Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Deportation Moratorium (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House. I listened carefully to her and find myself in agreement with everything she said. Having been in her position for five years between 2002 and 2007, I understand completely the significant difference, as Senator Ward said, between what is available as a statutory power and the discretion as to whether it is used in any particular circumstance. I am sure things have improved since my day, but even back then the voluntary departure regime was ingrained into the system and involuntary deportation was very much a last resort. Every opportunity was given to people to make a case against deportation on compassionate and similar grounds.If we put into law a prohibition - even a temporary one - on the right of immigration officials to refuse the right to land in Ireland, it would endanger the common travel area and would be the subject of major political criticism to the effect that we were effectively jamming open a back door into Britain across the Border. We must be practical about this. As Senator Ward has said, discretion is the crucial issue here because nobody is obliged to be cruel or lacking in compassion. There is an abundance of compassion for those who are genuinely and bona fide in difficult situations. My experience is that an inflexible iron rule is not applied on the whole question of immigration, the right to remain, the issuing of stamps and the like. There must be an orderly legal process in place and it has to be humanely operated.

I welcome the Minister's comments on the subject of undocumented people in Ireland. It seems inherently undesirable that over an extended period of time, people should live in a society where they are afraid of a guillotine falling on them many years after they ceased to be documented or came to the country in dubious circumstances. The Minister has indicated that 17,000 people could be in such situations, and this may be right or it may be wrong. I encourage the Minister by mentioning that in the 2002 to 2007 period, people availed of a similar scheme, approved by the Cabinet at the time, to get onto a path towards citizenship. I am not exaggerating when I say that virtually every week, a person who was in that category approaches me on the street, in a taxi or just out of the blue, to express their thanks for what that Government did when it provided a pathway so that their situation could be regularised. Although the circumstances were slightly different then - the country was completely unprepared for refugee applications in the volume that existed then - a similar situation had arisen in that there was very significant backlog of seriously compelling cases and the State was simply never going to get to grips with it.

We cannot preach to the Americans about undocumented Irish people in the US and at the same time take a totally contrary approach to undocumented people here. I am not suggesting that anyone who wants to go to the US should be free to migrate just because they are Irish, or vice versa. I am saying that there are people in the US - and it is not just the Irish, because there are more Hispanic people who came up from Central America and Latin America - who live in a total shadow world. I thank God that we are nearing the end of the Trump Administration and the way it exaggerated the sense of fear among those people, many years after they commenced their residence in the US. The notion that people should live in fear, darkness and in the shadows of society for an extended period is repugnant in many ways. I stand for a workable migration system, policy and series of laws on immigration, and an effective system. As I mentioned the other day in respect of Senator Higgins's amendment to the Brexit Bill, which dealt with a similar line of country to her Bill today, when all of this messing in Brussels and London is over, I am confident that there will be an agreement. There has to be, because there is a logic to it. The common travel area is a matter of huge importance to us. Those who think we can have a policy concerning migration and immigration which is radically out of kilter with the maintenance of the common travel area are deluding themselves. We will have to live with the fact that there will have to be not an uncritical alignment of laws between Dublin and London, but an approximation of practice in the future, if the common travel area is not to become a serious political problem in the UK and for Irish-UK relations.

I also want to pay tribute to the proposers of this Bill and their obvious compassion, as shown in the cases they have mentioned in the course of this debate. I fully support the Minister's approach, which seeks to preserve the Executive's discretion within a statutory framework, and not to create a situation which I think we would regret. To say, for instance, that leave to land in Ireland should be guaranteed to everybody who claims international protection, and that this should take place for three months after the end of the Covid crisis, is simply to go too far, and to reduce a Minister's discretion in a manner which would most certainly be abused, if it became internationally known that that was the state of Irish law. I support the Minister's proposal.


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