Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

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


10:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Senator Gavan has made a very strong point. This is an opportunity to send a very strong and positive signal that we are listening to the message from the UN, as discussed earlier, that there should not be forced returns during this time. It is an opportunity to send a signal of intent as regards best practice which, it is hoped, would have effects elsewhere and internationally.

Returning to Ireland and the situation here, it was mentioned that hard cases make bad law. I always refer to the alternative formulation, "bad law makes hard cases". There are a lot of problems with our law. The Immigration Act and the International Protection Act both have significant issues. There are huge problems at a European level with some of the practices we have condoned and our relationships with various countries as regards immigration control agreements. Much needs to be done as far as the undocumented and unaccompanied minors are concerned, as others have discussed during the debate. All these issues really need to be addressed, and I hope we will be able to address them robustly.

The issue before us now, particularly as it relates to deportations during Covid-19, needs to be very robustly addressed. The Minister indicated that she hopes a strong and unified message will go out. I will be clear. I would like the language in the Government amendment to be stronger. I heard the points she made in her speech. It would be good, aside from those points, if there were some other way a public message, signal or statement might be made. While the word "compassion" was used in the debate, it is not in the Government amendment. The word in the Government amendment is "pragmatic", which does not give assurance to people when we consider the case, referred to by Senators, of somebody who is due to report tomorrow. I am aware of that case too. People have referred to other cases. I have written to the Minister about particular people - artists, dancers and others - who have been directly affected. To be told, "Do not worry, we will deal with you pragmatically", does not give a sufficient sense of satisfaction. I hope the Minister will indicate that she will exercise the powers she mentions in her motion - for example, her powers to revoke or amend deportation orders. It is really important that people get letters. Those 469 people have received letters - and they are letters, let us be clear. They do not read "please check in". They read:

For the purpose of ensuring your Deportation from the state pursuant to the Immigration Act 1999 as amended. You are now required to present yourself ... [to the GNIB].

The letters also state that if the recipient does not comply, he or she may be arrested and detained without warrant. That is the concern people have. These are the letters they have received. They need really clear communication. We might be satisfied to hear there may be a pragmatic approach, and we might read into that what we will and hope it will mean what we wish it to mean, but it needs to be very clear. I note at the very end of the Minister's speech that she mentions that deportations would be carried out only in exceptional circumstances such as situations involving the security of the State and so forth. I really hope, however, that this could be conveyed even more firmly.

Could we also have clarity on the policy of only positive decisions being issued? Again, I believe that is the Minister's intent and, from engaging with her on this process, I think that is where she is going. I note, however, that the language of the amendment, and even some of the language in the Minister's speech, does not quite give us as much as we should have on this. I want this to be clear to people, and I would like the Minister's clarity and the compassion she clearly has to be reflected on paper, even in the communications received by those facing deportation orders. They should get a reassurance and a signal in that regard.

Members have spoken about the suspension of deportations for three months. This was to allow for the fact that while we might move out of a health emergency, other countries may still be in one. We have seen, unfortunately, that the roll-out of the vaccine may not be equal in every other part of the world. The suspension is to allow for a period for principles such as non-refoulementto be reconsidered if necessary in the context of the global pandemic. That is why we had left a lagging period while still ensuring there is a sunset clause.

I hope Members will consider supporting Second Stage of the Bill and again appeal to them to do so. Of course, we would always be open to amending the Bill as it progresses. If not, and if the Minister must - and perhaps she must - move forward with the Government amendment, I hope she might be able to give us some supplementary and further supports. I hear her and understand from what she says that she does not intend to issue more deportation orders or to deport persons except in exceptional circumstances. That is my understanding from what I have heard from her. Again, perhaps we could find ways to make sure that this is conveyed to the people who matter most and the people most affected.


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