Dáil debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2024

International Protection, Asylum and Migration: Motion (Resumed)


The following motion was moved by the Taoiseach on Tuesday, 18 June 2024:

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

- (Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire)

3:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is the Government's slot next. I understand the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is sharing time with the Ministers of State, Deputies Heydon and Higgins.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I trust that the Ministers of State will be here in due course but I will start with my own contribution.

First, in discussing migration, it obviously makes sense to look beyond Ireland's borders at the broader picture of what is happening on the Continent as a whole, particularly when we consider that for the majority of applicants arriving in Ireland, this is not their first destination. All across Europe, states are facing the challenges that accompany increasing rates of migration. Our own situation in Ireland is no exception and we should not be the exception in looking for solutions. For Ireland to isolate itself at this point as these challenges grow in number and complexity would be a mistake, both in our role as Europeans and in addressing the undeniable need to overhaul, rebuild, improve and speed up our immigration system.

Ireland has thrived due to our co-operation in international agreement and especially with our European counterparts. To me, it is clear that a shared European response is needed to better respond to the challenges of asylum and migration. A better response means managing the flow of people coming to our country in a way that makes sure we can receive people and deliver the services required under international law, under the 1951 convention for refugees, under European law and under the basic tenants of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Fundamental rights are enshrined throughout the EU migration and asylum pact, as with all European legislation. Provision in the pact will ensure applicants have access to free legal counselling at first instance, free legal supports if they appeal and access to an interpreter where required. There are also provisions for individuals who present with special reception needs or special procedural needs, including for medical reasons.

From the very beginning, Ireland has negotiated on this pact from a human-rights-based position. As a result of those negotiations, the rights, guarantees and safeguarding of minors have been strengthened. Crucially, the best interests of the child shall always be a primary consideration no matter what, in accordance with Article 24.2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Commission has identified safeguards for the vulnerable as one of the building blocks within the common implementation plan. This will ensure the aim of protecting the vulnerable does not fall through the cracks when making the pact operational. It should also be noted that the relevant United Nations bodies, namely, the UNHCR and IOM, have welcomed the adaptation of the pact as it will lead to a more predictable co-ordinated and humane response to regular irregular migration challenges. The Minister for Justice has guaranteed that management of our migration system under the pact will be done with full respect for human rights. We must also provide alternative pathways for admission to the Union, including increased labour mobility and study opportunities for migrants. Resettlement and humanitarian admissions are also part of this comprehensive approach.

Opting in to the pact will mean the following changes. There will be stronger border security, faster processing of all applications with legally binding timeframes for decision-making. It will mean rapid, fast-tracked processing at designated centres for people who arrive with no documents or from countries with low recognition rates. It will mean placing a greater focus on returning unsuccessful applicants and finally, being part of a new solidarity mechanism where EU member states will provide or avail of support as needed. The overall aim is to make the asylum system more efficient and deliver certainty and clarity at a faster rate to those in need of asylum, ensuring those who need to claim asylum can do so while those who do not are processed swiftly. The pact will streamline asylum procedures with legally binding timeframes and clear standards. It will protect the rights of asylum seekers, establish EU-wide standards for refugee status qualifications and make asylum return and border procedures quicker and more effective. The implementation of the pact will dovetail with a new comprehensive accommodation strategy for which my colleague, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, has recently secured Cabinet approval. This plan will see us moving away from our reliance on private providers of accommodation, such as small hotels, by delivering 14,000 State-owned beds by 2028. Together, these policy initiatives will ensure we can manage our migration system in a sustainable way into the future. Ireland cannot deal with migration on its own. We need co-operation and an approach that offers us all in Europe a real opportunity to work together to design a fast, fair and effective system, based on the equitable sharing of responsibility and that works for everyone.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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The EU migration and asylum pact will shape European migration policy for the next decade. Across the world, there are more people on the move than ever before. This is been driven primarily by war, famine and persecution. As a result, we have seen an increase in the number of people seeking international protection in Ireland. This is not a situation unique to Ireland. It is reflected across Europe. Increased migration is a trend that is here to stay. As a country and a society, we have to respond to this reality. Compassion is a value that runs deep in Irish society. We want to treat those who come to our shores with compassion. Fairness is also something we value. A system that is compassionate but fair is best achieved through one that is working efficiently, based on a clear set of rules and procedures that are applied evenly. It means all arms of the State working together in tandem with civic society to ensure we have a functioning migration policy. Ireland must be in a position to provide protection to those who need it but it must also be able to address those cases of people who do not have an entitlement to be here. The Government is already working to improve the operation of the international protection system. We have doubled the number of staff in the International Protection Office and tripled the number of decisions. This year, so far, members of An Garda Síochána have carried out over 3,000 doorstop operations on flights that pose risks of irregular migration. Our deportation orders signed in 2024 are up 83% on the same period last year. This week, the Minister for Justice brought forward the latest set of measures to improve the functioning of the system. Among them are an increase in airline fines for people who arrive in Ireland without documents, an increase in the number of people working in processing asylum applications meaning faster decisions for all and freeing up more members of the Garda from desk duty allowing them to focus on enforcement measures.

Ireland, like all countries, has rules that govern its asylum system and they must be upheld. However, what cannot be lost in this debate is the human face of migration. For generations, Irish people have gone far and wide.

No matter where in the world someone goes, he or she is likely to find or encounter an Irish community. People have also come to and settled in Ireland. They are part of our communities and are working across our economy. Inward migration is good for Ireland. We are the better for it, not just for our economy but for society.

At the same time the scale of increase in people arriving here has led to challenges both in the State's capacity to deal with the numbers and for individual communities. It is not easy to see hotels and other facilities taken from public use. I do not want to see individual houses in estates being used in these circumstances where there is a shortage of such properties for the rental market. Some towns have seen their populations grow rapidly in a short period, creating pressures on services. This is something we are acutely aware of. This has been the challenge of grappling with an emergency response to rapidly unfolding global events. We are now moving away from an emergency response to a more managed and predictable system.

As elected representatives, we have a responsibility to lead this conversation and not to allow those on the extremes to sow division. I do not believe those spreading hate online, who sparked riots in our capital or brought people outside politicians' houses in an act of intimidation, speak for the Irish people. They are not to be confused with people in communities across the country who have real concerns. They have questions which deserve to be answered. That is why we need a coherent and effective migration policy. That is why we need a co-ordinated response with our partners in Europe. It is why the EU migration pact is essential. We cannot single-handedly resolve migration; no European country can do so alone. Those countries that have gone it alone have seen their migration numbers increase. The best the most effective approach is to be part of united Europe-wide effort.

This pact has been the subject of years of work and negotiation. Through it, we will have full control of and responsibility for borders in a system that is in common across Europe. A divided Europe risks ineffective policy which causes fragmentation and secondary movements. Given our geographical location, the majority of international protection applicants have travelled here through another EU country. The pact will bring a greater focus on returning unsuccessful applicants to their home countries or to other European countries they have travelled through. It will lead to more effective processing for those arriving with decisions that are faster and legally binding in addition to increased security with more collection of fingerprints and photographs of new arrivals.

Through the pact, we will also have the tools, laws and structures to combat illegal migration and protect vulnerable people from criminal gangs. Opting out of the pact would leave Ireland facing higher levels of secondary movement, slower processing times and a less efficient return system. It would mean applicants staying in the system for longer at a greater cost to the State. The reality is that the rise of migration across Europe is here to stay. Ours is not the only Government that will have to deal with this; future governments will also have to deal with this.

Equally, the reality is that there are no easy solutions. The public should be very wary of any politician who tries to paint easy solutions here. One thing is for certain: going it alone is not an easy solution. The best response is a united one. The migration pact will bring cohesion across Europe and Ireland should be part of that. Opting in will support a firm but fair migration system and ensure that Ireland can give shelter to those who need it and that we are not left alone in Europe to deal with the challenges of migration.

3:45 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for enabling this really important debate. I know how hard she and her officials have worked on this issue and how many hours she spent speaking with stakeholders both at an EU level and here in Ireland. I know that this pact has Ireland's best interests in mind. That is because Ireland helped to negotiate it.

We are all aware of the change and scale of migration issues facing Europe and the EU especially in recent years. In Ireland alone, there was a 415% increase in the number of applications in 2022 compared with 2021. This year we are now reaching 30,000 who are seeking protection. That phrase, which has been so sanitised, needs to be reiterated, namely "seeking protection". There are real people behind those numbers and statistics - real stories, real heartbreak, real families and real lives. The people coming here seeking protection are doing so from persecution, from wars, from climate change and from repressive governments. Ireland has a statutory and legal obligation to refugees and asylum seekers under international and EU law. We also have our own laws and our own systems for people who are not seeking refuge but who want to come here to live and to work. We have seen increases in both streams. There is no doubt but that this escalation in people seeking protection and seeking work here presents many challenges for us as a nation.

For the Ukrainians, we needed to get children into schools. I was very proud of the incredible work done by the Department of Education and educational welfare officers throughout the country who made that happen. It was lovely to meet so many of those Ukrainian young adults at the national flag day in St. Joseph's College recently. Of course, the main challenge for us as a country has been emergency accommodation for those seeking asylum in this country. There is no quick answer and no quick solution to this problem but joining this pact will help alleviate the burden on the International Protection Office, on the Garda and on our local communities by improving processing times and helping us to manage the flow.

On a regular basis, this House is home to discussions about the challenges facing many sectors due to labour market constraints and shortages. My Department issued almost 31,000 employment permits last year. More than 10,000 of those were issued to people in the health and the social work sector. Whether they are in healthcare, construction, hospitality, or wherever these people have come to work, the simple reality is that without migration, this country would not function properly. Our economy and our healthcare service would not function properly. In my own constituency of Dublin Mid-West, international protection applicants based in Dolcain House, Clondalkin, are largely employed working on building sites. That is a positive because it is contributing greatly not just to society and our community, but it is contributing by helping us tackle our housing crisis. It is why we need to have a firm but fair stance when it comes to migration policy.

I really welcome initiatives like the community recognition fund, which has seen over €100 million invested to support local communities in welcoming and integrating new arrivals. It was really helpful to me and to organisations in my community when we received more than €3.3 million for areas like Clondalkin, Citywest, Saggart and Rathcoole. I acknowledge that the Government needs to communicate better with our communities. We need more enhanced wraparound services to cushion a really fast influx in population. That includes an increased Garda presence in areas where populations have grown significantly such as Saggart and Citywest. For those living on the 65 bus route, it means increasing the frequency and capacity of the 65 route because it is now serving a much greater population. That is the reality from a short-term perspective. We need to be providing shelter to people who need it. We need to be providing basic services to people who need it. We need to be providing better services to the communities that are growing because of it. It also means we need to make decisions quicker.

In the medium and long term, we need an EU approach; there is no other way. We in Ireland are at our best when we are outward looking and forward thinking. Tackling immigration challenges should be no different. Migration is a global phenomenon and going it alone will not work. We need to work across together Europe. That is why we need this pact and we need it to work. This pact will strengthen border security with biometric data collection. It will ensure faster processing with binding decision timeframes. It will implement rapid processing at designated centres. It will focus on returning unsuccessful applicants and supporting front-line countries with a new solidarity mechanism. This pact will ensure that those engaging in secondary movement migration, Ireland's biggest issue, will be found and returned.

We understand the pressure being put on the system. We are not just relying on this pact. I have heard a lot of noise, misinformation and false narratives about the Government's approach to tackling the challenges, so let me talk about facts. We have taken action. We are doing more than just opting into this pact. We have doubled the number of staff in the International Protection Office and have tripled the number of decisions, with further increases planned this year. That is a fact. Fines on airline carriers are increasing from €3,000 to €5,000 to ensure passengers have the right documentation when they board and when they disembark. That is a fact. Deportation orders signed so far in 2024 are 83% up on the same period last year. That is a fact. Enforced deportations and voluntary deportations are all up by over 126%. That is a fact. One hundred gardaí are being freed up from office roles to support migration. That is a fact. The Minister, Deputy Helen McEntee, will be commencing chartered flights later this year to assist with deportations. That is a fact. Applications from newly designated safe countries have dropped by 50% since November 2022. That is a fact. This is a European problem but Ireland is part of the solution, one which is firm but fair, compassionate, practical and which provides sanctuary to those seeking protection and to those who need it.

It is a solution that relies on co-operation and shows the world that Europe is working well and together. That is what I want to help achieve and that is why I am supporting this pact and I thank those who have negotiated it.

3:55 pm

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I will be the first from the Government benches to put my hand up to acknowledge we have been far too slow to respond to the immigration crisis. We entered Government in early 2020 with fewer than 3,000 arrivals per annum and a commitment to end direct provision as part of the programme for Government. Over the intervening four years, numbers have soared and we have peppered the country with a series of pop-up accommodation centres to the detriment of local tourism and commerce. We did not react decisively and failed to read the emerging crisis globally as numbers soared. Today, 104,000 Ukrainians are here with temporary protection status. Up to the end of March this year 5,163 people sought international protection. This was up by 72%, or 2,170 people, on the same period last year. Only a handful of businesspeople have benefited while our short-sightedness has dealt a hammer blow to many of these local economies that invariably will struggle to recover.

Notwithstanding that, Europe is currently experiencing the biggest movement of people since the end of the Second World War. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria, as well as climate change and economic desperation are driving migrant flows into the EU. All the while, Russia continues to weaponise migration in an attempt to undermine our democracies and radicalise political discourse. It is only through standing together as members of the European Union that we can address the challenges posed by immigration. As a Government we failed to read the warning signs, and measures that should have been implemented, fast-tracked and escalated two or three years ago are only now coming into play. The proposed pact does not make it easier to immigrate to Ireland or seek refuge here. Ignoring the pact does not allow us to pull up the drawbridge and say "No". On the contrary, the pact introduces a common set of policies in the area of immigration, asylum and border management. It will harmonise procedures across the EU and reduce the time international protection applicants spend waiting for decisions. Those who are not entitled to asylum will be processed swiftly and those who are entitled will access protection in shorter timeframes. Under the pact, mandatory processing times are three months for an accelerated decision, two months for an inadmissible decision and six months for a standard decision. The pact contains resources to help us meet these timeframes, supported by at least €1.9 billion to be allocated by the EU to ensure the pact works as intended. There are also those who will say that we can and should go it alone on migration. Indeed, the Government could in principle implement alternative reforms outside the EU legal framework. However, such a move would require significant investment and leave us without access to key EU systems and investments. Opting in allows Ireland to and will ensure it can avail of technical and financial supports. In addition to the supports that will be made available, opting in will have positive benefits for our communities. Due to the reduced processing time, adequate accommodation, facilities and supports will be readily available. This will reduce the need to source accommodation in unsuitable community facilities as we have been doing for the past number of years to the detriment of rural Ireland.

There is a real risk that if Ireland does not opt into the pact, we would inadvertently become an outlier in the asylum space, which would encourage greater movement into Ireland leading to our system becoming overwhelmed. There is a suggestion out there that this is just an issue for Ireland. This is an issue right across Europe and there is no European country at the moment not facing an immigration crisis. Countries like Germany, France, Italy and Greece have greater fears and concerns about immigration. It is only by working together as a harmonious force across the European community that we will address this issue. Notwithstanding our successes over the past 20 or 30 years, we are still a small country and a fledgling but successful economic force. We cannot address the immigration crisis on our own. We can only do it in unity and solidarity with our European partners. That is why the pact is so important for Ireland.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will continue where Deputy Flaherty left off. My focus is on what my constituents would like to see on the issue of migration and the enforcement of rules, and what kind of system in Ireland would give them confidence. Our parliamentary party had detailed discussions on this a few months ago and came up with a lot of suggestions. They were humanitarian-based, reasonable and formed the basis of a party paper on the issue, much of which has been adopted by the Government. Migration looks like a fact of life here to stay. Any reasonable person, if asked how they want migrants treated, would say they want to see them treated humanely and respectfully. I believe the majority of Irish people want that. They also want a rules-based system that is enforced and equally respected.

As the Minister of State noted earlier, secondary movements or in other words, those who migrated to other countries and then find themselves migrating to Ireland is a significant issue and challenge for this country and must be addressed. We want enforceable rules and laws. We also want a system that respects those genuinely fleeing persecution, war or abuse, and that they are respected and treated in an appropriate manner and one that aligns with UN documents and rules on the rights of refugees. They also want the few people who seek refugee status but who are not refugees dealt with efficiently and speedily. They should be returned to their countries of origin, if they are meant to be, in order that Ireland is not seen as a soft touch. Moreover, those who legitimately seek refugee status here and are entitled to it should have those entitlements processed quickly.

While the migration pact does not answer everything, it certainly provides an answer to a number of those anxieties and concerns that the people I represent have. We want a fair system that ensures every member of the European Union carries its fair weight and shoulders the burden equally with others. Given the long gestation period in bringing it to this point, with the EU migration and asylum pact we have as good as we are going to get in this regard. It represents a fair and firm asylum process that respects the dignity of people seeking asylum and who want to access better lives, just as many generations of Irish people did in previous years. It also respects the integrity of the borders of the EU. This migration pact will create an efficient asylum procedure. People will want to know if the pact will improve security and screenings. It appears it will, and on arrival at the EU border people will be screened. Screening includes an identity and security check. That is essential. There is certainly a lot of rumour and innuendo circulating about individuals who seek asylum in the country. Much of it is based on fiction and not fact. This migration pact and the ethos behind it guarantees we can address those issues to some degree. Does the pact protect the human rights of those legitimately claiming asylum in the European Union? That is vital and I think it does. While migration is being weaponised and people in countries fear for their lives for a variety of reasons, those reasons need to be legitimate and not flimsy because of the volume of people on the move. Ireland has always been a source of security and refuge for people in those situations and as a politician, I want to see Ireland continue to be that kind of refuge for people fleeing persecution or war.

As long as migration is weaponised as a tool of war, we are going to face this challenge.

Obviously, if people are coming to the country and seeking asylum, and if the processing of those applications takes an inordinate time, that will lead to an impression abroad that Ireland is a soft touch and that if people come here, it will take so long for us to process them it will be difficult for us to deport them. If someone has been here for a matter of years, it becomes quite difficult legitimately, from a humane point of view, to send that person home. Processing people quickly, and seeing whether a given person is entitled to seek asylum, is a really important factor and also sends a message that Ireland is not a soft touch, such that if people are entitled to asylum, they will be granted asylum and the country will make every effort to integrate them. Similarly, it sends out a message that if they are not entitled to asylum on the grounds that are provided, they will be turned around. Too many people seem to disappear invisibly into the wider population, which is an issue that has to be addressed, and I note the newspaper headlines today in respect of this. The migration pact promises to address the issue of processing times as well.

Communities, including in my constituency, have been placed under severe pressure as a result of locations identified for the housing, whether temporarily or otherwise, of people seeking asylum. The migration pact and the measures it provides for, including faster processing times, should assist there, but one of the key aspects relates to the communications around that and the level of fiction that is flying around. As a Government backbencher, I am on record as saying the Government has been pretty poor to appalling when it comes to communicating what it is trying to do about asylum seekers, why asylum seekers are coming here, what a person who is fleeing persecution or is looking for asylum is fleeing from, the kinds of conditions those who are entitled to it are coming from and what they are entitled to when they come here. There is an awful lot of fiction about that and it needs to be addressed consistently with a cross-departmental approach.

4:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. Deputy O'Reilly is sharing time with her party colleagues.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin believes in common sense and common decency. These are the two points that will guide my contribution. Sinn Féin wants what most Irish people want: a system that is fair, efficient and enforced. The measures in the EU pact are not in Ireland's interests and will not deliver a system that will work for Ireland. We can better create a fair, efficient and enforced immigration system by exercising our opt-out from a majority of the pact's proposals. Some decisions are better taken locally and one size does not fit all. The Irish Government, separate from the EU, can deliver an immigration system for Ireland that prioritises compassion for those with legitimate cases while simultaneously ensuring applications are handled fairly and efficiently. That is what most people want - a compassionate system that is cognisant of the resource and capacity constraints of the country.

The current immigration system the Government is delivering does not do that, as was just ably described by a Government backbencher. It is under-resourced. It has countless loopholes, processing times are far too long, application rejections are not followed through with deportations and all the while, legitimate applicants suffer because of this. A fair, efficient and enforced immigration system is just good governance. The failure to deliver such a system has caused significant frustration among the general public. So too has the Government policy of kite-flying, denial and failure to engage with local communities when it comes to IPAS accommodation.

I have witnessed this failure at first-hand with the Government decision to identify Thornton Hall as a site. I wrote to the Government on behalf of residents in the environs of Thornton Hall and asked it why it was not upfront and honest with people about the project. I asked that it meet the community, provide information requested and answer the questions people have. There is great dissatisfaction locally with the engagement and I, like other representatives, find out details and developments from the media. This is not good enough. We know that in Ireland, the capacity constraints in accommodation, health services and school places are serious and we also know these are failures of the Government, not of those seeking asylum.

It must be for an Irish Government to decide on key aspects of our immigration system, including rejecting unsuccessful applicants sooner, compiling our list of safe countries in order that those who are not genuine asylum seekers can be rejected, and deciding which countries Ireland should take refugees from, all of which must be human rights compliant. We believe Ireland can better create a fair, efficient and enforced immigration system by exercising the opt-out from the majority of the pact's proposals, as Ireland is entitled to do under the EU treaties. It is for these reasons we oppose the Government's full opt-in approach, which gives power to the EU and will tie the hands of future governments. These measures are binding and fines can be imposed. It is also impossible to predict the future direction of migration, just as we could not have anticipated the situation we are in today. We simply do not have enough beds in our IPAS system to continue accommodating people who could be more appropriately accommodated elsewhere.

We are in a unique position in that we share a common travel area with Britain. We have considerations no other country has because we are in a common travel area. We need to ensure we have flexibility. If we are tied entirely to the EU system, we will reduce our ability to respond and legislate in a bilateral way with Britan. Alongside Denmark, we are the only country with the opportunity to remain outside all or some of these measures. We should use that ability to opt out, as is our right. By voting against the vast majority of this pact's measures in the European Parliament, we are signalling Ireland is better off outside of them. We can create a fair, efficient and enforced immigration system without interference from Brussels. Ultimately, we must assert that many decisions are better taken locally and that one size does not fit all. We want a system that recognises that each member state is different and faces different pressures at any given time. This is an important issue of sovereignty. It must be for an Irish Government to decide on key aspects of our immigration system. These are not matters for the EU to dictate to us. Sinn Féin will vote "No" to this proposal to opt Ireland fully in to the EU asylum and migration pact because we must retain our sovereignty over these matters if we are to have an immigration system that is fair, efficient and enforced.

To address the point with which I opened my contribution, the call for common sense and common decency, people can advocate for a sensible and workable system and we can have a detailed debate on this, but it has to take place within the parameters of decency. Unfortunately, a portion of those contributing to this debate, both here in the Chamber and outside it, are poisoning the well. They seek to sow division and to capitalise on it. Many are in the pay of far-right actors in Britain and America. They store up hate and get rich on the proceeds of that hate. Their actions have created a cesspit on social media and have spilled onto the streets. Verbal racist abuse is now committed daily and racially motivated assaults are on the rise. In March, a person was killed. I will not say much because I know a court case is pending, but the media reports of what transpired are more than chilling.

I am very fortunate to come from a family where we were raised knowing it is not good enough to just not be a racist. We must be anti-racist. When South Africa had an apartheid regime, my family were members of the anti-apartheid movement. We campaigned, marched and stood with Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores workers and with their union on the picket line, and I am very proud of those activities and proud to have taken my daughter and, indeed, my grandson to similar marches. It is not enough to not be racist; we must be anti-racist.

I have noticed recently, however, a decided change in the discourse. We only have to look online to see the vile, disgusting abuse to which Rhasidat Adeleke has been subjected to see how cruel, dehumanising and downright disgusting racism is. The rise of fascism across Europe is very real and we would be naive to sit in this Chamber and pretend it is not. We are not immune to it. We would be very foolish and very naive to think that somehow we are. We must confront this. We must call it out every time.

We must call racism out when we see it whether it is on public transport, in a WhatsApp chat, in our sports clubs or on the sideline when children are playing football, as I witnessed recently. Wherever we see this racism, we have to call it out. It is not good enough to just not be a racist and to go home and say, "Well, I am not a racist, that is grand", we must be anti-racist. Compassion, human rights and fairness has to be at the heart of a system that is rules-based and where rules are enforced and, therefore, we must opt into those elements that are beneficial to Ireland and opt out of those that are not. That is simply common sense.

We must also conduct this and other debates with reference to decency. We hear people in this House and outside refer to numbers and to "these people" and "that group". These are human beings. They are mams, dads, sisters, brothers, uncles and friends, the same as we are. These are human beings and their treatment - the handing out of tents, moving people around - is contributing to a very poisonous and dangerous public discourse that we as leaders in our own communities have an obligation to call out.

4:15 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Government has worked day and night to put migration at the heart of politics and debate in recent months. It is a distraction from its failures of the housing crisis, the health crisis, the cost-of-living crisis and the crisis in disability services and supports.

A person said to me recently that they feel the Government has made them racist because they are fighting for services for their family and children and this Government is failing them. What happens then is that, unfortunately, vulnerable people are pitted against vulnerable people, but they should not be because they should be pitted against this Government. It is shameful scapegoating and the Government's complete failure to manage the asylum process was echoed by one of its own TDs earlier who accepted the absolute mess the Government has made of this. On the one hand the Government is paying to give people tents because they have nowhere to go and then a day or two later coming in with bulldozers to rip the tents down, buses to take people away and erecting fences. This is complete hypocrisy. People are looking at these scenes on their televisions every night of the week and want to know what is happening. What is happening is that this Government has failed in its policy and that is why things like this are happening.

What the Government is doing now will tie the hands of future governments and the Irish people. It is making a decision that will affect every Irish Government going forward. The Government is opting Ireland in completely unnecessarily to a pact that undermines the mandate the Irish people gave to the Nice and Lisbon referendums and fundamentally flies in the face of our own deeply felt commitment to sovereignty.

Irish republicans have long stood for those people who came here. Thomas Davis once said, "It is not blood that makes you Irish but a willingness to be part of the Irish Nation." Nurses and doctors who work long days, nights and weekends in our hospitals; cleaners who keep our hospitals and buildings clean; those who keep our roads in working order; and childcare workers who cherish and nurture our children are all part of the Irish nation and should be respected. We have seen brilliant successes of Irish men and women in sport both nationally and internationally. Some of these people were born here and others have made Ireland their home. They represent us with pride and we are proud of them.

Yet, this Government will now allow the European Union to decide when people can work here, how much they need to survive and whether they will be detained in detention camps of up to 30,000 people. Where is the humanity in that? While Irish republicans have stood with those who have made Ireland their home, we have also stood with those who have gone to the four corners of this world to make their homes - men and women who had to leave this country, this State, to get on boats and aeroplanes. People who said goodbye to their families and friends. They built roads in England, homes in America and schools in Canada. They taught in Dubai and are still doing so. They are working in the mines of Australia. They worked in the same way as so many do here now. They were homesick and often cast aside. They were often made to feel unwanted. Like no other nation on earth, we should know what it means to be downtrodden, oppressed and stigmatised. Irish people had to endure Paddy Irishman jokes and jibes in every pub and factory from America to England and back again. They saw signs on doors, as my father did when he was in England, that said: "No dogs, no blacks, no Irish." My own family experienced this, particularly uncles and aunts who also had to travel to work right across the world. They built lives in other places and we must support people who work hard to build lives here.

We are on the cusp of change and change will mean a government that does not use migration to mask its own failings. Change is a government that cares about ordinary people and does not try to force them to punch down. The Government is barrelling headfirst into the hands of trying to prevent change. This Government is trying to sign away our sovereignty. The Government's decision will affect us long into the future. It is due to this Government's failing that it is signing up to this EU pact.

It is not just Sinn Féin or the Opposition saying this. A total of 160 civil society organisations oppose the pact, including Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children and many more. The Government should not just take our word that it is the wrong thing to do to have one vote on seven different sections. The Minister is wrong and the Government still has time to change its mind and I ask it to do so.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I will raise the current situation in Drogheda for the simple reason it highlights some of the Government's failures in dealing with immigration. The Minister is more than familiar with the problems the Government has caused there.

The two main hotels in the town are being used to house refugees and international protection applicants. That is a loss of more than 60% of accommodation beds in the town during the past two years and Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland. It is disastrous for Drogheda, for local businesses and the local community who might want to hold events locally, for tourism and the list goes on.

It was all done without any prior consultation whatsoever with community or public representatives. We were told after the fact. It speaks to the utter chaos of the Government's policy to date showing no regard for local economies, communities or businesses and showing no forward thinking or planning. This wholesale opting in to the EU migration pact is more of the same, jumping in feet first and acting against Ireland's interests because the EU told us to.

The Minister for Justice even admitted she did not even consider whether Ireland would adopt some parts of the pact and not others. The Government is ignoring the unique situation we have in Ireland due to the common travel area with Britain. It is because of the common travel area that we have the option to opt out. It is an opportunity to maintain control and flexibility now and into the future and to make our own decisions about migration that are properly managed and ensure fairness and common decency. Why would we reject that?

Human rights organisations have outlined concerns around provisions for detention centres for vulnerable people seeking asylum and rightly so. We cannot actually sign up to a migration pact that does not meet international human rights standards but the Government is quite prepared to do that.

We welcome migrants into our communities, our lives and our workplaces. They have a huge part to play and have so much to offer to local communities and society. We should call out racism wherever we hear or see it and should never stop doing that. However, we also need rules around managing migration and this Government has failed to bring forward a fair and enforceable system. We need faster processing times for asylum applications and a clear plan of action for failed applications and we need to be able to manage the situation as it changes as we see fit as a country. The migration pact does not allow for any of this.

4:25 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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A significant number of us have stated that we think it is crazy for Ireland to opt in fully to the EU migration pact. A significant number of these measures are not beneficial to us putting a migration system that suits Ireland. Sometimes it becomes trite. We all use similar terminology about fair, efficient and enforced but that is what people want to see. They want to see a fair and decent system but they want to see a sustainable system that actually works. We have to accept the reality regarding Ireland, the Border and the shared common travel area. It does not come as any shock to me that the Border will constantly cause problems for Ireland with regard to many of its interactions. Until this State makes the proper preparation for delivering an end to that Border, we will constantly face these issues.

The fact is that we have this border so we need bespoke solutions and these will not be suited by the EU migration pact that was put together on the basis of other needs and wants. We all accept the need for co-operation when dealing with these issues. We will talk about migration. It has been said by many that Irish people have gone all over the world. It was a necessity for us given our history of persecution. Even beyond that, at this point in time, Ireland could not survive without inward migration whether we are talking about the health sector or the fact that we are constantly talking about the fact that we do not have enough bus drivers or enough mechanics to make sure the buses can still be driven.

This is the reality but we have seen chaos. Deputy Munster spoke about the loss of the D Hotel. Again, this is the State relying on the market. In some cases, not only has there been a loss of hotel beds with an impact on tourism, places have been offered by the private sector that are utterly unsuitable. Regarding the reception centres we were told about that need to be State-run and State-owned, I had a conversation with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth yesterday. I am almost frightened when I hear about 2028 as the date when this will finally done, which is not in any way good enough. We have constantly spoken about streamlining the processing system and some of that has happened but not enough. The Taoiseach said that the biggest issue was improving processing times and when processing times improve, suddenly we had fewer people who came from particular countries.

There is a wider issue about why a significant number of people are on the move. The western powers and the EU have a part to play. Russia and China have a part to play. We look at war from the Middle East and right across Africa and even beyond involving countries that are not necessarily war-ravaged. We know the western world takes more out in debt repayments than what it puts in the form of overseas aid. Until all that is addressed, we will dealing with that particular situation but we need to get real. We need to have a system that works for Ireland. We know the accommodation crisis, which is down to many failed Governments with housing policies that have failed to deliver housing for our people whether we are talking about council housing, affordable housing or any aspect of the rental sector and the housing sphere.

We do need to stand up to racists and to these so-called patriots and nationalists. I will use an example from the election. A friend of mine who I have a lot of respect for and who is a long-time republican activist and former blanket man listened to some idiot at the door - he was a lot calmer than I would have been - calling him a traitor. This is somebody who spent his entire life in a national liberation struggle. We need to make sure we stand up against these people and point out what they are.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to give my support to Ireland opting into the EU migration and asylum pact. We can all agree on the immense value that people coming here to work, live or study bring to Ireland economically, socially and culturally. The importance of the international protection process for those fleeing persecution and Ireland's duty to provide shelter for those most vulnerable also need to be recognised.

However, for an immigration and asylum system to be efficient and effective, it is critical that it should be firm and fair. It is also the duty of Government to make it fit for the future. I believe that by opting into the EU migration and asylum pact, we will do just that. By working with others in Europe, we will ensure we have a more coherent approach to asylum seeking, integration and the protection of national and European borders. For example, when international protection applications are processed at speed, it means that those who need our protection are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in Ireland. Speedy processing also means that those who do not qualify are sent back home. This sort of swift decision-making is fair and firm.

Let us be very clear. Ireland has a very strong record in providing protection and support to those who have had to flee from violence, war or persecution across the world. We have successfully responded to the war in Ukraine with a co-ordinated whole-of-government response. More than 107,500 people have been welcomed to the State since the European Council unanimously the temporary protection directive in March 2022. People are being supported to work. Almost 19,000 beneficiaries are working and people are also being supported to live independently and fully integrate into their local community.

The Department of Rural and Community Development has also put a range of schemes in place to support people who have come from abroad be it the social inclusion and community activation programme, the services offered through our 29 volunteer centres or the €100 million being provided through the community recognition fund. We have not been found wanting.

The scale of and increase in the number of people arriving is unprecedented. The challenges presented by migration and asylum cannot be effectively addressed by any state acting alone. This is why the pact on asylum and migration is important. It will help address some of the long-standing challenges we faced in dealing with asylum applications, particularly in the context of the large influx of asylum seekers over recent years such as we have never seen. The Department of Social Protection is also working on measures agreed by Government to ensure equity in the system.

This pact will establish a more coherent approach across the EU to migration, asylum, integration and border management that is fit for the 21st century. I welcome the decision to opt in. International co-operation is at the heart of making migration work in a more complex and volatile world. The pact represents our best opportunity to improve our immigration system well into the future.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I very much welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this important debate and to speak in favour of the motion. This debate offers the House the opportunity to speak not only on the detail of the pact itself but on the issue of migration more widely.

EU migration is a shared European challenge that requires shared European solutions. EU agreement on the pact demonstrates that we stand strong together in ensuring that our asylum systems are cohesive, fair and efficient and that we work together on protecting our borders, tackling secondary movement and demonstrating solidarity to the front-line states most acutely affected by irregular migration. To those who might seek to portray this as being a particular problem in Ireland, over the past number of evenings I watched the international news. Sky News had a number of reports on the migration challenge, not just in the UK but globally. It reported on people crossing the Mexican-United States border, different parts of the European Union, including Italy, and the challenge the UK faces with migrants coming across the Channel from France.

The truth is that this challenge will be here for quite some time because of the underlying reasons that migration is happening, whether that be famine, climate change, which is devastating some countries, persecution or countries where human rights are constantly being trampled on. This is going to be an ongoing challenge and that is why the kinds of reforms that the Minister for Justice has brought forward are so important and will make a real difference in the period ahead.

The pact will harmonise asylum procedures and processes across the European Union. It will speed up the processing of asylum applications so that people in need of our protection get it and those who do not are returned. That is where I believe the centre ground is and where the overall majority of Irish people are in their thinking about the issue of migration. It will oblige states to conduct enhanced screening and security checks on those arriving at borders and will reduce irregular secondary movements of asylum seekers, something we know will be particularly beneficial for Ireland given our geographic location.

There are some in this House who believe we can go it alone when it comes to migration. They believe we can address the issues without interacting with the European Union and our wider European partners. This is a fallacy. In other countries, we have seen what has happened when a go-it-alone approach on migration has been taken. It simply does not work and will not work in the future, given the complexity of the issue and interdependencies that exist between countries. We need to work with our European partners to address what is a European problem. As I said, it is in fact a global problem.

On migration more widely, as Minister for Finance I have to acknowledge without fear of contradiction that legal migration into Ireland plays an enormously positive role in the Irish economy. Economic migration boosts the number of working age people, which will prove to be even more critical as our population ages over the period ahead. Migrant workers bring much-needed skills and experience across all sectors of the economy, in particular in sectors like healthcare and construction. Legal migration is hugely positive for Ireland. Just last weekend, Deputy Ó Laoghaire and I attended an event in Cork, where Indian nurses hosted a summer fest event in St. Finbarr's Hurling and Football Club. There were hundreds of Indian nurses and other healthcare professionals from India without whom we simply would not be able to provide healthcare to the people of Cork and beyond. I chatted with the deputy general secretary of the INMO who said there are over 13,000 Indian nurses registered in Ireland. If I am not mistaken, that is out of a total population of registered nurses of between 40,000 and 50,000. It is a significant number overall. Vital public services would not be provided were it not for legal migration.

We know the diversity in the workplace at the moment. It is hugely positive. It enriches the workplace environment and allows people to experience cultures they otherwise would not come into contact with. I recently visited a multinational company in Cork which has thousands of employees, and 47% of its workers are Irish. It has over a hundred nationalities represented in its workforce. That, too, is hugely positive. The Irish economy would not be the success story it is today were it not for legal migration.

In light of the current labour market, which is tight in Ireland, we have welcomed high numbers of people from across the world to meet the demand for skills in critically important sectors, which I have touched on. This is achieved through our successful employment permit and visa system. This system maximises the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting the labour market by facilitating the recruitment of non-EEA nationals to fill skills and labour gaps for the benefit of our economy overall. In the past two years alone, almost 125,000 non-Irish nationals have found work in Ireland, accounting for over 60% of total employment growth during this time. These workers are critically important to our economic success and the delivery of important public services.

Of course, we need rules and to apply them consistently, fairly and, as colleagues have said on a number of occasions, firmly. If we truly believe that a rules-based system is needed for migration, then we need to work with our European colleagues. There is simply no other credible way. If we choose to be an outlier in Europe, then it follows that we will not receive co-operation from other countries. We will go it alone in that instance.

As my colleague said at the outset of this debate, we have given careful consideration to this and have concluded without doubt that it is right for Ireland to opt into this pact. We cannot address some of the issues surrounding migration on our own. It would be foolish to think that we can. We have to work together with our EU colleagues and other member states to ensure that those issues are addressed collectively.

I acknowledge the work of the Minister for Justice. The improvements which have been introduced to the existing system include doubling the number of staff in international protection and tripling the number of decisions, with further increases planned for this year and beyond. Fast-track processes have now been introduced for ten safe countries of origin, including for people who have received protection elsewhere in Europe and people from the country that provides the highest number of applicants in the previous quarter, which, as we know, is Nigeria.

We have suspended visa-free travel for certain refugees and added more countries to the visa required list. Over 3,000 doorstop operations on flights which pose a risk of irregular migration have taken place to the end of May this year. Gardaí have prosecuted over 100 people this year alone for arriving without appropriate documentation, with a significant number having been imprisoned. Fines on carriers will be increased from the current maximum of €3,000 to €5,000 to ensure passengers have the correct documentation. Deportation orders issued in the current year are up 83% on the same period last year, to 14 June. There are 100 gardaí being freed up from back office roles to support immigration enforcement activities.

They are just some of the steps that have been taken so far to improve and, in many respects, right-size the system due to the dramatic acceleration we have experienced in the past number of years in terms of international protection applicants arriving in Ireland. The system is being improved. The resources are being provided. All of that will not achieve the desired goal if we seek to adopt an isolationist approach that says Ireland can do it all on its own. We cannot, and that is why signing up to the EU asylum and migration pact is the right decision for Ireland.

4:35 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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We need a fair, efficient and enforced immigration system. To date, we have not had this. Our system over the past couple of years has been shambolic. We know that from people working in the system and genuine applicants. We can see what is happening on the ground. Things have been contradictory, with no coherence or consistency. We need a transparent and common sense system where the Irish people can trust the process. That is all anyone wants in terms of migration.

If the Government signs up this State to the EU migration pact, it will take away Ireland's ability to legislate in the best interests of Ireland and genuine asylum seekers. The Government will sign away the sovereign right for Ireland to make its own decisions that are right for this country and all of the people in the State, including those who have come from abroad and now called this State home. We in this Chamber have been elected to propose, debate, pass and enact legislation for this country and all who reside here.

That is our job. It is called democracy. It is our system that was hard fought for. It must be retained to allow us to enact legislation. The Government must not hand over our democratic mandate to legislate on migration to a European Commission which is not elected by the popular vote and is not accountable for decisions in the same way as we are. It is an illusion to pretend otherwise.

This is not about isolationism. There should be co-operation on certain matters We in Sinn Féin believe that the vast majority of measures contained in the EU asylum and migration pact are not in Ireland's best interests. Ireland can better create a fair, efficient and enforced rules-based system by exercising opt-outs from the majority of the pact's proposals.

Some decisions are better taken locally and a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. I cannot understand why the Government missed the fact that we happen to have a common travel area with Britain that is causing a share of problems at the moment. We have a common travel area. Our location on the map, on the edge of Europe, means we are in a different position. The Government does not seem to recognise that.

Most Irish people recognise where people are genuinely fleeing war, persecution or famine, they need protection and support. This is the position of the vast majority of people in the constituency I represent, Laois-Offaly. Most Irish people are fair minded. If the Government decides that key aspects of this pact are going to be ignored, we are in trouble. It must be for an Irish Government to decide on key positions in relation to our migration system, including rejecting unsuccessful applicants sooner, compiling our list of safe countries so that those who are not genuine asylum seekers can be rejected, and decide from what countries Ireland should take refugees, and verify departures. We must also ensure that those who are deemed to be genuine asylum seekers and have a genuine case are processed quickly and looked after. That is why Sinn Féin is voting "No" to the Government's proposal to fully opt in to the EU migration pact.

It is not a case of saying "No" for the sake of it. There are two sections of the pact that we could support but they are all tied in together now. They are practical and in the best interests of genuine asylum seekers. We need to be able to return those seeking to make an asylum application here, when there has been secondary movement and they have come from another country, to the country where they made an application, whether it is in Europe or elsewhere. That is why we support opting out of the regulation. We must also be able to access the fingerprint database to ensure we have more information on who enters the State and to assist in vetting, conducting checks, preventing and tackling child trafficking and returning asylum seekers, where appropriate, to where they travelled from. That is why we support the Eurodac regulation involving an international database which contains the fingerprint data and other information on asylum applicants who have been registered in EU member states or associated countries.

It makes sense to co-operate on certain issues. The policy of Ministers is to talk about isolationism but that was Fianna Fáil's approach in the 1950s. The world has moved on. We favour co-operation with the EU on the two points I outlined. Retaining the ability to enact legislation here in the Dáil for the State will be the best way to achieve a fair, efficient, rules-based and enforced system. Sinn Féin will vote "No" to the Government's proposal to opt fully in to this pact. The Government is ignoring the special position of Ireland regarding the common travel area. That is why we are voting "No" to this migration pact.

4:45 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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This debate is a facade. The Government will be able to point to it to claim there was a debate in advance of the Government opting in, which it has already decided to do. It will be in advance of the various legislation that will be required.

When we talk about legislation, there are five Stages to Bills, the first of which is when a Bill is published and considered in advance of speaking to it. The Second Stage is about the detail of the legislation and the principle of it. What will we be doing when legislation is presented to us? We are supposed to be talking about the principle of it but we have already opted in. This is doing things backwards. We all know that with legislation, the devil is in the detail. We want to see the detail. We have made changes in this House whereby we now have pre-legislative scrutiny to go through proposed legislation in great detail in advance of its publication.

Essentially the Bills that will follow are pointless. The decision to opt in has already been made and the detail is something we are going to have to live with. That is absolutely the wrong way to go about this.

I have no doubt that there are things that have to be done on an EU-wide basis and there are parts of what is proposed that we certainly believe have strong merit. We see serious merit in the Eurodac system, with its database. For a range of different reasons, we could live with other aspects of the measure but other parts present a particular difficulty. I am trying to get my head around the situation where people will arrive here but they will not have arrived "here". They will be in some location close to the airport or a port that will not be called Ireland. It will be a location that is not deemed to be the State. We are told it will not be a detention camp. What if people leave and get the bus into town? Are they suddenly "here"? We are being given a pat on the head and told they will not be detention centres. I want to see the detail of something like that because there is the potential for real infringement of rights of people who are arriving, sometimes from war-torn countries and in considerable personal turmoil. I am not at all satisfied with what we are being told about that and I am not going to take an assurance from the Government. I want to see the detail in writing. We are not going to see that detail.

Several human rights organisations are concerned about safeguards. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is right about people being fair here. I found that on the doorsteps when people saw that somebody had arrived here seeking refuge, coming from a country where there was a war. People felt that of course we need to treat people fairly and the process they go through needs to be fair. However, organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, have decried the pact as having harmful practices. I admire an awful lot of what MSF does in the world. Others are concerned about the lack of ability to go through a legal process.

As I say, there is merit in some aspects of what is being proposed but the lack of detail is completely unacceptable. There are several separate Bills that we will have to go through.

When we look at the various regulations that are going to be turned into legislation, there is an issue that is not being raised about the European Union. I do not see where the European Union's strategy is to actually deal with the conflicts in the countries from which much of the migration is coming. There is a large weapons or armaments industry in Europe. That could be, and probably is, enabling some of the wars that are taking place in different parts of Africa and the Middle East, in close proximity to Europe, where some of the migration is flowing from. I do not see where the big initiative in the European Union is to deal with peace in those locations. It certainly is not part of this conversation or narrative.

That is a huge missing piece. People do not get up and leave their homes. Most migrant flows are not to Europe but to neighbouring jurisdictions that are much poorer than any country in the European Union. Those countries are having trouble dealing with that.

The European Union is framed as having coming out of a peace initiative of peace after the Second World War and following on from the First World War. I would have thought that would be a lesson that should be expanded elsewhere. Look at the chaotic position in arriving at a common view on Palestine. It is extraordinary how different the European Union is and the lack of cohesion in it about peace.

Ireland is a country that is more about emigration than immigration. It is only relatively recently that we have seen any kind of migrant numbers. Most of the people who come here do so to work. They get employment permits and so on. It is only very recently that we are starting to see a small but significant number of people arriving as part of the most recent migrant flow into Europe. We tend to forget how we were treated in other countries when we left, including by our closest neighbour, and the resentment that people felt about that treatment, even now. There is an idea that we were welcomed in the United States after the Famine. Anyone who reads history knows that is not the case and that people had a real struggle there. We have to understand those struggles because we have had a history of them. I am concerned we are not doing that.

We have been working in a chaotic way since the start of the direct provision system It was shameful. Before there was ever war in Ukraine, that system was well beyond acceptable. We have not dealt with this question very well in this country. The way it has been handled has created chaos. People understand. I was knocking on doors during the recent election campaign. If anyone believes the national narrative, I met very different people on the doors. People were concerned about a range of issues connected with migration. They were concerned about people sleeping in tents, the chaotic way people were finding hotel rooms at the last minute and the lack of any kind of planning, even two years after the war in Ukraine started. Adopting this pact will not change that. We do not even know where these six centres will be, for example. They have been announced but we are not told their locations. There are many things we could do that would deal with the practical aspects of the most recent migrant flows. I do not see anything practical or urgent being done in respect of those six centres.

Outsourcing provision has become very problematic. Fortunes are being made by particular individuals. I am concerned about the vetting of some of the locations and individuals who are running them, a concern I have expressed before.

I am unhappy with the way this issue has been handled. This is a facade of a debate.

4:55 pm

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the European migration and asylum pact. I will answer some of the questions asked about what Europe is doing to prevent or ease conflict elsewhere and stem the flow of migration. It is important to look at the proportion of the European Peace Facility that is used to try to prevent conflict in Africa, reduce the incidence, duration, intensity and severity of conflicts there and support the African Union. Some 10% of the facility is used for those purposes and for a range of different measures that come up in an incidental way.

I will give some examples. Some €185 million has been provided to the African Union mission in Somalia to support the military component of the mission to maintain stability there. Funding has been provided for military training facilities and non-lethal equipment for soldiers trained by the European Union training mission. Some €20 million has been provided to the multinational joint task force against Boko Haram and €35 million to the Sahel joint force to strengthen the resilience of the joint force. These efforts are part of the European Union's external focus and its broader defence policy of trying to maintain security in the external environment of the European Union. Essentially, it is an effort to support governments to maintain peace and reduce conflict, not only because it is a good thing in itself but also to try to prevent migration that does not have to occur. The European Union does this for humanitarian reasons and for regional stability. It is a significant part of the programme. While the bulk of the European Peace Facility goes towards Ukraine and maintaining stability in the western Balkans, which is extremely important, it is also very important to acknowledge that 10% of that facility is focused on supporting the African Union. Perhaps we can have a more detailed debate in the Dáil on that but it must sit alongside this conversation about the European Union.

As Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I represent Irish interests. I very much believe it is in Ireland's interest that we adopt this pact and be part of a collective action across Europe to deal with the collective challenge and opportunity presented by migration. Of course, Ireland is an open economy. We are entirely reliant on international talent coming here to work where there are jobs available for people to do. We are in the proud position of having a workforce, of which 18.5% comprises people who were not born in Ireland. That is twice the eurozone average. That is something to be very proud of. It has contributed to our culture, economy and society in very constructive ways and we will see the benefit of that over time.

EU membership has hugely advanced Ireland by making the economy more open and also making the country more open culturally and open to people coming here and building their lives, whether through study or work. People born in Ireland are also taking the opportunity to live and work elsewhere in the European Union.

We have a robust employment permit system to bring in skilled people from outside the EU where gaps remain, especially in critical areas. We have had occasion to extend that list further and further in recent years because we have a very tight labour market. Being part of the European Union also gives us broader benefits, chief among them is our being part of the political stability of a continent that has had a turbulent and unstable history. Other benefits include access to the Single Market, increased funding and investment opportunities and better social, environmental and consumer standards.

The real benefit of the European Union is the maintenance of the rule of law, political stability and peace on the Continent in circumstances where that has not always been the case. That is threatened now and the only way we can counter that threat and maintain the values of the European Union, which are, in essence, the protection of democracy, fundamental freedoms and human rights, is to maintain the rule of law in a collective way. That is why the migration pact is so important. It enables us to act collectively in solidarity and in concert with our friends and colleagues in Italy, Greece, the Baltic states and the Balkan states where these pressures are much more acute than they have been in Ireland to date.

It is important to understand the pressures that other countries are facing as well as the pressures that we face. In particular, I am minded all the time to think of my colleagues from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, countries which have experienced secondary country movement by people coming from very difficult circumstances, as we have, but also a different type of migration, namely, instrumentalised migration - let us call it "weaponised migration".

Our colleagues in the Baltic states have repeatedly seen hundreds of people being flown to Belarus, bused to its borders with Lithuania and elsewhere and pushed across to deliberately destabilise those countries, economies and peoples, amplified by messages on social media that this is a bad and unwelcome thing. This is the sort of weaponised migration that other countries are facing. It is part of the conflict with Russia. They are clear that this is what is happening. It is happening at the same time as cyberattacks and a range of other destabilising measures.

There is also the effect of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has displaced some 4 million people. They have had to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries, including in the EU. This is apart from the weaponised form of migration that I have already mentioned.

It is clear that, due to climate change, weaponised migration, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and broader conflicts, we have a migration problem that greatly exceeds our ability to act alone. The only possible way of managing this process in a rule-of-law way that respects human rights, protects individuals on a pan-European basis and allows us to ensure that our values of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms are applied is by opting into this directive and acting collectively. By opting in, our laws will be aligned with the EU’s for the first time.

I understand the deep, good and constructive dialogue that is being had about the details of the directive. That is important, and there are a series of measures to be advanced in the House to cover the details, but I do not see the articulation of a serious alternative in managing this difficulty. Ireland participated constructively and collaboratively in this EU work for a long time. If the directive is to be criticised or if it is decided that it not be implemented, then it is important that alternatives be given. I was disappointed by Deputy Doherty asking on radio last week about an extension of the temporary protection directive and about what Ireland planned to do if that directive ended next March. The question of whether the directive is extended is a European Union competence. It is not a matter for the Irish Government on its own. The question of whether it will be extended was not considered by the Deputy. The question of what would be happening in Ukraine at that point was not considered by him. Two or three days after the local elections, his suggestion was that we should send Ukrainians back to safe parts of Ukraine as though any of us would be able to identify where those safe parts would be today, next week or several months from now. It is that sort of very unhelpful commentary that dilutes the genuine discourse of a serious issue that is going to become part of our political dialogue over the next ten or 20 years as we deal with the effects of climate change. We have to deal with it in a serious and collective way, one that commits us as part of Europe to the European project and to the values of Europe.

If people have objections to this directive, they should provide alternatives in a serious and constructive way. I for one am pleased that the European Union has put this together and that we will have the opportunity to act collectively. It is important that we opt in, as we are doing.

5:05 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for sharing time with me.

It is fair to say that, as a consequence of war, famine, climate change and general unrest across the globe, migration is something that we will be dealing with as a country for a considerable time to come. Despite what people in the Opposition claim, if we want to deal with this issue comprehensively, we cannot do so alone. The Irish are probably some of the most decent, humane and fair-minded people across the globe, but we must also acknowledge the growing concern that that generosity may be exploited. However, it must also be called out that there are people exploiting some legitimate concerns for political gain.

When discussing this issue, we must always do so in a respectful and humane manner and we must never forget that we are talking about fellow human beings who, for no other reason than the lottery of birth, find themselves seeking asylum in another country. The Government has been dealing with unprecedented levels of asylum seekers over the past two years in particular. It is important that we acknowledge that there is a difference between people who are seeking asylum and people who are coming to the country through other channels, for example, critical skills permits and work visas. The people we are speaking about today are seeking asylum. To be fair to the Government, it wanted to respond in a humane and timely manner, but mistakes were made because of that. We allowed processing times to get too long and we did not implement the Dublin Convention, which should have been implemented early on. Disproportionate numbers of people were put into communities in isolated locations where proper services were not in place, for example, public transport to convey people who could work or attend college. People were being moved around, and continue to be. If we are serious about supporting asylum seekers in integrating into, mixing with and settling down in our communities, then we should refrain from moving them around like pieces on a chess board. If people are to integrate into society, they should be allowed to stay in the communities where they have built up friendships, etc.

Unfortunately, and as I have stated several times, we as a Government have become too dependent on the private sector over the past two years. Many public buildings remain unutilised in supporting people who are seeking asylum. This issue needs to be addressed. If we want to gain the trust of the people on this issue, we need to acknowledge where mistakes were made and address them.

I wish to ask some questions before concluding. How many EU countries will opt into this proposal? On 15 May, 15 EU states published a statement regarding new solutions to address irregular migration in the EU, a copy of which I have with me. Where does that sit with this directive? I would welcome the Minister’s feedback.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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Ireland needs to be able to adapt its approach to match our particular circumstances and any further challenges that may arise in future. Shackling ourselves by agreeing to an all-or-nothing approach is not in our interests and we will be voting no on the Government’s proposal.

Most people recognise that people genuinely fleeing injustice and seeking asylum should be given protection and supports. We are in a time when conflict, persecution and climate change are displacing people across the world. Global inequality is a significant factor in all of this, which is something we must remember. These people, who are genuinely fleeing such scenarios, must be treated humanely and with respect and compassion. To do this effectively, we need a system that is humane and efficient and whose rules are enforced. That system also needs to be tailored to suit the individual circumstances of host states, such as the common travel area we share with a non-EU state. For these reasons, it should be for an Irish Government to determine when we need to change our procedures, not to surrender those decisions to the EU.

Sinn Féin favours two beneficial options: the asylum migration management regulation to assist in returning those who seek to make an asylum application here to the first county where they made a claim; and Eurodac to ensure more information on who enters the State, assist us with vetting and checks, tackle trafficking and assist in returning asylum seekers, where appropriate. However, we oppose giving the EU the ability to tie the hands of future Governments to adapt to our unique challenges. Indeed, the EU does not have an unblemished record in how it treats people fleeing persecution. The asylum pact will not address the thousands dying in the Mediterranean.

Measures can be taken nationally to deal with immigration, to enhance our asylum system to facilitate quick decisions, and to avert backlogs and the continued pressure on communities to give up hotels and other premises that they should be able to retain. The problem is that this Government has not done so and is now seeking to shove its responsibilities onto the EU. The average processing time of 18.8 months and the failure to enforce a rules-based system effectively is a case in point. As a result, a backlog builds up and the private sector is relied on for accommodation.

Consequently, communities end up finding their hotels or nursing homes taken out of public use. Communication with these communities is dreadful. The Department remains silent until work is under way or is about to begin. Any real detail is virtually impossible to get and communities are left frustrated. Generally, that is it. Job done, with little if any community engagement and no detail on the provision of additional services or whether an audit of services has been done. The Department needs to be honest and upfront with communities. Unfortunately, many people with genuine circumstances and concerns feel isolated by the Department. The Department does not engage or seek to address their concerns. The very least we can expect is for the Department to be on the ground well in advance with a designated liaison person who is always available locally.

Sinn Féin believes in the emergency provision of State-run basic reception centres that can meet IP applicants’ fundamental need for safety, shelter, nutrition and healthcare. This is key to getting hotels and nursing homes returned to communities and back to their intended use. In parallel, we would commence the development of longer-term State-owned reception centres. Then there is the issue of consistency in the Government’s approach to integration. Borrisokane is an example of successful integration. The only fault is the Department reneging on a prior agreement and issuing eviction notices. Again, this is due in large part to the lack of preparation or vision from the Department. This must be rethought. Our housing and health crises were evident before we saw immigration in the current numbers. That is not the fault of people seeking refuge but of Government inaction.

Of course, there are some who seek to manipulate all these failings for their own divisive purposes and who try to misrepresent communities. The Government has a responsibility to tackle misinformation by providing information, being upfront with communities and providing for them. This will take the oxygen away from those who seek to promote discrimination.

We need a system that is fair, efficient and enforced. We need sovereignty over our decision making, not commands from the EU. Nothing replaces a proper, effective and enforced policy that processes applications quickly, enforces decisions, treats people humanely and assures people and communities that their interests are being taken into account.

5:15 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We will be opposing this proposal, although not for similar reasons to any mentioned in the House today. I reject the idea that this is all about our sovereignty. I want to start from the point of view of looking at why we have this pact in the first place. It has been said repeatedly by backbenchers on the Government side that we need a fair, firm, efficient and enforced process for dealing with the asylum seeker crisis. Everybody has acknowledged there is a crisis and some have described it as a European problem. This is a global problem. There are more people moving across the planet today seeking safety and refuge from famine, drought, climate change, conflict and persecution than at any time since the Second World War.

In the Second World War, those who moved were the Jews because they were being subjected to the Final Solution by Hitler and the Nazi Party. I am reading a very interesting book, IBM and the Holocaust. In it, the author proves that Hitler would not have been able to carry out the Final Solution without the co-operation of major corporations like IBM, Siemens, Krupps and so on. The role played by these corporations was disgraceful. We can read about the torture, persecution and absolute brutality of the Final Solution and why populations were moving. If we were to wind back the clock and be in our shoes in the 1940s, would we be talking about controlling the movement of migrants or would we be opening our arms, sitting down and starting from the point of view of saying: what can we do to help them, what can we do to make life better and how can we deal with this inhumane catastrophe in a humane way?

The starting point of the European Union, led by Ursula von der Leyen and the other leaders of countries like Belgium and France that are responsible for a colonial outpouring of civil war in the countries they occupied in Africa, is to say, “My God, this is an awful problem”. This is despite the fact the European Union has some 24% of the total global migrant population coming onto its shores and of that 24%, at its height, we had 1%, which was in 2023. There is this moral panic about the migrants who are moving and how we deal with this problem - this “European problem”, as it has been repeatedly called. This is absolutely a challenge and it is a challenge that has been created by the human activity that has led to climate change, war and persecution. It is a challenge to deal with it. However, the starting point of seeing human beings as an absolute problem is what leads to a pact of this nature.

Nobody has discussed what else is in this pact, which I acknowledge we are not opting into. However, the fact we are trying to opt into any of it is outrageous because another part of this pact is about funding what are called “safe third countries”. The first safe third country that we identify is Libya. As European Union members, we have been pouring millions - probably billions at this stage - into Libya to keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean; to store them there, put them into detention centres there and subject them to what has been proven by Sally Hayden and others who have documented this and visited these areas as slave camps where there is rape and torture, and human beings are bought, sold and killed. These are migrants who are fleeing famine, war and persecution. The European Union’s cynicism is to say it now extends the safe countries to include Egypt, Tunisia and Albania - you name it. We look for any despotic regime and give it millions to hold onto migrants so that we in the European Union do not have to deal with it. This is one of the richest parts of the planet and we do not want to deal with human beings who are desperate. What we want to do is keep them back and curtail them. That is the cynicism of this pact. The fact that we are signing up to any of it or attempting to opt into any of it is disgraceful. We should be standing up loud and proud and rejecting the approach of the European Union.

I do not have all of the solutions and I am not standing here to be a Goody Two-Shoes and say: here is a solution that I can come up with. However, surely to God, if we have all of this bureaucracy of the EU and the various countries that are members of it, we could look at the overall state of the Union. Workers in the Union are increasingly ageing and we need a younger population. This country needs more workers, and everybody has said it. We are short of bus drivers, mechanics, teachers, doctors and nurses yet we are rejecting the potential to increase our workforce.

I say we are rejecting it because that is the starting point. The starting point is that it is a problem, not an opportunity and a challenge. The reason we are starting from there is that because of the way the world is run, it is all about where the profit goes and who makes the most money, just as it was when Hitler used the IBM company to design a computer system that would help him to carry out the Final Solution of the annihilation of 6 million Jews. It is the same basis on which we were organised then that we are organised now. That is what leads us to say that human beings are a problem rather than an opportunity and something we need to recognise as having the potential to make the world a better place for everybody, including themselves.

I want to challenge something said by the Minister of State, Deputy Carroll MacNeill. She said that Europe has to maintain the rule of law and that, in maintaining the rule of law, we need to look at how migrants are treated. There was a BBC report on what happens on Greek soil with the Greek coast guard. The BBC interviewed a series of different people who were trying to escape from the countries they came from, for example, Cameroon, Somalia and Sudan. The accounts they gave were chilling. One asylum seeker said:

We had barely docked, and the police came from behind - two policemen dressed in black, and three others in civilian clothes. They were masked, you could only see their eyes.

They took a man from Cameroon and another from Ivory Coast, transferred them to a coast guard boat and then threw the Cameroonian man into the water. The Ivorian man said: ‘Save me, I don’t want to die”. They then threw him in the water and as they watched his body go below, his hand was up asking to be saved, and they just watched and watched while his hand slipped down and the man was drowned. Another witness talked about the Greek coast guard punching a migrant in the head until they almost killed him.

Then we had the episode of the Greek coastguard allowing 600 people to die, with 923 in total dead so far this year. Where has the Greek Government been taken to court by the EU over breaking the law? It has not.

The Minister of State mentioned what goes on in Belarus and the dumping of refugees over the border. She is right, and there is a film on next week about that called "Green Border". It has won prizes. They dump them over the border into Poland. They literally throw their bodies - these were Syrian refugees - over the barbed wire into Poland. Then what do the Polish guards do? They pick them up and throw them right back. Where has the Polish Government ever been taken to an EU court if the EU rule of law is so important? It is hypocrisy. It is nonsense.

Now we have more and more Palestinians trying to escape the situation in Gaza, which has been contributed to hugely by the EU, particularly since Germany and the EU helped to arm the Israeli Government. As Palestinians flee that and come here, we say, "We have to doubt you, question you and fast-track your applications. Let us look twice at what is going on here."

The whole starting point of the EU asylum and migration pact is one of cruelty. It is not one of humanity and not one of opportunity. It refuses to recognise the wealth in this continent, compared with that of the continents from which these people come. It refuses to recognise the opportunities that are there. In this country, what we have refused to recognise is that all the services we lack - whether it is the fact that we have only seven GPs for every 10,000 people when we should have 12, the fact that we have 4,000 more people in homeless accommodation and 100,000 people on waiting lists or the fact that our health service is in crisis - are the fault of consecutive governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, particularly since austerity that was imposed on us by the EU after the 2008 bank crash. If we were to recognise that as a starting point, we would not be blaming communities or migrants but would be saying the fault lies with those who have run this Government and those who allowed the bank bailout to cripple us and to cripple Greece. Then, when the migrants start looking for help and safety, they become the problem. We should start again and look at them not as a problem - as a challenge, yes - but as an opportunity to make this world a better place. That is the real, fundamental problem with the migration pact. It is that it sees everything in terms of human beings as a problem. That is why we need to reject it.

5:25 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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If the Minister, Deputy Foley, comes in - she is in a committee at the moment - I will share time with her.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. The EU migration pact forms a central part of our national response to the migration crisis. It is collective action working together to address a common challenge in a humanitarian way. That is part of the best traditions of the EU - its finest work of shared responsibility to undertake major tasks. Our migration policy is founded in compassion and common sense, responding honestly to the issues that emerge. That will remain at the heart of this Government's efforts. Our country has lived up to its moral and legal duties to shelter those who need shelter. We have opened our doors and offered help in keeping with our core values. The Irish people can take pride in a shared effort that accommodated unprecedented numbers of Ukrainian and international refugees, particularly over the past two years. We have not been found wanting when we were needed. The sheer scale of the challenge has tested us and has tested many communities, and many communities have stretched themselves to respond. The Government has moved swiftly to put in place new measures and to adjust policies, as practical, to a rapidly emerging issue. Fines for airlines, additional immigration processing staff, more gardaí in enforcement and expanded safe country lists are all measured and effective policies to adapt to an evolving issue. Furthermore, additional workplace inspections to tackle the shadow economy and means-test social welfare all help to ensure the public can have faith in the fairness and efficiency of our system. As the international context changes and migration and asylum demands continue, we need to do more to ensure we have a fair but firm and efficient immigration process. This pact forms part of a sustainable policy that lives up to our values and our legal obligations.

Some Opposition parties and TDs have advocated going it alone on migration. The main Opposition party tripped over itself on where its policy of open borders applies and, indeed, where it does not apply. We do not have to look too far to see where a unilateral approach brings us. Our next-door neighbour, Britain, departed from the EU to go it alone on migration. It has been completely ineffective and has led to an absolutely absurd spectacle of paying migrants to fly to Rwanda in expensive PR stunts. Those advocating we go it alone, in my opinion, are the Brexiteers of Ireland. They are delusional and cynical all at once. In the face of an international challenge, we need an international response. The EU is the single most successful international organisation ever established, an unprecedented vehicle for peace, prosperity and co-operation. It is the best shared means of addressing common problems. Why would we retreat from an organisation with a remarkable record of success in tackling major problems when it comes to a pressing global issue? Acting collectively with other nations is not a diminution of our sovereignty; it is, in my opinion, the fullest expression of it. There is a narrow-mindedness to a view that international co-operation in some way undermines our country. It strengthens it, and facing a global migration crisis, we need to work with others to form a strong and fair rules-based system drawing on our values of compassion, decency and common sense. Any country working by itself will be far weaker than us all working together. We cannot seal Ireland off from the world and proclaim it as a hermit republic.

The pact offers a fair and effective route forward, and I have not heard any viable alternative by those opposing it. It is cynical politics and it is not about practical solutions. We cannot allow malicious falsehoods to take root and darken our politics. We have to be honest about the scale and the impact of this challenge. We need to strive to live up to our best values and ethos. We will ensure common sense and decency are at the heart of this Government's policy, and the migration pact helps us achieve that.

To respond to a couple of the points Deputy Bríd Smith and others made, I have the honour of representing a constituency, Dublin Fingal, that is the most diverse in this country. I have always welcomed the new communities and new people who come into this country and have made our country better, stronger, more diverse and more welcoming. We have many tens of thousands of new Irish coming to this country every single year who add to and enrich our country. What we need to ensure is that the system we have on legal migration is fair - and it is. We issue tens of thousands of work permits every single year. We also need to ensure, however, that we work directly and in co-operation with our EU partners to ensure people are not exploited, to shut down people traffickers and to ensure we do not have illegal migration into this country. I think most people in this country are fair-minded. If a fair and efficient system is in place whereby someone has a right to asylum, he or she should be granted it and granted it efficiently. Where someone does not, there are other avenues where people can enter this country and work here and add to the richness of our State.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the opportunity to express my support for the EU migration and asylum pact. Migration has been always with us and has been always a part of the fabric of our life here. We in Ireland have a particular affinity with the United States, for example, and so many of our people went to the United States when times were very difficult here in Ireland, so we in Ireland have an appreciation, some small understanding, of those who have to leave their own countries in difficult circumstances to find new opportunities. John F. Kennedy, the former American President, whose great-grandfather emigrated from Dunganstown, County Wexford, noted the contribution that immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere had made to the United States.

He said, "Everywhere, immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life," We are very fortunate in Ireland to have workers from almost every country in the world making an immense contribution to our society and who are, in our instance, enriching and strengthening the fabric of Irish life. Our health service and hospitality sector in particular would not be able to function without them. Last night, I had the honour and privilege of attending the graduation ceremony for 91 teachers who have come through the migrant teacher project in the Marino Institute of Education in Dublin. It was truly a privilege to meet these students and to see their enthusiasm in becoming part of the education system. They will have an equal opportunity to strengthen the fabric of Irish life. They will have a pivotal position charged with the care of our most treasured resource, that is, our young people. We can also be proud our education system has become a beacon of integration and tolerance.

Some Deputies and Ministers have paid tribute to the incredible work that has been done to seamlessly integrate more than 18,000 children studying in primary and post-primary schools. That did not happen by magic; that happened because staff wanted it to happen. They put in the extra hours and do the extra work to make sure every child has a place and is heard, including those who are coming from war-torn areas. While the Department will support them in this, the work is done on the ground by those who welcome these children coming from a variety of circumstances across the world. Our schools have been enriched because of it.

There has been an increase in migration across the world in recent years due to the easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions and the outbreak of violent conflicts across the world. It has, as we all know, led to the rise of far-right politicians in many countries across Europe. Recently, I was taken by the fact that the French football captain, Kylian Mbappé, felt the need to warn ahead of playing in the Euro 2024 football tournament, "the extremes are knocking on the door of power". I hope we never get to a situation in which members of the Irish men's or women's football teams feel the need to speak out against the far right like the French football captain.

As a country, we need to have a system of managed migration rather than illegal migration. The EU migration and asylum pact will allow Ireland to co-operate in a stronger way with other member states to combat illegal migration. There will be more collection of fingerprints and photographs of new arrivals, faster processing of all asylum applications and a greater focus on returning unsuccessful applicants to their own countries or to other European countries through which they have travelled. I welcome that under the pact there will be mandatory deadlines in Ireland and in other EU countries for processing asylum applications. This includes a six-month deadline for standard international protection applicants; even faster turn-around times for other asylum applications such as the three-month deadline for making decisions on applications for people from designated safe countries; and a two-month deadline for deciding on applications from people who have already applied for asylum in another EU country. It is true that some EU countries, most notably Italy and Greece, have been confronted with a wave of illegal migration. It is only fair the pact provides for EU countries, such as Ireland, to share some of the burden. Countries will be required to either agree to relocate applicants from countries under significant pressure or to take a financial contribution, which is the approach that will be taken by this Government. I support this pact. It is my intention, as Minister, to continue to work to support the tolerant and inclusive society we are fortunate to have in Ireland today.

5:35 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin and I believe Ireland can create a fair and efficient asylum system in a better way. We will vote against the migration and asylum pact. We oppose it for very good reasons. First, it undermines human rights. That has to be the basis of everything. That must be the basis of the message that goes out from this House. All people are equal. I will never support any legislation that allows for the detention of people fleeing hardship and war. Not all people arriving in Europe or Ireland are eligible for asylum but that does not mean they are not fleeing real hardship. If it is enough to force someone to get into an overcrowded dinghy in dark waters to set off on one of the most dangerous journeys imaginable, then they are fleeing hardship. Only fear and desperation would drive anyone to take that risk. They are often with children. They did not leave their homes lightly or come here to game the system. The reality is that some people who have gone through this arduous journey may not be eligible for asylum. In that case, we need to send them home safely but we must never vilify the individuals involved. The truth of the matter is that money and resources flow out of poor countries into richer countries. As long as that is the case, workers will try desperately to follow. Irish people more than anyone should understand that.

There are some individuals trying to whip up hate and talk about protecting Irish culture. To me, Irish culture is far more than the colour of one's skin. I was one of those people who emigrated when there was absolutely nothing whatsoever in this country for me. The Irish culture to me, which I always held no matter where I travelled, is our history of resistance, perseverance and emigration and how we were often treated on arrival. I was not treated in that way, but I saw others who were. I saw how people in Britain were treated by the National Front. I also refer to some of the behaviours I have seen here in recent months of individuals exploiting people's genuine concerns around immigration and who are genuinely looking for answers in their communities. I saw how people were treated by the National Front. When I first went to London, there was an incident in the bar at which I worked. The man, to whom I said goodnight, landed back five minutes later with a cut across his face because he looked Irish. That is the National Front and some of the people who exploit ordinary people and ordinary concerns.

The Government should never allow a vacuum for hate. Most people I know, and most Irish people, are humane and are underpinned by the greatest humanity and generosity. However, those communities need to be respected. They need information, communication and respect. I commend all of the communities who have worked hard to integrate and to do the job that, in many cases, the Government has not done. One of those communities is Ballinrobe. I was there last Saturday when Ballinrobe launched its community futures programme and its plan for inclusion and for developing its community and resources. These communities need to be resourced, listened to and worked with. There is a way to do this and a way we can do better in this country. This immigration pact is not the answer to that; it really is not. We absolutely need to co-operate and communicate with other countries in dealing with a worldwide problem but we need to be in charge of our own affairs. People need to know the people they elect will stand up for them, give them information, show respect, work with them and give them the resources and what they need to be humane communities that bring out the best in people. The idea of speculators and property developers making vast amounts of money off the back of the most vulnerable people, whether they are people in communities here or newly arrived in communities, is totally wrong. That is why we as a party have always said we need to have State accommodation and we need to do this properly, fairly and efficiently. We need to enforce the rules. Everyone needs a rules-based system. There is a way to do this. I ask the Government to work with us to do that.

5:45 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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The aim of the migration pact is to create a fair and efficient asylum system, ensuring that EU member states share responsibility equitably, while also streamlining the asylum process. This is a commendable goal. What is imperative in this debate is that we have an accurate handle on the scale of migration. As of 1 January 2022, there were 23.8 million non-EU citizens residing within the European Union. This represents 5.3% of the population, with three quarters of them living in Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Of course, here in Ireland, British citizens make up by far the largest proportion of our migrant population. This counters the idea that either Ireland or the EU as a whole is overrun by migrants. However, it is important to point out that legitimate concerns about immigration are consistently labelled as racist. It can alienate moderate individuals who are genuinely trying to understand and discuss these issues. This alienation can result in them feeling misunderstood or dismissed, potentially pushing them towards far-right ideologies that appear to take their concerns seriously. It is important to address and discuss immigration issues without resorting to accusations that actually stifle open dialogue. That is why I strongly argued last week at the Business Committee and again yesterday in the House that every Member who wishes to speak, regardless of his or her opinion, should be given the opportunity to do so. Above all else, we need to have an honest debate on migration, as the public has lost confidence in our immigration system. I believe that this has not been forthcoming in the manner in which the asylum and migration management regulation, in particular, one of the five legislative files that constitute the migration pact, is being presented. The goal of the specific regulation is a worthy one, which is to assist member states facing migratory pressure. However, if we want the public to trust us as politicians regarding the migration issue, we need to be honest with them. The asylum migration management regulation is a cause of particular concern for the public. In the vast majority of emails I have received, the claims being made are that this regulation overrides our sovereignty as a country, due to the transfer of responsibility for the management of our borders, to the EU commission. This raises legitimate questions about the legality of this without a constitutional referendum. We must have absolute clarity in this particular point before we vote tonight.

It is also disingenuous to give the impression that this is a good deal for Ireland as we are just going to have to pay €13 million per year as well as taking in 648 international protection applicants. We are told that we can just buy our way out of the responsibility to take these 648 applicants. This is the defence being presented to address legitimate concerns raised about the potential liability to the State, as provided for in the solidarity-pool formula laid out in the asylum migration and management regulation. However, it must be highlighted that this is a minimum figure. These figures will be reviewed every three years and there is absolutely no doubt that this minimum threshold will be increased significantly after the first review is completed. Furthermore, these increases will be passed by a qualified majority vote at EU level, so Ireland will have to accept whatever is negotiated at that point. The reason that these figures have to increase significantly beyond the initial €13 million per year and the 648 international protection applicants, is because of the rapidly growing inward pressure on migration from regions bordering the EU.

The International Office for Migration has recorded 264,000 irregular entries into the EU by land or sea as of 27 November 2023. This compares to 150,000 in 2021, which is a 76% increase over two years. If this rate of increase in numbers was just maintained over the next three years, by 2027, Ireland will be making an annual payment of €26 million, with an annual intake of 1,140 international protection applicants. To give context to these figures, these irregular entries account for approximately 66 of every 1,000 people who migrate to the EU from other parts of the world each year. It should also be noted that the current international interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention does not include "climate refugees". We all know that changing weather patterns will push more people to migrate due to drought, flooding and extreme weather events.

In a 2022 European Union Agency for Asylum report on their assessment of future migration scenarios, the expert participants believed that climate-change-induced resettlement will be regulated outside of the asylum system. This means that we in Europe will have to take in vulnerable families from other parts of the world whose homes are gone as a result of climate change, and this will be in addition to whatever figure the EU Commission calculates in terms of international protection or asylum applicants.

As we can see, this is a complex tapestry of global asylum and migration challenges. Therefore, a shared European approach to these issues is crucial. Having said that, the big question for me is, does this migration pact in any way help to stop some of the more tragic stories like that of little two-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015 after he drowned, along with his mother and brother while trying to reach Europe? Sadly for me, the answer is a resounding "No".

What we need is an improved migration-management system which balances border control with human rights. This system should include fast and fair asylum procedures and timely

deportations, but no matter how high we build the walls of Fortress Europe, and no matter how dangerous the waters of the Mediterranean are, people will risk everything, because they have absolutely nothing or nowhere to go back to. An effective migration policy must also provide a legal route for migrants to come to Europe. It must also invest in people and the economies of countries which are the primary source of migration, to either curb the pressure on them to leave in the first place, or ensure that they can actively contribute to our society if they do come to Europe.

As part of the migration pact, we have the EU resettlement framework, which does provide an alternative and safe access route into Europe. However, despite the growing level of demand for legal migration routes into Europe, just 14 member states have pledged to resettle refugees in 2024 and 2025, down on the 17 who made such commitments last year. Of those 14, just three will see the numbers they are taking increase, and this is despite a 76% increase in irregular entries into the EU over the two years, up to last November. The perverse structure of this migration pact means that members states will be obliged to house those who would make it to Europe to seek asylum, but there is no obligation whatsoever to help those who want to use the legal route to come into Europe. This should have been stitched into the asylum migration and management regulation, incentivising EU countries to facilitate the legal migration of refugees into Europe. Instead, this pact sets a minimum number for asylum seekers who have already made their way to Europe, which each country must take, and as I have said, is set to increase significantly in the years ahead. However, the same pact sets a maximum number of refugees who can legally come into the EU, but any country is free to set this figure at zero, which 13 member states have done for the next two years.

Finally, three quarters of the world’s refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, according to the International Rescue Committee, with more than two thirds of those being hosted in countries that are facing food crises. Major refugee hosting countries include Lebanon, Jordan and the Sahel region of Africa. The EU has failed to bring about stability in many parts of these regions and sadly, in some instances, member states have contributed to the instability.

The EU is failing to adequately support the needs of the people of these regions, providing food, education, jobs and prosperity. We Irish, above all people on this planet, know that people will in the main, remain in their home country if they have any prospect of a job or a future. Again, this should have been stitched into the asylum migration and management regulation, incentivising EU countries to invest in these parts of the world, reducing the need for people to leave. Instead, we are incentivising countries to invest in asylum processing centres in North Africa and southern Europe, to process these very same migrants who have already left home and have nowhere to go.

Europe is at a crossroads. It can either move ahead with the policies of deterrence and exclusion presented in this partial migration pact, which will simply ignore the drivers of migration and force even more people to migrate onto dangerous journeys, or it can choose to lead, by example, advancing safe pathways to Europe while at the same time addressing in a very practical way the many causes of migration in the first place. Sadly, what has been presented here as the EU’s solution will not lead to fewer deaths like that of little Alan Kurdi, but in fact to the very opposite. As a result, I cannot support this proposal and the fatally-flawed asylum migration and management regulation in particular.

5:55 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this very important debate on the asylum and migration pact. From a country with a population of more than 5 million, I know how many people we have who claim Irish descent right across the world. There are approximately 70 million people around the globe. That is so much a part of our story and what it means to be Irish and the shared experiences many families went through. As a former Minister for European affairs travelling around Europe, I also know about the weaponisation of very vulnerable people that we have experienced over the past number of years. We have so many catastrophic events going on around the globe, from the legal invasion of Russia in Ukraine, to the Middle East, to Africa, to huge seismic events after which very vulnerable people are being weaponised and coming to our shores. Those are very complex problems that require a very strong, common solution with the 27 European countries - all our partners - working together to solve the problem. That is the critical point I make to the House this evening. We need to work together to solve this very complex problem.

According to our own figures in terms of the scale of the problem, in an eight-year period between 2013 and 2021, approximately 23,000 people claimed asylum in our country. From 2022 to date, that figure has been in excess of 35,000. The scale of the problem has increased significantly as a direct response to the challenges on the uncertain global landscape I referenced at the start of my contribution. How we tackle that problem will define our country, and indeed, Europe, into the future. We need to tackle it with compassion in the first instance but, second, in a fair and rules-based manner. When we look and hear many people making contributions suggesting that we opt out, opting out is the solution. It is like flicking a switch. It is a very simplistic message with no detail of how we put that into operation. What is the methodology to deliver that? We have seen a blueprint for opting out before. It was Brexit. We saw the campaign for Brexit and Nigel Farage standing in front of a group of Syrian refugees and saying that if they voted for Brexit and if the UK left the European Union, the problem would almost go away. We know factually that the problem worsened.

I recall meeting Michel Barnier in Paris and pointing out these were the most misleading posters of the campaign for the UK to exit the EU. Yet, so many people bought into the campaign thinking it would resolve the problem but it did not. What did opting out get the United Kingdom? It has embarked on a position of the Rwanda policy on which it has spent £500,000 and yet the only people to go to Rwanda were ministers. Vulnerable people are claiming asylum in the UK from Rwanda as we speak. That is the irrational policy that opting out gives a country. There is no structure. It is ill-thought-out and with no planning behind it. When I hear Opposition Members suggesting we opt out, I do not hear any detail behind it. How would they resolve to challenge this very complex problem? I also saw something when we look at the spectrum from right to left. A total of 7,000 vulnerable people arrived in the space of 48 hours on the Lampedusa, an island just off Italy, which doubled its population. There is a right-wing administration in situ there, yet the problem did not go away. The challenge has been greater. That is why we really have to work together in a compassionate but fair and rules-based way to try to resolve these very complex problems. This pact gives us the opportunity to do that. When people want our country to opt out of an integrated system, what they are saying is that people who arrive here from many destinations from which there are no direct flights into our country, that we will have no capacity whatsoever to deport them under the old Dublin III regulation to the European Union if they have already claimed asylum or landed in another country. We will not have the data or the intelligence to be able to ascertain that, again putting our country at a huge disadvantage. We know the Dublin III regulation has not worked. It will be repealed through the membership of the asylum and migration pact. When that happens, our country will be in a very vulnerable position because our mechanism will be wiped away as to how we would respond to that challenge. Again, I hear no one setting out how we are meant to resolve to get the data and to know where to send people who have claimed asylum or who have spent time in other countries within the European Union context. That is a second big hole in the Opposition's response and saying we should just opt out. We need to be connected. We need the information and the mechanism. Even if we look at the wording at the moment, we are asking people, requesting European partners because of the variance in regulation around Europe, to take back citizens from other countries. Under the asylum migration pact, it will be a notification. It is a totally changed landscape. It is more coherent and what we need to tackle a very challenging problem.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment issued approximately 31,000 permits last year and this year many sectors are crying out for more people to come into our economy to work and to hold up the vital sectors we have that need labour. These provide services our citizens depend on every single day. In fact, it is not even arguable to say our economy would collapse if we did not have inward migration to keep those public services working and delivering for our citizens every day. We should never lose sight of that because in a fair, rules-based system there are mechanisms where people can come in, work, contribute to our society and our economy and share in our prosperity. We also have to look after people who come from a very vulnerable background such as those who are under attack and who are fleeing persecution. We have to have a mechanism to ascertain and adjudicate on their right to be in our State and that is what the asylum and migration pact gives us. It gives us the mechanism to be able to do just that in a clear structured way. What I hear from the Opposition is that there is no plan, no structure and it is all airy-fairy. That is exactly what landed the UK where it is in respect of Brexit. There is no distinct policy and, as I said, no tiered structure. We have to be very careful that when we are talking to the Irish people to acknowledge this is a problem that is going to be permanently on the landscape of our country into the future. It will be permanently at Europe's door into the future and we have to try our best to resolve it in a compassionate way. However, we have to send back to citizens in our country the message about how we are going to respond.

It is very easy to use the famous words opt out, flick the switch, everything is good when we know that is not the case because the mechanism is gone and it is very difficult then to respond.

6:05 pm

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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We should never tire of reminding people that Independence transformed the fortunes of this country and the people who live here. It transformed the country from being a provincial backwater of the United Kingdom into being a modern European state. In looking for evidence of that transformation, we probably need look no further than at the impact of migration into and out of Ireland over those historical years. During the time when we were a province of the United Kingdom the population of this country had been declining significantly since the Famine. Even after Independence, it took around 50 years for the population stabilise.

However, what really transformed this country from a country of emigration to a country of immigration was our joinder of the European Union and the establishment of the Single Market. As a result of that and because of the country's economic success, people want to come into the country. No longer is it a country that Irish people are forced to leave. In fact, if the international asylum procedure that exists at present existed back in the 19th century, I have no doubt millions of Irish people would have been entitled to avail of it.

The reasons we have such instance of immigration into Ireland now need to be stated. The first reason is that we are now a member of the EU, the 27 countries with a combined population of 450 million people. We know that under that system we have agreed to free movement of workers. That means workers are entitled to come from other countries within the EU to Ireland and in a similar way, workers in Ireland are entitled to go to other EU countries. It does not mean people are entitled to come here to claim social welfare. It means they are entitled to come here to work if they are from the EU 27 countries.

We also know there is a very effective and successful system in place whereby people can apply for work permits in Ireland. I think the Minister announced yesterday that last year 31,000 people applied for and were granted work permits to come here. We see those people working in our hospitals and restaurants. They go through the process of applying to get work permits that entitle them to come here and to work here.

The third ingredient in respect of immigration into Ireland arises in the sphere of international protection. It is clear that the issue that has given rise to concern in Ireland and that has made immigration a contentious issue is the issue of international protection. The numbers applying for international protection have increased relatively significantly in recent years. Back in 2019, a total of 4,700 people applied for international protection in Ireland. In 2022 and 2023, some 13,500 people applied in each year for international protection. Figures for the full year of 2024 are estimated to be around 25,000 people applying for international protection. On top of that, of course, we provided permanent protection to individuals who were coming from Ukraine and that temporary protection, as it is called, persists for another number of months into next year.

The numbers of people seeking international protection have put stresses on the system. However, it is extremely important to maintain separation between the three realms of migration I have outlined: those entitled to come because they are in the EU; those who apply for work permits; and those who apply for international protection. In order for the international protection system to operate effectively we need to have a system whereby people's applications are assessed promptly.

The whole purpose of the EU migration pact is to try to speed up the process of people applying for international protection. I suspect another purpose of the EU migration pact is to apply a stricter regime so that we have a more co-ordinated system throughout the European Union. I welcome that. If a person applies for international protection in one EU country and is refused, it is inappropriate that they then come to another EU country and apply again. Alternatively, it is also inappropriate if somebody applies for international protection in one country, then leaves that country and comes to Ireland or another country and initiates their application anew. That is called secondary movement. It undermines the system and is bad for the integrity of the international protection system.

People are perfectly entitled to say we should not opt into the migration and asylum pact. However, if they are going to say that, they need to appreciate the consequences of that. They also need to consider the purpose of the EU migration and asylum pact. As I said, the political direction of Europe at present is to try to reduce the numbers who are applying for international protection here and to try to introduce a more co-ordinated and effective system. In my opinion, the EU migration and asylum pact seeks to do that. I do not see any other proposal on the paper which can achieve it in any similar way.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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Generations of Irish people were forced to emigrate to places like the United States, Australia and England as a result of famine, poverty and conflict. Irish people for the most part have made a positive contribution to their adopted lands. Often newly arrived Irish people faced discrimination, racism and ostracisation. It is not that long ago that there were signs in England saying, "Irish need not apply" or "No blacks, no dogs, no Irish". However, over time Irish people became prominent in politics, healthcare, education and the religious life of many countries around the world. Millions of people around the world can point to an Irish ancestry and take inspiration from those who were forced from their native land to build a new life in a new country.

They also found that work opportunities in countries such as Australia had the added bonus of a better quality of life. The housing crisis and the escalating cost of living in Ireland also provide an incentive for many people to leave Ireland for greener pastures abroad. Ireland, like many other countries, now finds itself with labour gaps in particular services. The most obvious example is our healthcare service. Those with the proper qualifications are providing a valuable service for communities in our country as doctors, nurses and care assistants in nursing homes.

However, the migration system in Ireland is not fit for purpose and this has led to a breakdown particularly in the decision-making process and in the application of the migration system's own rules. It is crucial to have a properly managed migration system which will then be in a better position to manage migration in a fair and balanced way. To date, this has not happened. Unnecessary fuel has been added to this fire by the lack of consultations with local communities which has led to disinformation as well as tensions in communities, all of which could have been avoided if Government had talked to the people. Decisions on migration should be taken by Irish governments and not the EU. This EU pact would cause Ireland to lose its sovereignty on this issue and this is the reason we are opposing the plan to opt Ireland into the EU migration pact.

Today many see Ireland as a land of opportunity and many of these people are genuinely fleeing war, torture and oppression. No one can dispute that those fleeing some of the most brutal regimes in the world or who are refugees from devastating wars deserve all our support and protection. It is the right thing to do and it is the decent thing to do. It has also been shown that countries with properly functioning immigration systems have prospered economically.

We are in a global economy and it is unfortunate that we have what has been described as a brain drain. Many of our most qualified as well as many of our recently qualified doctors, nurses and educators have left our shores.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The decision to join the EU migration pact is a significant one for Ireland with far-reaching implications.

This pact is essentially a set of rules and guidelines for managing migration within the European Union and could place a substantial economic and social burden on the country. It could strain public services and local amenities including housing and medical services, which are already under pressure. The government in Brussels would dictate the number of immigrants Ireland must accept. This approach is reckless as it allows individuals far removed from the realities on the ground in Ireland to make decisions that will directly impact the lives of its citizens.

The Government's liberal stance on mass immigration is imprudent, particularly at a time when stricter border controls are necessary due to global sociopolitical dynamics. Ireland may not be able to accommodate a growing influx of asylum seekers, thus necessitating a far more stringent asylum policy. The imposition of migrant quotas and fines by the EU migration pact may not be beneficial for Ireland. It is particularly detrimental and unreasonable for countries unwilling to accept migrants according to the mandatory quota to pay a penalty of €20,000 per migrant as outlined in the new EU asylum package. Ireland is at a critical juncture, housing a significant number of international protection applicants - 31,166 as of 9 June 2024 - across 282 centres. According to replies to recent parliamentary questions, the average weekly cost of accommodating these individuals is €561 per person. From the same data in 2024, we know that 64% of all asylum applicants assessed for eligibility in 2023 did not qualify, indicating that they were either illegal immigrants or should never have been in the asylum system in the first place. Based on the same data, we know that the refusal rate is running at 70% of those assessed in 2024, meaning that approximately seven in every ten persons in the asylum system have no right to be here. Yet, taxpayers are expected to bear the cost of €561 for their accommodation, whether eligible or ineligible, because the Government is incapable of putting proper procedures and management in place. This is simply reckless and opting into the plan will mean more, not less, asylum applicants arriving here. This country is grappling with a severe housing shortage and overstretched public services, leading to unacceptable circumstances nationwide. The fact that up to 70% of those claiming asylum here are being imposed on local communities is shocking. There is insufficient housing for citizens and inadequate accommodation for tourists.

The cost of IPAS, excluding Ukrainian refugees, jumped from €191 million in 2021 to a staggering €653 million in 2023. It is expected to impose a massive €1 billion on Irish taxpayers in 2024, due to the Government's unwavering commitment to a policy of welcoming all asylum seekers without consulting taxpayers. This raises significant democratic and financial concerns, just as when the Government did not share the Attorney General's opinion on the Department's advice on the negative effect of a "Yes" vote in the referendum of 8 March. The Government is not being transparent about the consequences and costs of joining the EU migration and asylum pact. Ireland, like Denmark, has a special legal right to opt out of some parts of the pact. There is no compelling reason for Ireland to join the EU migration and asylum pact, which would force the country to accept more asylum seekers on top of the many international protection applicants already coming in, especially when there is no legal requirement to do so. The pact will allow the EU to make immigration decisions for Ireland. If ratified it would represent the largest transfer of Irish constitutional powers from Ireland to Brussels in the country's history. Joining this extreme pact would mean relinquishing any right to block future changes including potential increases in migrant relocation quotas, decided by the majority vote.

Ireland has a special legal right to opt out of the EU migration and asylum pact under Protocol No. 21 of the Treaty of Lisbon. This gives an opt-in or opt-out choice on individual proposals in the areas of freedom, security and justice. However, Irish voters have not been asked if they want to transfer national power on immigration matters to the EU. I said the asylum and migration management regulation, AMMR, should have been included in the recent elections as a referendum. A main part of the pact threatens to override Ireland's power as outlined in the Constitution by giving the European Commission the power to decide the number of relocated asylum seekers and the financial contributions Ireland must take from the taxpayer. The asylum and migration management regulation requires at least 30,000 asylum seekers to be distributed across the bloc each year.

6:15 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to talk about this migration pact. I am totally opposed to this pact, as are most people in the country. In the council elections a few weeks ago, the biggest issue was immigration. The people do not the trust the Ministers with this pact. It was disingenuous of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to try to confuse the issue last night by saying we need migrant workers. Yes, we do, and none of us have anything against migrant workers coming here with the proper documentation and work visas. We have no problem with people who come here genuinely distressed. What people are against is people coming here on a plane from somewhere they had to have a passport and arriving here with no passport. They then go before the courts and are told they cannot stay here, but there are no ways or means to deport them.

The Minister, Deputy Foley, spoke about the Irish people who went abroad. I know about the Irish people who went abroad. My grandmother left Muckross in 1907. She had to be claimed by her brother, and he had to have accommodation and work for her. My aunt went out and had to be claimed by her uncle. She claimed the rest of them as they went, and they had to have jobs for each other. That was what happened there and the issue should not be confused. The Government is being unfair.

The Minister, Deputy McEntee, said last night that we do not have any plan. The Government has no plan. It has proved it has no plan. One arm of the Government is giving out tents this evening, and tomorrow morning it will come along and pick them up and dump them. That is not a plan. If people are taken to court, they are told they will not get asylum, yet there is no one to deport them. The Government, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Greens are ramming this hurried Bill through the Chamber when the majority of our people are totally against this pact. Why do they not allow the people to have their say by having a referendum? Why can the Government bring in its own rules? Is there a promise of big jobs in Europe? It is not being truthful as the pact is not clearly defined.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, said that maybe 20,000 or 30,000 people could come. That 30,000 amounts to 600 per week. We do not have the staff or facilities to process these applications. I plead with every Deputy here, especially the backbenchers, to vote against this because in a few weeks they will all have to go back to the doors again and people are totally opposed to this pact.

It cannot be right that I have to come to this Chamber to ask for the same concessions for Irish people as are being afforded to Ukrainian refugees, who are getting social welfare, being housed in hotels and getting school transport at their request, with €800 being paid tax-free to landlords who rent houses to them. This cannot be done for Kerry people. Ukrainian refugees get medical cards and they are not even sick. There are 70 asylum seekers housed in the Holiday Inn beside a 90-year-old woman on the Muckross Road. Why have local people stopped walking the usual footpaths and walk in loops around Killarney? I know why, but the Government needs to find out. Next to Dublin, Kerry has the second highest number of refugees and asylum seekers, impacting on our medical service. We do not even have one extra GP in Killarney. Our social welfare services are stretched to capacity. Some 36% of our hotel beds are being used by refugees and asylum seekers, clearly reducing footfall to all the other hospitality.

No one here, there or anywhere can accuse me of being racist. For more than 20 years, I have helped the Bangladeshi community and many other migrants from other communities in different ways. The Government is only able to provide hotel beds and tents. We do not even have a homeless centre in Killarney. Anyone who becomes homeless has to go to Tralee with children, and they have no transport back to their schools in Killarney.

We need to protect our neutrality and sovereignty.

Too much blood was shed and different things had to happen to allow us to gain our independence, and we really appreciate the people. What the Government is doing here is morally, economically and politically wrong. We should be able to provide for our own rules and determine our own future, and not be led by Europe and von der Leyen and pander to them. This is totally unfair on the Irish people, and the backbenchers who vote for it will regret it at the doors.

6:25 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. If I can just say, before we go on to the next speakers, that I do not think there are any racists in this House.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I have been accused of being racist previously and I will not accept that from anyone.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will not accept it in respect of anybody here either, but we need to be careful with our language.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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We need to tell the truth.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are absolutely right. We need to tell the truth, but we need to be careful with our language that we do not incite people, rightly or wrongly. I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding in respect of this pact, and Members will vote whatever they want, which is their prerogative, is that Ireland will still have an obligation, pact or no pact, under international law, to allow people who wish to claim asylum to come to the country and make that claim. Pact or no pact, that will still happen. As for the idea, therefore, that if Members vote any particular way on the pact, that is going to change all that, it will not change it one iota.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Government is telling us it will.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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No one said that, absolutely not.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It will not change it one iota. It is important we respect one another and understand the facts.

We now go to a Government slot.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I am going to share time with Deputy Lawless. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this. It is important we have a rulebook and framework that is workable and enforceable. Those who come to a country, as the Ceann Comhairle said, through international law seeking protection and asylum need to have a framework that is fair but, equally, robust. Asylum seeking has been around for many decades. We first saw the mass movement of people during the Second World War and it has, sadly, continued in every decade since. Every country has a role to play. I would like to think that in Ireland we would be fair but, equally, robust, and signing up to a pact gives us a mechanism such that where international protection is being exploited, we can wave the rulebook, deport people and impose penalties. At the moment, there seem to be rules but no enforcement, that is, a rulebook that does not really exist in Europe. We need a uniform approach and that is what this pact offers.

Some Members in this Chamber have benefited from Ukrainian accommodation, as has been noted in the media quite a bit. They can throw it all back across the benches, but some people have gained €650,000 from the misery of that war and the people who needed accommodation, when others have merely walked down the street and put money in the tin or helped the poor misfortunates when we meet them outside.

I have just left the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting, where I put down a motion, which I hope will take full effect in this House. I know of one example where an accommodation centre closed on a Thursday and women and children who had fled the war in Ukraine were brought out on buses. On the Friday, a brand new contract issued to this individual allowing it to become an accommodation centre for single males. It was a contract of longer duration and one that is more lucrative. The clause I suggested at the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting would provide that if a State contract for an accommodation centre runs its course and if the provider does not extend the contract, there should be a one-year breakout clause such that it cannot return to being State accommodation. Wherever in the country that is happening, it is cashing in on misery. It is price-gouging to bring forward a group of people, terminate their accommodation and the following day, bring in a new cohort of people for more money and a longer duration. It is wrong. We need to bring in that clause urgently, and we passed the motion at the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting.

This needs to be a fair system. If someone comes here fleeing the war in Ukraine, or famine, persecution or whatever, there needs to be a system that is fair whereby the State will provide for them, but it has to be equal provision. Whether it is third level grants or access to medical care, they need to get treatment equal to people who are already in this country. There cannot be unequal or preferential treatment. That is where resentment festers and grows. I ask that this clause we are seeking in my parliamentary party becomes Government policy in order that accommodation centres will not close one day of the week for women and children, allowing them to be turfed them out into the street, with a brand new State contract issued the following day for a five-year period for that same accommodation building to become a male-only facility for five years, bringing in far more money for the owner. It is a simple clause.

To go back to the point on fairness, when we sign up to this pact, we need to show people that we are robust in how we enforce the regulations, and that if people are going to come here and exploit that very delicate phenomenon that is seeking asylum or international protection, they will be deported and the benefits they have accrued will be immediately stripped from them.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I will speak primarily as Chair of the justice committee, where this pact went through not long ago. On the procedural aspect, I have heard a constant refrain from many Deputies that not enough time was allowed to debate the matter. I heard the Taoiseach say yesterday on the Order of Business that every Member who wanted to speak on the matter or contribute to it would be permitted to do so. Deputy McGrath, who is still in the Chamber, called for a vote against that. I do not know whether he was voting against the idea every Member could contribute or whether he was voting for it. It did not seem to make any sense, with all due respect, when the Taoiseach was offering that every Member who wished to contribute could do so, and the Deputy said "No" and "Vótáil". He did not want that and would not agree. I do not know where that comes from.

At the committee, which I presided over, we had a number of sessions on this. We had an extensive engagement with the Minister for three hours with a question-and-answer session, which was widely picked up on both traditional and social media, with many clips and so on circulated. That shows the extent of the robust engagement that occurred, as was right and proper, at the committee, but we did not leave it there. We went on to another session, another three-hour block, hastily arranged because we moved quickly to enable the debate and make sure it happened, and then we heard from a range of stakeholders, such as representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Bar of Ireland, the ICCL, various other subject matter experts, including NASC, a migrant agency, and others who gave their expert perspectives. We listened to them carefully, took note and, again, had questions and answers.

The committee was minded to consider whether we need to go beyond that, but we did not run out of time. We ran out of speakers. The debate stopped only when no other Members were offering, including some Deputies who are in the Chamber at the moment, who came in and wandered off again without speaking. I do not know, therefore, where this comes from and I really wanted to have the opportunity to challenge that today. In regard to the idea the debate was curtailed, guillotined or shut off, certainly in committee any Member who wanted to speak was entitled to speak and, as is always the practice in committee, members of the committee went first but non-members were welcome to come in and many participated, as they are entitled to do. The debate finished ahead of the scheduled time because nobody was left offering to speak. I hope that puts paid to the idea that the debate was somehow curtailed. It is factually incorrect to say that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Of course it was curtailed.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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How was it curtailed? The Deputy wandered out of the room without having spoken. He was in the room, he hung around for a while and then he wandered out of the room. The floor was open to him and he chose not to take up the opportunity. I am not responsible for what he chooses to do.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It was a charade, with NGOs-----

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy might decide to characterise it any way he wants.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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On a point of order-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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What is the point of order?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Deputy has been addressing me for minutes but I did not hear the first part of his address because I was talking to the Ceann Comhairle's good self. I stood up to ask for clarification because I had not realised the Deputy was addressing me. The debate was a charade. There was a line of NGOs telling us what they wanted us to hear, and NGOs are running the country, so it was a pure charade and this is a further charade.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not a point of order.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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Indeed. The fact is the committee gave adequate time and completed its consideration only after all Members who wished to speak had spoken. I scanned the room a couple of times and even looked outside to see whether there was anyone else but there was not. That was why the committee finished its deliberation. There was no other reason.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You should have got a drone.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I might need one to keep up with you, although that might be to your credit, given you are a busy man, as I know. I do not want to personalise this, but I do want to rebut very strongly any Member suggesting there was not adequate time, which is completely incorrect.

On another point, this is not by any means the end of the debate on the pact. The next Dáil might feature a different government and who knows at what stage the pact will be taken on. Regardless of the vote, whenever it is taken, if the pact is to be enacted and if the Houses vote for it, my understanding is it will go through primary legislation, which will come back before the Houses and the committees.

There will be pre-legislative scrutiny and further engagement with experts. Any member of the committee is entitled to suggest any expert, as is always the case, from whatever side of the spectrum they are on. There will be primary legislation, amendments, Committee and Report Stages and Seanad and Dáil debates - the whole kit and caboodle. At the risk of repeating myself, the suggestion that this process is rushed or inadequate seems to be a useful talking point for those who oppose the pact in the first instance.

What do those experts say? What do those stakeholders say? They say a variety of things and it is fair to characterise the opposition to this pact as coming, in some cases, from the right and, in other cases, from the left. Of the stakeholders who attended committee meetings, undoubtedly some were opposed to it. Typically, it was those coming from what might be termed a "human rights perspective" because they felt it was unfair, inhumane or lacked dignity - perhaps the camps on certain borders where people are kept in holding pens before they can be processed. Some people coming from the left found that to be undesirable from a human rights perspective and I understand that, to an extent.

I find people on the right using the talking points of people on the left, and perhaps it is a badge of convenience to find something to say against the pact. It is ironic that it seems to be most opposed in Ireland by those who might identify as being on the right, even though the European Union would tend to say the pact has been hardened. There was a fear among some in the European Union the pact had gone too far to the right as a result of forces within Europe that pushed it that way and yet some still oppose it here.

Mr. David Leonard, an immigration expert who practices immigration law, said that this was "an imperfect consensus based [up]on compromise". That is a reasonably good description of it. I do not want to offend anybody but if I say that, as a general rule of thumb, if there is legislation or a proposal that both the hard right and the hard left oppose, it is probably a reasonably sensible proposition. I do not want to give offence to anybody by saying that but, as a centrist politician, if something faces opposition from both the hard right and hard left, it probably means it is a reasonable, middle ground compromise.

Mr. David Leonard also gave an analogy, which I thought was very useful. He talked about the idea of going it alone and the idea that Ireland would somehow be an outlier in Europe. I heard the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, speak about the Brexiteers who thought they would go it alone in the world. That did not work out so well and there is now more immigration than ever to Britain. The Brexiteers also forgot that EU migration was the least of their worries. They forgot about their former Commonwealth countries which all came back to say hello 40 years later. Mr. David Leonard talked about taking a computer network, upgrading it with antivirus and cybersecurity software, patching it to the latest requirements and having an ultra-smooth-running network but forgetting about one node on the network or even one solitary server running an old software version. He spoke about the obvious risks and vulnerabilities that go with that and the fact the computer can be compromised. Not being in sync with the network makes it not stronger but far weaker than the others. He applied that analogy to the pact and if Ireland was to decide to go it alone, to stand outside the other measures and countries and to say we will do our own thing, make up our own rules and work this out ourselves even though this is not just a continental but a global challenge. I thought that was a very sensible analogy.

The point about sovereignty has been raised and it strikes me as a convenient way to avoid saying where a particular party or group stands on the issue. We are concerned about sovereignty but what about the seven chapters of the pact? From chapter one to chapter seven, which are they for or against? They do not have to answer that question because they say it is about sovereignty. I am speaking to the Sinn Féin benches in this regard. I am directing my remarks that way because that seems to have been the Sinn Féin response, that is, that it does not want to surrender sovereignty. Every European Union treaty we have ever signed or every pact we have ever entered into has, to a degree, involved that.

If we go back to first principles, how did we get to a democratic state and civilisation in the first place? We pooled sovereignty. That was the whole idea of Thomas Hobbes and Leviathan and of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; where we evolved to a situation where we made collective decisions for the common good. Pooling sovereignty is where that came from. We agreed Leviathan would be the centre into which we would pool sovereignty for the collective good and protection of all. That is how it works. That is how democracy works. That is how this Chamber and the European Parliament work. That is how the whole planet works - those states that are based on democratic, civilised systems. That is a good thing and something we have been working towards for the best part of a century. Maybe that is worth reiterating.

The current system is not perfect and I do not have time to go into all of the issues. I agree with Senator McDowell when he talks about how some of the regulations we are operating under are based on 1950s international treaties. They were pre-Internet, pre-cheap travel and flights, and pre-social media. The idea that for the price of a meal multiple economically motivated migrants could get on a flight from one continent to another was unheard of or not envisaged at that time and I agree there needs to be an upgrade and it needs to be revisited. I agree different motivations may apply to many arrivals now than what were envisaged under those pacts. That is all the more reason we need to upgrade our system, and like the expert said at the committee, we need to upgrade our software, patch it up and make sure it is the latest version and running as all of the other nodes are.

6:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Harkin is next and will share time with her colleague Deputy Fitzmaurice.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Today we discuss if Ireland should opt into the EU migration pact. The pact itself contains extremely detailed requirements from all member states within its legislative proposals and it specifies how the entire system would operate across the EU. These are very detailed documents and yet we have not discussed in the detail necessary the requirements and obligations on Ireland if we opt in. Surely, before we opt into any or all of these regulations we should at the very least examine each legislative proposal in detail and tease out the implications - the pluses and the minuses. Yet, we have not had that kind of scrutiny or analysis in this House so that we can be sure we are going down the right road. Our first decision should not be to opt in but for the Government to bring forward the legislation and the detailed requirements for the legislation. We need pre-legislative scrutiny and debates on Second, Committee, Report and Final Stages and only then should we consider opting in. We have done this the wrong way round. We have put the cart before the horse.

An example of this was when the Minister quoted minimum numbers to enter Ireland under the solidarity mechanism of 648 per year. That figure will be reviewed after three years and we do not have to agree to an increase. That decision will be made by qualified majority voting, QMV, just like the nature restoration law where seven countries did not support it but it still went through. There are so many examples of this but this is just one where we have not had the opportunity to work through the detail and the implications. Yes, there were six hours of committee meetings on this issue and I attended some of them but while there were some presentations from NGOs and others, much of the debate centred around the gross deficiencies in the current migration system rather than examining what in fact we are signing up to.

I listened to much of the debate today and yesterday and there were so many general statements about the benefits of Europe and migration, stories about migrants, etc. I agree with most of it but, once again, what we need to tease out is what we are signing up to in the hundreds and hundreds of pages of regulations. It is important to use the word "regulation" because a regulation gives little or no flexibility to member states in how they operate because, by definition, a regulation must be the same in every member state and the Commission is in charge.

Before I ask questions on some of the details of this, I will make the following observation. One Government TD after another told us about the bright future where the migration system will work in an efficiently, timely and humane way because we will opt into this pact. We all know that any system will work efficiently only if the Minister grabs hold of the reins and puts the necessary systems and supports in place. Is the Government actually saying to us it will take EU regulations to force us to put better systems in place because that is what it sounds like to me?

My question is this: what is stopping us from putting such an efficient and humane system in place now? We can do that if we decide to do so. We can operate the current Dublin III system, not in the way we failed to operate it up to now, but as our colleagues in France and Germany have done. We are holding up this pact as some kind of magic bullet but if we wanted to, we could put the pieces of the jigsaw in place over the next six to 12 months and operate under Dublin III. Why are we not doing that?

I have a number of questions. The first one relates to Denmark, which also had the opportunity to opt in but decided not to. We have been told that if we do not opt in, we will attract more asylum seekers. Has anyone told the Danes that or is this just another argument not based on fact? Is this an attempt to whip us into line? I have heard many colleagues reference the UK as an example of how bad things can be but that makes no sense. The UK is not in the EU and any such comparison is spurious because the pact is not in place so any UK outcomes are irrelevant. Why is it essential for us to opt in but not for the Danes? That brings me to my second question. If we do not opt in the same as Denmark, will Dublin III still apply? I have looked through hundreds of pages and have not seen any statement where it would cease to apply. That is really important because if it would not apply for us, it would not apply for Denmark. Is it possible to opt into certain parts of the pact, such as Eurodac? I am not asking for the Minister's opinion as to whether we should or should not. I am simply asking whether we can. If the answer to that is "No", can the Minister tell me where in the pact that is made clear?

My next question relates to the fact that we are in a common travel area with the UK. While we did not opt in initially, this still stands. The Minister told us that about 80% of our international protection applicants came across the Border last year so how will the migration pact affect 50% to 80% of international protection persons who arrive from the UK? Will we need two separate systems because the EU system will be set in stone and any agreement we reach with the UK will have to be agreed bilaterally with the UK and I cannot see it accepting the EU migration rules? Has anybody given any thought to the complicated procedures we will have to put in place to deal with the EU on one hand and the UK on the other? Will this pact always allow us to return asylum seekers to the UK if the EU does not consider the UK a safe country?

What we are doing is a bit like "Married at First Sight Australia" where we say "Yes" to the proposal and then go through the boring detail of legislating for the marriage pact but there is one essential difference. If we say "Yes" at the end of our discussions this evening, there is no divorce.

6:45 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I am opposed to this pact. This country is hell-bent on giving away powers we have. We hear so many people say day in, day out "well it's Europe that's doing this" and "Europe is doing that". I guarantee that in a few years time, as the rules change, as the EU changes and as decisions are made, as we saw with the nature restoration law, we will blame Europe but when we had the chance to keep driving our own way and doing our own thing, we decided to hand it all away. I utterly oppose that.

As has been highlighted, the UK is outside the EU and can use the whole of the EU against us. I know there is a common travel area but it will not be applicable to that. If you read the pact, if somebody is being sent to another country, you have to guarantee education, the person's well-being, accommodation and health services. There is so much detail within it that it is nearly impossible to guarantee all you have to do under this pact. On top of that, if we decide to make a decision about accepting somebody, there is an awful lot involving family members who will be allowed to come to the country as well.

We should look after our own system here. There is no reason we cannot ramp up. The only reason it is taking so long to make decisions is because the system does not have the resources. Resources can always be put into it. We can do everything that is in that pact without signing up to it and we should have already done this. Over the past six to eight months, many Members of the Dáil spoke about what we should do to speed it up but we have not done that and we now seem to be hell-bent on giving Europe the power. If the Government is so confident about it, it should have asked the people around this country to decide on that because the protocol on opting out under Article 21 was part of the Lisbon treaty.

Debate adjourned.