Dáil Éireann - Volume 518 - 13 April, 2000

Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

When I introduced this Bill in the Seanad on 8 December last, it was at a time when the processes and institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement were beginning to show their potential to bring positive changes and opportunities to the lives of all on this island. The Government had just made the necessary declaration under Article 29.7.3º of the Constitution bringing the new Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution into effect and a devolved power-sharing government was in place in Northern Ireland demonstrating how diverse and conflicting views can work together in a democratic and accountable forum. While subsequent events may not have developed as we would have wished, there cannot be any doubt that all responsible political leaders, both North and South and in the United Kingdom, remain committed to achieving the aims of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Agreement is a remarkable achievement, expressing positive new relationships for the people of Ireland and mapping a peaceful political path to the future and away from the violence and misery that has blighted so many lives for far too long. I assure the House that the Government [267] remains committed to overcoming any obstacle on the road to the implementation of the Agreement.

The Bill owes its genesis primarily to the changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and the Good Friday Agreement. Existing citizenship law, as contained in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, was drafted against the backdrop of the former Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. It contains a definition of “Ireland” based on the former Article 2 definition and, at section 7, quotes the opening words of the former Article 3. The territorial definition of Ireland is not reproduced in the new Article 2, and the language used in that Article refers to the people of “the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas”.

In amending the Citizenship Acts, this Bill takes on board that language by providing in section 2 that the expression “the island of Ireland” is to be construed as including its islands and seas, and by making other changes throughout the Citizenship Acts, replacing references to Ireland with references to the island of Ireland or to the State, as appropriate in the context of each occurrence. At a minimum, the new legislation must reflect the letter and substance of these changes to the Constitution. However, the Bill goes beyond mere drafting amendments to reflect the more fundamental changes contained in new Article 2 of the Constitution and the Agreement itself. The new Article 2 of the Constitution states that “[i]t is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland.”

The British-Irish Agreement, which itself forms part of the Good Friday Agreement, contains an important provision in relation to citizenship at paragraph (vi) of Article 1 by which the Irish and British Governments recognise:

the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

To ensure that our citizenship law reflects the new constitutional position and respects the right of those born in Northern Ireland to regard themselves as Irish or British or both, as they so choose, I have not confined myself to making mere drafting changes in the Citizenship Acts. Rather, I have undertaken an extensive re-examination of the law as it relates to Irish citizenship deriving from birth in the island of Ireland to ensure that both those interlocking parameters will be met by our statute law.

[268] The most significant change which has resulted from this is that Irish law will no longer make the overt declaration contained in section 6 of the 1956 Act that “every person born in Ireland is an Irish citizen from birth.” Instead, the Bill starts out from the premise that every person born in the island of Ireland is entitled to be an Irish citizen. This entitlement in the new section 6(1) of the 1956 Act inserted by section 3 of the Bill is a new concept in Irish citizenship law. This new concept is dictated by the new Article 2 of the Constitution, and reflects the entitlement and birthright set out there for every person born in the island of Ireland to be “part of the Irish nation”. By taking this approach, we ensure respect for the position of those who do not wish to exercise that entitlement. At the same time, those who wish to assert their Irish citizenship are free to do so.

The remaining subsections of the new section 6 go on to deal with the exercise of the entitlement to Irish citizenship arising out of birth on the island of Ireland. Sections 6(2) and 6(3) are essentially evidential provisions. The effect of section 6(2)(a) is that a person born in the island of Ireland who does an act which only an Irish citizen is entitled to do thereby demonstrates that the entitlement to Irish citizenship is being exercised. Such an act might be, for instance, applying for an Irish passport or applying to have one's name entered on the register of electors as eligible to vote in presidential elections. However, the fact that a person born on the island has not done any such act cannot be taken to mean that the person is not an Irish citizen or is a citizen of any other country.

An example I used on Second Stage in the Seanad may help to illustrate how this works. If I am born in Belfast, I am entitled to be an Irish citizen. The new provision says so but does not say definitively whether I am an Irish citizen. If I obtain a UK passport, I am still entitled to be an Irish citizen, and the provision is still silent as to whether I am an Irish citizen. I may or may not be and it is my entitlement to perceive myself as British or Irish or both. I can still apply for an Irish passport and, as soon as I do, the law will recognise that I am exercising my entitlement to be an Irish citizen. Furthermore, if I apply for an Irish passport, all I have to do is to produce the birth certificate which shows that I was born in the island of Ireland, in this example, in Belfast.

This contrasts with the procedural requirement for those born in Northern Ireland under the current section 7(1) of the 1956 Act, a requirement which does not apply to those born in the State. That requirement is that a person born in the North wishing to assert Irish citizenship must either make a declaration of Irish citizenship or else show, usually by producing the birth certificates of parents and grandparents, that that person is an Irish citizen. This anomalous provision, expressed to be “pending the reunification of the national territory”, in the words of the former Article 3 of the Constitution, has been regarded [269] by those in the North who see themselves as Irish citizens as discriminating between them and Irish citizens born in the State. Section 3 gets rid of that procedure as well as the now outdated quotation from the old Article 3.

That the new provision is silent as to whether the entitlement to Irish citizenship is being exercised in the case of any person born in the island of Ireland could be regarded as giving rise to uncertainty as to the citizenship status of any person. A feature of citizenship provisions in many countries throughout the world, and one reflected in a number of international instruments on the subject of nationality and citizenship, is the importance of avoiding situations where a person might be deemed to be stateless. To deal with that concern and reduce the scope for potential uncertainty, the new section 6(3) provides that any person born in the island of Ireland who is not entitled to citizenship of another country is an Irish citizen from birth. That is not to say that a person born in the island of Ireland who has an entitlement to citizenship of another country is not entitled to Irish citizenship. This subsection simply puts the matter out of the realm of uncertainty for those who have no such other entitlement. As with section 6(2), this is primarily an evidential provision.

The current statutory provision – section 6(1) of the 1956 Act – provides, with certain exceptions, that any person born in the island of Ireland is an Irish citizen. The new provisions regarding citizenship by birth in the island of Ireland in the proposed section 6 of the 1956 Act will not operate to deprive anyone who, by operation of the 1956 Act as it stands, is already an Irish citizen. However, Article 2 of the Constitution declares the entitlement of everyone born in the island of Ireland, without exception, to be part of the Irish nation. It is necessary for this legislation, therefore, to ensure that the exceptions in the 1956 Act which would be inconsistent with Article 2 are removed, and that is achieved by the new section 6(4). The exceptions at present relate to the children born here of foreign diplomats and to children born to non-national parents in a foreign aircraft or vessel in Irish airspace or waters. Such children are not Irish citizens under current law.

Subsection (4) of the new section 6 provides a means whereby persons born in either of those circumstances can exercise their right to be Irish citizens by making a declaration to that effect, or having it made on their behalf if they are under age.

Where the person born in the island of Ireland has made a declaration of alienage under section 21 of the 1956 Act renouncing Irish citizenship, that person will not, of course, be regarded as an Irish citizen. Even then, however, there remains the constitutional entitlement and birthright to be part of the Irish nation, an entitlement which cannot be renounced. Accordingly, subsection (5) of the new section 6 provides that a person who had made a declaration of alienage can resume Irish [270] citizenship by making a declaration to that effect. Citizenship in that case dates from the date of the declaration.

The present sections 6 and 7 of the 1956 Act deal with citizenship by birth in Ireland and by descent in an intertwined way. As a matter of drafting style, we have chosen at section 3 of the Bill to separate the two strands of citizenship so that the new section 6 deals with citizenship by birth on the island of Ireland alone, and the new section 7 is a restatement of the existing law on citizenship by descent. One feature of interest in the new section 7 is the clarifying provision at subsection (2) which ensures that the fact that a person born in Ireland may not have done an act demonstrating that the entitlement to Irish citizenship was being taken up does not of itself act to prevent the transmission of Irish citizenship to the next generation.

The new sections 6 and 7 of the 1956 Act at section 3 of the Bill are designed to have effect as on and from 2 December 1999, the day on which the Government marked the coming into full effect of the Good Friday Agreement by making the declaration which brought the new Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution into effect. The commencement date is spelt out at section 9(3) of the Bill.

The new Articles 2 and 3 dictated that there be consequential changes in the Citizenship Acts. In devising the necessary changes, I took the opportunity to undertake a thorough review of the law on citizenship by birth in the island of Ireland and the fruits of that review are set out at sections 2 and 3 of the Bill. The approach I have taken to that question is inclusive, proactive and considerate of the full spectrum of views in this island, regarding an individual's own identification with one state or another or both.

I have also taken the opportunity provided by the Bill to look more closely at other aspects of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts. In particular, I am proposing substantive changes in relation to the acquisition of Irish citizenship by non-nationals who marry Irish citizens and also to make provisions setting out clearly those periods of residence which qualify for naturalisation purposes. I have also made a number of technical changes which I will detail briefly later.

The current law governing citizenship based on marriage to an Irish citizen is set out in section 8 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, as inserted by section 3 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986. The original provision in the Act of 1956 permitted a woman who married an Irishman other than one who was a naturalised Irish citizen to obtain Irish citizenship even before the marriage took place by making a declaration. This facility did not apply to male non-nationals who married Irish women. The amendment contained in the Act of 1986, which represents the law as it now stands, removed the sex discrimination by enabling husbands as well as wives of Irish citizens other than those who were naturalised to make declarations of post-[271] nuptial citizenship. A number of restrictions were also introduced at that time in an effort to limit the scope for abuse of this process. First, a declaration cannot be made until three years has elapsed since the marriage. Second, it is necessary for the marriage to be lawful and subsisting; and finally, the parties must be living together as husband and wife, with an affidavit provided by the Irish citizen to that effect.

Unfortunately, the 1986 Act provisions still leave considerable scope for abuses. These abuses involve marriages undertaken for the sole purpose of obtaining an Irish passport where in many cases the parties may not have met until the day of the ceremony. It is believed that many of these sham ceremonies have criminal involvement, are well planned with considerable sums of money changing hands and sometimes involve the exploitation of Irish citizens in vulnerable situations.

An Irish passport is a valuable acquisition which gives access not only to the territory and economy of Ireland but also to that of the European Union. There is considerable incentive to obtain access to the opportunities available here and in Europe by fair means or foul. That there is abuse is not in doubt and is confirmed by the experiences of our embassies abroad which handled many of these applications. The Bill puts forward a fair and appropriate alternative to post-nuptial declarations of citizenship which it is intended will greatly curtail the scope for abuse.

My examination of existing citizenship law in this and other jurisdictions has led me to the view, shared by the Government, that we should move to a system which involves a period of residence by the spouse on the island of Ireland. Such a system is in line with most of our European neighbours, for example, Greece, Denmark and Estonia, who have a requirement of residence for a minimum period as an absolute precondition to naturalisation, whether the applicant for naturalisation is married to a national of the country, and also apply other conditions, such as good character, intention to remain in the State and language competence.

Canada is a common law jurisdiction with a similar absolute requirement. Some countries have such absolute requirements, but with a shorter minimum residence period for spouses of nationals than for other applicants for naturalisation, for example France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The USA is a common law jurisdiction with similar more favourable residence requirements for spouses. A small number of European states, namely, Austria, Belgium and Italy permits the naturalisation of a spouse after a certain period of marriage without regard to residence in the state in question, but reduce the marriage period required if the spouse is resident in the state.

Ireland is one of a small number of Council of Europe states, together with Turkey, Cyprus and Portugal, where the only consideration for natu[272] ralisation of a spouse is marriage for a greater or lesser period. Accordingly, sections 4 and 5 of the Bill repeal the provisions dealing with post-nuptial declarations of citizenship and replace them with a special system of naturalisation for the non-national spouses of Irish citizens. This system is modelled on the normal requirements for naturalisation, which are set out at section 15 of the 1956 Act, but has special, more favourable residence conditions. It also includes provisions adapted from the present post-nuptial citizenship arrangements.

The normal naturalisation process requires residence in the State for a total of five out of the previous nine years, of which the most recent year's residence must be continuous; the applicant must also have an intention to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation. The revised system will, instead, require the shorter residence period of three out of the previous five years, once again with continuous residence during the most recent year, and that period of residence is not confined to the State but can be anywhere in the island of Ireland. An applicant spouse must have the intention to continue to reside in the island of Ireland after naturalisation.

This revised system will be available to a non-national spouse who is in a valid subsisting marriage to an Irish citizen for at least three years where the couple are living together as husband and wife as applies in the present system of post-nuptial declarations of marriage. The usual conditions for naturalisation regarding age, good conduct and so forth will apply in these cases as they do to other applicants for naturalisation. There is discretion to waive the residence and duration of marriage conditions in special circumstances where the liberty or bodily integrity of the non-national spouse would otherwise be at risk.

I might add that for non-national spouses who have married Irish citizens in the recent past or who do so between now and the passing of this Bill, there is a built-in three year period of grace at section 4(2), within which post-nuptial declarations of citizenship can continue to be made.

Where abuses are taking place it is our duty to eliminate, as far as possible, the potential for those abuses. My concern is to ensure that Irish citizenship is not demeaned by people who would seek to abuse the post-nuptial declaration process to acquire an Irish passport. At the same time, I wish to have in place a system which is fair to non-national spouses and offers them an appropriate method of acquiring Irish citizenship. By treating spouses of Irish nationals more favourably within the naturalisation process, we recognise their special position while protecting the integrity of our citizenship laws. I believe that my proposals are balanced and fair and are in line with similar provisions in the law of many of our European neighbours and of other democratic jurisdictions throughout the world.

I have also taken the opportunity presented by this Bill to clarify what periods of residence in the State are reckonable for naturalisation purposes. [273] It has been the general practice of successive Ministers for Justice, when considering the question of compliance with the residence requirement in the context of individual applications for naturalisation, to leave out of the reckoning periods of residence in the State which are undocumented and thus, technically, illegal or where the permission given to the applicant to remain in the State is for a temporary purpose. Exceptions to this general rule have, from time to time, been made in particular cases. The Citizenship Acts do not define or qualify the concept of residence in the State, and this has led to uncertainty. I am, in section 6 of the Bill, clarifying the law in this area so that applicants for naturalisation will have advance knowledge of what considerations are going to be taken into account when their naturalisation applications are being considered.

The effect of this new provision is that in respect of an application for naturalisation from a national of a European economic area state, which includes EU member states and Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, no period will reckon for naturalisation purposes where for that period the person did not hold a residence permit or residence document issued under regulations governing their rights of residence in the State. The position for non-European economic area nationals is that any period of residence where the person was supposed to have permission to remain, but did not have such permission, will not count towards meeting the requirements of residence in the State.

In addition, periods of permission to remain given for certain temporary purposes will not reckon for naturalisation purposes. These periods are for study, including a course of study which involves an element of work experience, and temporary permission to enter and stay in the State while awaiting a decision on an asylum claim.

It is right that a person seeking naturalisation should have his or her period of residence calculated on the basis of properly documented permission to remain and that periods of temporary stay should not qualify for this purpose. Exceptions can continue to be made by the Minister through the use of the discretion given to him or her to waive the conditions for naturalisation, or any of them, already provided in section 16 of the 1956 Act, as inserted by the 1986 Act.

Section 7 makes technical changes to the provisions governing the maintenance of foreign births entry books and the foreign births register. At present, all diplomatic and consular missions are required to maintain a foreign births entry book. There is scope for error in the very small consular posts which are rarely called upon to make such entries, sometimes years apart. For practical reasons, it is simpler that in such cases the entries can be made directly in the central foreign births register maintained by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The proposal is that, in the interests of efficiency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs will have the flexibility to designate which posts should maintain such books. In [274] addition, the section provides for the making of regulations permitting the correction or deletion of erroneous entries in the foreign births entry books or in the register, with provisions for advance notice to appropriate persons of proposed changes.

Various other drafting changes are being made throughout the Citizenship Acts, including the change from the term “alien” to the more modern expression “non-national”. This is the term also used in the Immigration Act, 1999.

The Bill is detailed and complex legislation which fundamentally restates the basis of citizenship by birth on the island of Ireland in line with new Article 2 of the Constitution. Any person born anywhere on the island of Ireland is entitled to be an Irish citizen. As far as any person born in the North of Ireland is concerned, the Bill enables him or her to exercise that entitlement as a matter of personal choice, whether that person also chooses to be a citizen of the United Kingdom or of any other country by whose laws he or she is a citizen.

This Bill brings about a generous and encompassing change which will serve to promote good relations among the peoples of these islands as we continue to work for a peaceful resolution of our differences. The further changes I am proposing to the Citizenship Acts will protect our citizenship from abuse and maintain its dignity and respect. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Flanagan: The Fine Gael Party will be supporting this legislation which, as the Minister has said, is a direct consequence of the Good Friday Agreement. However, the Minister has also indicated that he availed of the opportunity to go considerably further than the statement of intent contained in the agreement with reference to the deletion of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. In view of what the Minister has said, I am somewhat concerned with sections 5 and 6 of the Bill. My concern arises primarily from a suspicion that the Minister has not availed of the opportunity or, indeed, his duty to consult widely with groups and individuals concerning these changes. It may have been less than wise of him to introduce this legislation under the guise of its being as a direct consequence of the Good Friday Agreement, while at the same time availing of the opportunity, rather surreptitiously, to introduce widespread reforms to our citizenship laws.

The Good Friday Agreement and the referendums North and South which followed, resulting in changes to the Irish Constitution and legislative changes in Britain, confirm a profound shift in thinking in both Ireland and Britain. What is being affirmed under the new dispensation of the Good Friday Agreement is, in essence, a thesis which has been articulated over many years by John Hume. That thesis states quite simply that it is people who count, not territory.

The Good Friday Agreement acknowledges the right of the people of Northern Ireland to choose their own identity and to decide their own [275] future. It recognises the reality of both identities in Northern Ireland, the Irish and British identities. The process of accommodation on the island of Ireland is an ongoing project. Nationalist Ireland has still a long way to travel before we are in a position to celebrate the diversity of our island. The British Unionist tradition, which is the majority tradition within Northern Ireland, has an even longer journey to travel before it embraces wholeheartedly Nationalist Ireland in its midst.

The Good Friday Agreement recognises the birthright of the people of Northern Ireland to be accepted as Irish, British or both. It affirms this right in perpetuity, regardless of the future status of Northern Ireland. The Agreement also gives the opportunity for people's identity to evolve, and this does happen. When this State was founded there were many people, living in what is now the Republic of Ireland, who were strongly Unionist and British in outlook. As the decades elapsed, however, their sense of identity with the Irish State began to grow and develop to the extent that their primary identity is now Irish.

Many Irish people who emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand took the citizenship of those countries and developed a strong sense of loyalty to their new homes, while at the same time maintaining an Irish identity. Many thousands of Irish people who emigrated to Britain over the years also became fully integrated into British life.

Even the identity of Irish people in Ireland itself has evolved considerably in recent years. We have a very strong sense of European identity which is even reflected in the passport we carry. It is quite possible that in years to come our primary identity will be European. European citizenship may be defined at European Union level and questions of nationality may well become somewhat irrelevant.

Acceptance of that identity is not fixed and can be liberating. The Good Friday Agreement also accepts the reality that a person can feel both Irish and British. Indeed, Edward Carson, the great Ulster Unionist leader, had a very strong sense of Irish identity and there are many Ulster Unionists who have this strong sense of Irishness. The long campaign of the IRA, which was directed in many instances against individual Unionists, certainly weakened the Irish identity of the Unionist people.

If peace can be permanently secured and political institutions restored leading onto normal everyday politics, the dual Irish and British identity of Northern Ireland can be a source of great strength. In a peaceful situation people will feel free to explore and express the full range of their identities. Peace will also allow the people of Northern Ireland to have control over how their identity will change and evolve over time. The two Governments and all political parties must continue to encourage everybody involved to redouble their efforts to solve the current impasse. This legislation recognises the right to [276] Irish citizenship by reason of birth and descent. It also introduces new rules regarding the acquisition of citizenship through marriage or naturalisation. The Minister would have been better served to confine the Bill to issues arising from the Good Friday Agreement and left the other issues to a more comprehensive Bill dealing with the more detailed and complex issues of citizenship. The Minister recognises the complexity involved. I am concerned at the absence of public debate on this issue prior to the publication of the Bill.

As regards the right to citizenship, this Bill treats all people born on the island of Ireland equally. It does not force Irish citizenship on anybody. This is a major advance from the 1956 legislation which boldly states in section 6 that every person born in Ireland is an Irish citizen from birth. This Bill makes no claim on anybody's allegiance. It gives people the freedom to make that choice for themselves. It has the added benefit that unlike previous legislation and regulations, an application from a person born anywhere on the island will be treated exactly the same. This alone is of symbolic significance to the Nationalist people of Northern Ireland.

I welcome the deletion of the word “alien” from our legislation. Such a term was offensive. The Minister selected as a replacement the term “non-national”. I am not sure how great an improvement that is. It is improper to define people in a negative way. The term “non-national” refers to something the person is not, which is extraordinary. In this regard the Minister referred to the immigration legislation of 1999 but a precedent does not necessarily mean something is proper or correct. The use of the term “non-national” is insensitive and unnecessary. Could the Minister not use the term “applicant” which has a more positive and affirming tone, rather than the term “non-national” which implies a less than full person? We will probably have more discourse on that on Committee Stage.

Under sections 4 and 5, the Minister proposes profound changes in the law governing the acquisition of citizenship on marriage and is introducing new procedures and new regulations governing the naturalisation of spouses of Irish citizens. I am aware that the Minister is concerned about the abuse of the present rules and regulations. He mentioned his concern this morning and I share his concern on the issue of sham marriages in particular. What the Minister is proposing, however, is not a tightening of existing regulations but a fundamental change to the current system. This is being done without any consultation with the people who will be most affected by this – our emigrant communities. In addition to changing existing regulations in a fundamental way, the Minister proposes to introduce rigorous residential criteria for the spouses of Irish citizens. Has the Minister considered for instance the impact this may have on the ability of Irish based businesses to attract highly skilled emigrants who are married to spouses who hap[277] pen to hold different citizenship? Has he consulted with the IDA on this aspect or with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who has direct political responsibility in this area and has talked of attracting 200,000 workers to Ireland, many of whom will be returning emigrants?

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, officials from her Department, State agencies, the social partners and economists have referred to the need to attract emigrants who would return with their expertise to further bolster our economic success. Many of these returned emigrants, who during their sojourn abroad married persons whom the Minister would describe as non-nationals, could face problems with residency if their spouses wish to obtain Irish citizenship.

Since the foundation of the State millions of people have gone abroad. Other countries, particularly the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain have been extremely generous to Irish people as regards the granting of citizenship. We, on the other hand, have been secretive and mean-minded in granting applications for citizenship. This policy needs to change but the Minister has not done that in this legislation. The language in section 5 clearly exposes existing attitudes. The granting of naturalisation is still “at the absolute discretion of the Minister”. The Minister and his Department are still colonised by remnants of British colonial and legislative thinking, using, in effect, the Irish version of the royal prerogative – the absolute discretion of the Minister. The Minister should accept that we have been living for some time in a republic. Phrases such as “the absolute discretion of the Minister” should have no place in the legislation of a republic.

The people in the aliens section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform – the quasi-secret society – is a very difficult group of people with whom to engage. Reasons for the refusal of applications are rarely, if ever, forthcoming. Progress reports on files or applications are not dealt with in a transparent way, which one should expect from a Department. The office is open for business at inappropriate hours having regard to the recent liberalisation of hours in terms of flexitime and more consumer friendly office hours. The atmosphere and physical decor of the aliens section do not make it user or consumer friendly. That should change. I have discussed this with the Minister on previous occasions. I know he is aware of the issue and I look forward to improved progress on it.

It is fundamental that the procedures for granting citizenship should be open, transparent and accountable. There should be an effective appeals mechanism and people should at all times be given reasons for refusals of applications. They should be given reasons when progress on files is minimal or negligible, which does not happen at present. The current procedures are not equitable and I would go further and say that they do not correspond to the principles of natural justice. [278] This is another area we will have to return to on Committee Stage.

Fine Gael supports the Bill at this stage, although I repeat my criticism of the Minister regarding the absence of discussion with interested groups on this issue. What discussions have taken place between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment? What discussions took place with our emigrant groups? It is somewhat unfair to bring in legislation which is a direct consequence of the Good Friday Agreement but to also avail of the opportunity, to quote the Minister, to bring in profound changes to the citizenship regulations. Doing so without the public debate one might expect is somewhat unfair. I hope the Minister can contradict some of the points I have made about the lack of discussion, but I do not recall hearing of him engaging in the type of discussion I feel is essential in this regard.

Ms O'Sullivan: The Labour Party also accepts the main content of this Bill, which arises from the Good Friday Agreement, but we have serious concerns about the extra material the Minister has added to the Bill. My colleague, Senator Ryan, has already indicated our serious concerns about this aspect of the Bill and I will return to this matter later. This Bill is long awaited and is a result of our legislative obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. Although the Agreement has been in the public domain for almost two years it has taken the Government a long time to bring this Bill before the House. Nonetheless, it is welcome and I hope it proceeds through the Dáil as quickly as it passed through the Seanad.

My party and I expected more of a sense of urgency regarding the legislative measures under the Good Friday Agreement. There has been a lot of procrastination in bringing legislation before the House – not only this Bill but to the Human Rights Commission Bill, which has not yet been enacted. I am aware it is to go before the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights next week, but the Easter recess is looming and one presumes we will be waiting some months before that Bill is enacted. It is a crucial part of our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. If the British Government could fulfill its legislative obligations within 12 months of publication of the Agreement then it seems we are taking a long time to fulfill our obligations. Why has there been such a long delay in bringing these legislative measures before the Oireachtas?

The majority of people favour movement on the Good Friday Agreement and this was indicated in the overwhelming vote in its favour, particularly on this side of the Border, in June 1998. The legislators and the Government have an obligation and responsibility to bring in the legislative measures required by the Agreement as soon as is practicable, so this Bill is welcome.

[279] Almost two years ago the Irish people voted by an overwhelming majority to replace Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and that majority represented the will of the Irish people to create a society where tolerance would be a core value. I was not present for Nelson Mandela's speech last night, but those who were there were impressed by his presence and his speech. The latter was based on his absolute belief in the importance of dialogue, of listening to the other point of view and of examining one's own point of view. One must look to one's own position and how that must incorporate an understanding of others.

Perhaps we need to re-examine the lessons of the South African experience. We seem to be in the doldrums regarding our ability to move forward and embrace different traditions within the concept of Irishness. In debating this Bill and the Human Rights Commission Bill I hope we take the opportunity to embrace the concept of respect for others. We debated this matter fully at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, but perhaps it should now be revisited. I hope Nelson Mandela's visit to Ireland will be the spark that makes us embrace the contents of the Good Friday Agreement and that we can find a way past the current impasse.

The new Articles 2 and 3 as well as the new British measures bring us back to these concepts. It is important to have enough confidence in our own identity to respect the identity of others – Deputy Flanagan referred to this also. We need to think about what our identity is and not just take it for granted. These changes offer us that opportunity. The fact that those in the North can be British, Irish or both is one that invites people to examine their sense of themselves, not just to see themselves in one narrow tradition but as part of something bigger than either tradition.

We should look at some of the aspects of Irishness of which we are proud. We have developed some of them better in an atmosphere of freedom than in one of rigidity and coercion, which was probably the way in the past. For example, many people who went through the school system in the past developed a dislike of the Irish language because it was forced on them. Now, with the Gaelscoileanna and naíonraí, and there is a more open embracing of the language, which has helped it to develop positively. One could say the same about our music and dance which have been embraced throughout the world. We have also incorporated other traditions in the somewhat rigid traditions of the past, for example, through the world music centre in the University of Limerick which integrates Irish music with world music. These are examples of how being more open regarding our national identity lead to new responsibilities and possibilities. These issues are also arising in the deliberations of the constitutional review group which is also examining the concept of citizenship.

[280] We must examine what being a citizen entails and the rights and responsibilities it brings with it. The constitutional review group is looking at the broadening of the right to participate fully in the economic, social and cultural life of our country. I attended the opening of a Centre for Independent Living conference this morning where the concept of the right to citizenship of all our people will also be discussed. We need to make changes to incorporate this concept, which is probably broader than this Bill deals with. Nevertheless, these issues are important in examining Irish citizenship.

We must also examine the creation of a more tolerant society in the context of this legislation. While the genesis of this Bill is the necessity to create more tolerance in communities in the North, the reality is that the need for tolerance of difference has become greater throughout this island. It is worrying that racism has reared its ugly head in Irish society. It is crucial that we make every effort to create a pluralist society with tolerance of different cultures and traditions. If that was the objective of this Bill, I would be happy to accept it. However, unfortunately this Bill contains some weaknesses which must be addressed.

My Seanad colleague, Senator Ryan, cogently argued for a change in the Bill to allow spouses of Irish citizens the right to citizenship where couples have been married for a minimum of three years. At present, a non-national married to an Irish citizen is allowed the right to citizenship of this State once they fulfil the criterion of being married for three years. There is no discretion and this procedure is transparent and simple. However, this Bill introduces new complexities for non-nationals married to Irish nationals who are seeking citizenship. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is given complete discretion to decide whether a non-national spouse can obtain citizenship. Looking at the record of processing applications for asylum, I am not convinced this discretionary responsibility should be endowed on the Minister.

We live in an economy where skills are important. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are being invested in skills fairs and advertisements to lure Irish emigrants home to fill skilled job vacancies. This Bill fails to recognise that many of these people whom we exported with some relief in the 1980s when jobs were scarce, have met and married non-EU nationals. If this Bill is passed in its present form, will the Minister challenge these people when they enter the country? Will he go to Dublin, Shannon or Cork Airports to decide which married couples are given citizenship? The inclusion of this section is wrong. It undermines marriage where a non-EU national is involved. The Bill creates a situation where a couple considering marriage will be uncertain whether they will be allowed to live in Ireland or whether the non-national spouse will be able to obtain citizenship. This makes a mockery of our attempts to [281] lure Irish emigrants home, especially those who have married non-nationals.

Sometimes we are a little precious about our notions of citizenship and nationality. When it comes to awarding visas and permits, we operate an antiquated system. I agree with Deputy Flanagan that we need to be more open about why people are refused visas. This is in the interest of everyone involved, particularly the person concerned. Last December, my party Leader, Deputy Quinn, raised the case of an Algerian born Irish citizen, living here for 23 years, who was unable to secure a holiday visa for his mother. She had no intention of extending her stay beyond a holiday; she only wanted to visit her son, his wife and their new born baby. Her application for a visa was made in good faith, following all the appropriate procedures. The initial point blank refusal to grant her a holiday visa was inexplicable. I am happy to say that the woman in question, Mrs. Boulmeth, is now holidaying in Ireland. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform reviewed the case, thanks to the pressure applied by my party Leader and the undertaking he gave that she would return to Algeria.

The Boulmeth family should never have encountered such an obstacle. Mr. Boulmeth should not have been forced to consult his public representative or go on the national airwaves to express his anger at the refusal of a visa to his mother. I expect that parents of American born Irish citizens would not be subjected to the same treatment if they applied for a holiday visa to see their new born grandchild. This was not an isolated case. The Minister is aware that an increasing number of people have gained citizenship because they offer skills essential to this economy but are unable to secure citizenship for their spouses and children. As Deputy Flanagan asked, does the Government intend to look at this before it pursues the plans outlined by the Tánaiste and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to bring 2,000 people from abroad to fill job vacancies?

I hope the Minister will accept the points raised by Senator Ryan, Deputy Flanagan and me. He is afraid people will use all kinds of ruses to get into Ireland. Surely the Minister can see he is also excluding genuine couples who may be denied a right which should be given freely and supportively. I ask the Minister to look at this issue. He outlined the models available to us from other countries. It seems he is choosing the most restrictive model, both within and outside the EU. This Bill will exclude married couples who took their vows in good faith and who are not trying to get around the system. I ask the Minister not to throw the baby out with the bath water and to ensure that genuine married couples are not restricted by this legislation. This is important in the context of our past, when so many Irish people emigrated from necessity. They settled in the countries where they found work and integrated. Some of them have married and want to return and they should not have undue restric[282] tions placed upon them by this legislation. I support Deputy Flanagan regarding consultation, particularly with organisations abroad representing Irish people who may now be considering returning because of our economic circumstances.

When does the Minister expect this legislation, including the Human Rights Bill, which is due to come before the Justice, Equality, Defence and Womens' Rights Committee next week, will be passed? We obviously want to ensure that our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement are fulfilled in time. It is important that we indicate our support of the process and the efforts to overcome the difficulties in its progress.

We must revitalise our commitment, on both sides of the Border and in Britain, to recognising parity of esteem, which is a well worn phrase, and the fact that one can be a citizen of Britain or Ireland or both, as the wording in the British section of the Agreement states. I hope we will embrace a society which is not narrow in its outlook and which embraces concepts of citizenship which include many different kinds of people. This Bill gives us the opportunity to open this debate in a positive way. I hope to contribute in a positive way to moving the process forward in Northern Ireland.

Mr. C. Lenihan: I welcome the Bill, which is further evidence, if evidence is required, to all people on this island, particularly the parties in the North, of the continuing good faith and confidence of the Republic in regard to the Good Friday Agreement signed by the Taoiseach, the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and the participant political parties in the North. The passage of the Bill through the House, carefully stewarded by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is further evidence that this Republic is foursquare behind the Good Friday Agreement and the process that was ushered in by the initiation of the Hume-Adams dialogue, the groundbreaking first ceasefire and the subsequent ceasefires, most notably the one that was restored within a month of Fianna Fáil returning to Government, which had collapsed during a previous Government.

The Bill underlines the sheer economic and social confidence of this State, due to our successful economy and greater integration into a European polity. We are also developing a confidence about our nationality, which is second to none. We are ready, willing and able to share and be inclusive in our definition of nationality and citizenship. That is what the Bill is about. It is an act of good faith by the Republic and all parties in the House to implement the Good Friday Agreement, regardless of the division and lack of progress clearly evident by political parties in the North. It sends a very powerful signal to all involved that the Republic, the Government and, I hope, the Members opposite, share a common determination to push ahead with the implementation of those aspects of the Good Friday Agree[283] ment that can be implemented without the inclusive cross-party Executive and Assembly in place in the North.

Mr. Flanagan: The Deputy need not have any doubt about the Members opposite.

Mr. C. Lenihan: I have always held the view, which is not particularly fashionable, that we can and must pursue peace, politics and public service on the entire island, even if there is no Executive in the short or mid-term. If we cannot get an Executive and Assembly working in an appropriate manner, as required under the Good Friday Agreement, in the foreseeable future, the two sovereign Governments have certain obligations.

Let us remember the Government being established in the Six Counties under the Agreement is not sovereign in the true sense, in the way the British and Irish Governments are answerable and accountable to a sovereign Parliament. What is being established in the North, in terms of the Assembly and the Executive, is a slightly constrained form of Government which reflects the dysfunction at the heart of the putative democracy there. Let us keep those essentials to the forefront of our minds.

The two Governments must act and lead the way, in terms of the peace process. They must implement all aspects of the Agreement, irrespective of the failure to agree among the parties in the North. That is the obligation on the two Governments. I am glad to say we are taking up that obligation on this side of the House, in terms of the hard, practical implementation of various aspects of that Agreement.

It is important to emphasise this is not a plan B if the Good Friday Agreement fails and we cannot get the Executive up and running, which is how it is often depicted or characterised. This is plan A. The people of Ireland, North and South, participated in the most democratic vote ever carried out on this island on the vexed issue of whether we wish to be united and whether Nationalists and republicans want to be reconciled with Unionists and loyalists. That was the first time a formal ballot was held on the island of Ireland to determine the feelings, thoughts and beliefs of the Irish people, both Nationalist and Unionist, on their future relationship, which is inextricably bound up with each other's identities. The Governments are not reverting to a plan B if they continue to implement the Good Friday Agreement but are following plan A. It is legally and constitutionally obligatory on them do so.

As Mr. Justice Walsh said in regard to Articles 2 and 3, the Government is under a constitutional imperative to pursue the terms of the Good Friday Agreement fully and in the most pragmatic and speedy way possible. Mr. Justice Walsh said the Government was under a constitutional imperative, in relation to Articles 2 and 3, to purse Irish unity. It is a cornerstone of policy and a fundamental building block of our Constitution [284] that we, as a Republic, aspire to and work towards the unity we all desire.

We had a very difficult debate in this House and in the country in relation to the changes we undertook to make to Articles 2 and 3. They became a type of holy writ, for some people, that pointed the way to some mystical future unity. I am not sure whether the Articles had that effect. However, I am sure the new, amended version is, in some way, stronger and more reassuring. It underlines, as does this Bill, the concept of nationality being based, not on territorial concepts but on the concept of the people. The Latin term is respublica, which means “matters public”. A republic is not a republic if it defines itself as a nation which has nothing to do with the people. I think it was James Connolly who used the marvellous phrase, “Ireland without its people means nothing to me”. He was utterly correct in that regard.

The detail of the Bill fleshes out the huge and important impulse that lay behind the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. We must put the people of Ireland first, rather than territory or ideology. I described this loosely as combating the rival ideologies of Nationalism and Unionism. We should put those aside and put the people first. It was a great act of faith by the Irish people to agree to the changes to Articles 2 and 3. However, I am reassured by the fact that the Preamble, which sets out clearly the territorial scope and extent of the Irish nation, was not amended. The territorial aspect, therefore, has not been fully removed in that sense.

The Minister has taken the opportunity to include this more wide-ranging and inclusive definition of Irish citizenship in the Bill. It does not require people born in the North to make a formal declaration that they wish to be Irish citizens as they are automatically granted the right. It is merely a question of whether they want to exercise that right. That is how it should be.

The Minister, despite the exhortation from Deputy O'Sullivan, is correct to tighten up the issue of spouses not having an automatic right to Irish citizenship if they are non-nationals living abroad. It is sensible to have some level of residency requirement before extending citizenship to a non-national. It would be lovely to live in an ideal world. Deputy O'Sullivan painted a wonderful utopian picture of a world where we could extend citizenship to almost everybody—

Ms O'Sullivan: That is not true.

Mr. C. Lenihan: —a world of such inclusiveness and pluralism that we could open our doors to every refugee and non-national who wished to live here.

Ms O'Sullivan: That is a total distortion of what I said, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

[285] Mr. C. Lenihan: That undercurrent, is evident in much of the left wing pronouncements. There is that underlying philosophy and idea. It is a liberal idea and there is no point pretending it is not. It is a liberal notion and in many ways should be applauded were it not so naive. It assumes naively that Ireland is big enough to include everyone and because historically the Irish have had to emigrate we should open up our doors. That is the notion which underlines—

Ms O'Sullivan: Deputy Lenihan obviously was not listening to me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy O'Sullivan, allow Deputy Lenihan to continue without interruption.

Mr. C. Lenihan: I do not mind being interrupted, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, or indeed taking points of information or points of order. If Deputy O'Sullivan wishes to do that using the proper procedures of the House, I would be delighted to hear any interjections from her quarter.

We cannot be that naive. We must live in the real world. I think it was the master of the Rotunda who last year expressed significant surprise and concern that a significant number of late-term pregnant women are making the journey to Ireland by aeroplane or other means to become Irish citizens or, at least, to have citizenship conferred on the infant children who are born.

Mr. Flanagan: Airlines have regulations about that.

Mr. C. Lenihan: They may have regulations but the best airline or regulations cannot prevent somebody who is determined to break them.

Mr. Flanagan: This is the Deputy Callely wing of Fianna Fáil.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Unfortunately there is nothing which can be done about that because the Supreme Court has ruled that anybody born here automatically has a right to citizenship. There is no intention of changing that, but it is right to place a three year requirement of residence on a non-national. That is only proper and sensible. The Minister is not going out on a limb on this issue, or on his steadfast policies regarding people who seek political asylum here and how we should structure the welcoming of those people and the processing of their applications. There is of course a do-gooder tendency in Ireland which says that we should open the doors and bring in all of them. It is a wonderful thought but it is not particularly realistic in our circumstances.

However, I take seriously what Deputy O'Sullivan stated and she is correct in this regard. I do not want to sound too harsh or critical about her thinking, but she is right to warn, in the context of this debate—

[286] Ms O'Sullivan: On a point of information, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Lenihan is suggesting that I said something which I did not say. This broad-sweeping statement about what I said is not in accordance with what I actually said.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy O'Sullivan, you have corrected the record. Therefore, Deputy Lenihan may continue.

Mr. C. Lenihan: If I am building too much on Deputy O'Sullivan's contribution, I ask her to forgive me. If I have misinterpreted Deputy O'Sullivan, I truly apologise but I do not think I have misinterpreted her or, indeed, her party's policies. I do not believe I have misinterpreted the sharp criticism which has come from that side of the House regarding Deputy O'Donoghue's policies on refugee issues, asylum seekers and economic migrants who come here. I do not think I have misinterpreted that they tend towards the overgenerous and the over-inclusive on this issue. However, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there has been a change. This is not surprising as the Labour Party often engages in U-turns when it rejects previously ideologically laden policies in favour of new policies. It is quite common for that party to change its policies within a week.

Ms O'Sullivan: I must protest at the content of Deputy Lenihan's speech which has nothing to do with anything I said.

Mr. C. Lenihan: It is quite possible that, unknown to me, the Labour Party has again changed its policy and is perhaps now embracing the policies being enunciated by Deputy O'Donoghue on refugees and other issues, but I suspect not. I suspect it is still holding to the same old story.

Ms O'Sullivan: With respect, that has more to do with Fianna Fáil.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy O'Sullivan, I ask you not to interrupt the Deputy.

Mr. C. Lenihan: I do not believe that the policies have changed. They involve the same opportunism as last week.

Ms O'Sullivan: What are Fianna Fáil policies? Are they the same as those of the Minister and the Deputy?

Mr. C. Lenihan: Deputy O'Sullivan was correct to warn about statements or accounts on this issue which tend towards encouraging a public atmosphere of racism directed at vulnerable people who come here seeking to gain access and derive a livelihood for themselves in the most vulnerable and difficult circumstances. It is important that people in this House do not abuse the issue of citizenship and nationality and that we do not regressively go down the road of other European countries, which have strong policies.

[287] It is a remarkable tribute to the people who serve in this House and the party political system which is so often derided outside this House that there is no party that is represented in this House or seeking votes in this Republic which is seeking support nakedly on the grounds of racist sentiment. This is not the case in every other European democracy and that is a sad reality of European life. In almost every country there are parties which openly espouse racist policies on this vexed issue, yet in Ireland no party has advocated that as part of its policies. In that sense we are happily outside the European mainstream. That is a great tribute to the responsible leadership on this issue on all sides of the House.

However, I am worried that in recent weeks and months there has been a regrettable tendency to dramatically turn around this debate on the refugee issue and it should be stopped. As parliamentarians, irrespective of the parties from which we come, who represent people in the broadest sense, not just those who vote for us, we should stand up against people who use or invoke racist arguments to bolster rather tendentious propositions. We should condemn that practice.

This legislation is welcome. It is a timely occasion for all of us to reflect on the progress or lack of progress in the peace process. This process, which began with the Hume-Adams initiative, is irreversible. I do not know whether Deputy Ó Caoláin will agree with me on this – he may be more pessimistic than I am – but I remain an optimist. The peace process is essentially defined not in terms of a division between loyalists and republicans or between Unionists and Nationalists but between pessimists and optimists, people who are pessimistic about the future and those who are optimistic about the future for this island nation. I believe the optimists will win.

Most of the people who signed this Agreement did so in good faith. Some of them on the Unionist side have had difficulties and these are there for everyone to see. There is no point in exacerbating that situation, but it is quite obvious that the lack of leadership in the Unionist community and the division is the source of the present difficulties. There has been no lack of goodwill on the republican Nationalist side of the equation. The Government, the SDLP and even Sinn Féin have made their best efforts on the Agreement. They have engaged in a fulsome and appropriate way, but unfortunately they have come up against the rock of Unionist resistance, that is, plain unadorned “No Surrender”, no progress, “Ulster says No”. The “Ulster says No” tendency is still there. It has not gone away. It is still trying to hold up this venture and unfortunately Mr. Trimble appears to be the prisoner of that tendency at present. We shall just have to wait, but I do not believe that by waiting we are not losing out. The tide of history is with those who signed the Agreement, those who believe optimistically that this country and island nation has a future which is predicated by the notion of peace which will be [288] maintained, sustained by the two Governments, and those who are willing to participate.

I say this not out of a sense of menace but of genuine warning to the Unionist and Protestant community. They will lose out if they do not participate. In political or business matters, even with people who participate in public share offerings, the early joiners are always rewarded. Unfortunately the Unionist community is not an early joiner – it is not joining early and is not staying in. History has always proven that the people who do not move lose out more. I have a real fear that the Unionist community will lose out enormously on the international and Irish stages. The Six County State is a failed economic entity. It is hugely subsidised with two-thirds of the people either working directly or indirectly for the State. It is crying out and starving for investment which will not be forthcoming if this banjaxed, dysfunctional form of politics is maintained. That places a huge obligation on Nationalists and Unionists alike to sustain and improve the process.

It will not be a disaster if the Executive does not get up and running. We can still implement a great amount of things in the Good Friday Agreement and it may be possible for the two Governments to go beyond it. Some people have spoken about this in terms of joint sovereignty of some kind. That is a slightly provocative suggestion, but we can certainly intensify our co-operation and the North-South and East-West links without an Executive. However, it would be a tragedy to go down that road as it would mean a significant minority in the Unionist community had acted in a manner which essentially vetoed Unionist participation in the Good Friday Agreement. It is a tragedy with which we may have to live and we need to be cool headed and not hysterical.

We must assess the losses and gains in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and I would argue that the gains far outweigh the losses, a view which I hope is supported by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. There is a future for nationalism and republicanism on the island which simply did not exist prior to the Hume-Adams initiative. It did not exist in the 1970s and 1980s when, largely speaking, the British pursued a security policy based on a military strategy to resolve the vexed situation in the Six Counties and on the island of Ireland. That approach had been discontinued. I was very struck by Mr. Tony Blair's speech in the Chamber. I get a very powerful sense that the conflict is over as far as the British is concerned. I also get a strong sense from the pronouncements of Mr. Martin McGuinness and Mr. Gerry Adams that the conflict is over and that it is a question of how we tidy it up and responsibly move to a very bright democratic future together. I believe we will move to that future and we need to push ahead and prepare to build on the unity we all desire.

Those in the House who style themselves republicans believe in an unforced unity which can occur as a result of consent and persuasion. [289] The vehicle for persuasion is the Good Friday Agreement. Through its institutions and operation republicans and Nationalists working together on the island can build unity through a process of political and democratic persuasion. If the Good Friday Agreement is implemented it is not unrealistic to look at a timeframe of ten or perhaps 15 years in which a process of unification will occur, particularly after the introduction of a single currency.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We are debating the Bill three days after the second anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which was reached by the parties and the Governments on 10 April 1998. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform introduced the Bill in the Seanad in the wake of the establishment of the Executive and the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. It was a time of optimism which echoed that of Good Friday 1998, despite the inordinate delay between the endorsement of the Agreement by the people and the establishment of the key institutions.

The situation has changed for the worst since the introduction of the Bill in the Seanad. As a result of a side agreement between the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the British Government the institutions were collapsed unilaterally. This was in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish Agreement between the two Governments which was signed on the same day. The Taoiseach again acknowledged on Tuesday of this week in the House that this caused constitutional difficulties for the State. Speaking in the Dáil on 21 April 1998 on the debate on the Bill to amend Articles 2 and 3 the Taoiseach said:

The principle of consent is paramount. From now on everything will hinge on that. This represents a substantial change. Moreover, consent is now for the first time formally recognised to be a two-way process.

The Bill is based on the changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and the new Article 2.3 reads as follows:

Institutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those jurisdictions may be established by the respective responsible authorities for State purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island.

The two-way process referred to by the Taoiseach is explicit in this Article, but where was the consent and the two-way process in terms of the collapse of the institutions? It did not exist. The British Government alone, acting at the behest of Mr. David Trimble, brought down the whole political edifice so carefully constructed by both Governments and all the parties and endorsed by the people in referendums on both sides of the Border. The referendums were described by the Taoiseach in the same speech as “a concurrent [290] act of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole for the first time since 1918”.

We are in the present crisis because the British Government has granted a veto to the minority of Unionists who voted “no” in the referendum and has thus set at nought what the Taoiseach described as a concurrent act of self-determination. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the British Government repealed the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. However, the action of the British Government in suspending the institutions unilaterally shows that they regard section 75 of that Act to be still in force. Section 75 stated:

The supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland and every party thereof.

In the minds of the British Government it would seem that this piece of colonial legislation is still in force.

Where does this leave us in relation to this Bill? The people endorsed the new Articles 2 and 3 in a referendum. It is totally unacceptable that this act of good faith has not been reciprocated but has been disregarded. It is very important to make this point in the context of a Bill which arises from the changes to Articles 2 and 3. Having said that, I welcome the Bill in so far as it represents the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and asserts the entitlement and birth right of all born in Ireland to be part of the Irish nation and to be Irish citizens.

The provisions touch on the fraught area of the name of the State and the name of the island. In the republican political tradition, to which I belong, the State is often referred to as the 26 County State. This is a conscious response to the partitionist view prevalent for so long and still sadly widespread that Ireland stops at the Border. The Constitution says that the name of the State is Ireland, and Éire in the Irish language. Quite against the intentions of the framers of the Constitution, this has led to an identification of Ireland with only 26 of our 32 counties in the minds of many people. We see references to this in all walks of life – in the media, in organisations, in commercial life and even in education.

The creation of a sense of our common purpose and common citizenship of Ireland must be one of the aims of the peace process and is reflected in the all-Ireland ethos of the Good Friday Agreement. The Bill also contains provisions to ensure the entitlement of everybody born in Ireland to Irish citizenship. It allows people to hold both Irish and British citizenship and I put it on the record that I have no hesitation in welcoming this. I urge the Government to build on this legislation by agreeing to open a passport office in Belfast to facilitate citizens in the Six Counties. Surely the Passport Office is a prime candidate for decentralisation not only to Belfast but to other centres outside Dublin. Perhaps [291] offices could be located in the Six Counties, the Border region – Monaghan might be a live option in that respect – the midlands, Connacht and Munster. This is a logical and practical proposal which would greatly facilitate people and I urge the Government to act on it.

One of the key rights of adult citizens is the right to active participation in the political process. Irish citizens in the Six Counties are currently disenfranchised in that they are unable to avail of direct representation in the Irish Legislature. The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution has been considering proposals from my party and others whereby all those elected at parliamentary level in the Six Counties should be allowed to participate in the Dáil and all citizens, North and South, should have voting rights in referenda and presidential elections. I urge the support of members of all parties in this Chamber for that proposal and I also urge the Administration to act upon it and put it in place before it completes its term of office.

I turn to another aspect of the legislation which causes me not inconsiderable concern. I share the concern expressed in the Seanad about those aspects of the Bill regarding acquisition of citizenship by the spouses of Irish citizens. These should have been the subject of a separate Bill. It seems that the citizenship provisions, other than those directly arising out of Articles 2 and 3, represent far-reaching changes in the law which were not signalled before the publication of this legislation. There has been no public debate whatsoever on this.

I cannot at this stage explore the detail of the new provision on naturalisation but one aspect in particular is very worrying. We are moving from a situation where under existing legislation the non-national spouse of an Irish citizen has the right to citizenship subject to a number of conditions to one where the spouse can apply for citizenship, with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform having absolute discretion to grant or deny naturalisation. The Minister is not required to give reasons for refusal and the entire process is shrouded in secrecy.

When such powers are exercised in the context of a Department with an ethos of secrecy and which dominant element is concerned with policing, the potential for the abuse of civil rights is enormous, and here it is very much in the area of having to be seen to be transparent as much as acting in accordance with fair play. We have seen that in the Department's handling of the crucial issues of immigration and asylum. The Bill grants more powers to the Minister and the secretive sections of his Department, and that is a backward step. The entire area of immigration, asylum, citizenship and naturalisation should be taken out of the hands of this Department and made the responsibility of a new Government agency which would be open and transparent in its dealings with citizens and non-nationals alike. [292] These elements should have been the subject of this Bill.

Mr. B. Lenihan: I welcome the introduction of the Bill. I was very interested in Deputy Ó Caoláin's contribution. He rightly said that the Bill is part of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects, which has as its foundation the constitutional changes which were approved by the people in a referendum in May 1998. Without such constitutional change we would not be in a position to introduce the changes embodied in this legislation. I welcome the fact that Deputy Ó Caoláin made that comment because I must take from that an assertion by him on the record of the House that the changes in Articles 2 and 3 were good and meritorious and reflected the thinking and the consciousness of our people in relation to the age old problem on this island that they represented balanced constitutional change and accommodation which was worth voting for. I do not want to misrepresent him.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Deputy will do so anyway.

Mr. B. Lenihan: He rightly made his point in regard to the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, but I do not misrepresent the Deputy because he welcomed the Bill, which is necessitated by the provisions of the amendments to the Constitution and the British-Irish Agreement. I also welcome the changes in the law in this respect.

When citizenship is under consideration, it is important to remember that it is primarily a legal concept which identifies the person with a particular state. That has implications on the intentional and diplomatic plane as well as on the purely internal plane, which is the law of the State. The law of the State and the rights of citizens include rights of residence and to exercise the franchise. The franchise in regard to presidential elections and referenda is exclusively reserved to citizens because they have demonstrated their commitment to belong to the State and are entitled to alter the fundamental laws of the State and to elect the individual who is personified in the Constitution as the first citizen. All those matters are reserved to citizens.

While citizenship is something for which we must legislate and provide and it has domestic implications, there is also an international dimension. As has been pointed out repeatedly, in international practice there must be a genuine link between a person and the State seeking to protect the person before that person can be recognised as a citizen. In other words, there is an obligation on us in this House to ensure that those who are classified as citizens have some genuine link or connection with this State.

This leads to a second aspect of the Bill in regard to tightening naturalisation requirements because the Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot exercise diplomatic protection in respect of an [293] individual who does not have a genuine link with this State. Therefore, there is an obligation on us to ensure in international practice that a citizen of Ireland is someone whom we can protect on the international plane and about whom representations can be made to other states. That is one of the reasons the Minister must introduce the provisions for restrictions on naturalisation because there are abuses in relation to the acquisition of citizenship through marriage, which the Minister outlined. Every Member is aware that such abuses are taking place. Entering into a convenience marriage for the sole purpose of procuring Irish citizenship is an abuse and efforts by an Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs to protect such a person in another state could be objected to by the other state, leading to international embarrassment for Ireland. That is apart from whether we should be conferring rights within our own State on persons who engage in such abusive behaviour. That kind of abusive behaviour has been legislated for in other jurisdictions and there is no reason we should not legislate for it here. In fact, it is right and proper and consonant with our responsibilities as legislators that we should do so. I take those to be the two main matters of principle that arise in this legislation: one is the implementation of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the other is tightening up on naturalisation in the case of spouses and also in the case of defining residence in the State for the purposes of naturalisation.

I would like to return to our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement because Article 1 of the British-Irish Agreement contains an important clause. In clause (vi) the two Governments stated that they recognise the birthright of all of the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland. That was an important declaration by the two Governments in the context of citizenship, and I commended Deputy Ó Caoláin earlier for not making any criticism of the changes in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. The changes that were introduced to those Articles of the Constitution represented a real advance because they took place in the context of an agreement between the two Governments, which I have just outlined. For the first time, the Government of the United Kingdom recognised the right of people in Northern Ireland to be British or Irish or both. That allows our Government to protect such individuals on the international plane without any opposition or objection. That was a real advance at the time and that is the reason the revised Articles of the Constitution were appropriate and good.

I am dwelling on this point because I fear there is an undercurrent on the part of some who suggest that we were not right to amend those Articles of the Constitution in the light of the sus[294] pension which took place earlier this year. That is wrong. The changes were merited in their own right and have led to a real advance for the Irish Nationalist community of Northern Ireland where, for the first time, the United Kingdom Government has said solemnly on the international plane: “You can be Irish if you so wish and we entirely accept that”. That is now the position in international law. It has been implemented by our constitutional change in Articles 2 and 3 and it is now implemented as a matter of practical legislation in this Bill. That is a real, desirable advance. It is something I know all the parties in this House would welcome, and it is a very positive direction.

I noticed a reference in Deputy Ó Caoláin's contribution that the republican tradition to which he belongs is called a 26 county state. In the republican tradition to which I belong, this is not a 26 county state. It is a State that was established by a free act of the people in 1937 when they gave themselves a free Constitution for a free people. We are building on that through the Good Friday Agreement. This has never been a 26 county state. I repudiate that notion and I do not believe it should be let pass on the record of this House. This State was established by the Irish people in 1937 and it has been a functioning democracy ever since. The purpose of the Good Friday Agreement, as I understand it, is to extend that principle of consent and democracy throughout the island of Ireland.

There has been a growth of a partitionist mentality in this part of Ireland. That is inevitable given the political and geographic factors that obtain in the country but the fact remains that the Constitution that was adopted in 1937 always envisaged that the whole of Ireland would eventually be encompassed in an all-Ireland State. That aspiration is confirmed in the revised Articles 2 and 3 which are now in the Constitution and which formulate the aspirations of the Irish people in the language people identify with and understand after the terrible trauma we have been through with the troubles in Northern Ireland in recent decades. I welcome the Bill in so far as it is a practical measure in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The implementation of this Agreement, in all its aspects, will be a major advance for the Irish people.

Reference has been made to a veto which was granted to a section of the Unionists. Like any Irish Nationalist or republican, I deplore the fact that a veto would be given to any section of the Irish people but we have to build confidence in all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. For the first time since partition, we had a vote on the Good Friday Agreement which did not break down on rigid sectarian lines. We had a section of the Unionist population willing to co-operate with the Nationalist population. That section has to be nurtured, sustained and supported. Everyone in this House knows the tangible gesture that was required to advance that process, and that did not take place last January. [295] I do not want to descend into recrimination of one side or the other. We have to resume the work and try to implement this Agreement in all its aspects.

I have already touched on the other matter in the Bill – naturalisation requirements. It is a fair point to make that the entitlement of a non-national spouse to Irish nationality currently is a matter of right recognised in the citizenship legislation. That right is not being interfered with or abolished in the sense that those who have accrued rights under that provision will still have them. What is proposed is a change for the future where, in future, persons who wish to acquire Irish nationality through marriage will have to meet more strict requirements than have obtained up to now. The reason that has to be so was well set out in the contribution from the Minister this morning, and I have not heard anything from the Opposition benches to deny the phenomenon of the convenience marriage or the fact that we, as legislators, have a responsibility to deal with it. I know the matter can be examined on Committee Stage to see whether a greater degree of protection can be put in for what I might call the bona fide spouse, though one would not like to end up with a creature like the bona fide traveller of the old licensing code. I see discretion is being given to the Minster to waive requirements, and I suppose part of the understandable concern Deputies have about this provision is the delays that already obtain in existing naturalisation procedures and the reference that was made to the lack of transparency in the procedure. I share that reservation because we are dealing with a core legal concept.

I notice that in the provision the Minister has proposed, the spouse will now have to make a declaration of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State in the District Court on the conclusion of the naturalisation. That was always the case with the alien who sought naturalisation, or the non-national, as aliens are now being designated under the legislation, but it is now being imported for the spouse as well. They have to swear fidelity to the nation – I think the words are taken from Article 9 of the Constitution – and of course the nation has been redefined as people, not territory, as we are told all the time. It is interesting that that has been included. I do not agree with the idea that it should be an agency but should some independent officer who is seen to act in a judicial or quasi-judicial way be put in charge of the implementation of this type of legislation? Inevitably, one should begin to spell out in detail the provisions of naturalisation. There will be recourse to the courts, judicial review proceedings will be instituted and the courts will interpret this provision anyway so one might be better off having a definite person at the start, who is seen to be outside the administrative structure, making an adjudication on it. I accept that would be a major administrative change. I accept that we have had political scandal and dispute in [296] this House about the granting of naturalisation in the past, and there is no doubt accountability to this House is a valuable safeguard. Questions can be asked. We lose that power as a House if we take that power away from the Minister and grant it to a judicial personage. The only administrative options are a judicial personage operating openly and seen to operate openly in terms of implementing the legislation with defined standards and criteria of the present arrangement of ministerial accountability. It would not be desirable to put in place some kind of administrative agency which would operate in private.

I welcome the Bill and its provisions. It is a sensible measure and I congratulate the Minister for his promptness in bringing it forward.

Mr. Currie: I may be wrong but, as far as I am aware, I am the only Member of the House who is directly and personally affected by the proposed legislation because I am the only Deputy who was born north of the Border. I accept that the mother of another Deputy may have found it convenient to travel to a hospital in Northern Ireland, particularly Derry, for example, to give birth to her child, but I am not aware that such an event took place.

Concern among Northern Nationalists about Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I was growing up as a Nationalist in Northern Ireland, we rarely concerned ourselves about Articles 2 and 3. We never questioned our Irish nationality except when it was denied to us by the British authorities. Consider, for example, what happened when attempts were made to register the births of two of my brothers and one of my sisters. When my parents indicated that they wished to register one of my brothers under the name Seán they were informed that the name did not exist in Northern Ireland. As a result, my brother, who has been called Seán all his life, is referred to as John on his birth certificate.

A year or so later, when my brother Séamus appeared my parents went to register his birth and they were again informed at no such name existed in Northern Ireland. When asked what was the English equivalent of the name, my parents replied “James” and, as a result, he who, until his death at 52 years of age, was always called Séamus but was officially known as James. When my parents, who still did not get the point, at a later stage attempted to register the birth of my sister Mairead they were informed that no such name was recognised in Northern Ireland. They were again asked to supply the English equivalent but they could not do so. As a result, my sister Mairead is known as “Margaret Mary” on her birth certificate.

Our concern, as Northern Nationalists, revolved around asserting our national rights in Northern Ireland. We did not believe there was any problem as far as asserting our national rights on the island of Ireland was concerned, we took those rights for granted. My attitude and that of [297] the people with whom I would have discussed this matter was that our Irish nationality existed before partition, it existed under the Free State, it existed under the de Valera Constitution and it continued to exist at the time in question. We did not recognise any difficulty in respect of our nationality.

Unionists identified a difficulty, however, because many of them did not want to be described as being Irish. I understand their political objections to that. However, in my case and that of the great majority of nationalists it was not an issue until comparatively recent times when the question arose in relation to the deletion of or changes to Articles 2 and 3. At that stage, people began to inquire if there would be a diminution of their national rights and their right to be considered, under the law, as Irish.

People who had not only shown no great love for the 1937 Constitution but who had been opposed to it, suddenly began to show an interest in this matter. I have difficulty in using the word “republicans” because I have always considered myself to be a republican. When I use that word I am usually referring to people who are extreme Nationalists or people who verge on the use of force to bring about or prevent political change. I do not remember people of that frame of mind stating that they supported the de Valera Constitution or Articles 2 and 3. It is only recently that some of them have become almost obsessed with Articles 2 and 3. I have not ever harboured such an obsession.

To be absolutely fair, I must also state that I did not expect to see a day when people of that political viewpoint would march through the streets of Belfast with placards demanding the return of Stormont and institutions in Northern Ireland to which they have been opposed, since partition. Changes take place all the time and some of them one welcomes while there are others about which one has reservations. In this instance, I welcome the changes that are taking place.

The Unionists strongly objected to being called Irish and I understand their reasons. However, in more recent times, Nationalists in Northern Ireland began to focus on Articles 2 and 3 and the possibility that they might be removed or changed out of fear that their right to be considered as Irish would be, to some extent, diminished.

As Deputy Brian Lenihan stated, since our country was divided what I have referred to on a number of occasions as a “partitionist mentality” has developed in this State. I have many good reasons for being aware of this mentality. An example of it arose in this House when a particular remark was directed towards me. The person who made the remark did not have the courage to admit that he had made it, which showed the strength of his convictions. During the presidential election in which I was a candidate, one of the main speakers at the final Fianna Fáil rally in O'Connell Street referred to the fact that Fine [298] Gael had to go the “whole way to County Tyrone” to attract a candidate. It was not just the distance involved to which that person was referring. I and others who listened to his remarks knew what that individual, a so-called republican, was really saying.

I am subjected to such treatment all the time. During that presidential election campaign, the allegation was made that I was a British citizen who was entitled to a British passport and should not be standing for the Presidency of Ireland. I did not ever apply for a British passport, despite the fact that I was legally entitled to do so. I still get that type of suggestion, that given where I come from and my accent, I should not concern myself with issues here. When the issue arose with regard to Articles 2 and 3, many Northern Nationalists wondered if it represented a threat to their nationality in view of the partitionism which had grown in the Republic.

I wish to pose one fundamental question. Will the passing of this legislation in any respect change the position of Northern Nationalists in relation to their nationality? Is there any way a person like me, born in Coalisland, will be treated differently from a person born in Dublin, Kerry, Galway or elsewhere in this jurisdiction? If we are to be treated differently because we were born in “the sundered part of our country”, I would have serious reservations about the Bill. Anybody who considered themselves Nationalist or republican would have serious reservations about it. The central issue, as far as I am concerned, is whether Northern Nationalists, as a result of being born in the North, will be treated differently from any other Irish man or woman born elsewhere on this island. I am anxious for an answer to that question.

I take for granted that no question will arise in relation to people born in the North standing for election to Dáil Éireann or for election to the Presidency. Two people have done the latter in recent times, one successfully. It also happened in 1947 or 1948 and the issue did not arise then either. I take for granted that it will not arise in the future. As a republican, I would like to see people from Northern Ireland elected for constituencies in Northern Ireland taking their places in this House, being full Members of the House, participating fully in the political process, being members of the Government and being equal to all other Members of the House. Those circumstances have not yet arisen, but there is a process where, hopefully, it might happen in the not too distant future.

During the debate on the Good Friday Agreement I reminded the House of the wise words of the late Cardinal Conway. After the power-sharing executive came into existence in 1974 he was asked what effect it would have on Northern Catholics and, given that there was a possibility of them getting a fair crack of the whip for the first time, whether it would mean that they would accept over a period of time remaining in a Northern Ireland that was separate or if they [299] would be encouraged to demand a united Ireland. The Cardinal replied that he would leave the answer to that question to history, and I hold a similar position.

There is nothing inevitable about this process. People have the right to choose and I would not predict what the situation might be in ten, 20, 50 or 100 years' time except to say how much I abhor the suggestion put forward by certain people, one in particular, that this problem might be sorted out by what is described as the demographic process. That process effectively means outbreeding or what I sometimes call the “rabbit theory” of politics. I hope I am not around the day there is a majority of one or ten, or whatever other number. It would mean a most unstable country and an unstable Northern Ireland.

The presence of Deputies representing Northern constituencies obviously is not a matter for the Dáil at present. In any case, the presence of such people in this House would make for an unstable political situation in this part of the island as well as in the North. However, that is down the road. I strongly believe, nevertheless, that Northerners should have the right to vote in presidential elections. The Presidency is a different matter in that it symbolises the 32 counties and represents Ireland for our emigrants. There is a strong argument for everybody in the 32 counties and emigrants having a right to vote in presidential elections. I acknowledge, more than most because of my practical experience of Northern politics, that safeguards would have to be put in place. There has been substantial abuse of the electoral process in Northern Ireland over the years, to an extent which is not recognised by most people. That would have to be dealt with. That said, we should proceed in that direction.

I conclude with the question I posed earlier and the answer will decide my attitude to this legislation. I am seeking comprehensive reassurance from the Minister in words that cannot be misinterpreted not just for myself but for others who were born in Northern Ireland and for those who will be born there. Does this legislation in any respect differenciate between our position and that of people born elsewhere on this island? I hope the Minister will reassure me that there will be no difference.

Mr. Ardagh: I do not have the knowledge or experience of Deputy Currie with regard to Northern Ireland but it is incumbent on all elected representatives, particularly Members of the Dáil, to encourage the members of all parties to make an extra effort as we approach Good Friday 2000 to put the final blocks in place to attain the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement was arrived at on Friday, 10 April 1998. The agreement was based on the principles of acceptance of diversity, mutual respect, equality and the democratic consent of the people to the political structures which [300] govern them. Under the agreement both Governments committed themselves to balanced changes in their constitutional provisions so the future status of Northern Ireland would be based on the wishes and consent of the people living there, not on the claims of the Governments. The people are sovereign. It is not a case of the Government deciding to draw an area on a map. The people will make the decision. On 22 May 1998 the people of Ireland, North and South, resoundingly endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. In Northern Ireland over 71% of the people voted in favour while over 94% voted in favour in the South. The combined result meant that over 85% of the people, North and South, together for the first time since 1918, voted and decided their political future.

The Minister said it was not a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to decide whether to take Irish or British citizenship. They can take both citizenships. Young people today travel the world and go to Berlin, Washington or Istanbul as we went to Galway or Cork. It will be of benefit to them to hold a British passport in certain countries and an Irish passport in others. A pragmatic view will be taken.

I respect people like Deputy Currie who have come up the hard way, but the young people of today will not look at feuds over security problems, nor at the people who have been hurt or have suffered so greatly because they will not have been born in those times. They will look to the future and to developing their social and economic positions.

I hope time will cure many things. While some people are not prepared to say the war is over, it is over. The young people see it that way and are acting on that basis. Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain have a good future.

Article 2 of the Constitution reformulates the old Article 2. It provides that by one's birthright one is entitled to citizenship of Ireland. If one is born on the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, one is entitled to citizenship. Previously people would have had to declare they were Irish citizens or produce birth certificates. Now they are citizens of Ireland as of right, or they are citizens of Britain, or of both, if they so desire. I believe many young people, today and in the future, will declare they are citizens of both Ireland and Britain because it will be of benefit to them to do so.

The people are now sovereign. A person born in Ireland is now a citizen of Ireland. This will be dictated not by the Government but by the fact that he is a person in his own right in that country. The new Article 2 creates an entitlement and birthright for every person born in Ireland. A person born in Ireland does not have to produce any documentation in this respect. If he does any act which only an Irish citizen can do it will demonstrate an entitlement is being exercised by him. However, the absence of such an act does not [301] mean that the person is not an Irish citizen – the entitlement is always there.

People born in Northern Ireland will no longer have to go through the extra procedures in asserting their Irish citizenship, which has obtained up until now. Hitherto, one either had to make a declaration of Irish citizenship or produce birth certificates of parents and grandparents. This was something people born in the 26 counties did not have to do and, now, the people of all of Ireland will not have to do it. This also respects the desire of those people born in Northern Ireland who do not wish to be regarded as Irish citizens automatically – because one is born in Ireland one does not necessarily have to be a citizen of Ireland. One can, if one wishes, only be a citizen of the UK.

Irish people put huge value on their citizenship, on the passport and the fact that they are Irish. In many African countries, for example Zambia, if one is Irish a visa is not required. By contrast British citizens must have visas to visit Zambia. There are, therefore, strong reasons to protect the value of that citizenship and passport.

Anybody who wants an Irish passport should demonstrate that it is of value to them and should earn it. The position regarding post-nuptial citizenship, whereby residency of three of the previous five years with the last year being one of continuous residence, puts the type of value on the citizenship and passport that the people of Ireland believe it has. Perhaps I misunderstand the provisions regarding the time required for residence, but if an asylum seeker turns out to be a genuine refugee and obtains refugee status in Ireland the length of time since the person escaped from persecution or the threat of death or whatever, and has been in Ireland should be taken into account for the purposes of residency qualification.

We are going through a quantum change in the geo-political structure in Ireland. It is probably the most important change for 100 years. I want to be part of that change as a Member of the Dáil and I want to encourage those who are participating actively in all negotiations to try to use this Bill, and Easter especially, as a catalyst to gain momentum to try and bring finality to the negotiations and to put the Good Friday Agreement into force.

Mr. Finucane: I rarely speak on Northern Ireland issues because I leave it to people who have probably a greater grasp of the subject. I think especially of Deputies Currie, Flanagan and John Bruton in my party who have followed events very closely. However, having followed this debate I wish to speak because I have been very impressed with the maturity of the contributions. I see how much we have advanced as a nation and I hope the maturity we display on this issue will be paralleled in the North of Ireland.

I especially hope people there listened to the words of Nelson Mandela. I watched him on television last night. I believe he mentioned the word [302] “compromise”. That is probably the most relevant word to apply to this context. I doubt if we would have got this far if all those involved in the peace process had not compromised. I compliment previous Taoisigh, such as Deputies John Bruton and Albert Reynolds and former Deputy Garret FitzGerald, and the current Taoiseach for the way they advanced the peace process. There was a great feeling of exhilaration and elation two years ago when the Good Friday Agreement came into place. Great maturity was displayed when 95% of the South accepted that Agreement. Many people I spoke with recently expressed disappointment that one of the central tenets of that Agreement, decommissioning, never took place. Given the vacuum which exists, there is no point in the people in the North becoming involved in the blame game which is what is happening in some areas there. They must display maturity if the process is to be put back on the rails again.

Many of us saw an exciting dimension to what evolved under the Good Friday Agreement, especially when the Executive was in place and we saw Ministers working and having parallel talks with Ministers from the South. Given the current European economic scene, it is artificial for people to behave like backwoodsmen and, instead, they should show a sense of maturity. We in this country and people in the North have seen developments such as electricity interconnectors, and a gas interconnector has been suggested. In my area of marine, during the discussions on quotas last December, there was a close association between Bríd Rodgers, the Minister from the North with responsibility in this area, and our then Minister, Deputy Woods, to try to ensure the best possible package was achieved for both communities, North and South. On that basis, exciting times can lie ahead if we pull together. Articles 2 and 3 were often a mantra for Fianna Fáil. It showed maturity when it was prepared to relinquish what it saw as a central plank of its policy as part of the Good Friday Agreement to ensure maximum co-operation on both sides of the Border.

Regarding naturalisation and citizenship, it surprises me the difficulties people from non-EU countries who are resident here for many years and who almost regard themselves as Irish have in obtaining Irish citizenship. If a trawl was made through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, how many applications for citizenship would be found which have been on file for more than five years? The health service has benefited from the experience of specialists and doctors from faraway countries who work in it. To what degree is gratitude for that extended to them when they subsequently apply for naturalisation because they want to become Irish citizens? In that situation, scant recognition is shown or acknowledgement made of the great contribution they make and will continue to make to our health service. Deputy Ardagh spoke of our pride in our passports and citizenship and the world[303] wide recognition accorded to them. That is true, and people who come to this country will believe, after some time, that they will have earned citizenship. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, rightly believes that, unless we import people with skills which are scarce here to fuel the tiger economy, we may not reap the gains of that economy in future. Therefore, if people with such specialist skills want to become citizens after a while, appropriate recognition should be given to their skills and contribution. I do not know if the Aliens Act is still in operation but, if it is, the term “aliens” should be scrapped. It has an outer space dimension and is neither suitable nor relevant to the year 2000.

Many people were critical at the time of the passports for sale scheme. The criticism was deserved because it was recognised that there was abuse of the system. I know the Government made a decision in 1998 to abolish the scheme. However, there are some companies which, but for the bona fide investment made at the time, would not exist today. I remember researching similar schemes, with a US intern assigned to me, in other European countries and in Canada and Australia. They had a different approach. They used the scheme to maximise opportunities for their countries. Despite the excesses and abuses of the scheme which were well publicised, perhaps there is a danger that we threw out the baby with the bathwater in abolishing the system. While there were abuses, bona fide investments were made at the time which led to long-term sustainable jobs.

I read the Seanad debate on this Bill. Senator O'Donovan said that we were over Beecher's Brook on this issue. Naturally there was a feeling of exhilaration in December 1999 when we appeared to be making good progress.

Mr. O'Donoghue: I wish my horse had got as far.

Mr. Finucane: We probably all shared the Senator's views at the time but, given what has happened since, it is clear we are not over Beecher's Brook yet and, in fact, are a long way from it. I hope we can make up the deficiency and try to advance further. I wish well those involved in the process. I know there must be a delicacy with the words used.

I compliment the Opposition parties on their behaviour since the Good Friday Agreement came into place two years ago. We have always operated constructively to ensure the fragile flower we are trying to grow to full bloom is not damaged. Recognition should be given to that and it is accorded in the right places. Our party will always adopt a constructive approach to the peace process.

There is a need for the Executive to be put back in place and for ministerial involvement. We need to run again with the ball which has been [304] dropped because of the vacuum which exists. Such a vacuum can be damaging if it continues for too long and, despite the gains and advances made, we can often take retrograde steps. I am concerned about that and I hope, as we enter the Easter period which has emotive connotations on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, we can get the peace process back on track and continue the great advances made in the past. I wish everyone involved good luck and good fortune.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I thank all Deputies for their thoughtful contributions to the debate. I acknowledge the general acceptance by the House of the principal provisions of the Bill and note the reservations expressed in some contributions regarding certain aspects. The debate ranged broadly over the general area of citizenship and touched on some matters of relevance to the Bill. I could not hope to deal extensively with all the points raised but I will attempt to deal with the more salient ones in my closing contribution. Other points will undoubtedly give rise to discussion on Committee Stage when we go into a greater level of detail on the various provisions. It is fair to say there is no more public forum than the Houses of the Oireachtas in which to consider and hold wide-ranging debates on legislative proposals. I cannot accept that there is any foundation to Deputy Flanagan's assertion that the proposals contained in this legislation have been brought forward surreptitiously. They are in the Bill for all to see, comment on and debate in whatever public or private forum they wish to. I cannot think of a more public forum in which this legislation could have been debated than these Houses but if Deputy Flanagan can, perhaps he will let me know.

As to the extent of public concern about the Bill, I am aware of a small number of e-mails based on what I would describe as a misleading article in a publication read by many Irish nationals living abroad. Following the receipt of replies which explained what is actually proposed in the Bill, all of the correspondents, without exception, welcomed the proposals.

The naturalisation process, as one of the matters concerning the relationship between non-nationals and the State, is a discretionary function of the Executive arm of the State, the responsibility for which is vested in the Minister for Justice of the day. That position is frequently affirmed by the courts and was most recently affirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of Laurentiu versus Ireland which involved the supposed deportation of a failed applicant for asylum.

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 to 1994, give the Minister absolute discretion in naturalisation matters. That absolute discretion implies that even if an applicant meets the criteria for naturalisation set out in the Act, it does not follow that the Minister must grant naturalisation. Any other arrangement would change the nature of naturalisation from a privilege bestowed on the [305] applicant to a right. I stated on many occasions in the Seanad that this does not absolve the Minister of the day from being required to follow fair procedures in considering people's applications for naturalisation.

The 1956 Act and the amending legislation of 1986 were, if my memory serves me correctly, both proposed and enacted under Governments of which the Fianna Fáil Party was not a member. The concept of ministerial discretion is at the heart of the naturalisation provisions of that legislation and, although it was enacted by a Government of which Deputy Flanagan's party was a member, there were good reasons for it.

Deputy Flanagan suggested that the manner in which we have granted citizenship has been mean minded or secretive. There is no evidence to support this claim in respect of any Minister from any party and that assertion will withstand the closest scrutiny.

Mr. Flanagan: Why will the Minister not publish the reasons people are not granted citizenship?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Our procedures are fair and detailed consideration is given to individual cases. The names of those who are granted citizenship are printed in the Government publication, Iris Oifigiúil for all to see.

Mr. Flanagan: What about the people who are not granted citizenship?

Mr. O'Donoghue: This legislation, unlike the policy document recently published by the Fine Gael Party, does not advocate the imposition of language and history on applicants for naturalisation.

In response to points raised by Deputies O'Sullivan and Flanagan, I make it clear that the termination of the post-nuptial citizenship scheme will not adversely affect the situation of non-national spouses in terms of their joining their Irish spouses in this State. We have well established immigration procedures which secure the admission of non-national spouses of Irish nationals. It is not a requirement that a non-national spouse must obtain citizenship before joining the Irish spouse here. Current immigration arrangements recognise the special position of non-national spouses of Irish citizens. Such spouses, regardless of their own nationality, are not required to hold work permits before entering the employment market. Immigration limitations do not operate to inhibit non-national spouses seeking to come to the State and I assure Deputies that in the immigration and residence Bill, currently being drafted in my Department to replace the Aliens Act of 1935 and its associated orders with a modern and sensitive code of immigration law, the immigration status of non-national spouses of Irish citizens will be reaffirmed.

[306] Deputy Flanagan referred to the aliens section of my Department. No such section has existed since my former colleague, Mrs. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, was appointed as Minister for Justice in the early 1990s. The immigration and citizenship division of my Department provides a service to non-nationals involving, among other matters, a large volume of visa applications which are dealt with in an expeditious fashion in order to facilitate inward movement into the State. The division also deals with applications for citizenship in liaison with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Garda Síochána.

If Deputy Flanagan is concerned about the physical surroundings in which callers to the Department are dealt with, he will be delighted to hear that moves are afoot to refurbish the St. Stephen's Green premises. The premises are not being refurbished to make them visually attractive to Deputy Flanagan, rather it is a matter of practicality.

Mr. Flanagan: Consumer friendly.

Mr. O'Donoghue: In regard to a point raised by Deputy O'Sullivan, I do not agree that our citizenship laws should become solely a tool of economic policy. It would not be appropriate to use citizenship as a carrot to recruit people to come to work in this country. As far as spouses are concerned, I made it clear in the Seanad that non-national spouses of Irish nationals in genuine marriages do not have anything to fear from this legislation. There is no bar to a non-national married to an Irish spouse coming to live and work in this State. Those who are already married and living abroad will benefit from the transitional provisions of section 4(2) of the Bill.

I acknowledge Deputy Flanagan's point in regard to non-nationals. His suggestion that the term “non-national” should be replaced by the term “applicant” raises the question of who an applicant is for the purposes of the Bill and leads us back to the requirement to define those who are not Irish citizens. If Deputy Flanagan has a better solution than the one I have come up with, I will be very pleased to hear from him. In that context, I look forward to any amendments he may table on this matter. I feel certain that having laid out his stall and being the sensible and logical man he is, he will table a coherent amendment to replace the term “non-national”. I have explained why the term “applicant” cannot be used. Deputy Flanagan seems to have indicated that he is in a position to come up with something better than “non-national”.

Mr. Flanagan: The term “applicant” is better.

Mr. O'Donoghue: The term cannot be used because it brings us back to the beginning as we must define who is an applicant for the purpose of this legislation. I understood that Deputy Flanagan intended to come up with a more original term than “applicant”. For obvious reasons, I do [307] not want to use the term “alien”, which derives from the Aliens Act, 1935. We would be delighted to hear from Deputy Flanagan if he can come up with a term which is preferable to “non-national”.

As to the progress of legislation arising under the Good Friday Agreement, I remind Deputies of the extensive legislation which has already been enacted by the Oireachtas and on which the North-South bodies are based. The legislation regarding the human rights commission was introduced in Bill form, following extensive consultation with interested persons and bodies. I understand the legislation is currently before a committee of the House. I am in the hands of the House in regard to how speedily the Bill is progressed although I obviously want to progress it as quickly as possible.

This Bill was necessitated by the new Articles 2 and 3 of the 1937 Constitution. Those Articles came into effect on 2 December when the Taoiseach signed the declaration. The Bill was published within half an hour of the declaration being signed. It has already been through the Seanad where there was extensive debate on it. I look forward to an expeditious and fruitful passage of the legislation through this House.

Section 9(3) provides that the relevant provisions will be effective from 2 December 1999. I take issue with Deputy Ó Caoláin's characterisation of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as secretive and primarily concerned with policing matters. It is true the Department is concerned with policing matters, but it also deals with the courts, prisons and a wide area of law reform.

To be fair to all the people who worked there, a casual glance at the list of statutes produced by the Department over the past 40 years gives the lie to the narrow view which is being taken by Deputy Ó Caoláin in this respect. The Civil Liability Act, 1961, the Succession Act, 1965, the groundbreaking family law legislation of the 1970s, the Status of Children Act, 1986, the Domestic Violence Act, the Employment Equality Act, the more family-orientated and innovative measures which have been enacted by the House and measures currently before the House, such as the Human Rights Commission Bill and the Equal Status Bill, all emanated from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. These are just samples of the legislation which has been produced by the Department over the decades. Among them are pearls of wisdom and beacons of light by which society has moved forward. Criticism such as that which has been levelled by Deputy Ó Caoláin, who admittedly has only been in the House for a short time, is entirely unwarranted and desperately unfair, not only to the officials working in the Department but also to successive Ministers for Justice.

In relation to Deputy Ardagh's point regarding those persons recognised as refugees under the Geneva Convention, 1951, the Minister may exer[308] cise his or her powers under section 16(g) of the Act of 1986 to grant a certificate of naturalisation where all the conditions for naturalisation have not been met. In practice, this option is often exercised by Ministers to accept applications for naturalisation after three years' residence rather than the normal one year's continuous residence in the State prior to the application and the four years' residence in the eight years prior to that period. This is, of course, only proper and can greatly assist the integration of the people concerned.

With regard to the contribution of Deputy Finucane, as the Deputy well knows, on 20 April 1998 the Government actually abolished the investment-based naturalisation scheme which had commenced in 1989. In so doing, the Government decided that I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, should initiate a review of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, to see how it might facilitate investment and that if in the course of that review information emerged which would warrant legislative measures, I should consider this.

To assist me in conducting that review, which was called for by the Government, I established a review group on investment-based naturalisation comprising representatives of my Department, who chaired the group, the Departments of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and two experts from outside the public sector, Mr. Desmond Miller, a chartered accountant, and Mr. Diarmuid McGuinness, senior counsel.

The review group will report to me in the near future and it is my intention to publish the report. Although the scheme has been abolished, a review is under way to see whether it can contribute to the economy in future in some different way. In the meantime, there are some remaining cases which were in the pipeline at the time of the abolition of the scheme and which are still being processed to finality.

Deputy Currie asked whether there will be a difference in treatment between those born in the North and those born in the South. The answer is no. As far as entitlement to citizenship is concerned and entitlement to seek election to either House of the Oireachtas or to the Presidency, there is no difference. The Bill removes a procedural difference in treatment between those born in the North and those born in the South. At present a person born in the North wishing to assert Irish citizenship must either make a declaration of Irish citizenship or else show, usually by producing the birth certificates of parents and grandparents, that he or she is an Irish citizen anyhow. This anomalous provision has been regarded by many in the North of Ireland, who see themselves as Irish citizens, as discriminating between them and Irish citizens born in the State. Section 3 will get rid of that procedure.

Mr. Currie: Will the Minister give me the assurance which I asked for and which I said was fun[309] damental? In legal terms, in relation to Irish nationality, is there a difference between a person born in Coalisland and one born in Cahirciveen?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It might be more appropriate to raise that on Committee Stage.

Mr. Currie: I posed that question and I expect an answer because it is fundamental. What is the difference? I hope there is no difference. Is there a difference between—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I think that is a matter for Committee Stage and I suggest that the Deputy should leave it until then.

Mr. Currie: It is fundamental, Sir, as you ought to know.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Yes, but that is why I feel it would be better dealt with on Committee Stage where there is an opportunity to tease it out.

Mr. Currie: It is fundamental.

Mr. O'Donoghue: It is. I have already said that basically if one is to take away all the niceties, the answer to Deputy Currie's question is no. There is no difference between a person born in Coalisland and one born in Cahirciveen, except that the person born in Cahirciveen would get to play for Kerry.

Mr. Currie: The Minister mentioned dispensing with the niceties, but they are important.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on that now.

Mr. O'Donoghue: If one gets to play for Kerry, as you will know, one has a better chance of wining an All-Ireland senior football medal.

Mr. Currie: The Kerry selectors have the Army and Garda to pick from, which is important.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If the Minister addressed his remarks through the Chair he might not provoke interruptions.

Mr. O'Donoghue: That is fair enough. Deputy Currie also asked if there will be a difference in treatment between those born in the North and those born in the South. The answer again is no. There is no difference as far as entitlement to citizenship or entitlement to seek election to either House of the Oireachtas or to the Presidency is concerned. As I have said, the Bill removes the procedural difference between those born in the North and those born in the South. I have explained that position as well as I possibly can. I have also responded to the Deputies concerned in so far as that was possible.

Question put and agreed to.

[310] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I understand it is proposed to refer this Bill to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. Does the Minister wish to move the motion of referral?