Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Deportation Moratorium (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her recent personal news.
I am sure the Minister will concede that it is very unusual for us to debate an amendment to legislation, especially such a significant and substantial amendment, on Second Stage. I do not question the Minister's personal bona fides on this issue for one second. However, like other colleagues I think that engaging with the proposers of this Bill and allowing it to progress to the next Stage would have been a much more positive and collaborative approach.
Sinn Féin will be supporting the Bill proposed by Senators Higgins and Ruane. The people of Ireland, North and South, have a good idea of what it feels like to live in a state of fear for one's life and the lives of family and friends. It is fair to say that we have all been living in very uncertain times. We have been uncertain about our health, our financial security and our futures. All of this is a result of the impact of Covid-19 on each of us personally and on our families and communities. The majority of the people in this uncertain state come from settled backgrounds and have an array of support mechanisms and resources. State, family and friends are available to soften the impact of the virus on us. Even with this welcome and necessary support, we are still on edge. Can the Minister imagine having to deal with all this pressure as a foreign national, perhaps unable to speak English fluently, trying to adjust one's day-to-day life to the streets of an Irish town hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home? That is the reality for many of the people this Bill seeks to protect and help. Those of us in this Chamber must remember when we comment on this Bill one way or the other that we are dealing with the lives of people just like us. That sentiment has been reflected in the debate thus far.
It is important that in our overarching approach to this we remember the human stories and get to know the human faces. Many of those whom this legislation seeks to protect are undocumented. Many are working on our front line, assisting in the Irish effort to combat the pandemic. They are assisting people here. They are seeking to make Ireland home and to contribute, add and give. We rightly want our own undocumented throughout the world to be protected and defended. We correctly laud the value the undocumented Irish bring to their new homes. That is precisely why as elected politicians, we argue, campaign and lobby for them to be allowed to stay where they are.
The Minister has said that her Department and An Garda are taking a pragmatic approach to the enforcement of deportation orders during the pandemic. I am glad that deportations have almost stopped during the pandemic and I acknowledge this step on the part of the Department. However, as other Members have noted, four people were deported to Brazil, a country with quite stark levels of Covid-19 infection. Almost 500 deportation orders have been issued during this pandemic. Those people with deportation orders hanging over them are in a very distressed state.Like us all, they are managing the threat that Covid-19 poses to them and their families, and we all know the mental pressure that brings. In addition, they are also dealing with the pressure of facing deportation. The Minister should ensure that the Department adopts not only a pragmatic approach to this issue, but also a humane one. For the duration of the pandemic, the Department of Justice should stop issuing deportation orders and no one should face deportation. This emergency situation requires understanding, compassion and solidarity. Having reflected on some of the contributions thus far from across the Chamber, there have been instances here where we have had no problem in pushing emergency legislation, which may have repercussions later, through all Stages in this House because we acknowledged this is an emergency situation and we are in exceptional times.
We have all taken decisions and voted for legislation and proposals which have come before us, which in any other circumstances we would have preferred to have approached in a much more nuanced, detailed and comprehensive way. Given that the proposal outlined by Senators Higgins and Ruane is a temporary moratorium, it should be adopted and adhered to by the Government. That is not to dismiss anything which my colleagues opposite have said regarding the Minister's discretion. These are exceptional times, we all acknowledge that, and they require exceptional decisions. Implementing this legislation would be a clear and sure way for this Government to show the understanding, compassion and solidarity to which I referred earlier. Tacaím leis an mBille atá leagtha os ár gcomhair ag na Seanadóirí Higgins agus Ruane. I support the Bill.