhumane and extremely hypocritical. Many would be horrified at the thought of being profiled in this way. Despite strong opinions about rights to privacy and freedom, many do not seem to extend these rights to others.

The EU should not be making it harder to seek protection when we are already offering so little. The EU’s share of the world’s refugee population has decreased from 70% in 1993 to under 20% since 2018. We are contributing less and less and getting increasingly stricter. On top of this, we are also completely failing to address the root causes of migration. Europe has become so fixated on restricting migrants, that it fails to recognise or even attempt to address why migration is occurring in the first place.

I listened to Government speakers earlier argue in favour of this pact and I do not think any of those arguments stand up. This pact is about stopping people from coming and stopping people getting here. It is about conflicts that we, in Europe, have contributed to. Europe destroyed Libya. Most of the migrants now come from Libya and Europe is actually paying warlords in Libya to house migrants it returns there. It is an absolute disgrace and we should be ashamed at how Europe is treating the migrants. The EU has failed to address conflicts, persecutions and large-scale human rights violations. It has failed time and time again to respond to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and other environmental issues, many of which Europe caused or contributed heavily to. Now we are going to adopt this, which is wrong.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with the arrangement agreed on the Order of Business, proceedings now stand adjourned until tomorrow.

Debate adjourned.