Header Item Asylum Seeker Accommodation (Continued)
 Header Item Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] That has been the consequence of the reports. Moreover, the issues highlighted in these reports, where problems exist, have been addressed and I wish to be clear in that regard.

While the direct provision system is not ideal and I do not pretend it is, it facilitates the State in providing a roof over the heads of those seeking asylum or seeking on other grounds to be allowed to remain in the State and to so do in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances in which the State is in great financial difficulty. There is no open-ended pot of money available to deal with and address this issue, as there is not to deal with a broad range of issues that affect citizens of the State. More than 51,000 people have been accommodated in direct provision since early 2000 and, as I noted, 4,500 people are in the system at present. Since then, no asylum seeker has been left homeless by the failure of the State to provide basic shelter or to meet basic needs. It is of course to be expected that asylum seekers anywhere, if given a choice, would prefer to have independent accommodation, a right to welfare and work and so on instead of being restricted to a system of direct provision to meet their needs. To avoid misunderstanding, it should be noted that all European Union member states operate systems for dealing with asylum seekers which, in one form or another, greatly restrict their access to welfare, work or independent housing. The system in this State is at least on a par with, and often significantly better than, that in operation in many other states. I freely admit the system has its faults but it is misleading to characterise our system of providing for asylum seekers in any way as grossly inadequate or inappropriate. Within the financial constraints within which we must operate, I emphasise it guarantees that everyone claiming to be an asylum seeker who seeks to remain in the State is provided with a roof over his or her head if he or she is not in a position to provide it him or herself.

I accept Deputy Nulty's description of some of those who seek asylum. Some come from terrible background circumstances where they are genuine asylum applicants who are entitled to be granted refugee status or are entitled to be allowed to remain in the State on humanitarian grounds. However, some are economic migrants pretending to be asylum seekers. Moreover, some arrive in the State pretending to originate from countries where there is war and strife but on investigation of their cases, it turns out they come from somewhere entirely different from the state they claimed to have been from. I share the view that asylum seekers or those seeking to remain here should not be kept in the centres for the length of time that many are kept there at present. However, the difficulty is with the current legal system in which there is a myriad of different applications that can be made. They can take a substantial time and along each of the routes, when a decision is granted with which someone disagrees - I criticise no one for doing this - he or she can make applications for judicial review in the High Court. There now are High Court lists such that regardless of whether one is a genuine asylum seeker who believes one's case is being dealt with inappropriately or is an economic migrant masquerading as an asylum seeker, everyone knows that if one applies for a judicial review, it may take one or two years before one's case is heard and one can remain in this State.

In these circumstances, it is not possible to state that after six months, people should go back into the workforce in circumstances in which more than 400,000 people are unemployed in this State.

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy What of the reception directive?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter However, I will conclude by noting that my objective is to introduce reforming legislation to which I am committed. Unfortunately, due to the huge burdens imposed on the Attorney General's office, it has not yet been possible to finalise it. Under this legislation, which I expect to publish in 2014, in the case of anyone who makes application to be granted asylum in this State or, where he or she is not granted refugee status, seeks leave to remain or gives humanitarian reasons to stay, all of those applications can be heard in a single application. There then will be an independent appeals process that will ensure people feel their cases have been properly heard and dealt with at all levels and that there is no incentive to bring matters to the High Court.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Minister.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Moreover, subsequent to the enactment of that legislation and while it may not be possible in all circumstances, I would like to achieve a position whereby the vast majority of such applications in which there are not unexpected complications or difficulties would be processed within six months. Consequently, in the case of people who arrive in the State and who have not an entitlement to remain, the integrity of Ireland's visa legislation would be maintained and they would be deported while in the case of those who are entitled to remain, they will be given the entitlement to remain without the delays that occur at present.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Minister.

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy What about the reception directive? Will Ireland sign up to it?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I believe that is a matter the Deputy must take up with the Minister later.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter We cannot sign up to anything until we change our laws.

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy There must be legislation first.

Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan As Deputy Mac Lochlainn, who was in possession is not in the Chamber, I will move on to the next speaker, Deputy Halligan. I understand he proposes to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Wallace, with each having ten minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan First, this Bill has the potential to be of invaluable benefit to criminal investigations and I believe it to be worthy of support in its current form. We should have begun the recording of the DNA of violent and repeat offenders a long time ago. It also is welcome that it will assist in the identification of missing and unknown persons, including unidentified human remains. Provided that appropriate privacy safeguards are included, DNA databases are indispensable crime-fighting weapons. The appropriate use of profiles obtained from DNA samples can enable law enforcement officials to more rapidly eliminate innocent people from their inquiries. There also is a theory that taking criminals' DNA samples actually will lower crime rates because such DNA samples will work as a deterrent by increasing the likelihood that a criminal will be convicted if he or she is caught.

However, I have some concerns the Minister should address and I hope the Bill will not be open to abuse. For example, it is critical that this proposed legislation has the necessary safeguards and procedures for destruction. At present, approximately 30,000 DNA samples are being added to the United Kingdom's database each month. Recently, the Supreme Court in the United States passed down a ruling stating it is legal to take DNA swabs from arrestees without a warrant on the grounds that a DNA check swab is similar to other common jailhouse procedures such as fingerprinting. Some states in the United States have passed legislation requiring the collection of DNA samples from people convicted of some low-level crimes including shoplifting and drug possession. I hope we do not reach a similar stage here in Ireland. For instance, in the future will there be an extension of this Bill's provisions beyond its current inception? I have no doubt but that the temptation may be there to expand the use of DNA databases. I note, for instance, that over a ten-year period in the United States, law enforcement officials went from collecting DNA from convicted sex offenders to now doing so from people who have been arrested but have not been convicted of a crime. This is the reason that while I consider the Bill to be worthy of support and I intend to support it, the civil liberties of individuals must be protected.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has raised some valid points regarding the Bill and I ask the Minister to consider them. I refer in particular to the extent to which samples and DNA profiles generated from DNA samples may be transmitted to other states, including some outside the European Union. While I missed the Minister's earlier comments in this regard, he might tell Members again whether samples will be transmitted to other states and if so, under what circumstances and whether they may be sent outside the European Union to, for instance, the United States. I do not oppose the sending of samples under certain circumstances. I refer to the example of a serious criminal on the run who may be known to be in a particular state but who cannot be found or, even if such an individual was arrested, there may not be sufficient evidence, whereas such evidence may exist in Ireland, perhaps through DNA testing of a crime he committed here.

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