Wednesday, 22 October 2003
Irish Nationality and Citizenship and Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House. I am glad to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill, which is intended to close off a dangerous loophole in our nationality and citizenship legislation. The loophole permitted the passports for sale scheme in the late 1980s and much of the 1990s. Many people in Government at that time were tempted to regard Irish citizenship as a matter in their own personal gift. Irish passports were issued to non-nationals in circumstances which, although they remain obscure today, were certainly of a dubious nature.
The Bill is not concerned with the past, except in so far as it aims to avoid the repetition of the mistakes I have mentioned. It is concerned with the future, in which the past could be repeated if we do not enact this Bill. When the Government ended the scheme in 1998, the legislative loophole that gave birth to the scheme in the first instance was not closed. To his credit, the Minister, Deputy McDowell, has said that he accepts this point. Under current legislation, there is nothing to stop a future Government from reintroducing a passports for sale scheme. No statutory or regulatory constraints are in place to prevent such a measure. There is nothing to prevent a future Taoiseach or Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from handing out Irish passports on his or her personal whim. In presenting this Bill, I am arguing that the loophole in question is too important to leave unclosed.
The principal Act in this case is the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended in 1986 and 2001. The Act deals with the manner in which Irish citizenship may be acquired by birth or descent on the one hand, or by naturalisation on the other. The Bill before the House relates to naturalisation, which is governed by section 15 of the 1956 Act, which sets out the criteria to be applied by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in considering applications for naturalisation. The criteria apply mainly to the period the applicant has spent as a resident of Ireland and to his or her intention to continue living in Ireland. The criteria also extend to other matters, such as the requirement to be of good character and the necessity to make declaration of "fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State". The criteria are simple and clear and nobody can say that they are too demanding.
Section 16 of the 1956 Act gives us trouble, however. It sets out the circumstances under which the relevant Minister may issue a certificate of naturalisation without the section 15 criteria having been satisfied. We need to be concerned with the first of these circumstances only. This section of the Bill states that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation in the following cases, although the conditions for naturalisation (or any of them) are not complied with:
The key phrase that need concern us is "Irish associations". The effect of section 16(a) is to give the Minister extraordinary powers to grant Irish citizenship to anyone at all who can claim "Irish associations". One might well ask what this phrase means. When this legislation was being put in place in 1956, several Members of the Oireachtas were appalled by its breadth and vagueness. I like the suggestion made at the time that "if an Arab in Cairo drinks a glass of Irish whiskey", he could claim to have "Irish associations". Another example was given of an Asian playing in an Irish band in New York.
The 1956 debate was a very interesting one. Despite the clear misgivings expressed at that time, most notably by the former Deputy Frank Aiken, the original provision was allowed to stand. The main argument in its favour was that it was inconceivable that any Minister would use this power other than very rarely and in an appropriate manner. We all know that later events proved that this argument was wrong. Everyone's prime concern in the late 1980s was the creation of jobs. It was suggested, perhaps by the IDA, that inward investment could be attracted to the country in return for offering Irish citizenship to the promoters of that investment. When people examined this matter they discovered, no doubt to their surprise, that no legislation was needed to start such a scheme. Regulations by means of a statutory instrument were not needed. Those involved could start a passports for sale scheme overnight, provided that they relied on the "Irish associations" provision in section 16.
A scheme was commenced without legislative approval or ministerial regulations. The Government of the day started a passports for sale scheme with an informality that was staggering when one considers the importance of the issues involved. The conditions of the scheme were not properly set out and were, basically, open for negotiation in each individual case. The amount of money that needed to be invested was not laid down precisely. The means and duration of payment were not stated. There was no mechanism for properly checking the good character of applicants. There were no arrangements for checking what was promised by the investments, whether the promises materialised or whether the promised employment was created. The scheme was not properly regulated because it did not have to be. Why bother with that when the existing law gave the Minister such complete and sweeping powers? I do not deny for a moment that, over the life of the scheme, some very worthwhile investments were made and that some jobs were either created or saved. However, alongside this is the undeniable truth that many of the applications turned out badly. Some of the 107 granted citizenship were very dubious characters, some of the promised investments never materialised and some of the promised jobs were never created. Some of the money involved seems to have entered the pockets of middlemen who specialised in facilitating this very process.
Once the possibilities of the sweeping powers became known, it did not take long for the practice of handing out passports to foreigners to become another shot in the locker of a Government that wanted to please its friends. Such was the public disquiet over the scheme that it was decided, a bit late in the day, to lay down rules to govern it. Once again, the rules were not statutory because it was not necessary to make them so. The presence of the non-statutory rules did not mean that they were followed or policed in any meaningful way. It took until 1998 – just five years ago – before the then Government, responding to widespread pressure, finally put an end to the scheme. By then, it had become abundantly clear that the scheme had done more damage to the reputation of Ireland than it had done good.
Although the scheme was ended, the loophole was left in place. The apparent reason for this was a thoroughly bad one. It was suggested that, at some future date, economic circumstances might generate the need to start a similar scheme all over again. This disregarded the fact that the history of the scheme had clearly shown that any future scheme should be set up on a statutory basis, with a full set of legally binding regulations and a policing mechanism to ensure the rules were properly observed. It was specifically recommended by the review group who examined the matter – its report was published in August 2002 – that any future scheme should be statutorily based. Not even that group claimed there was any need to maintain the loophole. Since any future scheme would have its own statutory base, there was no reason to leave the loophole gaping open as it was.
This Bill completes the work of ending the scheme by restricting the unlimited powers of the Minister, as set out in the principal Act. Section 3, which is at the heart of the Bill, specifically takes from the Minister the freedom to interpret Irish associations as being created by the promise of an investment in an Irish business. Section 4 adds a further safety net in that it similarly restricts the power of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to issue passports. I am not arguing that it has never been an issue; the key document is really the certificate of naturalisation.
Nothing in this Bill restricts in any way the power of the Government to bestow Irish citizenship on a non-national as a token of honour. This is covered in section 12 of the principal Act and would remain untouched. In commending this Bill to the House, I appeal to the Government to carry it through to its enactment. It is the natural conclusion to what the Government itself did by ending the scheme in the first place. By closing the loophole we will be treating Irish nationality and citizenship with the considerable respect they deserve from us as legislators.
I believe the Minister is fully supportive of what I have proposed. I tabled this issue as an Adjournment debate on 19 December 2002. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, quoted the Minister. I have actually used the Minster's words to a large extent in trying to put forward this Bill. I commend the Minister for what he has done. He has been very forthright and determined in saying he also disapproves entirely of a scheme such as the so-called passports for sale scheme. His heart is in the right place. The only discussion we might have might be on the question of whether this Bill goes far enough. It does. It will, inter alia, be fulfilling Article 9.1.2o of the Constitution which states: "The future acquisition and loss of Irish nationality and citizenship shall be determined in accordance with law." This Bill is a useful and essential step towards taking the next step, whatever that may be. It could well be that there will be amendments to the Bill. I commend it to the House and it is worthy of consideration.
It is an honour to second Senator Quinn's proposal. Irish passports are extraordinarily valuable documents, as any of us who have travelled abroad know. It is no wonder the review body that looked into the sale of passports received so many adverse comments from the public who was shocked at the way the scheme was administered, perhaps inadvertently.
When we go abroad with an Irish passport we are deemed very socially acceptable. We have no colonial past and a very good relationship with so many developing countries, where missionaries, teachers, doctors, engineers, etc., instituted educational and health measures. Our passport, therefore, is a desirable little book and it is very unfortunate that it has been debased in the way that it was.
As the Minister knows, many women endanger both themselves and their just-to-be-born children by coming here at a very late stage of pregnancy. Thousands of such children have been born here and no such child can be refused Irish nationality under the 1956 Act and the amendments made thereto in 1999. Even if one does not declare at the time that one is an Irish citizen, or no one declares it for one, one is an Irish citizen and can claim this privilege later.
An Irish passport is an extraordinarily important document for everybody born on this island. Until recently, parents in the aforementioned position were allowed to stay with their children who had been granted Irish citizenship and give them the care and comfort of family life. Alas, this is no more. However, there are appeals before the courts so I should be careful what I say in this respect. It would be very sad if little Irish citizens had to go abroad to perhaps less congenial homes than those they would have if they were here or, worse still, if they were subject to inadequate care within the State if their natural parents decided it would be better to leave them here.
The way passports were sold is in stark contrast to the very hard interrogation of those adults who try to get them when they seek asylum and refugee status. I have been involved in such cases and know there is a most rigorous naturalisation test in place. As the Minister knows, the vast majority of such applicants are refused.
It is interesting to note that descendants of our emigrants to countries that are now experiencing economic difficulties are finding it difficult to pass the Irish naturalisation tests. I refer in particular to Argentina where many Irish emigrants went in previous centuries. Their descendants are extremely anxious that the grandfather clause be taken into account and that they be afforded the status of naturalised citizens here. Surely people in such circumstances are far more deserving of our help than those who have perfectly good homes somewhere else but who, for financial reasons, want to buy a passport so they can travel more easily and, perhaps, shelter from the law in their country of origin.
The 1956 Act was changed very much in respect of the marriage of a spouse to an Irish citizen in the 1999 amendment to that Act. It is interesting that we made no effort in 1999 to close off the loophole Senator Quinn is now trying to close. After the amendment was made, it looked as though the spouses and children of investors would be treated more favourably than the spouses of Irish citizens. For example, after 1999 one had to have been married for three years to a person with Irish nationality. Also, couples had to be living as man and wife and swear an affidavit before the courts to say this was the case. One had to be living here for one year continuously before the date of application, and for two of the previous four years. These were onerous obligations on the person applying under the marriage laws compared to those imposed on persons who wanted to buy passports.
When we consider how easily some undesirable people managed to obtain passports, it becomes evident that we need to block this loophole. There are other ways for people to obtain citizenship. I have been involved with people who relinquished British, American and Greek passports to remain here. Having lived and had businesses here for a long time, they felt fidelity to the State and loyalty to the nation. It is not as if the Bill creates circumstances in which those who want to throw in their lot with us may not do so. We want this loophole closed because a valuable document, the Irish passport, is being claimed by people who have questionable loyalty to the nation.
I pay tribute to Senator Quinn for his considerable work in preparing this legislation, which deals with a matter on which I am already on record as holding views sympathetic to those underlying the Bill. The debate provides me with an opportunity to reiterate those views, which coincide in large measure with those of Senator Quinn.
Senators have available to them the May 2000 report of the review group on the investment-based naturalisation scheme. With Government approval, I published the report shortly after coming into office and arranged for copies of it to be placed in the Oireachtas Library. It gives a detailed description of the workings of the scheme, which have been much debated since then, and I do not propose to address them in detail this evening, other than to point out some important aspects to give a full perspective on the issue.
The scheme was established in 1989 and was adopted by successive Ministers for Justice until it was abolished in 1998 by the then Government. I understand its original genius, if I may use that phrase, was, by his own account, none other than the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy John Bruton, who observed other countries engaging in similar activities and decided that a scheme of this nature was appropriate for this State. Since its abolition by the previous Government, no new applications were to be accepted and only applications on hand when the scheme was suspended in September 1996 by the then Government, or which were to be accepted for processing afterwards by that Government for exceptional reasons, have been processed since. In essence, it has been a winding up operation, as a result of which no further investors are in the pipeline. The scheme is well and truly dead.
From time to time, applications have been and will be made for naturalisation by or on behalf of the spouses and children of investors who were naturalised under the former scheme, each of which is considered on its own merits. The "Irish associations" of persons in this category does not arise from an investment but from the fact that they are associated with a person who is, in law, an Irish citizen. Likewise, were an investor citizen to have a child next week and enter the child's name on the foreign births register, the child automatically becomes an Irish citizen because his or her parent was an Irish citizen at the time of its birth. I say this for the purposes of clarity because, as I am sure Senator Quinn will acknowledge, these issues have led to considerable confusion in debates in the past.
During the currency of the scheme, it was not unusual, in respect of many applications for naturalisation being considered under the scheme, that the Minister entertaining the application would receive supportive representations from public representatives across the political spectrum. This was particularly the case with regard to applications based on investments which had a potential for creating new employment or saving jobs otherwise under threat. The general view of the scheme today is an unfavourable one, which is shared by Senator Quinn and me. I say this to ensure Senators are fully cognisant that the scheme was not always universally regarded as a bad thing.
On the contrary, as regards some applications at least, it was considered by many to be a good scheme because of its job-saving and job-creating effect. My objections come from a number of angles. As I have stated previously both here and in the other House, I have a rooted objection in principle to the notion that citizenship can be bought or bartered for investments in the State by people who have little or no other connection with the State and no particular intention to establish any better connection. While citizenship is undoubtedly valuable, it is not a commodity to be traded in this way or in any analogous fashion.
I have no problem with the notion of non-nationals who come to Ireland to establish an enterprise, obtain residency for this purpose and, in the fullness of time, having lived and worked here and established firm roots in the State, seek to complete the connection with the State by applying to become citizens. I regard this as wholly proper and distinct from the basis on which the scheme was established. In such cases, there is no question of citizenship being used as a bargaining counter in exchange for the person's decision to establish, fund or invest in an enterprise here.
I remind Senators of my previously voiced serious misgivings as to the legal propriety of the basis for the scheme. As Senator Quinn noted, its theoretical legal basis was that a suitable investment could be treated as coming within the definition of "Irish associations", thus enabling the Minister to waive any of the normal conditions for naturalisation under section 16, paragraph (a) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. It appears this view is shared by Senator Quinn and, as his explanatory memorandum points out, it is the starting point for his proposed solution.
I have grave reservations as to whether the latitude of this interpretation of the law was correct, although it was accepted by previous Governments. As Attorney General, I entertained those views which are, I understand, shared by the current Attorney General. I do not believe, therefore, that the Government would be advised that it could have recourse to that particular justification for reintroducing the scheme without at least amending the statute, which would require the authority of the Houses. I am clearly not alone in holding those reservations because the review group's report voiced similar concerns.
Other than to register again my dismay at the irregular procedures adopted in some instances, I see no need to address individual cases in detail. It would be easy for me to spend some time thumping my chest and protesting my outrage at various incidents which occurred in the past. Having mentioned such incidents in the House on previous occasions, my views on that subject should be taken as read. Even a high standard of procedural nicety in every case would not set aside my objection to the principle of the former scheme or any such scheme and my concerns as to its legal basis under the Act.
It is evident then that I support fully the motivation of Senator Quinn in seeking to put beyond doubt the revival of the former investment-based naturalisation scheme or the introduction of any similar scheme under the same rubric. This desire is in complete accord with my view and that of the Government and is in line with the commitments already given by the Government not to revive the old scheme or introduce a new one. The Government will support this Bill.
We must now examine the text of the Bill to see whether it will, if enacted, achieve the aim stated by Senator Quinn. This is where we encounter some difficulties with its current wording. What I have to say in this context is a dispassionate, impersonal and somewhat technical commentary on the text and is not intended, nor should it be understood by anyone, least of all Senator Quinn, to be a criticism of the drafting skills deployed. From bitter experience in compiling many Private Members' Bills, I am aware of the considerable personal commitment involved in preparing such a Bill and I congratulate the Senator on his initiative. Nonetheless, it is necessary to examine the provisions of the Bill, as it stands, to ascertain whether it would give the right results.
The core provision is at section 3, which proposes a new section 16B for insertion in the 1956 Act. One difficulty we encounter is the use of the word "entitlement" in the context of a certificate of naturalisation. It is a principle at the heart of citizenship law that there is no entitlement, as such, on the part of a non-national to be given a certificate of naturalisation. Such certificates are given by the Minister "in his absolute discretion", to quote section 15 of the Act.
The expression "entitlement" is also used in the Bill in the context of the issue by the Minister or by a consular officer of certificates of nationality, which are different from a certificate of naturalisation. A certificate of nationality can only be issued to an Irish citizen. In that sense, it merely reflects the existing reality of that person's citizenship; it cannot become a vehicle for conferring citizenship. The second point is that it cannot be issued to a person who was, at the absolute discretion of the Minister, naturalised. Therefore, it has no immediate relevance in the context of the investment-based naturalisation scheme.
The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts provide for the issuing of certificates of nationality where the Minister or a consular official is satisfied that the person in question is an Irish citizen by birth, descent or marriage. For the purposes of this debate, I will leave aside the question of honorary citizenship, to which the Senator referred, which is conferred by the President on the advice of the Government. Some ministerial or consular official has to determine whether any of these situations are relevant to the incident case, but he must do so by reference to the tightly defined statutory regime in sections 6, 7 and 8 of the amended 1956 Act, which covers these cases and only on production of evidence that brings the person in question within the ambit of those sections. The issuing of certificates of nationality is, then, not strictly relevant to the issue we are trying to address here because, first, it does not arise in the context of naturalisation and, second, it is a mere consequence of citizenship acquired on the basis of statutory or constitutional entitlement which has no investment-based element.
I now turn to the essence of the matter which we are trying to address, the granting of certificates of naturalisation in return for investment. I referred earlier to the situation of the immigrant who comes to Ireland to set up an enterprise and, in the normal course, applies for naturalisation having settled here for a number of years. In this case, there can be no objection in principle to granting a certificate of naturalisation to the applicant, but I am concerned that the very wide sweep of the language in the proposed section 16B might unwittingly preclude naturalising that person. I do not think that is a result which the Senator would intend and it may not be the only reading of his proposed text. I do not think that it is a desirable effect and if we are to avoid it, we must choose language which leaves no room for that ambiguity.
Section 4 of the Senator's Bill is based on an assumption that the issuing of passports by the Minister for Foreign Affairs is wholly divorced from the question of whether the person to whom the passport is being given is an Irish national. It is undoubtedly the case that statute law is at best sketchy when it comes to the issue of passports. It is not, however, the case that there is a legal blank sheet in Irish or EU law. If the Minister for Foreign Affairs was, in some notional Government, to set up procedures for the wholesale granting of Irish passports to persons who were patently not Irish citizens, the law, either at national or EU level, might shoot such procedures down. The passport is evidence of Irish citizenship, but it is not Irish citizenship itself.
If a Ruritanian national, by fraud or deception, tricks the Department of Foreign Affairs into giving him or her an Irish passport, that acquisition does not make him or her any less a Ruritanian or any more an Irish citizen. The only way for him or her to become an Irish citizen is through naturalisation. Section 4 would remove only a symptom of the malaise which the Senator seeks to cure, but if section 3 can be reworded suitably so as to effect the substantive cure, then the symptom would go away too and section 4 of the Bill might be superfluous. If that section disappears, the references in the Long and Short Titles of the Bill to the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 might also become surplus to requirements.
It is clear that my support for the principle of this Bill must be tempered by a Government health warning that if the Bill is to go further, it will be necessary to table extensive amendments to the entirety of the Bill if it is to achieve in a satisfactory way the aim, which the Senator and I share, of amending our statutory citizenship code. It must be put beyond doubt that it cannot be used, at some future date, by some Government with a less fastidious sense of duty than the current incumbents, to put in place a scheme of naturalisation based on investments or the promise of investments in the State, or to revive the former scheme or any close relative of it. In addition, we should not underestimate the issues involved in arriving at suitable provisions to bring about the desired result, in particular where there is a strong argument that the former scheme and any future schemes are already precluded by the current language of the Citizenship Acts. If the view I entertained as Attorney General and now as Minister that the current Act does not justify people handing over money and having, without further association, citizenship granted to them, leads to the putting in place of a statutory prohibition on such behaviour to tie the hands of future Governments, we have to be clear that the new formula will be such as not to prevent unintended consequences. This is something that would have to be teased out if this measure goes to committee.
Lest there be any misunderstanding about what I have said, I do not put forward these problems as a basis for not making any provision at all. The fact is that, notwithstanding the current wording of the Act, an investment-based scheme was in fact established, which is the point Senator Quinn made. We will have to find language that ensures that the current wording of the term "Irish associations" cannot in future be so interpreted.
The bottom line is that the Government welcomes the principle of the Bill and will not oppose its Second Reading. There are problems with the current text which would make it necessary to bring forward significant Government amendments on any Committee Stage, the effect of which would be probably to make very extensive changes to the entire text of the Bill. I expect to have other legislative proposals in the area of citizenship law before the Oireachtas in the coming year and I intend that my proposals will include amendments necessary to achieve our joint aim. In any event, Senator Quinn may find it possible in those circumstances to withdraw his Bill in favour of the Government legislation when it is available.
I commend Senator Quinn for pursuing the matter and giving the House the opportunity to consider the matter's legislative aspects. I would also be surprised, but perhaps I am wrong, if there is not a very substantial consensus in this House that the term "Irish associations" should not be warped out of all recognition to include people who have no connection whatsoever with this country, but who put money into a failing or an emergent company as seed capital in order to become Irish citizens.
When one looks at Article 9 of the Constitution, which deals with the acquisition of citizenship, it is noteworthy that fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental duties of the citizen. Therefore, I believe that even if a proposal – again I hope this is never put to the test – was put before this and the other House to put into Irish law the underpinnings of the old scheme, there could be a very strong argument that it was unconstitutional and open to the buying of citizenship.
The implication of Article 9 of the Constitution, that citizenship shall be acquired and lost "in accordance with law", does not mean any old law that the Oireachtas puts in place on a given day, but a law which is mandated and compatible with the Constitution. It would certainly have to take into account the valuable rights of voting in our elections and referenda that are conferred in citizenship, that residents' rights are available to citizens and that it is an obligation of every person who becomes an Irish national to owe a duty of loyalty and fidelity to the Irish nation and State. Clearly, if something was available to a person who had absolutely no connection with the country and was excused by ministerial fiat even from declaring their loyalty to a District Judge, as happened in many of these cases, and even from the requirement to reside in Ireland for any appreciable period, it is arguable, at the very least, that such a law would do violence to the Constitution because it would effectively allow the State to barter citizenship for money.
Senator Henry raised the issue of IDCs, that is, Irish born citizens of non-nationals. I do not share her use of the word "alas" in connection with the Supreme Court's decision. It would be strange if Ireland was the only country in the world where persons illegally in the country could convert their status into one of legality by the mere happenstance that one of them had parented a child in our jurisdiction. Whereas the Constitution confers nationality on anybody born on the island of Ireland, it does not follow that a child who is born on a casual trip to Ireland confers by implication or by any moral order the right on his or her family to reside in Ireland on that basis.
Apart from the refugees and indigent immigrants, who make up the classic cases in this area, can we seriously suggest that if a fugitive family from a neighbouring jurisdiction or America came to this country they would obtain the right to remain here because one of them is fortunate enough to parent or deliver a child in Ireland? There was more heat than light in the debate on the IBC issue. Consider the situation of an American academic who comes to lecture for a semester in Ireland and his wife happily has a child while they are here. The notion that the family ipso facto becomes entitled to remain in Ireland is untenable either as a moral or legal concept and I welcome the Supreme Court's clarification that the pre-existing law did not carry that implication.
If one is born in America, the same concept of jus solely applies. If anybody goes to America, regardless of circumstance, and one of our children is born there, that child becomes entitled under American law to be regarded as an American citizen. However, that is always dealt with on the basis that the parent goes home immediately if they are not entitled to stay and they must bring their child with them because they have a natural law duty as a parent to bring the child with them and look after it. When the child comes of age, he or she will be in a position to avail of the full fruits of the citizenship which arises from the fact of birth in America.
We have one case where a person from Nigeria with residency rights in Australia came to Ireland to have a baby before going back to Australia. That shows what people are willing to do to avail of the present state of our constitutional dispensation. However, the notion that somebody in those circumstances also gets the right to come here with their family, siblings and so forth is not sustainable. While I agree with much of what Senator Henry says, the "alas" she used in her contribution is one I cannot accept.
It is a little more complex than that. I commend Senator Quinn for highlighting this issue. I thank him for the effort he put into this Bill. The kneejerk reaction of saying I will do it myself and voting against the measure would be, in these circumstances, ungracious and wrong. Even if I intend to compete with the Senator to have my Bill passed first in the fullness of time, I wish to indicate Government support for the principle of this legislation. We will not oppose the Bill.
I, too, commend Senator Quinn for initiating this Bill. It is overdue and I am glad he had the courage and, indeed, the time to do it. I also welcome the Minister's support for the Bill even if he intends to put down many amendments or, perhaps, introduce another Bill. The fact that the Minister will not oppose the Bill is a great compliment to Senator Quinn and the work he put into the Bill.
It is time this loophole was closed and the Minister obviously accepts that. The way it has been dealt with has caused many problems. In 1956 a number of people were extremely critical of this section of the Bill. They included Micheál Ó Moráin, Stephen Barrett and Frank Aitken. Stephen Barrett said that if something was not done about it, many mischievous deeds could occur. The interpretation of "Irish association" was so wide that he described it as a chasm.
It has taken all this time and many occurrences in the meantime to bring us to this day when something is being done about it.
The worst aspect of it was the passports for sale scheme. I do not have a figure for how many passports were sold in this manner. Perhaps the Minister could supply it. It was dreadful how the criteria for granting these passports were ignored. In approximately 20 cases a declaration of loyalty to the State and fidelity to the nation was not sworn. It is appalling that somebody would be granted a passport and not have that loyalty. How could they, when the passports were given out in that fashion to anybody who would invest in the State?
The soft option loans for which citizenship was given was also an appalling state of affairs, one of which the Minister was extremely critical. One thinks of the Mahfouz application in which, as the Minister said, there was scant regard for fulfilling the citizenship requirements. That occurred when former Deputy Ray Burke was Minister. The former Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, was greatly alarmed at the manner in which those passports were given out.
If this loophole is not closed, one can envisage further appalling situations arising and they might not happen when the Minister's party is in Government with Fianna Fáil. In a way it is good that the Minister climbed the poles in Dublin to tell us not to let Fianna Fáil have it all to themselves. If we were to leave it to them, who knows when the sale of passports might re-emerge without this loophole being closed?
The Minister referred to Deputy John Bruton. Deputy Bruton has been greatly maligned in this regard, particularly by the previous Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I understand that Deputy Bruton wrote to Alan Dukes about granting citizenship to people who might invest huge sums of money in this country. However, that is where it ended. Alan Dukes did not take it up. The Minister can tell who did bring the matter up after that and whether I am right or wrong about Deputy John Bruton. There was no need for the Minister to mention his name in this regard when he was not the person who brought it up.
I commend Senator Quinn on initiating the Bill and I thank the Minister for accepting it.
I join in commending Senator Quinn. It is a tremendous exercise in parliamentary democracy that we have a Private Members' Bill before us, and I hope we see more of them. Otherwise we are often responding to what comes in from Ministers. The whole parliamentary process is enhanced by initiatives such as this, and in that regard I certainly welcome it. I am in any case a firm believer in such bodies. If one can set one's own agenda, it is often far better than reacting to someone else's. In that context, it is worthwhile.
The Minister has outlined very clearly both his own and the Government's position on this legislation. I preface what I have to say regarding it by agreeing with Senator Quinn's comments that there have obviously been abuses in the operation of the scheme, and undoubtedly some unsavoury people were granted citizenship.
Not particularly. We can sometimes become holier than thou in the manner in which we address such matters. I feel some revulsion at that. Senator Quinn has rightly pointed out that it is the ministerial discretion to issue certificates of naturalisation rather than the criteria that he takes issue with. I do not think he has any difficulty with Irish descent. It is the question of "Irish association" that he fingers as the difficulty.
I remember the 1980s, when every company would have had the cash flows of the retail trade. There were instances when I sat with workers whose companies were in receivership or liquidation. They and their families looked forward to a very pessimistic future. There were occasions when we lobbied the Government, which was not Fianna Fáil, to see if funds might be made available from the passport for investment scheme to try to give the firms a breathing space and perhaps rescue some or all of the jobs involved. We did not make any apologies, nor would any of the workers have done so at the time, for doing so. I will not be critical today of the benefits and operations that flowed from the concept behind the scheme.
I share with the Minister a certain disquiet regarding people gaining citizenship purely because they have the financial wherewithal to invest in a company here. However, I must balance that by not taking the moral high ground too much regarding the plight of individuals whom I knew personally at the time, who would have taken money from anywhere to keep their company going and save the jobs of those involved. My own county languished at the top of the unemployment league table. For many years during the 1980s we had the second or third highest level of unemployment in the country, at 17% or 18%. I know companies there which benefited under the scheme and because of it were able to continue in operation, saving jobs. Obviously, prospects for the families involved significantly improved because of that. That is the other side of the coin in this debate that should not be lost sight of entirely as we clamber up the hill to the high moral ground.
Having said that, I share the disquiet expressed at aspects of the scheme's operation, and the abuses of it. In the current economic climate there is certainly no need for that scheme. However, while I hope to be here for a little while, I hope it is not in the conditions which we had in the 1980s under that terrible Government of Garret FitzGerald, which visited so much economic hardship on so many people across the country—
—because of bad fiscal and economic policies. We criticise people for abusing power, which I join in, for it is abhorrent to me. Equally, total inefficiency on a scale almost amounting to criminal negligence should also be condemned. To be honest, I felt very strongly, when I saw its adverse effects on individuals, that politicians were not brought to heel for totally negligent mismanagement. We must adhere to a proper ethical code, but we must also adhere to proper management codes and apply ourselves properly to the job so the people benefit from the Administration rather than suffer because of it. That was certainly not the case in that era.
If ever we got back to that bad economic situation again, I would certainly not oppose a similar scheme, operating properly and ethically administered, to save people's jobs. In those instances, I remember the bank of last resort at the time, which I believe was the State bank, Fóir Teoranta, when no other commercial bank would give money. When it failed to put funds in because it felt it was far too risky, it was money from the passports scheme which went into places to which huge risk attached. I have difficulty on that front. The same is true of business people coming to live for a period in this State. Three or four American industries in my locality have provided tremendous employment. I would like to think that those people, who may live here part time and in America for the remainder, would not be disqualified simply because they do not meet the residency criterion. If they meet all the other criteria, including being of good character and swearing fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State, I would like to think ministerial discretion could be applied.
I commend Senator Quinn again for his initiative in this regard. Legislative measures to discount the scheme for the immediate future, which is currently suspended, are welcome, and I hope that we never again see days when it is considered economically necessary. However, against all the criticism, we must balance the benefit. I speak on behalf of a number of people in my locality whose jobs, livelihoods and perhaps continuing residency in Ireland are owed to the scheme.
I welcome the Bill and commend Senator Quinn and the other Independent Senators on the work that has gone into it. It is welcome that Senators from the Opposition have tabled legislation in this way. I also welcome the fact the Minister has said he will not oppose it and has taken it on board. I realise that some work will have to be done on it by him and his Department.
I make the general point that an Irish passport is a valuable thing. They would be devalued if it were perceived that they were for sale. On that basis I support the legislation. It is welcome that it narrows the definition of "Irish association". I am, however, concerned that it might be narrowed too far and I suppose the Minister will examine that for there must be a certain amount of discretion, but the broad principle of the Bill is right.
There is a question to which the Minister might return in his reply. I do not believe it would be fair to revoke the passports of those who have already received them. However, what is the position regarding someone who received a passport and who might be involved in international criminal activity? Is the Minister planning to revoke the passports of such individuals?
I wish to raise a number of general issues that are not directly related to the Bill. The Minister narrowed the basis of post-nuptial citizenship too much and I believe that the position should be reviewed. From contacts with constituents – I am not seeking to raise their particular cases – I am aware that people who have been granted Irish citizenship must jump through a large number of hoops in order to obtain a visitor's visa for a family member who may wish to visit them here. In my limited experience, applications for such visas are often refused. People who have been granted Irish citizenship should have the right to have members of their families visit them for holidays, etc. The Minister needs to consider ways of taking a more compassionate approach to the people to whom I refer.
I have stated on previous occasions that the Government must draw up more comprehensive immigration procedures that would involve, for example, a green card system similar to that which operates in the United States. I do not make this point in respect of the Bill, which I welcome, but our immigration policy is based too much on crisis management and a negative approach. I realise that there are people who abuse the system and provision must be made to deal with them. That is why we need an immigration system in the first instance in order to ensure that everybody is clear about how to qualify for citizenship, etc. We must develop an immigration system that is positive in nature before putting in place various measures to tackle abuses of that system.
I welcome the Bill and the Minister's acceptance of the principle behind it. With regard to the fact that he believes it would need substantial amendment, it has been my experience in the Houses that many Departments were not inhibited from introducing legislation which, following Second Stage, required major amendments – even after the entire expertise of the Civil Service and the Parliamentary Counsel were brought to bear on it – because it was so badly drafted. Senator Quinn should not be overly concerned and the Minister should not be too sanctimonious about the need to substantially amend legislation. Governments have managed to make a mess of legislation on many occasions.
Those opposite made a fine mess of things during the past 18 months and they are working hard to ensure that there will be no improvement for some time.
I will pass over Senator Jim Walsh's rather peculiar remarks about Garret FitzGerald. I will leave it to the ordinary—
On a point of order, a person was named and what was said was totally wrong and unparliamentary and must be withdrawn. What I said is on the record and was not unparliamentary. The Senator must withdraw his comments and the Cathaoirleach must insist that he do so.
I compliment Senator Quinn on introducing the Bill and on investing so much work in it. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill refers to Government assurances that the passports for sale scheme shall not be reintroduced. There is no doubt that I must support Senator Quinn in that regard. I was pleased when the Minister indicated his agreement with the Bill, in principle.
What we are not talking about so much here is the concept of a business permission in order to create employment. There are two different issues at stake. I am completely against the notion of passports for sale. I do not want to entertain anyone who, because of their financial status, can buy their way into this country. I do not care whether they wish to create jobs – I may be disagreeing with party colleagues on this matter – but I do not like the notion of passports for sale. The loophole must be closed and I do not want to see the scheme ever re-introduced.
I would support the idea of business permission if we should ever return to the position in which we found ourselves in the mid-1980s when successive Governments tried to attract business interests to establish operations here in order to try to create employment. That is a different issue. If the Government was ever in a position whereby it would be obliged to lure people from other countries to create employment here and sought to formulate a scheme under which business permissions would be granted – such a scheme would have to include strict criteria in order that there would be no innuendo about passports being for sale – I would consider it on its merits. However, I agree with Senator Quinn that the principle of passports for sale must never enter into our language again.
I came here to support Senator Quinn this evening. I acknowledge what the Minister stated about agreeing with the Bill in principle. I do not know much about drafting legislation of this nature and I would give the Minister room to manoeuvre in that regard. I will be watching and my guiding principle will be no passports for sale.
I would not be as enthusiastic in complimenting Senator Quinn on this Bill as other Members. It is convenient to have a short memory about the issues that affected the decisions taken at the time to admit business people to this country. While the scheme may have been brought into disrepute on some occasions, generally speaking, it was extremely attractive and ensured jobs were maintained and created. In a period when interest rates were in the region of 17%, this loan scheme allowed rates of about 2.5%.
I heard Senator Walsh making a point about investors. I am sure he is aware of the benefits that accrued to the economy at that time. Kerry Airport would not exist today but for the naturalisation scheme – it required that support. Neither the Industrial Credit Corporation nor any of the other banks were anxious to provide funding. Schemes like Kerry Airport and the equestrian centre at Millstreet, which was also supported by this scheme, were seen as high-risk. Thousands of acres of forestry were supported by this scheme.
A firm in the midlands, which now employs 250 people, availed of this scheme.
As a former Minister of State with responsibility for trade, I knew about this scheme and supported it without being directly involved in it in any way. Most Ministers would have been aware of the scheme. Mrs. Nora Owen, a former Minister, was involved in this scheme in 1995. A case was presented to her and while she may not have taken a particular action, it was encouraged. A former Taoiseach was mentioned and a former Progressive Democrats Minister was also involved. I told the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about this, but many people are now rather saintly about this scheme.
It is all right for those privileged few, like Senators Quinn, Henry, Ross, O'Toole and Norris, who have been here for years and never had to worry about losing their jobs. They have never had to work in the real world and try to maintain jobs that were in Edgeworthstown, nor did they have to try to create jobs in Millstreet. I have examples of numerous schemes and lots of information regarding this scheme.
I would prefer to vote down this Bill and I am surprised the Government has accepted it. I assure Senator Quinn that it will be changed before it returns to this House – that is if it ever sees the light of day. While he is at it, will the good Senator consider bringing forward a Bill to remove citizenship from those people with Irish passports who live abroad to avoid taxation? Would he consider that they are playing a role in this economy by taking €50 million out of the country and not paying capital gains tax? Does he feel that this might be another appropriate opportunity for him to introduce a Bill? Some of those who availed of Irish passports paid Irish taxation and bought residences in this city at a time when it was difficult to sell such expensive houses.
Will the Senator consider other abuses of the passport scheme? I know a certain newspaper will not publish this because some individuals are availing of it. Most of the establishment newspapers will not publish it anyway because it is part of the establishment in the city of Dublin. I think it was called the "golden circle" at one stage. The golden circle is alive and well as far as I can see. Those with money can go to Monaco or Portugal and avail of opportunities such as avoiding capital gains tax. Yet, when one sees the work that was done in Millstreet and elsewhere, one would think that the people behind it are good Irish citizens and there is no question of withdrawing their passports. They comply with the laws of this land.
For those who become righteous about this naturalisation scheme, the Canadians have been involved in it for years and are not changing it. The British are involved in it. While everyone in this Chamber – bar Senator Terry, perhaps – is entitled to a British passport, I am sure they will not avail of it. Anyone born in this State prior to 1948 is entitled to a British passport. Furthermore, if one's parents were born here prior to the declaration of the Republic in 1948, one is also entitled to a passport.
I have a great love and respect for my citizenship. There have been cases of abuse in this scheme. If someone was to come into a constituency and say that he had €10 million to invest in creating jobs in Wexford, Laois, Offaly, Leitrim, Donegal or Roscommon and the only requirement was that he wanted a passport, I would be delighted to bring him in and try to change the Minister's view. This is why I hope this Bill will not be passed.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Coming from where he does, like my county, his county is on the Border and he will have a certain familiarity with passports, nationality and such matters. While I have a certain degree of sympathy with Senator Leyden's interesting contribution, the sad fact is this Bill has been brought forward because the passports for sale scheme was totally and utterly discredited and created enormous embarrassment for the Government and the country in general. We were being touted around the world because not only were passports being sold, but the administration of the scheme within existing law was being flouted as well. From reading the Bill I believe that is where Senator Quinn is coming from. Notwithstanding the benefits arising from the original concept, which I am sure was introduced with the noblest motivation – Senator Leyden was attempting to convey the context in which this was introduced – on balance I understand where the Minister is coming from in his broad sympathy for the main thrust of the Bill.
Senator Leyden is right. We all would have welcomed a bunch of Hong Kong businessmen and others, certainly in my part of the country, if they had said they would invest money in return for passports. As Senator Leyden said, this is and continues to be perfectly normal practice in the United Kingdom. However, that basic point has been made by others as well as by me.
Will the Minister tell us when the new passports will be available in all overseas embassies? These are passports with the new chip in them and though they are available in Dublin they are not available in all overseas embassies. When will that be rolled out in its entirety? Also, how will the Minister address the loophole created by the Good Friday Agreement, which has only been partially closed by the Supreme Court ruling of 23 January this year? All of us are familiar with the clause in the Agreement, on which we voted, stating that anyone born on the island of Ireland was automatically entitled to Irish citizenship. That was voted on at a time when immigration, asylum seekers, refugees and all the other sad dimensions of the human endeavour were not visited on Ireland in any great numbers.
I raise this issue in the context of the Bill for reasons going back to Senator Leyden's last point. I too am proud to be Irish and proud to carry my passport. I put a particular value on carrying an Irish passport but I do not see how one can continue to operate a system when people deliberately use the law to ensure they have children born in this country without any loyalty to or knowledge of our mores, society, history or culture. They would only see this as a convenience, as we are somewhat unique in Europe, and the world, in this regard. It is all because of the goodness that flowed from the Good Friday Agreement, when we wished to reach out to our Northern brethren and say: "You are as entitled to be Irish as the rest of us if you are born on the island of Ireland". Sadly, as has been pointed out in this debate, there were no qualifying conditions.
I wrote to the Minister in this regard but when I called for a debate here on citizenship two years ago I was accused of being a racist by the then Leader of the Opposition and it took him three months to withdraw that comment. I am not a racist but I am, like everyone else, proud of my nationality. According to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's letter of 6 October there are no proposals before Government at present to change the Constitution. The issue of the entitlement to Irish citizenship of every person born on the island of Ireland is, however, under very careful and ongoing review by his Department, so there is an acknowledgement of this within the Department.
I am sure I am not telling tales out of school when I say that prior to the Supreme Court judgment there was active consideration within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of what flowed as a consequence of the constitutional amendment arising out of the Good Friday Agreement but the Supreme Court ruling let us off the hook in a sense. While it went a certain distance along the road, it has not gone the full distance.
It is important to put on record the requirements an applicant for naturalisation must meet. They must be of full age and of good character, they must have a period of one year's continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of the application and, during the eight years preceding that application, they must have had a total residence in the State amounting to four years. They must intend in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation and they must have made, either before a justice of the District Court in open court or in such manner as the Minister, for special reasons, allows, a declaration in the prescribed manner of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State. I presume it is the latter issue that Senator Quinn may be addressing – the special reasons.
The last point the Minister made in the context of my letter was that while he had no plans to amend Irish nationality legislation at present, his Department was keeping the legislation under review, which dovetails with what the Minister said today. I strongly urge the Minister to bring forward whatever proposals he has in legislative form in this area. We need an urgent debate on this matter for a very clear reason: in 1998 there were 588 applications for naturalisation as Irish citizens, which is less than five years ago. In the last year for which statistics are available, 2002, there were 3,190 applications for naturalisation. Those are significant figures in the context of our population.
All I am asking for is a debate on where we are going with our citizenship and I applaud Senator Quinn's initiative in commencing this debate in the House. I hope it continues in light of the Minister's comments. I am strongly of the opinion that anyone who wishes to acquire Irish citizenship should pass some form of test other than those outlined in the current legislation. If one goes to America to take out citizenship, as hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens have done over the decades, one has to pass a test of one's knowledge of the constitution and various other aspects of American political life. David Blunkett, the British Home Secretary, has expounded his views on how one should go about getting citizenship in the UK. Here we have the consequences of the Good Friday Agreement and we are also now a pull country for immigration. Sadly, some are abusing this law because it is in existence.
I thank the Chair for the opportunity to introduce this Bill and I thank everyone who spoke. It has been well debated and it had approval from everyone, with one exception. I express my appreciation to the Minister in particular for his support of the Bill. I found it a useful exercise to put the Bill forward. Senator Terry referred to going back through the 1956 Act and that was a reminder to me of our duty in this House to scrutinise every Bill that comes through. It was interesting to see names from the past – Mícheál O Móráin, Frank Aiken, a friend of my father's, and Stephen Barrett, a man I knew well. Those names from the past were very concerned about the words "Irish associations" but it got through the legislation and now here it comes again many years later. We should remember we are not debating the rights and wrongs of whether passports should be issued in this way but the fact that there are no rules other than "Irish associations". This is the weakness in that legislation. We are examining something the Houses missed in 1956 from the perspective of this Bill.
I appreciate what everyone has said about the Bill. Senator Henry used a good word when she said our passports were debased. My attention was drawn to a novel, The Sigma Protocol, by Robert Ludlum, a popular writer. Page 249 states: "Some of those international businessmen, you know, have second passports from places like Panama or Ireland. They come in handy sometimes." We were mentioned alongside Panama, and Panama may be worthy in this context, but that is what happened when we produced a system with no statutory controls. My sole purpose in introducing this Bill is to avoid us ever doing something like that again without having in place statutory controls.
Senator Leyden mentioned that Britain, Canada, Singapore and others have similar systems but those systems have statutory controls. It is possibly a different view. Any debasing of Irish passports was anathema to Senator Ormonde, but she also said that there may be a time when we should introduce these again in some form or other and she also mentioned the need for statutory controls.
I welcome the Minister's uncompromising opposition to any question of a sale of passports and it is guaranteed that no such scheme would be introduced here again. That is not my concern because I know the Government and the Minister would not do so. My concern is that some future Government could do so. I urge the Minister to put my mind at rest by copperfastening his determination to make sure that does not happen again by ensuring legislation in this regard is passed immediately.
I appreciate that the Minister has not opposed the Bill. I would like to be able to convince him to support it on Committee Stage. He has introduced two topics which I would like to examine. One is the question of entitlement. I would like to examine it because I do not understand the detail of it. The word "entitlement" clearly creates a problem for the Parliamentary Counsel. He also talked about the difference between the certificate of naturalisation and certificate of nationality, another matter which we should examine.
An alternative approach to mine would be for the Minister to introduce a Bill and to allow mine to linger and languish among the pending legislation that does not go anywhere. There is a long queue to introduce legislation and it takes time to get legislation through these Houses. It seems we have got so far with this Bill, which is a short and, I suggest, sweet one, and I urge the Minister to support Committee and Report Stages and to ensure it is passed.
My objective is to make sure that we close the loophole that is in danger of debasing our passports. That can be done by way of a Bill introduced by the Minister or by way of this Bill. I hope it will be done by way of this Bill not on the grounds of any personal kudos I would get from it, although I would be very pleased to see it that way, but the process would be much sharper and snappier and it would make sure that loophole was closed.
I appreciate the contributions of all those who spoke on the Bill, even those who disapproved of it. I introduced the Bill because of strong views expressed by a number of people outside this House, one of whom is Anne O Broin, who is in the Visitors Gallery. She is only one of a number of people who expressed concern that such a system could operate again. We should close this door immediately. The Minister's heart is in the right place and he has shown that today. I urge the House to pass this Bill on Second Stage and I commend it to the House.