Leaders' Questions (Continued)
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: This is a serious matter which needs to be cleared up and the facts determined. I referred to the issue this morning in the European Parliament because of the decision taken at the G8 summit in County Fermanagh that formal negotiations on the EU-US trade negotiations and mandate would formally commence in Washington in July. The allegations that have been made of United States surveillance of European Union premises are a matter of concern to everybody, Ireland included. For this reason, the EU's External Action Service has sought urgent clarification of the matter in both Washington and Brussels. The European Union expects to hear shortly from the United States authorities. High Representative Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the European Union, has also spoken directly to US Secretary of State John Kerry in Brunei. We have discussed the issue with senior officials in the US embassy in Dublin and indicated we expect clarification on this matter as soon as possible to follow on the EU request. This country values greatly its relationship with the United States, both bilaterally and in the context of the European Union, and we expect to continue this co-operative relationship in the period ahead.
I confirm that the gentleman to whom Deputy Daly referred, Mr. Snowden, has written to the Irish embassy in Moscow requesting that he be granted asylum in Ireland. It is clear from the content of his letter that Mr. Snowden is facing potentially very serious criminal charges in the United States relating to his having made public information which was privileged and confidential relating to the US Government. Asylum applications are not accepted from persons resident or present in other countries, as our refugee status determination is based on applications for asylum made within the Irish jurisdiction. Accordingly, asylum applications made at Irish embassies abroad are not accepted. Section 8 of the 1996 Refugee Act provides that any person who arrives at the frontiers of the State or any person who at any time is in the State seeking the status of a refugee may apply to the Minister for a declaration of refugee status. It is a generally accepted principle internationally and one which Ireland applies that a person should seek asylum in the first safe host country in which he or she arrives.
Mr. Snowden has written to the Irish embassy in Moscow and I have outlined the conditions that apply in this regard. The process of dealing with the matter, in the event that a valid application is made, will be in accordance with the framework of international legal conventions such as the Geneva Convention, EU directives and regulations.
Deputy Clare Daly: I am not sure what the Taoiseach needs to have clarified as it is a fact that the United States authorities engaged in the surveillance that has been alleged. I note the Taoiseach is not willing to condemn the actions of the United States and chose instead to diminish them by describing them as a matter of concern. They are a matter of very grave concern, which will have serious consequences for our democracy.
It is in these exceptional circumstances that I asked questions about Edward Snowden. While the Taoiseach has confirmed that Mr. Snowden has applied for asylum in Ireland, he brushed off the issue by stating we cannot facilitate him if he is not on our shores. What criteria were used in the cases of the Vietnamese boat people and Bosnian refugees who came here and were correctly taken into this country? Exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures.
I recall that it was deemed sufficiently important to obtain an Irish passport for Tony Cascarino on the grounds of a fictitious grandmother in order that he could be part of Jack's army. A little creativity could be shown on the basis that this young man, who has done democracy a great service, is in serious danger. We have an opportunity to become a world leader in defending human rights and pointing a way forward. I urge the Taoiseach to seriously consider this issue. If Mr. Snowden lands in Ireland, will the Government give him refuge from the undoubted persecution he faces?
According to Wikileaks this morning, Mr. Snowden has applied for asylum in 21 countries. I confirm he has written to the Irish embassy in Moscow. As I stated, the way this country operates is that refugee status determination is made in respect of persons who are resident in this State or in its jurisdiction. If a valid asylum application is received from Mr. Snowden, it will be processed in accordance with the Geneva Convention and declarations and accompanying regulations that apply in the European Union. That is the procedure that applies to every person who seeks refugee status in this country.
8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his Department has a special unit in place to prepare for the referendum to abolish Seanad Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28695/13]
9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will circulate his Departments memos and minutes of meetings held regarding the forthcoming Seanad referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30375/13]
10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his Department officials have given him any assessment they have made on the proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30376/13]
13. Deputy Dara Murphy asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date on introducing a unicameral style of parliament; and if he will provide an update on the referendum on the abolition of Seanad Éireann. [31930/13]
The Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013 was published on 6 June last. As Deputies will be aware, the Bill completed all Stages in the Dáil on 25 June and is now with the Seanad. While a date has not been set for the referendum, the Government intends that it will be held in the autumn.
The programme for Government contains a clear commitment to ask the people in a referendum whether they wish to abolish the Seanad. Accordingly, my Department's assessment of the proposal and the Department's records relate to the implementation of that commitment in the Bill and its contents, and associated proposals for Dáil reform.
My Department has set up a small unit to deal with the matter. Its focus at the moment is to support the Government in the passage of the Bill through the Houses. The unit has one member of staff working on a full-time basis and three working on a part-time basis. If the legislation is passed by the Oireachtas, the unit will remain in place. It will operate in accordance with the law relating to referendums and in accordance with relevant court judgments. If the proposal is approved by the people, I envisage the unit will remain in place to work on the implementation of the people's decision and associated reform measures.
With regard to consultation, the Bill and explanatory memorandum were published on 6 June, well in advance of the proposed referendum date. The proposals in the Bill are being and will be debated extensively, both by the Houses of the Oireachtas and in the wider public forum, in the period between publication of the Bill and the referendum. Ultimately, it is the people who are to be consulted on the future of the Seanad.
While the Government does not propose to conduct a public information campaign, such a campaign will be conducted by the Referendum Commission. The early publication of the Bill, some months in advance of the referendum and the fact that the commission has already been established will no doubt assist the commission in its work.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I understand a Referendum Commission has been established under Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne. In light of complaints made about a lack of resources available to the Referendum Commission established for the children's referendum, will the Taoiseach confirm that sufficient resources will be made available to the new commission? I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks, specifically in respect of the Supreme Court judgment in the McCrystal case. What will be the impact in terms of the way in which the Government will prosecute the campaign to persuade people that the Seanad should be abolished? In my view, the Seanad is a useless and ineffective institution and should be abolished. What does the Government intend to do in its campaign?
I welcome the decision to establish a small unit which will, I understand, work on further reform of Dáil Éireann. It is very small if it has only one full-time member of staff. Will it not be important to present to citizens a significant programme of Dáil reform, including in the area of committee powers and so forth?
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