Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

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


10:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

It is good to see the Minister. I wish her well. I wish to speak on the Bill because I feel quite passionately about it. It is a terrific initiative on behalf of the Civil Engagement Group and it deserves our support. It shows the flexibility and agility that we need to employ in these very precarious times. The intent of the Bill is to bring some compassion into how we treat migrants while the globe is in the middle of a once in 1,000 years pandemic. The Bill is compassionate, it respects health protection measures and it is practical. It is not intended as a long-term policy change to immigration legislation, it is simply putting protections in place that will last only for as long as the emergency legislation dealing with the pandemic is in place. It recognises the worldwide situation we are in. These unprecedented times require us to approach things differently and, most importantly, to treat people differently. The Taoiseach stated in the Dáil last month that he would not like to see anyone deported to countries that are badly affected by Covid-19.

Looking at the matter from the perspective of health protection for all those involved, continuing deportation orders does not make any sense. The current Government policy is that we should not undertake any unnecessary travel because travel is deemed a risk. That being so, why would we consider putting migrants at risk at this time? The Bill wishes to put a legal protection in place where there is none.

If a deportation order is issued, the only appeal mechanism currently available is that of judicial review. My understanding is that no legal aid is available in that regard at the moment. Asylum seekers have 28 days to take a challenge through a judicial review, which is a very limited time.

The Minister asked her officials to review the practice of issuing negative international protection decisions. The response of the Government to the Bill is to make a statement that the Department is taking a pragmatic approach and that deportations are very few. That is acknowledged, but it is an informal arrangement with no legal basis. This situation could change any day or hour. If the Government really wants to do this, it should support the Bill and amend it if necessary on Committee Stage. The Bill will give legal security and certainty for immigrants facing deportation during these difficult and uncertain times. It will allow us to treat people with compassion in unprecedented times.

In my work as a representative of Sinn Féin on the Council of Europe, I have been faced directly with the horrendous migration crisis right across Europe and the horrendous response to it in many cases across the European Union.We hear so much in this Chamber about European values. That is not what I witness when I attend Council of Europe meetings when it comes to issues of migration, the behaviour of Frontex in getting involved in illegal pushbacks, which has been well documented at this point, or the immigration detention of children. I myself saw first-hand children in cages in Hungary two years ago. There are the horrendous deals done with Turkey. Europe is literally turning itself into a fortress.

I ask the House to think for a second of the signifying power of our Government saying we will not deport anyone during this crisis. I ask the House to think of the opportunity to send a signal to Europe to raise its standards and to do more. This Government and previous Governments need to do more because our record on bringing in migrants in terms of numbers is just not good enough. I know it may not be politically popular to say that, but it is important we all say it and recognise it. I ask the House to consider the crisis in Greece and the crises in other countries throughout Europe and the huge numbers of desperate people in the most desperate of circumstances. This country has not responded sufficiently in that regard. We could, however, send a powerful signal today, just as migrants are being treated appallingly across the borders of Europe, to say we will not deport anyone during this crisis. It is in the Minister's power, and I appeal to her to think again. I recognise the good things she said in her speech, in particular her point about the 17,000 people who, it is hoped, the Department will regularise. That is very significant and needs to be recognised, but we need to do more. The Minister has the opportunity to do more today because of this Bill, and I urge her and her colleagues to think again.


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