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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