Saturday, December 20, 2008

Opposition should tread carefully on asylum bill.

Frequentors of the blogosphere and politics.ie will know of my concerns in relation to abuses of the Irish asylum and immigration system that has lead to a derisory 25% of deportation-orders actually leading to the removal of the affected-persons from this country. Sometimes I feel that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are talking out of both sides of their mouths on the issue. The same cannot be said for Labour, whose stance on the Government's Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 (now set to drag on into 2009 and a second year since the beginning of its legislative-passage), has leaned consistently towards seeking to have the legislation watered-down. The Bill is currently in Committee Stage and here is what has transpired from the proceedings there. Pat Rabbitte has insisted that provisions in the Bill for the granting of six-month visas to trafficked persons who cooperate with the Gardai in the prosecuting of their traffickers must also apply to persons claiming to have been trafficked who refuse to so cooperate. Indeed he goes as far as to call it 'the only humanitarian position this State can take'. Meanwhile Fine Gael Immigration and Integration Spokesman Dennis Naughten, while far less strident, seemed uncomfortable with the Bill's removal of the requirement of the Gardai to forewarn those issued with deportation-orders of their respective dates of deportation. This is despite the fact that just 43 people were deported from Ireland as of the end of June this year - a staggering five-sixth's reduction in the number of deportations from 599 in 2004. In broad terms, I favour the Government's proposed legislation and call on my readers and all concerned about abuse of our asylum system to contact their local TDs to push for its timely passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas. In these recessionary times, the old adage that charity begins at home has seldom been more apt than at present. With a budget-deficit of €8 billion this year - expected to rise to at least €11 billion next year - the cupboard is simply bare and it makes little sense to make the plain people of Ireland pay for the upkeep of those (in terms of accommodation, education, health and social-welfare) whose safety did not and does not require their presence in Ireland. The case of failed Nigerian asylum-seeker Pamela Izevbekhai has become a cause-celebre in liberal and Opposition circles, with Sligo Lord Mayor Veronica Cawley and the Fine Gael party hosting receptions in support of her wish to remain in Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights was due to rule on her case on 12th December, but has deferred its judgement. Predictable slogans about the spirit of Christmas et al have dominated the liberal media's relentless pressure on Minister Ahern but I now call on him to show leadership with an asylum-system that is fair to the Irish citizens of this country, rather than exclusively to failed asylum-seekers. She has been through the asylum-appeals system for years since her arrival here (she claims via Amsterdam though the Sunday Times reports Dept. of Justice officials believe she arrived on a UK tourist visa), and has been refused asylum. In the light of the absence of direct flights between Ireland and Nigeria, and the Dublin Convention which gives EU member states the legal right to return an asylum-seeker to a previous EU country of entry, the case for allowing her to remain in this country is weak. Don't get me wrong - I am appalled and outraged at the crime of Female Genital Mutilation - but the fact remains that her claims have been investigated and her claim for asylum refused. Even assuming her claims are accurate (and desperate people will say desperate things whether they be true or not for economic motives), she does not have a legal right to remain in Ireland, and in any case, FGM is simply not prevalent in most of the African continent, as this map shows. Had her motives been purely to obtain safe-refuge she could have found it in Africa. The judiciary have played the role of useful idiots in seeking to transfer to the Irish taxpayer the burden that is rightfully that of the former colonial powers in Africa at most, or neighbouring safe African countries at least. Ireland has not been stained with the blood of the native peoples of the former European colonial empires. We ourselves were an empire. And to those who persist in lauding the qualifications of failed asylum-seekers and their potential to contribute to Irish society, might I remind you of the humanitarian case for not exacerbating the terrible scourge of emigration from the Third World, which is greatly contributing to the keeping of Africa in particular in a perpetual state of poverty. Who are the real humanitarians here?

Which returns me to the matter of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill itself. Despite some reservations on my part on a number of matters (including empowering the Justice Minister to introduce yet another amnesty of illegal-immigrants), I am of the view that in the final analysis, this legislation should be supported. With a staggering 60% of judicial-reviews granted in 2007 (1,100 overall) relating to the asylum and immigration-process (compared to approximately 2% of the population having been in the asylum-process at one time or another since 1994), there is an unanswerable case for streamlining the appeals-process to weed out the antics of what Integration Minister Conor Lenihan described last January as a "voracious group of barristers" in the Law Library who are clogging up the system and who are primarily responsible for the endless delays in the execution of deportation-orders. The Bill would allow for the immediate deportation without notice of failed asylum-seekers, including those in the process of judicial-review applications (unless the judge grants an injunction preventing deportations - a weakness in my view), as well as substantially increasing the powers of immigration-officers to refuse entry to the state at ports-of-entry to the State. The refusal of what is termed "permission-to-land" since former Minister McDowell has been no small part of the reasons for the massive decline in the numbers claiming asylum here since the peak of 2002 it reached when asylum-seekers were granted the right to work in this country (another factor was the removal of that questionable right, which undermined the integrity of the asylum process as a source of refuge rather than of economic-migration). Likewise the end (finally) of the absurd 'fair procedures' that dictated the State had to forewarn would-be deportees of their deportation-dates is eminently sensible to all but the most gullible of observers. The Irish people can - and no doubt will - continue to wonder why on earth the legislation has taken 2 years to get this far - and when it will pass into law. Which is where I return to the questionable role being played by the two Opposition parties in objection to some of its provisions. Fine Gael in particular would do well to remember its notorious tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, while Labour would do well to recall Irish Ferries and where unregulated and unrestricted immigration policies ultimately lead. None of this is intended on my part as a scapegoating of newcomers to our court. On the contrary, I recognise the valuable contribution many legal-migrants to our country have made. But they of all people should - and I believe do - recognise that a system that rewards illegal-immigration to this country with leave to remain and the right to work on par with those who came here through lawful channels and in conformity with the rules is unfair to the latter. True equality demands that all are equally accountable to the law, and that is why this legislation must be passed presently.
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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lisbon pressure threatens our democracy.

With the government telling everyone but us that it intends to call a second referendum on the rejected Lisbon Treaty, the time has come to call the EU and the Irish political, media and other elites to account for the threat to democracy that is inherent in their refusal to comply with the decision of the people last June. The referendum turnout, at 53%, was higher than that of Nice 2, when the number of no voters remained largely the same numerically but the "yes" vote rose by 400,000. After the first Nice treaty referendum, the Government and the Eurocrats argued that the low turnout of just 34% justified holding a second referendum, and it was held, resulting in a turnout that had risen by 17% to 51%. However in the Lisbon referendum, the no vote soared from 534,000 to 840,000 - a huge rise of over 300,000 - compared to the second Nice treaty referendum. As such, the elite find their arguments for a second vote confined to baseless scaremongering - including in the recent report of the Oireachtas Committee on Ireland's Future in Europe - such as attempting to create imagined links between the recession and the no vote (a marked insult to the people), implying that a no vote would mean expulsion from the European Union ('effectively voting ourselves out of Europe' as Gerald Barry put it on RTE's "This Week" radio show), or other vague contentions that we are 'isolated' in Europe, invoking (as Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin did today on that latter programme) the history of European integration since 1957 as if to imply that European integration has always benefitted Ireland (a view that displaced Irish workers have reason to question). However, the more we hear from these people, the more deja vu it seems. It is likely a second referendum would mean in practice a rehash of the failed arguments of the Lisbon I campaign, but with a dose of McCarthyism added in with respect to anti-Treaty thinktank Libertas and particularly its founder Declan Ganley. As usual these consist largely of European Affairs Minister Dick Roche appearing on Prime Time and the weekend current affairs shows digging for dirt about Ganley's business dealings in the States, while finding - as usual - no evidence of illegality. And even if it were otherwise (which it wasn't), what suddenly makes Fianna Fáil the paragons of virtue in terms of political and corporate-ethics? Has Minister Roche forgotten the circumstances surrounding the departure of his former leader already? Can't he remember the 11 years of Tribunal revelations from Dublin Castle that has rightly caused masses of the Irish people - including up to 40% of Fianna Fáil voters - to take Fianna Fáil's promises and claims with a grain of salt? That is why none of this stuck in the first campaign and in all likelihood, will backfire in the second campaign.

But we shouldn't even be having a second campaign without substantial changes to the text of this Treaty. It is by far the most dangerous document ever to be presented to an Irish electorate or parliament since the Act of Union, and represents the funeral march of democracy within the European Union. A Union founded on democracy would become one founded on dictatorship of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and Luxembourg (the seat of the European Court of Justice), and one in which Ireland and other small member states revert to the colonial status they spent centuries fighting and shedding blood to extract themselves from. What would De Valera think of placing a document like the Charter of Fundamental Rights supersede the Constitution he founded and passed in 1937? Or about a voting system that weighted the vote of Ireland on the Council of Ministers according to population by removing the overepresentation of small countries, as if we were a mere constituency of a superstate like in when we were part of the British Empire (except we had 20% of the MPs in the House of Commons compared to 2% in the European Parliament). As the architect of Irish neutrality, what would he think of our participation in the EU Battlegroups and the European Defence Agency, as well as the requirement in the Lisbon treaty that we "progressively increase" our military-capability? Of of the prospect, plain to see in the Referendum Bill 2008 that the Government may cede its veto on Justice and Home Affairs without recourse to a referendum? This is just my opinion but I firmly believe he would turn in his grave. The answer is still no, and will remain so until the elite comes back with a document that respects not only our no vote to the substantive issue last June, but also those of France and the Netherlands, whose democratic-voices are being trampled upon by the jackboots of Brussels and its faceless bureaucrats.

For 20 years 30-54% of voters turning out have been voting no and no publication has been representing them in the press. In that context the entry of the Sunday Times, Irish Mail/MoS and the Irish Sun has been a breath of fresh air and it isn't simply a case of being inducted into some purely British-ideology. Most Irish eurocritics are, unlike the UK Eurosceptics, pro-EU membership and even the Euro currency but oppose this Treaty. We differ from the pro-Lisbon folks in that we don't confuse being a good European with being a compliant one. Ultimately, we are the real pro-Europeans because we are standing up for Europe's traditional democratic foundations upon which the EU was built. Lisbon is an attempt by Brussels at sabotaging those foundations (unwitting or intentional) and if it succeeds will collapse the project in the longterm. The French and Dutch voted no, and their wishes are not being respected either by their own parliaments/govts or by ours. I believe that there is more to Europe than the politicians and their grand-designs. The 500 million EU citizens are the real Europe, and the cowardly way that their politicians ran away from promises of referenda when the French and Dutch voted no in 2005 demonstrates a fear of and resistance to allowing the peoples of Europe a direct say by referenda in matters concerning institutional reform in and transfer of sovereignty to the EU institutions. I am pro-EU, but I don't think this Treaty is consistent with maintaining popular support for the European project in the longterm. The EU will only survive with popular consent, and steamrolling something through against the democratically-expressed wishes of its nations (at citizen-level not just the elite) will only bring a Bastille moment closer. I don't want that to happen, and welcome a no vote as an opportunity for the EU to undergo the exercise in soulsearching and democratic-reforms that it failed to engage in following the French and Dutch no votes. Voting no is a positive, pro-EU step - not an anti-EU one.