Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Deportation Moratorium (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: “Seanad Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading in view of the fact that:
- recognises that both the Department of Justice and the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) are taking a pragmatic approach to Deportation Orders in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic;
- notes that the Minister for Justice can and has addressed this issue effectively on an administrative basis, and will continue to do so;
- notes that the pragmatic approach to Deportation Orders will continue for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic;
- acknowledges this is demonstrated by the fact that since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020, there have only been four cases where a person was deported from the State; and that three of those arose from Deportation Orders issued prior to March 2020;
- recognises that a detailed consideration of all aspects of a person's case is carried out before a decision is made to make a Deportation Order, including a full consideration of private and family rights in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as consideration of their work situation and humanitarian and other issues;
- notes that if a Deportation Order is made, the Order can be amended or revoked by way of a request to the Minister for Justice;
- acknowledges that, for those who are in the international protection process, the objective is to have decisions made on their applications and permission to remain considerations as soon as possible;
- considers that for those not found to be in need of international protection, that when such a person receives a letter informing them that they no longer have permission to remain in the State, they are required to confirm within five days if they will accept the option of voluntary return, for which the Department of Justice will provide assistance;
- further notes that upon receiving a letter, the person is not required to remove themselves from the State within five days – they are merely required to give an indication of their intentions;
- notes that the concept of voluntary return is actively encouraged prior to a Deportation Order being made;
- recognises that time taken for relevant voluntary return arrangements to be made will take into account all factors, including Covid-19 restrictions and limitations to travel this has created;
- acknowledges that for the duration of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, the Minister of Justice asked her officials to review the issuing of these letters and no refusal letters, or letters enclosing a Deportation Order, have issued to anyone who have not been granted permission to remain since;
- considers that a properly functioning deportation and returns process is necessary for the integrity of any international protection and immigration system and for the policing of the State’s external borders, which are also part of the external borders of the European Union; and that such a process is also important for the functioning of the Common Travel Area;
- acknowledges that the Minister for Justice requires discretion for the removal of non-nationals from the State, particularly where the removal of a person is in the interest of national security or in the public interest;
- notes that the Bill does not take into consideration the fact that a person may wish to return and has consented to the making of the Deportation Order and is cooperating with the GNIB with regards to their return."
I join with others in congratulating the Minister on her great personal news. I wish her well going forward.
Fianna Fåil will support the Government amendment to the Second Reading of the Bill. I commend those who brought forward the Bill, the purpose of which is to provide for a moratorium on deportations from Ireland for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency and for three months following the end of the emergency. While we accept that the Bill seeks to address a genuine issue, the problems it seeks to address would be better dealt with outside of legislation on an administrative basis, as is currently the case and as the Minister outlined.
Between March and October 2020, four people were deported from this country. In each case, the person was deported during a period of low-level restrictions. This demonstrates that the current approach adopted by the authorities on a discretionary basis is being operated with due regard to compassionate considerations in light of the current public health crisis arising from Covid-19 compared with usual levels of deportations for the same period in a given year.
During early March 2020 and in August, September and October 2020, a total of 469 deportation orders were issued, including deportation orders under section 51 of the International Protection Act and deportation orders for those who were otherwise illegal in the State. Of the 469 deportation orders issued during this time, one person was repatriated to their country of origin.
Our objective is to have decisions on international protection applications and permissions to remain considered as quickly as possible. During the early stages of the pandemic, it was decided to issue positive recommendations from the International Protection Office only. This was to ensure that applicants with negative recommendations were not disadvantaged by the time limits set out in the legislation within which to make an appeal or to request a review of a refusal of a permission to remain. As substantive processing and appeal hearings recommenced in more recent months, so too did the issuing of negative decisions. While the number of negative decisions has not increased, there has been a build-up in the issuing of such decisions, with a higher volume than normal issuing in recent weeks.
Ireland provides protection to those seeking refuge from conflict and persecution, as is required under international law. The current system needs to change. We are committed to ending the direct provision system and will replace it with a new international protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. With 7,700 people in the current system, this cannot happen overnight and will take time to achieve. While we dismantle the current system, we will work to make improvements to the lives of the people living in it. In the short term, the Government has committed to act on interim recommendations from the chair of the expert group to improve conditions for asylum seekers currently living in the system. This includes vulnerability assessments, the right to work, the ability to apply for driver licences and bank accounts, an independent inspection process, measures to reduce the length of time in processing decisions, which is vital, mental health services and the training of managers of direct provision centres.
The five-day timeline set out in legislation must be referenced in correspondence but a pragmatic approach is being taken in this regard, as the Minister highlighted. Furthermore, we note the recommendations of the Day report with regard to extending that period in the context of the ongoing development of a White Paper, which will be produced by the end of the year.
We broadly support the need to suspend deportation for humanitarian reasons during the pandemic, but a blanket suspension would be inappropriate. It could have implications for the common travel area in the context of Brexit, which could impact on relations at a crucial time. In the context of the discretion which is already being applied, this would be unnecessary. It would also remove the right of the State to refuse entry and return immediately or detain for a short period in the interest of the security of the State.I am heartened by the Minister's comments that the compassionate stance already being adopted by the Department will continue. I welcome the enhanced measures that she talked about introducing to help those who need it.