Wednesday, 8 November 2017
International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I know that. That never stopped me before. As has been pointed out, we are facing the greatest global displacement ever in the history of the world. Senator Kelleher's Bill is attempting to address the attempt by the Government to reverse the situation that existed until 31 December 2016. It is doing so in order to narrow the definition of "family". This effectively makes it impossible for family members outside the nuclear family to meet up with their loved ones.
I am particularly disappointed that the question of gay people and their relationships is being ignored by the Government. This paltry excuse that it would cause a charge on the Exchequer is yet another reason we address the situation and free Seanad Éireann from the shackles of this ridiculous restriction on our powers. The 2015 Act radically changed the family reunification policy by narrowing eligibility for reunification to spouses and children if the children were under the age of 18 and unmarried. God almighty, how much bureaucracy do we have to have in this area?
It is completely ridiculous when one considers the fact that internationally the family is regarded as the fundamental building block of society and the Irish Constitution specifically recognises the family as being of primary importance. It is quite extraordinary to me to look at the way in which the Government is addressing the situation. It is not as if we were flooded with this situation. Up to and including 24 November 2016, 756 applications for family reunification were made by people with refugee status and of these, only 406 - about 50% - were accepted. I will be strongly supporting Senator Kelleher's excellent and humane amendments. I know we have a decent Minister of State. I do not know what is going on here with the Government's attempt to narrow the situation but it must be resisted by Seanad Éireann with all means possible.
Tacaím leis an mBille seo agus beidh mé ag tacaíocht leis na leasuithe chomh maith. I reiterate the remarks of colleagues who spoke previously in welcoming Committee Stage of this Bill. Hopefully, it will pass. Sinn Féin supports all of the amendments.
Like Senator Norris, in a very short period of time, I will speak to the generality around the Bill as opposed to coming in on every amendment as it comes before us. I will be very brief. The key word used by Senator Norris with regard to this piece of work by Senator Kelleher was "humane". That was the word that came to the fore when I listened to the previous debates on Second Stage, the lobbies and the people who will be and have been directly affected by this issue.
This issue is impacting on many families. Senator Norris rightly said that in the greater scheme of things, it is a relatively small number. It is not a huge influx. It is not scary bears coming off the boats to take up jobs, houses and school places and all this nonsense we hear at times when we bring forward understanding and humane legislation like Senator Kelleher's legislation. It is an important and humane piece of legislation. It is understanding of the reality of the life and period in which we live, given that the nuclear family unit is no longer the established and sole notion of what a family is or should be, if it ever was, certainly not in Ireland.
We profess to be the land of a thousand welcomes and an emigrant nation that understands the suffering that leads people to leave their homes and take up life elsewhere. Without rehashing all those clichés, and I use the term "cliché" respectfully because they are clichés for a reason, it is about time we put our money where our mouth is and ensure that we can compassionately make a better life for our refugee and asylum-seeking community but also understand that in order to do that and help that life develop and flourish, we can impact practically, tangibly and positively in bringing their families and loved ones here to be with them and help build not only their lives but the life of this State.
I would never abuse the privilege of this House. It may have come to some people's notice that it is a year today since the election of Donald Trump. His anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-asylum seeker rhetoric has gone around the world since then. Given that we listened closely to the Brexit debate and have witnessed what has happened across Europe where the Austrian Parliament is, unfortunately, welcoming people of a very right-wing persuasion and where the people almost elected a far-right President, and where one third of the electorate in France voted for a representative of the National Front, we can see that far-right, anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment are rife across Europe and in the US. Given our history, this country has a responsibility to stand for something better and more profound and decent. This is exactly what this Bill is.
I thank Senator Ó Ríordáin. Before I call on the next speaker, I would like to welcome to the House former Deputy M.J. Nolan and a delegation that he has with him. He is very welcome to our new Chamber and I hope he enjoys his day.
I call on Senator Clifford-Lee. I remind all Members that this is Committee Stage, so we are dealing with the Bill section by section.
I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to Deputy Nolan and his delegation.
Like my colleagues, I would like to congratulate Senator Kelleher on this Bill. She has our support and she has our support for the amendment. It is excellent that Senator Kelleher has put so much work into this Bill and it is very much appreciated. The Bill is supported by my group. It addresses the ever-evolving global situation regarding immigration and migration and refugee cohorts around the world. We need to tackle and deal with the situation in a humane fashion as mentioned by colleagues. There were many problems with the 2015 Act. I know Senator Kelleher's Bill is hoping to address these issues. The Senator has our support.
Our colleague made reference to family values and that mantra that is often trotted out. However, sometimes we actually need to step back and ask ourselves what exactly family values refer to. It is keeping a family unit together. Whatever that unit is, families are evolving. If we look back at our own history in Ireland how many of us have parents and grandparents that were reared by aunts, uncles and neighbours? Orphan children were taken into homes and given a roof over their head and that is their family unit and children always flourish within their own family unit. We are talking about people who have gone through horrific war and famine situations. They have lost their place in the world and what we must ensure is that they do not lose their place within their family unit as well. The Senator has our support and I wish her the very best of luck.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil sé anseo mar tá a fhios agam gur Aire Stáit é a bhfuil an-suim aige sa gceist seo agus san ábhar seo. I welcome the Minister because from what I have heard him say, I believe he is genuinely concerned about these issues and I do think he wants to do the right thing when it comes to asylum issues. I want to wholeheartedly welcome this Bill and commend Senator Kelleher for the work she is doing. It is important as well to recognise the work of the NGOs in this area. The ones I would have worked closely with have been the Irish Refugee Council, NASC and others.
When the International Protection Bill was coming through the House, we highlighted this as a major issue. I raised the issue and it is great to see the change of heart from Senator Ó Ríordáin, who was Minister of State at the time bringing that Bill through, because we did argue that this was going to be an issue coming down the line and it was not going to be acceptable.
I am not going to go into great depth. It is very important that Fianna Fáil is now supporting the Bill. That is really welcome. I will again put on the record that direct provision is an appalling system. I do not think it is acceptable. It is institutional abuse in itself. I can appreciate that certain tweaking around the edges is being done on direct provision. However, we as a country need to look at a totally different model of dealing with people who are seeking asylum in this country and the way that they are accommodated. In case people think that this is a kind of a theoretical amendment, it is not. I have been in the direct provision centres in Galway again recently. This is a very real issue for the people in those centres. They have loved ones whom they cannot be reunited with at present. They are very concerned about their well-being.
While we have the Minister of State here, it is important to raise this with him. It is such a very live issue for them, their relatives and their extended relatives or grandparents. In some case where people have come through a situation of conflict there may be uncles and aunts who are looking after nieces and nephews and they are completely dependent on them. It is really important that they could be reunified with those people who care for them and support them, and who are there guardians as well in those scenarios. I also refer to those more infirm people from families who are dependent on younger members to look after them. I am not going to go on ad nauseam. I know the Minister of State is very concerned about all of this area. I hope the Government and the Department can look very compassionately on these issues, accept the Bill that is being put forward today in good faith and do the right thing.
I mentioned this morning on the Order of Business that Marty Walsh, a Galway man and a Connemara man, has been re-elected as the Mayor of Boston. One of the major things that he has done while Mayor in Boston for the last four years is stand up for immigrants, legal or illegal, and defend their rights. If we are talking about beacons of light in the international arena he certainly is one. We need to come up to the mark as regards this legislation and I fully support it. I commend Senator Kelleher on the work she is doing in this regard. Go raibh maith agat.
I am very pleased to be here to address the House on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who unfortunately cannot be here today due to prior engagements. I thank the Senators for their comments earlier on.
As regards the comments that Senator Kelleher made, we are very aware of the situation globally and we are working as hard as we can to address that and to improve matters where we can. Senators will be aware that there is a distinction between refugees and people who are seeking protection or who are asylum seekers.
Senators will also be aware that the Government opposed this Bill when it was discussed on Second Stage in this House in July for a number of valid reasons. This position has not changed and I would like to briefly set out again the factors that we have taken into account. As the Government is not supporting the Bill, I will not take up the time of the House in responding to individual amendments proposed unless Members want me to do that.
The Houses of the Oireachtas passed the International Protection Act 2015 which included changes to the family reunification provisions. I am aware that some Senators have said that they did not support all elements of the Bill at that time. However, it was passed. The 2015 Act brings Ireland closer into line with the provisions under the EU Family Reunification Directive while retaining more generous features including a longer application time limit and by not imposing economic conditions on sponsors. The Bill seeks to restore the broader definition of family members under the old Refugee Act 1996, as amended, while removing the element of ministerial discretion that was contained therein. The amendment proposed by the Senators to the 2015 Act would establish the discretionary permission under section 18(4) of the repealed 1996 Act into a legal right for family reunification for extended family members. Family reunification requires admitted family members to be resettled in the same location as the sponsoring refugee. Local authorities, which are already feeling the strain of providing permanent housing for refugees in the midst of a national housing crisis, will be asked to provide additional houses for the family members covered by the Bill. As the Government informed the House in July, the average number of family members applied for under the family reunification provisions of the Refugee Act was 20 and the largest application was for over 70 family members. The admission of so many people would have significant and unquantifiable impacts on the provision of housing, health care, education, welfare payments and other State supports. The financial impacts of this proposal are not contemplated in the Bill. As a result, the Government must be upfront about its intention to decline a money message for this Bill when it is considered in the Lower House.
The proposal to reverse the reforms made in the 2015 Act and to reintroduce an open-ended scheme for a broader definition of "family members" would substantially curtail the ability of the State to respond to ongoing and further crises by way of resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission. Our priority should be to ensure we support a maximum number of families, rather than allowing a smaller number of families to admit larger numbers of extended family members to the disadvantage of others. The Bill fails to take into account that the discretionary permission under the 1996 Act has not been abandoned. The Minister continues to apply this provision under the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service non-EEA policy document on family reunification. Where appropriate, the Minister will waive the economic conditions for sponsors on humanitarian grounds. This practice will continue.
Although the policy document and certain other immigration permissions already provide legal avenues for addressing many of the specific cases raised by Senators on Second Stage, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and I are considering the establishment of a humanitarian programme to address the family reunification needs of some immediate family members from established conflict zones who are not covered by the provisions of the 2015 Act. Further announcements in this regard are expected in the near future. I expect that this approach will address many of the motivating concerns of the Senators who proposed this Bill.
I am also engaging with the global refugee sponsorship initiative. My officials and I met some of those involved with the initiative for quite some time in Dublin last week. Housing and accommodation are major issues.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about direct provision. I am open to any suggestions he might have regarding an alternative that would work. If he has an alternative to direct provision, he should bring it on because I want to see in writing the details of the costings, etc.
As Senators alluded to earlier, we are working as hard as we can to improve direct provision. I have yet to see an alternative which will work and which will ensure that a person who comes to Dublin today and looks for asylum will be guaranteed a bed, food, heat, safety and comfort tonight. As Senators know, the system is under ferocious pressure. We are running low on numbers. If Senators can assist in increasing bed numbers throughout the country for people in these circumstances, we want to know how they can help. We have tried and we have asked. I have asked in the Lower House and I have asked in this House. We have met representatives of non-governmental organisations. We are working as closely as we can with all such organisations. If there are other ways of doing things that will work and will be practical, Senators should let us know what they are and we will pursue them.
We have to look after the people who really need to be looked after. The established conflict zones are important. I do not want us to go back to the early 1990s, when people who came here and applied for asylum ended up on the streets. We do not want that. The direct provision centres are filling up very fast. I am extremely concerned about what will happen in the winter if people arrive here and we have no physical places for them to go. If Senators have an answer in that regard, I ask them to let me know what it is. This Bill could end up putting even more strain on the outer limit of extended family members. As I have said, we are looking at a humanitarian programme for people from established conflict zones. I think Senators will agree that this is very important. I thank Senators for their engagement on these sensitive and important matters. Like the Minister, I am always willing to come here to discuss these issues and to take on board practical suggestions that will work and that we can make work. As the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, I value these discussions.
The Acting Chairman is very kind. I have just received a communication from Active Retirement Ireland, which says it strongly supports this Bill because it recognises the role of grandparents in families. The Minister of State's statement is very helpful because it gives us additional information. However, when he says "the average number of family members applied for under the family reunification provisions of the Refugee Act was 20 and the largest application was for over 70 family members", rather like the character in "One Foot in the Grave", I have to say "I don't believe it". If it is true, it is an aberration. I have put the figures on the record of the House. Over 750 applications were made and approximately 400, or not much more than 50%, were granted. If there was one application for 20 family members and one application for 90, that is over 25% of the total. It is ludicrous for the Minister of State to suggest we are overwhelmed by applications from people who want to be joined by 70 family members. I just do not believe it. There may be one such instance. I do not know. It is absurd to base legislation on one extraordinary situation given that the total number of applications was just over 750.
It beggars belief that large numbers of people are applying to be joined by 70 family members. In any event, we can always refuse such requests. We can say "No, you are not having 70 family members with you; it is ridiculous". Of course it is ridiculous.
The people making these decisions would say that. It is not as if we are completely without defences. We are not the eejits of Europe. I remind the Minister of State, in the context of his bellyaching about an application for 70 people to come here, that Germany has admitted 1 million people. I think the gross number we have admitted is a couple of hundred. God bless us and all the wirrasthruing and barricading about memories of the Famine, massive immigration and the poor people in America who have entered illegally and all the rest of it. We should cop on and take some moral responsibility. I have to respond to the introduction of a financial argument by saying that this is a moral situation.
It is not a financial situation. There should be morality in this situation. I hope the Chair will allow me to say, as an aside, that I grieve for the fact that there seems to be so little regard for morality in public life these days.
To be fair to the Minister of State, I do not think he said there were loads of applications for more than 70 people to come to Ireland. I think he said there was one such application. That is the way I read it. I will allow Senator Kelleher and the Minister of State to come back in if they want.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 4, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:"Amendment of Act of 2015
3. The Act of 2015 is amended by the insertion of the following new section after section 57:"57A. (1) Where an application under section 56(1) made by a sponsor for permission to be given to a member of the family of the sponsor to enter and reside in the State has been refused, or where a permission to enter and reside in the State granted to a member of the family of the sponsor has been revoked pursuant to section 56(7), the sponsor may seek a review of that decision.
(2) Where an application under section 57(1) made by a sponsor for permission to be given to a member of the family of a sponsor to reside in the State has been refused or where a permission to reside in the State granted to a member of the family of a sponsor has been revoked pursuant to section 57(6), the sponsor may seek a review of that decision.
(3) An application for a review pursuant to subsection (1) and (2) shall be submitted to the Minister within 15 working days of the receipt of the decision and shall set out in writing the grounds for review.
(4) The Minister may, where he or she is satisfied that it is warranted in the particular circumstances, extend the period referred to in subsection (3) within which a review must be submitted.
(5) A review under this section shall be carried out by an officer of the Minister and shall be of a grade senior to the grade of the person who made the decision.
(6) The officer carrying out the review may—(a) confirm the decision the subject of the review on the same or other grounds having regard to the information contained in the application for the review, or
(b) set aside the decision and substitute his or her determination for the decision.".".
I am glad this amendment has not been ruled out of order. I am disappointed that so many other amendments have been. This amendment relates to the right of appeal. There was a problem with the 2015 Act. The judicial review process is open to people, but it is very costly.It also clogs up our judicial process which is chronically under-funded and under-resourced. Therefore, I would appreciate support for the amendment.
The Government opposes this amendment. Under current administrative arrangements a sponsor can bring new information to the Minister's attention, which would be considered under and expedited process as part of a new application for family reunification by the sponsor. I wish to be clear that under current administrative arrangements a sponsor can bring new information to the Minister's attention which will be considered under an expedited process as part of a new application for family reunification by the sponsor. So it is there.
Catherine Ardagh, Frances Black, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Grace O'Sullivan, Ned O'Sullivan, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 4, to delete lines 9 to 10 and substitute the following:
"(2) This Act shall come into operation no later than 3 months after the date of its passing.".
This amendment proposes to change the commencement date from a date to be chosen by the Minister to a date no later than 3 months after the Bill is passed.Although there is a difference of opinion in the Chamber on whether the Bill will pass, I am travelling in earnestness, hope and determination and the spirit of this amendment is to ensure that the Bill, when passed, does not languish and sit awaiting implementation. That is the reason I propose the amendment.
I support the amendment. If Senator Kelleher allows it, I will second it so that it will be formally seconded. I support the amendment because the vote of the House is one thing but the implementation of the Bill is another. One way of effectively, although not legally, defeating the Bill would be to postpone, delay and procrastinate and to put it up on a shelf and forget about it. This is a well-considered amendment and I strongly support it. It means that when the Bill is passed, as it will be, it will come into operation. I hope the other House will have the good sense of this House and pass it also.
I support the amendment and reserve the right to put forward a similar amendment on Report Stage to ensure the expedious implementation of the Bill in the event this amendment is not successful. I remind the Government of its key role in chairing the UN special meeting on refugees and migrants and ask it to be in sprit with that and not to effectively introduce constraints on refugees by evasion, time delay and measures such as we heard in the Minister of State's speech, which concerned the money message. I am asking Ireland to step up and honestly fulfil the role it has played internationally and the rhetoric that it has given internationally.
It is my understanding that an amendment, if it falls on Committee Stage, cannot be reintroduced on Report Stage. However, if the Senator was to withdraw the amendment, it could be tabled again on Report Stage as she spoke on it on Committee Stage. That is my understanding.