Seanad Éireann - Volume 138 - 10 November, 1993
Refugee Protection (No. 2) Bill, 1993: Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: For the information of the House, the Second Stage of this Bill is being treated in the same manner as a non-Government motion. I understand times were to be agreed by the Whips. Is that correct Senator Mullooly?
Mr. Mullooly Mr. Mullooly
Mr. Mullooly: It was agreed by the Whips that the proposer should have 25 minutes. If it was a Private Members' motion, there would be 15 minutes for the proposer and ten minutes for the seconder. We have agreed that the proposer should have 25 minutes.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the speech of the proposer shall not exceed 25 minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy O'Dea, to the House. In October 1990 a young Chinese student, Mr. Lau, who had joined the huge demonstration for democracy in China, arrived in Ireland having escaped arrest, been accused of treason and tortured. Instead of being treated humanely when he arrived in this State seeking asylum, he was detained for seven months in Mountjoy. Subsequent to his release the Minister for Justice determined that he did not qualify for recognition as a refugee and no public explanation was given for this.
 On a Friday in November 1990 four Sri Lankans arrived and sought political asylum, but they were deported by the following Tuesday. On the same day two more Sri Lankans arrived and they were deported two days later, despite the civil difficulties and political unrest in their country. In one week the Department of Justice had returned them to India without taking any action to ensure that they would not be sent to Sri Lanka from India or that their safety would be guaranteed.
At a time when we agree to admit to this country a number of Bosnian refugees, a lone refugee from Yugoslavia, who did not belong to the main group, arrived unannounced and sought political asylum. He was flown to Paris before any consideration was given to his application. When the full details of his story became known, the Government had to agree to his return to Ireland and had to give him permission to remain here.
There were extraordinary scenes in Shannon Airport 12 months ago when a large number of Kurdish refugees were physically forced back on a plane to Canada. Individuals who were concerned about their plight and who wished to ensure that they had access to legal help were not allowed to get involved at Shannon Airport. The refugees were forced out of the country before their position could be independently clarified.
On 28 July 1993 the Human Rights Committee, established under Article 40 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reported its concern at Ireland's “discriminatory treatment in some respects of non-nationals, including refugees and asylum seekers“. This is an indictment of the Government for its failure to deal with this important area of human rights. It is clear that the present approach to processing requests for political asylum is unsatisfactory.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 states that everyone has a right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries. This State is a party to that convention. The United Nations  convention relating to the status of refugees which was completed in Geneva on the 25 July 1951 and the Protocol to that convention completed in New York on 31 January 1967 details the specific procedures to be applies by the signatories to that convention to application for political asylum and the protection to be afforded to applicants. Ireland became a signatory to the Geneva convention on 28 November 1956 and to the Protocol on 6 November 1968.
Despite our international obligations and our accession to the Protocol and convention, we have not enacted legislation to reflect their provisions in our domestic statute law. Basic legislation which applies to non-nationals seeking to enter this State and who are not citizens of any other European Community member state is contained in the Aliens Act, 1935, and in a series of statutory instruments made under that Act since it came into force. A substantial number of these have been repealed or rendered irrelevant over the years.
The 1935 Act predated the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva convention. This Act was introduced at a different time in Ireland; it was introduced before our Constitution. According to some lawyers, the Act is illegal and unconstitutional because it leaves the Minister with an unfettered discretion in relation to aliens and it does not outline legislative policy.
During the past decade concern has been expressed about the manner in which this State treats the small number of people who arrive at points of entry and claim political asylum. Demands in the early eighties for greater protection for asylum seekers resulted in the then Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government having discussions with the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who was based in London. It was agreed to incorporate in our practices procedures for the determination of refugee status and asylum applications in Ireland. These were designed to reflect our national obligations under the  Geneva convention. The United Nations High Commission was anxious at the time to have legislation enacted in Ireland, but the view of the then Government was that the limited number of asylum applications received in this country did not warrant legislative action incorporating the relevant procedures.
It is now seven years since these procedures were agreed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is the unanimous view of those who have worked to assist persons who have sought refugee status and political asylum in this country that the current situation is unsatisfactory and that there is a need for legislation which would fully implement in our domestic law our international obligations under the Geneva convention. This would not only incorporate the procedures agreed by the Government in December 1985, but would also fill a number of gaps left by these procedures.
This unsatisfactory manner in which we have dealt with applications for political asylum, some of which I have already outlined, has given rise to a series of court cases which would not have arisen if the individuals concerned had felt they had been given proper opportunity to state their cases clearly and fairly and have their applications determined.
Although the courts have stated the procedures agreed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1985 will be regarded as enforceable against the State, it is clear some of those who come here to seek political asylum are not informed of the procedures, and the procedures are not applied in their cases. Indeed, few have had real opportunity to vindicate their rights before the courts when those rights were not respected.
It is also clear that in a number of respects the present procedures, even when properly applied, are inadequate. For example decisions are made in secret and no written details are published about the individual to which the convention principles are applied in individual cases. There is no reason such  information could not be made available while preserving the anonymity of the individual where necessary, either for his protection or the protection of members of his family if they remain in the country from which the person has sought to flee. No details are published of the country of origin of persons who are either granted asylum or who have had their applications for asylum turned down and there is no independent right of appeal. These defects are addressed by the Bill before the House.
The number of people who seek political asylum in the State annually is not large compared to the numbers in most EC member states — it is extremely small. In 1988 there were 49 applicants; in 1989, 36; in 1990, 62; in 1991, 31; and in 1992 there were 38. I understand this year there has been an increase in the numbers and the current figure is about 60. In 1988, two applications for political asylum were granted and in the years 1989 to 1992 one applicant was successful. This year to date several applicants have been granted political asylum. A small number of applicants, although not granted political asylum, have been allowed to remain in the State but the majority of those who sought political asylum were forced to leave.
We do not know the criteria applied in determining whether any of these cases were valid. In most cases we do not know from what countries these people came or why it was determined they did not qualify for political asylum. Although the number seeking political asylum in Ireland is small we have an international obligation under the Geneva convention to respect the human dignity of each applicant and to ensure not only that each applicant's legal rights are protected but that they are treated in a humanitarian way and with respect.
At present the fate of the asylum seeker is in the hands of the individual official with whom he or she first comes in contact at the point of entry. The manner in which that happens is not open to public scrutiny. There is a growing and widespread concern that many who seek  political asylum in this State are not properly treated, their rights are not respected and the spirit of the Geneva convention is not applied.
Under the terms of this Bill a refugee is defined as a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion or nationality is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to the country of his former habitual residence and not having a nationality and being outside his former country is unable or owing to such fear is unwilling to return there. This definition derives directly from the Geneva convention.
The Bill will ensure every person who seeks recognition as a refugee and who seeks asylum will first have the right of access to legal advice and representation and access to an interpreter and will be informed of such rights. Second, it ensures a person who seeks asylum will be notified of all information obtained by the Minister for Justice with regard to an application made and will be afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to such information. Third, it ensures a person who seeks asylum will be interviewed by an official familiar with the provisions of the United Nations convention and this State's obligations under it. Fourth, it guarantees a person who seeks asylum will be entitled to communicate independently with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and will be advised in writing of the decision reached and the reasons for it. Finally, the Bill provides for a right to appeal to a newly established refugee appeals tribunal.
In the determination of applications for refugee status and asylum the Minister for Justice will have the following obligations under the legislation: no asylum seeker can be removed from the State without being given an opportunity to properly present the case; every application received would have to be examined in accordance with the State's obligations under the UN convention and the Minister will be required to seek the views of the UNHCR and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in respect of all applications  received. In determining applications received the Minister will have to take into account not only the views expressed by the applicant and the communications received from the UNHCR and the Minister for Foreign Affairs but also the views expressed by other bodies and organisations, including Amnesty International and the Irish Refugee Council. I pay tribute to those two organisations for their work in promoting this issue and their other functions.
Under this Bill an applicant who is dissatisfied with a decision, within a period of 21 days from receipt of notification of such decision, will be entitled to appeal to an appeals tribunal. This independent tribunal will fully hear the case made by the applicant and the decision will be final, subject to an appeal to the High Court on a question of law. Appeal hearings from the tribunal will be in public unless an applicant requests they be held in private, in which case such requests will be granted. While it is desirable that decisions made by the tribunal be transparent, it is recognised that in many instances it may be necessary to hold hearings in private to ensure nothing said would place at risk the applicants' lives or the lives of family members or friends who remain in the applicants' country of origin.
The tribunal will be required to publish an annual report detailing its work and the decisions made. This provision will ensure a degree of transparency about the decision making process and Members of the Oireachtas and the public will see how the legislation is working and the manner in which we are complying with our international obligations.
Section 1 details the Title of the Bill. Section 2 provides the Bill will come into operation within six months after its enactment. Section 3 is the definition section. It contains the definition of refugee already referred to, which corresponds exactly to the definition contained in the Geneva convention.
Section 4 deals with the applications for recognition of refugee status and for asylum and provides that any person who  is within the State or who arrives at the frontiers of the State may apply to the Minister for Justice to be recognised as a refugee and to be granted asylum. This section provides that an appeal may be made against a decision of the Minister to a refugee appeals tribunal.
Section 4 (3) and (4) details certain circumstances in which an application for asylum is in accord with the Geneva convention. Primarily the Minister may decline to determine an application in circumstances where there is another State to which the applicant may apply for admission as a refugee, whose laws and practices comply fully with the Geneva convention and with which the applicant has closer connections than this State and where there are no special circumstances requiring the Minister to consider and determine the application. The Minister may also decline to process an application where a final determination has yet to be made on an application for asylum by a person to such a State or where the application has been refused recognition as a refugee in such a State.
Section 5 requires the Minister for Justice, prior to determining an application for asylum, to seek the views of the UNHCR and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This makes part of our statute law the procedure which is supposed to be applied under the arrangements agreed with the UNHCR in 1985. Prior to making a decision the Minister must also have regard to communications received, not only from the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Minister for Foreign Affairs but also the other bodies I have already mentioned.
Section 6 provides that every person who seeks recognition as a refugee and who seeks asylum shall be entitled to access to legal advice and representation and, where necessary, a right of access to an interpreter. Moreover it requires that every such person be informed of their rights in this regard.
Section 7 provides that every person recognises that a refugee must be granted asylum. Section 8 prohibits the Minister or any person acting on the Minister's behalf from deporting or removing from  the State or returning a person to any other state where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, nor can such a person be removed to a third state until the Minister is satisfied that the state would not so deal with them.
Section 9 details a number of circumstances in which a person will cease to be a refugee and cease to be entitled to political asylum, for example, where a person previously granted asylum voluntarily returns to his or her country of origin. Section 10 excludes certain sections from entitlement to protection as a refugee and a grant of political asylum. For example, refugee status will not be extended to a person who has committed a war crime or a crime against humanity or who has committed a crime of genocide under the meaning of the Genocide Act, 1973.
Section 11 provides for the making of regulations by the Minister for Justice for the making, consideration and determination of applicants under the Bill. While conferring on the Minister a general power to make regulations, this section specifically requires that regulations be made to provide for the following matters: immediate notification to the Minister by immigration officials of the making of an application; the interviewing of all applicants by an appropriate person familiar with the provisions of the convention and the State's obligations thereunder; the representation of applicants at such interviews by a solicitor and the provision of the services of an independent and competent interpreter where necessary; notification to all applicants of their right to legal representation, access to an interpreter and of the right to appeal against any determination made; notification to all applicants of information obtained by or on behalf of the Minister with regard to the application made and to afford reasonable time to the applicant to respond to such information. This section also recognises the importance of the United  Nations High Commission for Refugees' handbook on procedures.
Section 12 provides that nothing contained in the Aliens Act, 1935, or in any other orders made under the Act shall be taken to require or to authorise any action which contravenes the State's obligation under the convention. It also provides that in the event of any conflict between the terms of any order made by the Minister for Justice under section 11 of this Bill and an order under the 1935 Act, the order under this Bill should have priority.
The need for the legislation which I have outlined is widely recognised. It is my hope that the Bill will be received constructively by the Government. It should not be seen as a party politically contentious piece of legislation but as a constructive measure designed to ensure that those who seek refugee status in Ireland and claim political asylum are treated with dignity, humanity and respect and that their rights under international law are fully respected. Political asylum is essentially a humanitarian approach by the State to provide protection for those who are vulnerable, in fear of persecution and in urgent need of sanctuary. Over the centuries many of the people of this country sought such sanctuary in other countries. In most cases they were received humanely and had their dignity preserved. Surely this country owes it to the international community to treat people who are persecuted in like fashion.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. O'Dea) Willie O'Dea
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. O'Dea): The Minister for Justice has asked me to convey to the House that she had intended to be here tonight to listen to this important debate personally but unfortunately she is unable to attend due to illness.
The issue of refugees and applications for refugee status is an important one and it is appropriate that it should be debated in this House. As Senators will be aware, only last May there was a full debate in the other House on this topic and it gave an opportunity to many Deputies to put forward their views. The Minister is  interested in obtaining a wide range of views on the topic as, since she took office as Minister for Justice, she has taken a personal interest in the question of refugees. She was looking forward to hearing the views of this House on the issues involved but, unfortunately she cannot be here through circumstances outside her control.
I am sure all Senators will agree with me that applicants for refugee status and refugees must be treated not only in a fair and equitable manner but also with compassion. By definition they are strangers in a foreign land and we must take extra care to ensure that their rights are respected.
The Minister agrees with Senator Neville that our practices and procedures in relation to applications for refugee status and refugees should be put on a legislative basis. Our current administrative practices are not always perceived to be fair and comprehensive and also they are not in keeping with the legislatively based systems which have been established in other countries, such as our EC partners. It is for this reason that the Government has decided that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible. I will deal further with these legislative proposals shortly but before doing so I want to refer to the existing situation and to mention some initiatives that have been taken already.
Ireland acceded to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in November 1956 and to the related 1967 Protocol in November 1968. Since our accession we have fully honoured our obligations under both instruments. Let us be clear; while I am not saying that our existing procedures are perfect, I totally reject any suggestion that we are, or ever were, in breach of our international obligations.
When Ireland acceded to the UN convention it was decided to implement it on an administrative rather than on a statutory basis. In the mid-1980s, procedures were revised in consultation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The position, therefore, when the Government  took office was that there were administrative procedures in place which met the requirements of the UNHCR, which involved consultation with the UNHCR in every case and, if necessary, an applicant could resort to the courts to ensure that these procedures were complied with.
Despite the existing administrative procedures there was a perception that our arrangements were not sufficiently transparent. For this reason the Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment that our policy towards the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants will meet the highest international standards and that procedures will be introduced to guarantee rights of hearings, appeals, access to legal advice and access to the courts. Therefore, from the day that this Government took office it was made clear that it intended to reform the procedures regarding refugees.
The Minister's approach to this reform has been on a two-fold basis. She has examined what could be done on a non-legislative basis as well as examining what needs to be provided by way of legislation. The most obvious shortcoming in the existing procedures is that there is no appeal mechanism for persons who apply for refugee status but whose application is rejected.
Developments in recent years have resulted in almost every other EC country adopting some form of appeal mechanism. Having considered the question of appeals the Minister decided as an interim measure to appoint a retired member of the Judiciary to deal with appeals against refusals to grant refugee status under the existing procedures. I am pleased to announce to the Seanad that Judge O'Malley, a former President of the Circuit Court, has accepted this position. The Minister would like to take this opportunity to express her appreciation to Judge O'Malley for taking on this duty.
A further part of the review of procedures which was initiated by the Minister relates to the training and guidelines available to immigration officers who are,  for the most part, the first people to meet applicants for refugee status. It is therefore extremely important that they shall be equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to handle the applicants with a high degree of sensitivity and expertise. Over the years immigration officers have been issued with written guidelines which indicate clearly that a person should not be returned to a country to which he or she is unwilling or unable to return owing to a fear of persecution, nor should he or she be returned to a country where his or her personal safety might be seriously threatened as a result of the political situation there. When it appears to an immigration officer that the person might be an applicant for refugee status his or her instructions are to refer the case to the Department of Justice immediately.
Immigration officers have performed these duties very well but there are no areas in our administration that are so good that they cannot be improved. The Minister is determined that from the very first contact with the authorities in this State, applicants for refugee status should know their rights and entitlements and should receive a full user friendly transparent and expert service. With this in mind she has accepted a kind offer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to assist in the preparation and presentation of a programme of training specifically designed for immigration officers to assist them in dealing with applicants for refugee status. The first course of this programme will be held next month with the full co-operation of the Department of Justice under the auspices of the Garda authorities, who share the enthusiasm of the Minister in relation to user friendly services.
The Minister is also concerned that immigration officers should have their training backed up by revised and updated guidelines and have at their disposal information leaflets which they can give to applicants for refugee status which will set out in simple terms and in a variety of languages their basic entitlements. Appropriate guidelines and information  leaflets will be issued in the near future. Senators will readily understand that applicants for refugee status often arrive in this country disorientated and not even sure what country they are in. For obvious reasons, they can be distrustful and suspicious of officials. I hope that the measures I outlined will help to allay some of the difficulties faced by these unfortunate people.
I have outlined some non-legislative measures taken by the Minister since she came into office and which have been, or are about to be, implemented. However, the main initiative required is that our procedures be put on a legislative basis. The Minister is also of the view that such legislation should not be rushed — it requires careful consideration and full consultation. To this end, the Minister established an interdepartmental committee to examine policy and practices with regard to non-Irish persons resident in the State and in the area of persons who apply for refugee status. The committee comprised representatives of the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Enterprise and Employment and it invited submissions from the public, by way of a notice in the national press, in June this year. A considerable number of submissions were received from different groups and concerned members of the public. There were also discussions with, among others, representatives of the UNHCR and Amnesty International to ascertain their views.
The terms of reference of the interdepartmental committee are extensive and cover more than refugees. Due to the urgency of this topic, however, the committee decided to prepare an interim report dealing with such matters as; giving statutory effect to the UN convention; the rights of persons recognised as refugees in the State; the procedures for dealing with applications for asylum and refugee status and an appeals procedure.
The Minister is determined to introduce legislation as soon as possible and, to avoid delay, she gave instructions to officials of her Department to commence  work on a Bill dealing with refugees and applicants for refugee status parallel with the work of the interdepartmental committee. A draft general scheme of a Bill has now been prepared in her Department. No final decision as to the contents of the proposed legislation will be made by the Government until the Minister has given the necessary consideration to the interim report of the interdepartmental committee. The Minister is confident, therefore, that the general scheme of the Bill can be finalised quickly and, depending on the time available for its drafting, she hopes it will be published before Christmas.
A similar Private Member's Bill was presented by Deputy Shatter to the other House earlier this year and was fully debated in May. The Government's position was made clear and the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to address the relevant issue was reaffirmed. While the general thrust of the Bill was acceptable, time was required to consult interested parties and review the issues involved before the Government introduced its own Bill on the matter. In the light of the assurances in May and the progress since then, there is no need to proceed with the Bill. Senators will have an opportunity to fully debate the issues involved when the Government proposals are presented in the near future.
The Minister agrees with the principle behind the Bill and with many of the measures proposed. As I made it clear, however, the Minister agrees that our procedures for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers should be given statutory effect. All the issues involved will be addressed in the Government Bill, which, as I said, will be brought forward shortly. The Minister does not necessarily agree, however, with all the provisions of the Bill now before the House and she also feels it is not comprehensive. If we are to implement the UN Convention by statute, it would seem logical to implement it in full and not just selected parts of it, as proposed in the Private Members' Bill before us tonight. For instance, the convention, in Articles 12  to 20, sets out in detail the rights and entitlements of a person recognised as a refugee but no provision for such rights are included in the Bill before us today.
However, I do not want to go into any great detail on the provisions of the Bill we are debating. Suffice to say that the Government is opposing it for a number of reasons. As I said already, it is not comprehensive; this is a complicated and intricate topic, involving areas in which we have no legislation to date, international obligations arising from conventions and international co-operation arising from our EC membership. These factors mean that considerable thought and work must go into the preparation of the Bill. This is being done at the moment in the interdepartmental committee and in my Department. The Government's Bill will reflect this detailed preparatory work. I am satisfied that we should wait for that Bill, rather than proceed with this Bill, the drafters of which have not had the benefit of all the work that has gone into the preparation of the Government Bill in recent months. To proceed with this Bill would mean ignoring that work and building on an insecure foundation if an attempt were made to amend the Bill on Committee and subsequent Stages.
As I stated, the Minister will be bringing in legislation to give statutory effect to the UN convention and she will be open to considering any amendments Senators may wish to suggest in the context of that Bill. However, for the reasons I outlined, she must oppose the Second Reading of this Bill.
In conclusion, Senator Neville referred to the incident at Shannon Airport involving Kurdish refugees. The Minister has asked me to say that she is in receipt of correspondence from a legal adviser, acting on behalf of persons claiming to have been involved in the incident. Following the receipt of the report from the gardaí, for which she has asked, the Minister will reply to that correspondence. In general, it would be inappropriate to comment in regard to specific cases, given that it is a confidential matter and that there may be  certain inherent dangers for the applicant and, more particularly, for the family at home. However, the UNHCR is consulted with regard to each application and no Minister for Justice has ever refused to accept the advice of the UNHCR as to whether a person is suitable or should be successful in their application for refugee status.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: May I share four minutes of my time with Senator Honan?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister to the House and I also congratulate Senator Neville on his Bill. Senator O'Toole and Senator Lee would also like to be associated with my remarks because there is not enough time for all of us to speak in this debate. Senator Neville is to be praised for introducing this Bill and one of his main functions seems to be urging the Government to bring forward its own Bills. I am delighted to hear that the Minister intends to bring in her Bill before Christmas.
Mr. O'Dea Mr. O'Dea
Mr. O'Dea: Hopefully.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: Hopefully — we will hope that it will come in before Christmas.
Mr. O'Dea Mr. O'Dea
Mr. O'Dea: I am optimistic.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I am optimistic but I am also realistic. I am glad that the non-legislative work is in progress, especially with regard to the courses for immigration officers. The Bill contains safeguards for the provision of independent legal advice for asylum seekers; provision of competent interpreters; the advisory role of the UNHCR and the right of the refugee to speak to them confidentially; the right of appeal and for an independent tribunal and to be informed of all their procedural entitlements.
However, I agree there are omissions in some areas in the Bill. I would like changes in section 4 which deal with the  grounds upon which the Minister may refuse to consider and determine an asylum application and the criteria applied to asylum seekers who may have sought protection in a third state. Ireland is a signatory to the Dublin Convention, determining the state responsible for examining applications for asylum lodged in one of the member states or in the EC. The Dublin Convention is not mentioned in the Bill or referred to in the Minister's speech. The Refugee Protection Bill should make explicit reference to Ireland's obligations under the Dublin Convention and its provisions concerning the appropriate measures for its implementation. I do not want to appear obsessed with ratification. Last week, I asked when we could have ratification of the Protocols to the Geneva Convention of 1949. They came up in 1977 and after 17 years, I was told legislation was still in progress and I do not want to see the Dublin Convention taking that long for ratification.
The special circumstances mentioned in section 4 should also be elaborated upon. These might include a significant connection with Ireland, immediate or extended family members living in Ireland and an ability to speak the language. Also, there is no time limit on how long the Minister can take before he or she gives a decision. The refugee, after all, is entitled to a reply within a certain, reasonable length of time, unless there are good reasons it cannot be given.
The word “satisfied “is used many times in the Bill. I am not sure what that means. Section 8 (3) states: “where the Minister is satisfied such a person would endanger public security if allowed to remain in the State”. What does that mean? Does it mean shoplifting, rape or the abduction of a citizen? It is rather vague. Section 14 requires such a person to appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal within 21 days of receiving notification of the Minister's decision. I suggest two months would be a more reasonable period. I know it would cost money to keep a person here, but not many people apply for political asylum in this country.
 Important entitlements for refugees referred to in the Minister's speech have been omitted, for example, the right of refugees to receive work authorisation has not been referred to. While it is current practice, this right should be codified. The right of a recognised refugee to be joined by members of his or her family has not been discussed. Indeed, the status of the refugees' dependants is not considered in the Bill.
The power of the Minister to grant permission for entry and leave to remain on humanitarian grounds is briefly mentioned in section 12. However, the Bill fails to address the rights of individuals granted such status, for example, whether they are entitled to work authorisation and family reunification. We often deal with refugees by allowing them to stay on humanitarian grounds. This means they may eventually be able to return to their own country, but it leaves the person in limbo and in an insecure position while in this country. This may be difficult for people who do not have individual claims regarding refugee status, for example, the fear of persecution, but who come from countries in crisis, they are de facto refugees. The difference between humanitarian and refugee status should be looked at.
A major omission is the failure to address unaccompanied children. In a country from which citizens feel they must flee, it is not uncommon in panic for families to be separated and a child may end up travelling with other adults or on his or her own. Children in such situations are entitled to special protection and the guidelines of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should be followed. The UNHCR has guidelines on how unaccompanied children should be treated. The child should be legally represented and a guardian appointed. Initially the child should be interviewed by a person with expertise in child development, preferably with a background similar to the child's. This person should help to establish the child's right to refugee status. For example, the child's idea of a well founded fear, explained in the 1951 convention, may  be different from that of an adult and expressed in a different way. The age of the child is important and the questions should be appropriate. We must ensure that this important group is not left out of the legislation. Unaccompanied refugee children should have the right to be reunited with their parents and siblings in Ireland.
There is no reason anyone should be put in prison in this country. Since it was founded, the Red Cross has run refugee centres in Dublin and subsequently in Ennis when Shannon became an important point of entry. I hope we do not see people being detained unnecessarily in prison because it is a shame on the people.
Ms Honan Ms Honan
Ms Honan: I welcome the Bill and my party, the Progressive Democrats, supports it. I commend Senator Neville for bringing this legislation before the House. It is designed to put in place a set of procedures which would guarantee the rights of persons seeking refugee status in this country. It is human rights legislation and a human rights issue.
The Bill, if passed, would put in place an appeal system promised by the Government in its Programme for a Partnership Government. It would provide a system of access through the mechanism of appeal on a point of law to the High Court. We are dealing with a matter relating to fundamental human rights. As a nation we are good at lecturing the rest of the world when it departs from human rights issue, but we are slow to put our own house in order. We believe we have a special and unique role to play in the way Irish foreign policy is conducted through the UN, but when the UN puts forward a convention in relation to the treatment of refugees, we sign the convention, yet fail to enact laws to put it in place.
Amnesty International, the Red Cross, the Irish Refugee Council, Senator Neville and Senator Henry ask for less rhetoric and more action. The Minister of State said the Minister for Justice hopes to introduce legislation before Christmas, but we must remember that  when refugees arrive they have one chance, they cannot wait for legislation to be passed. We have been given one chance, yet we have failed to grasp that opportunity.
A number of Members have experience of refugees because they represent a Dublin, Clare or Limerick constituency. Although I do not represent those areas, I have a Polish sister-in-law who was involved with the Red Cross. She dealt with eastern European refugees because she spoke their language and she has spoken to me about this matter.
We commend the work done by Amnesty International, the Red Cross and the Irish Refugee Council. They want us to implement this Bill rather than have a further delay because the Bill is inadequate. The Government may table amendments on Committee Stage if they believe they have a case. Nobody could disagree with the fundamental principles of the Bill and, I believe, the majority of the people support this Bill. Although the Bill was defeated in the Lower House six months ago, that is no reason to delay this matter. No Member can happily vote against the Bill this evening. Those fighting for the rights of refugees, including Amnesty International, who have lobbied for some time are not prepared to accept more excuses. If we vote in favour of this Bill, we will be doing something of which we can be proud. I support the Bill.
Mr. Crowley Mr. Crowley
Mr. Crowley: Students in Trinity College who are members of Amnesty International lobbied me and, I presume, other Members in regard to this Bill. As a member of Amnesty International, I am aware of the importance of this letter writing campaign. I note the tremendous work by Amnesty International all over the world in raising injustices. I welcome the Minister to the House. I discussed the issue with him before this Bill was brought before the House. I am apprehensive about saying the Bill is flawed but many sections of the Bill need to be amended. Senator Honan suggested that the Bill should go to Committee Stage  where it could be amended. However, we would probably be here for the next five to six weeks trying to improve it. I agree with the spirit of the Bill. As Senator Honan said, we call on other countries to improve their human rights and, therefore, we should take the lead in this regard.
I have little experience of refugees. However, during my childhood my family went on holiday to Youghal, County Cork, where we met a family, the Bojoraks, from Hungary. The family left Hungary during the uprising in the 1950s and they were given refugee asylum in Ireland. When one considers the fact that we accepted asylum seekers and refugees in the 1950s, I was disheartened to hear some Senators say that we have been remiss in the services we provide. I used the analogy of the Hungarian family because recent events in eastern Europe and the Balkan region have made us aware of the refugee problem faced by the EC on a scale not seen since the Second World War. To tackle this effectively will take a huge interaction among all agencies in the EC; not only involving the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Refugee Council, Amnesty International and the UNHCR, but with all levels of similar bodies in the EC.
The concept of asylum is the cornerstone of a State's humanitarian response and obligation to provide protection for those who are vulnerable, in fear of persecution and in urgent need of sanctuary and shelter. Asylum is a matter of State co-operation. It is the State that decides if citizens of other states are to be admitted. However, the map of Europe is rapidly changing and Europe needs to respond to this change.
Before considering new legislation it is important that consensus is reached on what exactly that legislation hopes to achieve as well as the best ways of implementing its intentions. One of the faults with the Bill presented by Senator Neville — and I am not doing this on a political party basis——
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: The Senator is.
Mr. Crowley Mr. Crowley
 Mr. Crowley: I am trying to do it on a legal basis, if possible, with my limited legal training. There is no accommodation for what happens when the person is granted refugee status. What is their status within our State? Are they there on a temporary, semi-permanent or permanent basis?
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: That information is in the Bill.
Mr. Crowley Mr. Crowley
Mr. Crowley: I am sure Senator Neville will respond to that shortly when he has more time. As Senator Henry said, we have other obligations towards different conventions. This Bill does not take into account our obligations under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which is very technical and must be included in the overall framework of the Bill.
I am heartened by the fact that, before legislation comes before the House, the Minister for Justice decided to set up a body to hear appeals, under the chairmanship of Judge Peter O'Malley. We have to take cognisance of the fact that decisions of the Minister for Justice and her predecessors have all complied with advice given by the UNHCR, which is the ultimate world body dealing with the protection of refugees and granting asylum. The existing formal arrangements for dealing with these applications were agreed with the UNHCR. We have to consult them on the best method of enforcing their intentions as well as the input they would like to see.
This Bill is an important signpost to future legislation and we have been assured by the Minister that such legislation is on the way. I noted with sadness the reaction of Members on the other side of the House when the Minister said he hoped that legislation would hopefully be introduced before Christmas. I am sure they are aware that drafting legislation of this type cannot be done quickly or easily. The main drawback is the lack of consensus in current legislation. We need consensus to ensure that when refugee status is given there is proper support for the refugees living here. We also need  consensus to make it easier to segregate those who do not have a genuine claim to refugee status.
I hope that my final point is not contentious. I refer to section 11 (2) (e) which states that the regulations shall provide for notification to all applicants of information obtained by or on behalf of the Minister with regard to an application made and to afford reasonable time to an applicant to respond to such information.
Taken in a general sense, this is not a very contentious point. However, if somebody with a criminal or dangerous record was seeking asylum or refugee status here and the Minister obtained information which affected public security, then I do not think he or she should be obliged to release that information in the interests of protecting public safety. As a result of this subsection, the Minister could be ordered by the courts to release information or material that would be injurious to the State.
I congratulate Senator Neville on once again highlighting issues that need to be highlighted and in bringing this Bill forward. Unfortunately, I cannot support it for the reasons I outlined, in addition to the technical flaws I see in it. I hope that when the new legislation comes through there will be another lively debate in this House.
Mr. Howard Mr. Howard
Mr. Howard: I wish to share my time with Senator Ross.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Howard Mr. Howard
Mr. Howard: I am disappointed by the Minister's speech as it bears no relation to reality. He talked about the situation confronting potential refugees in this country as being “user-friendly”. Ask any unfortunate person fleeing terror or persecution in their own country about the manner in which they were chased around airport lounges, pushed to the ground, reloaded on aircraft either to Cuba or the old Soviet Union, and were victims of considerable force. Ask them how user-friendly they found the services  of this country. I support Senator Neville in putting forward this particular measure. I commend him, as other Senators have done, for his commitment and his social conscience in seeking to address problems and wrongs that the underprivileged and voiceless in society, in Ireland and beyond, have to contend with.
Senator Neville is doing more than that. As with many other social issues, he is acting in a caring and responsible manner as any legislator in Parliament should. The Government, by responding in a negative way, is not only frustrating the worthy objective of a caring legislator, it is showing contempt for the role and function of the Seanad. I say that with the greatest respect for Senator Crowley's contribution. By adopting this attitude, the Government is implying, in effect, that no Member of the Oireachtas, apart from a Minister, has the intelligence or the intellectual capacity to prepare and put forward simple legislation. This is a reflection on every single Member of the Seanad, it should be treated as such and rejected by them.
If the Government perceived a weakness in the Bill put forward by Senator Neville, then it had the option of putting forward amendments to achieve the improvements it felt may be required. The Bill seeks to enact in domestic law commitments solemnly entered into by Ireland when it signed the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees almost 40 years ago and the Protocol 25 years ago. For almost 40 years we, as a country, Government and Parliament, have sat back and refused to give effect in our domestic law to international commitments into which we freely entered and solemnly signed.
In the intervening years we lectured other countries on their perceived failure to honour international obligations and, more particularly, on the human rights standards some of them applied. If Ireland's standing on human rights were to be judged on how we dealt with unfortunate people fleeing terror and persecution  in other countries and seeking refuge and asylum here, we would be, deservedly, almost at the bottom of any league table.
Nothing puts our position in perspective better than the statistics quoted by Senator Neville. Between 1988 and 1992 216 people sought asylum here, only three of which were successful, yet we pretend to value human rights. The right to sanctuary from persecution and terror is an internationally recognised human right. We should be ashamed of Ireland's record over that five year period in terms of the number of applications accepted.
Senator Neville's Bill seeks to bring transparency, honesty and justice to an area where all three are sadly lacking and to restore some measure of decency to Ireland's human rights record. It also seeks compliance with our international obligations.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: I am astounded by the Minister's reply. It is reminiscent of similar replies in this House to Opposition Bills. It is a flagrant insult to the work of Senators, including Senator Neville. It is reminiscent of a similar Bill we discussed not too long ago, which proposed to abolish capital punishment. The Government of the day advanced spurious and similar excuses as to why such punishment could not be abolished and then proceeded, when it found new Coalition partners who breathed more strongly down its throat, to introduce an identical Bill to the one it had defeated a few months earlier. It is an appalling reflection on this House's parliamentary system that Governments are incapable, for reasons of pride, to accept Bills from the Opposition and later introduce Bills which almost exactly duplicate those they rejected.
The Minister's excuses are flimsy, unacceptable and disingenuous. He objects to the Bill because “it is not comprehensive”. He says: “Suffice to say that the Government is opposing it for a number of reasons”, but does not detail them. He goes on to say “it is a very complicated and intricate topic” as if the Seanad is incapable of dealing with such  topics. This may be what the Minister thinks of the Seanad but the Opposition introduced a Bill with which the House could easily deal.
In May Deputy Shatter introduced this Bill in the Dáil. It is now November. This Bill possibly has not reached the Cabinet table as it is not a priority. On being challenged as to whether it will come before either House before Christmas, the Minister said it will not as it is not considered a priority by the Government. This is a great shame. Ireland prides itself on, and wrongly boasts about, its record on human rights. We have far from a good record on this issue but are very good at our public relations on it.
I have serious problems about the case mentioned by Senator Neville involving refusal of refugee status to anybody from China. I have problems about refusing such status to people from other countries which practise the death penalty. What happens if someone from China requires refugee status here but is sent home to a country where the death penalty is in operation? What happens if we have a refugee from Iraq? We do not care too much about Iraq.
Ireland, which is proud of its record on human rights, very openly, and rightly in moral terms, took a strong stand against South Africa and led the charge to maintain sanctions on it because we disapproved so strongly — more strongly than any other European country — of the South African apartheid regime. That was a noble and wonderful stand as everybody disapproved of that regime. We were able to take a stronger stand against apartheid because we did very little trade with South Africa. At the same time we were taking this extraordinary stand, we were trading as if there was no tomorrow with Iraq, where the abuses of human rights were as great, or far greater, than in South Africa or any other country.
We should examine our attitude to human rights, political asylum and refugees. I suggest our criteria on these matters are, and always have been, determined not by any misplaced and bogus interest in human rights but by  trade. Our relations with other countries are determined not by conscience but by trade. That is why I find it so difficult to believe that the Labour Party, the great party of moral conscience, liberal attitudes and concern for human rights, will oppose this Bill. It may be inadequate but if it is we should debate it. There is nothing wrong with proposing this Bill on Second Stage and the Labour Party moving amendments on Committee Stage. There is nothing in this Bill or in any Bill of this sort which cannot be amended. I fear this Bill will be defeated, to the shame of the Labour Party, and that a Bill will not be introduced in the foreseeable future.
Ms Gallagher Ms Gallagher
Ms Gallagher: I am glad Senator Ross recognises the important role the Labour Party has always played, and will continue to play, on behalf of the disadvantaged in society and elsewhere. I am not long past my student days when, in the true sense of education, we broadened our ideas and attitudes, discussed national and international affairs and adopted stances on various issues. This came to mind on receipt of correspondence from students of Trinity College, my alma mater, advocating the adoption of this legislation.
I do not disagree with the need for legislation dealing with refugees, not only to incorporate the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, which we ratified as far back as 1951 and by the Protocol in 1967, but also to provide a way we, as a civilised nation, should deal with other human beings. There is an obvious need for laws which deal in a humane fashion with refugees who land on our shore.
We pride ourselves on our compassion and deem ourselves to be a progressive society. Our work as a nation in the Third World is second to none. We have voluntary workers in every Third World country. I had the privilege of meeting many workers on different occasions. I met Concern workers in Cambodia while I was overseeing the first democratic elections there. It was amazing to see what they do, their energy, compassion and empathy were obvious in the way they  worked and lived with the poorest of the poor, and helped them to gain a degree of self-esteem and worth by giving them practical help and attention.
We have an excellent reputation across the globe in the fields of charity and international aid. We never fail to respond to international crises. When asked to contribute to any fund we did deep into our pockets and clap ourselves on the back as a nation for so doing, which is just. However, is there an element of hypocrisy in our attitude? We can deal with problems abroad in our usual fashion but it is a different matter when the problem lands on our doorstep. Perhaps that is why our treatment of refugees is nothing of which to be proud.
This point also covers other issues. I often question how we can reconcile our charity abroad with how we deal with our own people — the disadvantaged, the marginalised and the minorities who live among us. This evening I will confine my remarks to the issue of refugees and how we deal with them. In fairness, we have granted political asylum to many reaching our shores and continue to so do. We have happily accepted refugees from Vietnam and more recently from Bosnia. However, it is time to develop a proper, comprehensive, compassionate and, above all, fair system to deal with refugees in the future.
We cannot be proud of the current situation. Many applications for asylum are made in airport arrival lounges by people who refuse to get back on the aeroplane. When the heavy hand of bureaucracy falls upon them and the maze of administration begins, the problems are endless. More often than not, these people are detained at the airport until some official deems fit to deal with them. Then they are dependent on the Department of Justice and the luck of the day. I have seen many cases where official decisions were made quickly and without proper, or perhaps any, consideration. The unfortunate individual is despatched back post-haste. This makes me furious.
In instances where a person has entered the country illegally and is  caught, they are again at the mercy of the official of the day. Even when a deportation order is made, the individual in question will be put into custody pending determination of how to put this order into action. We have read in the newspapers where one individual was detained in an Irish prison without bail for one year before the Department even considered his future. Several months in custody is not unusual. That is disgraceful. These people have committed no offence in this country and, therefore, this country has no right to treat them in the way it does. Dogs are treated better here, at least they have the protection of the ISPCA. Our refugees and asylum seekers have nobody.
Our Constitution may not provide procedures for such persons, after all it was written in 1937 and this may not have been a problem then. However, it does lay down principles of justice which govern our administrative procedures. The concepts of natural justice, human rights, fair procedures and so on are well enshrined in our laws. Yet, we have not adopted a system which would treat refugees and asylum seekers fairly, and be seen to do so. These people are not citizens of this State or the EC but they have rights on our soil nonetheless, by virtue of their being human beings and entitled to the limited protection of the UN.
Is it that our State thinks these people might be hopeful immigrants getting through the back door? Even if this is the case, it is time we addressed the problem of how we deal with potential immigrants generally. We should get rid of our hidden racism, fear, hypocrisy and so on, and determine how best to treat individuals entering our State, or wishing to do so, and lay down principles and procedures for so doing, once and for all.
With reference in particular to our treatment of refugees, I am pleased to hear the Minister has begun to reform our administrative procedures in this area. I urge her to continue with these reforms post haste. However, I still believe in the need for legislation not only to comply with our undertaking under the UN convention  but also to place such procedures on a proper statutory basis.
I applaud what Senator Neville has attempted to do and he deserves personal credit for bringing this Bill before us. However, the Bill does not appear, from my reading of it, to be comprehensive and I am advised of certain flaws in it. I am a lawyer and I have studied this with great care but I am not completely happy with it, although what it purports to do is long overdue.
Our Programme for Government recognises the need for legislation in this area; this idea is not the exclusive possession of Senator Neville. The Programme for a Partnership Government states:
Our policy towards the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants will meet the highest international standards. Procedures will be introduced to guarantee rights of hearings, appeal, access to legal advice and access to the courts.
The Labour Party insisted on this commitment, as I am sure Senator Ross will recognise. We have discussed it at many levels and we are determined that our commitment will bear fruit.
An interdepartmental committee formed by the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs has completed its final report. I approve fully of what this Bill purports to do, but I would suggest that time be given for the Department to bring forward legislation based on the report it has prepared. Otherwise, we jump the gun on our own procedures and that would result in anarchy.
On the Order of Business the legislative programme was called for. The Programme for a Partnership Government answers that. We have a job to do, which includes introducing legislation to deal with this matter. I propose, in fairness to Senator Neville, that the Order Paper be left as it is until the Department finalises its draft, as long as the Minister undertakes to do that as soon as possible, and I mean as soon as possible. I want this matter tackled urgently but I want it done properly and comprehensively. The  matter lies in the hands of the Minister and I urge her to take immediate action.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I would like to share my time with Senator Sherlock.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I am glad Senator Neville has once again prompted the House in the appropriate direction. It is interesting that on a number of occasions such a move has originated in this House. I am thinking particularly of Senator Neville's Suicide Bill which was whipped away from this House and introduced into the Dáil and the Bill proposed by Senator Ross to abolish capital punishment.
I would like to comment on the contribution by Senator Gallagher. With regard to Bosnia, we cannot really congratulate ourselves on that because the Bosnians were invited here and we set specific numbers. It is not as if they just landed here and demanded asylum; if they had they would have got the bum's rush, as many other people did in the past.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: One did.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: With regard to the 1937 Constitution, the Jewish people in Germany at that time would perhaps have thought there was a requirement for asylum for refugees. One final point, and I do not want to be too critical, I was concerned when Senator Gallagher said that this matter was not the exclusive possession of Senator Neville. Of course it is not, nobody suggested it was. I would hate to think people became territorial about it, but it seems the Government has adopted a dog in the manger attitude——
Ms Gallagher Ms Gallagher
Ms Gallagher: The Government has already determined to bring this legislation on board.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Norris, without interruption.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
 Mr. Norris: ——and will not accept legislation except on its own basis. I think that is a pity. The Minister has a perfect opportunity to amend the Bill. The Minister of State said it is not good enough because it does not include Articles 12 to 20. The Minister has every opportunity to put down an amendment incorporating these provisions and strengthening the Bill, so that is no argument against it.
I refer to the coded language in the Minister's speech. He said:
When Ireland acceded to the UN convention it was decided to implement it on an administrative rather than a statutory basis.
We all know what that means: one can either do what one likes about it or ignore it totally. The administrative way in which it has been applied in this country leaves a great deal to be desired. The Minister said that he was unaware of any situation where human rights had been infringed.
Mr. O'Dea Mr. O'Dea
Mr. O'Dea: I did not say that.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: The Minister said, technically, he was not aware that the United Nations conventions had been infringed. In a few moments I will give him a couple of examples in which he may be interested.
Mr. O'Dea Mr. O'Dea
Mr. O'Dea: Point it out in the speech.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I am glad the service for refugees is going to be “user friendly” and that the Minister is not optimistic. I hope they will be user friendly; they certainly are not at the moment and there is no question about that. On Monday night's “Questions and Answers” Deputy McManus said that dealing with the Aliens Office is like trying to get into Fort Knox and the same can be said of people who operate in this area.
I was happy with some of the points the Minister made. Language skills and language facilities are a very important area, as is the commitment to the establishment of an independent review by a named judge. That is an advance and  something concrete. It is hopeful but there is not a firm commitment. There is no mention of a date and nothing said about progress before Christmas. I have seen this so many times before that I worry about whether this will happen, particularly when I see it said that more time is needed to ascertain what are the views of Amnesty International. I know what they are and I am surprised that the Minister does not. Those in the Visitor's Gallery know what they are.
Mr. O'Dea Mr. O'Dea
Mr. O'Dea: I never said that.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: They know so firmly that they were nearly asked to leave for applauding when somebody attacked the Government for not introducing and supporting this Bill. The Minister says that she agrees with the principle, so let her do something about it.
I would like to give a couple of examples, some of which I was aware and some of which I was reminded of in a shoal of letters that arrived in the last couple of days from the Trinity College branch of Amnesty International. I thank them for that. They reminded me of the case of Ji Yao Lau, a Chinese student who was involved in the Tiananmen Square demonstration, who was put in prison for seven months until the case was reviewed by Mr. Justice Hamilton. Is the Minister satisfied with that little bit of administrative application of the law? That is administrative; that is what happens when you do not implement international law in the domestic law of the country.
I remember the case of Marey Al Gutrani because I was in Cork for a number of the hearings. It was made perfectly clear from the bench that, although the Irish people and the judge hearing the case might be sympathetic, as long as the conventions were not incorporated in Irish domestic law there was very little that could be done. Is seven months in prison for exercising freedom of conscience in Tiananmen Square acceptable? I do not believe for a minute that it is.
The case of the Kurds at Shannon airport was reported both in the Irish and  British newspapers. The report in The Irish times of 17 November 1992 is rather interesting. Even on a human level I find it fascinating that the newspaper was telephoned by an employee of Aer Rianta. That is not somebody who is automatically associated with a pressure group or lobby group; it is a human being who saw something so distressing that he took it upon himself to telephone the newspapers to express his disquiet. The article states:
An employee of Aer Rianta telephoned The Irish Times last night to object about the incident involving the Kurds. He said that he and other Aer Rianta workers were “very, very upset” and shocked at the way they had been treated.
Apparently the duty-free area of Shannon airport was cordoned off for seven hours as 27 Turkish Kurds refused to reboard an Aeroflot aircraft. The description in The Observer is more detailed and also more horrifying. It states:
Twenty seven Turkish Kurds who arrived at Shannon Airport seeking asylum were allegedly beaten by police and refused any opportunity to apply for asylum.
They were denied the opportunity to apply for asylum. We are required under international law to give them that but it was apparently refused in this instance. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that as an example of administrative implementation of human rights. Some of the people were considerably distressed. The husband of one woman was alerted to the fact that they were landing in Shannon and had made the difficult journey from London at short notice. He was allowed half an hour with his wife.
There are more incidents which I could mention. Marey Al Gutrani was a Libyan who had criticised Gadaffi and we were sending him back to a country where there is capital punishment. We have abolished it here. Are we happy to wash our hands and send him back to a country where he may be executed? I am sorry  there is not more time but I am happy to allow some to my good friend Senator Sherlock.
Mr. Sherlock Mr. Sherlock
Mr. Sherlock: What better place to have this motion debated than in this House of the Oireachtas? If the Seanad agrees this motion, it will be very significant and show that the House has a meaningful role to play and is sincere about what it is doing rather than engaging in the empty rhetoric which we have heard on this vital issue.
I am critical of the failure of the Government to introduce promised legislation to provide legal rights for refugees and asylum seekers. If the Irish illegals in the United States were treated in the same manner as illegal aliens and asylum seekers in this country, it would create outrage amongst the Irish people.
I call for a total review of Government policies and particularly for the introduction of legislative guarantees to ensure that nobody is deported without a judicial hearing at which the person is legally represented and allowed to make a case against any deportation order. Irish people have been rightly proud of the steps taken to cater for Bosnian refugees. However, individual asylum seekers or those who find themselves in this country without proper documentation are treated very differently. This is especially so if their skin happens to be any colour other than white.
At present, people in this situation can be arrested and held in custody pending deportation with no entitlement to legal aid or advice and there is no automatic right to judicial review. If the person is aware of their rights or has contacts here, legal proceedings can be initiated. However, those whose deportation is sought often do not have contacts or knowledge of our legal system.
I refer to the case of the Liberian nationals in Shannon. Mr. Doe, for instance, arrived in Ireland on 25 June 1991 and spent almost 18 months in custody. He was taken from Shannon Airport and, after a brief interview with a garda sergeant, placed in Limerick prison pending an investigation of his case. The  Department of Justice informed him that he was to be deported a week later and this only failed because of the refusal of an airline pilot to take him on board a flight back to Jamaica.
I am sceptical about the capacity of the alien section of the Department of Justice, dominated as it is by a policing approach, to adapt to the more humane standards needed for dealing with refugees in the modern world. We must ensure that nobody is deported without a proper judicial hearing at which the person would be legally represented and allowed to make their case. Persons should not have to be held in custody pending such a hearing. In the longer term, there may well be a case for taking these functions away from the Department of Justice and establishing an independent office which would be responsible for processing applications for asylum or citizenship, a sort of ombudsman for refugees.
In 1990 there were an estimated 400,000 asylum seekers in Europe. Some 62 of them applied to Ireland; one was granted. In 1991 just one of 31 applications succeeded. In 1992 three out of 39 were successful and in 1993, as was mentioned, three out of 65. This is not a record which provides any grounds for satisfaction. Countries which face far greater political and economic problems than Ireland have a superior record. I support the motion and I ask the House to do likewise.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: I hope to finish within ten minutes and if so I will share my time with Senator Roche.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: In addressing this debate I am influenced by two personal experiences: one somewhat distant and the other very immediate and moving. The first occurred some years ago when, in the Bahamas, I met a Haitian who was being deported because his status as a refugee in the Bahamas was terminated.  I can never forget the fear and dread in that man's eyes. He was being deported to a regime that was and still is known throughout the world as being repressive beyond any human standard; he was only one of countless thousands who were being subjected to that same fear and repression.
The other experience is very immediate. I turned on the television news when I was preparing for this debate and I wish to give the House a flavour of what is now the pattern of suffering, horror and inhumanity across the world. Today in Burundi children have been burnt alive. There is a political repression of a kind that is impossible for us, in the cosy comfort of the Upper House, to understand. It is equally impossible for interdepartmental committees, in their detached atmosphere, to understand. Angola is a scene of horror and repression beyond anything we would tolerate. In Bosnia children are being slaughtered every day because of the inadequacy of the United Nations, the European Community, the family of nations and the political consensus which should rebel and say this is intolerable. Our people every day see mothers, with young children strapped on their backs, slaughtered and children decimated. This is happening even as we address this issue in the Seanad. It is on our screens today; the reality of what is happening out there is much worse, more intolerable and less acceptable.
Normally I would be reasonably reassured that we are adhering to the standards of the United Nations and the UNHCR. However, when I look at the failure of the United Nations — and I am not blaming the United Nations as such but its members — to address issues of this nature I believe there is a chance for us now, more than ever, to break out of the shell, to be ahead of the rest and to take action that will demonstrate that we, at least, share that sense of pain and suffering that has been imposed on so many countless millions. It happened in Tiananmen Square and it happened in the Soviet Union at a time when some did not want to know or pretend it could  happen among brother socialists. It did happen however, and now we know the full story. For that reason I believe the sense of urgency that is coming across in this debate is well timed.
I know from my experience in Government that it is necessary to have these things studied and properly implemented. Nevertheless, if nothing more comes through to those in the interdepartmental committee who are studying this matter — and interdepartmental committees are a feature of Government at all times — they will get a clear signal from this House that we regard this as a matter of the most fundamental urgency.
The legislation they produce may be flawed but no legislation introduced in the Oireachtas in my 27 years experience has ever been perfect. I know that Senator Neville's legislation has flaws, and he would recognise that but I do not think that would justify us saying that this legislation should not pass. The legislation the Minister will introduce — as is my hope and expectation — will also have flaws, no matter how much thought is given to it. The Minister of State has indicated that the legislation will be introduced soon and he means what he says. I hope it will be introduced before Christmas. We have seen a speedy response to Senator Neville's initiative with regard to the Suicide Bill. I think even Senator Neville was surprised at the speed of that response and I hope we will get the same type of response now.
Our response to other groups in crises, for example, the boat people with whom I was involved, may compare with the best in the world in many ways but, because of the level of repression and inhumanity that is a pattern in life today and because of the failure of the United Nations and other bodies, we are facing a more obvious degree of urgency now than ever before.
Although I knew David Owen well, I was never convinced of his capacity to deal with major issues, such as the emerging independence of Zimbabwe as it became known, and in Dublin two days ago he advised that we might have to suspend aid to Bosnia and the former  Yugoslavia because it is falling into the wrong hands. If that is not an admission of the inadequacy and failure of the nations which sent him there — I do not mean this personally — then I cannot think what is. If we suspend aid because we cannot prevent those tyrants and warlords from using it for their own purposes while they slaughter the innocent and the young, then it is a terrible indictment of the world in which we live.
This debate has given us an opportunity to express our impatience with the present situation and our determination to do something sooner rather than later. I am sorry the Minister could not be here as I know she has a commitment to this area, but I am happy the Minister for State is here. I and other Members will be impatient for action. I hope the interdepartmental committee will not operate like similar committees because one can spend all one's time consulting. It is time the results of its consultations were brought before the House, and I hope that will be before Christmas.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: Not long ago a committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas considered whether we needed some system of administrative justice in the considerations that led to the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman. At that time the people who represented both Houses were happy that this area could be left to the administrators in our Aliens and Immigration Service. Things have progressed in the ten years since then.
At that time I made a submission arguing that our laws in this area are fundamentally racist. They are not secretly racist; they are openly racist because, as one Senator said earlier, if a person is not white he or she has a difficult time at our borders. This Bill was introduced in the other House by Deputy Shatter. It was a good and timely motion.
I have made submissions on a number of occasions in the last 14 years about the need for change in this area. It is a matter of public record that I believe our laws are seriously deficient and do us no service. Our aliens service operates to prevent Ireland becoming a back door to  Britain, so we are effectively operating British colonial racist policies which do us no credit. It is about time we stopped.
Like Senator O'Kennedy, whom I thank for sharing his time with me, I too will be impatient. Something good has been done here tonight because we have given a very clear signal, as was given on the last occasion in the other House, to our administrators in this area, that we are not satisfied with what is happening. It reflects no credit on the Irish people. I await with impatience the introduction of the Minister's Bill in this House in December. I wonder why we always have to introduce the laws on the Government side. Why can we not transcend party politics on an issue like this? If this legislation does not appear in the very near future I expect we will debate this issue again in the Seanad. I expect progress on this issue in this House because I, like other Members read those reports and I feel ashamed to be Irish.
I too had a personal experience. Many years ago in the dying days of the Brezhnev regime in the Soviet Union, I took a group of third commerce students from UCD there and we spent two very memorable weeks travelling around and at the end of that period, one of those people came to us and said she was about to travel to Cuba, and she was contemplating leaving the aeroplane in Shannon. I had to point out that if she did there was nothing more certain than that we would put her on another plane and return her to Moscow. I remember, like Senator O'Kennedy, the feeling of self loathing I had at that time. I wrote during the time of the Oireachtas all-party committee suggesting that this was an area where we should have Ombudsman oversight. I submitted articles and they were published, in fact they were cited in this House by Senators from both sides when the Ombudsman legislation was going through. We need urgent action here.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn Mrs. Taylor-Quinn
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this Bill and compliment Senator Neville for introducing it and Deputy Shatter for introducing  it in the lower House. I am glad to hear that there is so much support for this Bill on the floor of the House from all sides including the Government parties. The onus is now on the Government parties to accept that they have an opportunity here of showing their goodwill by not challenging this Bill to a vote this evening. It is important that the work done by the Opposition be recognised and that the usefulness of the Seanad be recognised in allowing Second Stage to be read here tonight.
The Minister will have an opportunity at a future date to table amendments and I am sure Senator Neville will agree that this Bill is not perfect, nor does he claim it to be perfect. He will be open to taking a variety of amendments on Committee Stage and as the Minister is well in advance at the moment in relation to a draft Bill, surely by the time this comes to Committee Stage that Bill will be drafted and she will be in a position to change the sections that do not comply with her Bill by proposing amendments to Senator Neville's Bill. I suggest that the Government take that course of action.
I hope that Senators, in particular Senator O'Kennedy, as they go through the lobbies tonight, will think of the fear and dread that he spoke of in the eyes of the refugees as they were being put back on a plane. We must recognise, for a country that supposedly lays such emphasis on the right to life, that tonight in many cases we are deciding on the refugees' right to life on their return to their own country. That fundamental issue must be addressed and I hope people will think of that when they are making their decision.
I do not understand why there are so many complications in relation to accepting the Bill. The UN convention is in place for a number of years. There have been various amendments to it, the last in 1985. The whole framework is in place, it is only a matter of getting it into the form of legislation. I appeal to the Government to accept the goodwill of the Opposition in tabling this Bill, a Bill that is addressing a fundamental issue of human rights. I disagree with speakers  who have said that we have a good record in relation to the issue of refugees here in Ireland. Over the past four years over 156 people sought refugee status and only three were granted it. That is a very small proportion.
I am familiar with many of the cases that have been mentioned here tonight because most of them arrived into Shannon airport, mostly off flights transiting through Shannon airport. They arrive and get off the plane and they refuse to get back on. In many cases huge questions have been raised in relation to the tactics adopted. First, the facilities in the airport are totally unsuitable for provision of the basic humanitarian needs dealt with in the Geneva Convention. There is no proper facility in the airport or in Shannon Garda station for dealing with the refugees. Most of them arrive jetlagged and exhausted. Most of them are unable to speak English. They are coming usually from a system where they are totally suspicious of any officialdom. Proper facilities should be in place to deal with them and afford them every possible opportunity to explain their case.
I welcome a number of announcements made by the Minister tonight in relation to what has been done and what will be done by way of providing guidelines and training for our immigration officers. Unfortunately many of them have not actually been provided with this training. I do not blame them, I blame the Department. It has taken this issue as something not to be dealt with, something that does not really worry us too much. Our fundamental objective in dealing with many of the refugees is to send them to some other airport off our shores. That is the reality, I am aware of it myself.
Reference was made to the Kurds who arrived in Shannon airport. I was in Shannon airport the evening the 24 Kurds refused to leave the airport. I take this opportunity of complimenting Amnesty International. I met a young man there who was involved in Amnesty International in Limerick, who did a great job on a voluntary basis and who was out there doing his level best to get around officialdom and to protect these people's  human rights. The case has been gone through here this evening. The situation that occurred was most unfortunate. More time should have been afforded and a completely different approach adopted.
I have often had phone calls late at night and during the weekend from solicitors acting on behalf of individuals who have disembarked at Shannon. This thing goes on and on. Senator Neville here this evening is providing a statutory basis on which facilities can be provided. The onus is on the Government to ensure that this Bill is accepted. It would be most unfortunate if we adopted the tactic of brushing this under the carpet and saying that all the wisdom in regard to this issue is within the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs. Every Member of this House has a wealth of experience in a variety of areas and are quite capable of putting together something of substance, as Senator Neville proved here this evening.
Senator Neville and Fine Gael are more than prepared to accept amendments put forward by Government. The Minister specifically refers to the omission of a section dealing with Articles 12 to 20 of the Geneva Convention in relation to the rights and entitlements of a person who has been given refugee status. Senator Neville will deal with that issue and is prepared to take amendments. Many speakers have referred to making the Seanad relevant. Here is an opportunity for the Government to show its genuine commitment to that by accepting this Bill this evening. I hope that, while Senator Neville is concluding, the Minister will change his mind and advise the Leader of the House to accept the Second Stage of this Bill.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate and who agreed on both sides of the House with the thrust of the Bill. I am disappointed that the Government will not accept the Bill, which is operable. The issues as outlined in the various conventions are addressed in it. The Minister states that Articles 12 to 20 of the Geneva Convention are not  included but I have no problem about accepting an amendment to include them or any other amendments. No Bill, as Senator O'Kennedy said, is perfect. Amendments are accepted, for example, only last week in dealing with the Matrimonial Home Bill the Minister accepted a significant amendment from this side of the House and we thanked and congratulated him for that. We ask him to do something similar tonight in accepting this Bill.
The Minister of State said he hoped to introduce a Bill before Christmas. I hope he will. I was promised in November 1991 that a Bill would be introduced if the Opposition withdrew its Bill. It did so on the understanding that the then Minister for Justice would introduce a Bill decriminalising suicide before Christmas 1991. I will not go through the various events but by April 1993, a year and a half later, the Bill had still not been introduced by the Minister. In frustration, this side of the House reintroduced its Suicide Bill, 1993. The result was that on the day we were to debate that Bill the Minister produced a Bill, a year and a half after we had obtained a commitment from the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Burke on a Bill.
Now we are told that the Minister hopes to introduce a Bill before Christmas. How can we have confidence that will happen? We wait and hope that it will. I assure the Minister of State that if he does not introduce a Bill we will handle it as we did before, reintroduce this Bill and again debate it. I put the Government on notice that this will be our approach. We have no confidence that he is prepared to introduce a Bill.
The Minister of State talked about interdepartmental committees and interim reports and said that a Bill should not be rushed. Let us look at the history of this Bill and the issue of trying to get legislation through to ensure that refugees are properly protected. This legislative procedure started in March 1993 when Deputy Shatter produced a Bill. He gave the Government two months to respond or to produce their own Bill and  nothing happened. Even in May 1993 the Minister for Justice would not give a commitment that she would introduce a Bill. She said it was unnecessary and the Bill was voted out. At the end of June 1993 I published a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad similar to Deputy Shatter's Bill. We heard that legislation might be produced and now we are told that legislation will be produced. The Minister and the Department have had more than adequate time since last March to produce legislation it they had wanted it. We delayed the introduction of this Bill from last June as we hoped the Minister would introduce legislation but we have no confidence that will happen.
This is the typical approach to Private Members' Bills. The Government does not accept anything from the Opposition, as if it is incapable of producing anything worthwhile. The Government will vote it down and the excuse given will be that legislation is being prepared. Many people said that this Bill is signposting legislation to come. We hope it is but we are not convinced. The Minister said that the present procedure is adequate and working well.
Like Senator Norris, in my introduction I gave examples of problems which have arisen. I would like to give another example — in which Senator Norris was directly involved — of the case of Mr. Marey Al Gutrani, a Libyan national who left Libya because he would have been conscripted by Colonel Gadaffi to fight in the war in Chad. He fled the country because he did not wish to fight and it was obvious that if he returned he would be dealt with severely by the establishment there. He was arrested by the police in this country in 1991, sent to Mountjoy Prison and then to Wheatfield Prison for 18 months where he was placed with sex offenders who beat him up and abused him because he was different.
He was treated disgracefully, eventually a solicitor took his case to the High Court and he was released. It was the view of the judge that his continued incarceration was unreasonable, unfair and unjust. During the period he was incarcerated an attempt was made to deport  him. He was taken to Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, in a State car with his hands and feet tied. If the US Government did that to illegal Irish immigrants in the US we would parade and demonstrate outside the US embassy and there would be fears for the safety of the people inside.
Senator Crowley said this was an important Bill which heralded future legislation. Although I hope we will have a change of mind on the vote this evening, realistically I do not believe we will. Senator Crowley should ensure that his party is as supportive of this as the Labour Party — although it does not seem to have the courage of its convictions on this matter unlike the Progressive Democrats in the previous Government when they forced two Private Members' Bills to be accepted in the Dáil.
Senator Crowley has concerns about information being given which impinges on security. In natural justice if a decision is taken against anybody he or she should know why it has been taken and given the full facts to introduce counter arguments or even be satisfied that the decision was just and fair in the circumstances.
Mr. Crowley Mr. Crowley
Mr. Crowley: Natural justice also protects the majority.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: It should and it would. If there are areas where the Senator would like to amend the Bill to ensure that the unusual circumstances to which he referred are covered, it could be done so  that natural justice would be seen to be done in all cases.
I was impressed with Senator O'Kennedy's contribution. I hope the House takes note of it and supports our Bill. The Minister said he wished to have the full views of Amnesty International. In fairness, the Seanad has the views of Amnesty International through the Trinity College branch which I congratulate for its campaign, not alone for the Bill in this House and in the other House, but generally for endeavouring to bring about this legislation. If it does come about eventually — I hope before Christmas — it can take a lot of the credit for ensuring that people are made aware of the difficulties and support those who are anxious that the situation is changed.
It is unfortunate that we will be putting this to a division. We hope we have convinced the other side of the House they should support the Bill. If they do we will be happy to accept amendments and ensure that the legislation is improved but if the Minister votes this out I reiterate that we will not walk away from it. At the appropriate time, under Standing Orders, we will reintroduce a similar Bill and we will not stop until basic human rights legislation is introduced. All one has to do if one wants advice on this is to look at the United Nations convention, the Protocol to the convention and the Geneva convention to see how this situation should be handled. We do not need interdepartmental committees and interim reports to outline this — it is in black and white in those conventions.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 23.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Neville; Níl, Senators Magner and Mullooly.
Question declared lost.
Seanad Éireann 138 Refugee Protection (No. 2) Bill, 1993: Second Stage.