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Other Questions. - Immigration Laws.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 13. Mr. F. McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  his views on the economic position that emigrants are needed to assist the development of the economy; and his views on whether Operation Hyphen was a failure. [15569/02]

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which has the lead role in labour market migration policy, recognises that there have been shortages across all sectors of the Irish labour market, at all skill levels, for a number of years. The immigration procedures adopted by my Department in relation to migrant workers are designed to cohere with the needs of the Irish economy and have been adopted in consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Last year, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment issued 36,000 work permits to Irish firms in respect of non-EEA national employees. In addition, a special streamlined work visa and work authorisation scheme was put in place in April 2000 to cover persons with qualifications in special high skill areas. More than 3,500 work visas and work authorisations were issued in 2001. The range of professions covered by the this scheme was extended in May 2002 and [1122] it now covers construction professionals, information technology professionals, medical practitioners and a range of other healthcare professionals. In all of the foregoing cases, special simplified procedures are operated by the immigration authorities in relation to the issue of visas and in relation to permission to enter and remain in the State save in exceptional circumstances which may arise from time to time.

It is not the case, however, that the response to the State's need for immigrant labour can be addressed by simply allowing any person who arrives in this jurisdiction at any time for any purpose to engage in employment as a matter of course. The migration of large numbers of workers from widely divergent social and economic backgrounds must be managed in a structured, transparent and legally sound manner to ensure fair treatment of the persons concerned and to ensure the social and economic welfare of the State and its citizens is protected. Neither is it the case that Garda operations which are designed to ensure the immigration laws of the State are complied with can simply be set aside because the State is in need of immigrant employees in particular sectors.

Operation Hyphen, about which the Deputy asked, took place on the 16 July and 23 July of this year and was one such Garda operation. It was but one of a wide range of initiatives taken by the Garda authorities in their ongoing investigation to identify persons who are unlawfully present in this jurisdiction. I am informed by the Garda authorities that they consider Operation Hyphen a success in that 16 persons wanted for deportation were apprehended, a number were charged with offences before the District Court and a number who were here illegally are believed to have left the State voluntarily. As a result of the operation there has been a dramatic increase in the number of non-EEA nationals who are registering at the Garda National Immigration Bureau and at local Garda registration offices as they are required to do under the provisions of the Aliens Order, 1946.

The Deputy should note that if the law is not enforced, it falls into disuse and disrepute. If it is enforced, people comply with it and we need people to comply with immigrations law because, without it, there will be chaos.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Does the Minister agree that all politicians, parties and Members of this House have a duty to work against racism in this country? Does the Minister find it strange to direct an operation such as Operation Hyphen, which saw the arrest of 16 people, and to use the Garda and the finances of the State in such a negative way considering the massive anti-social problems in the State? Does the Minister accept the valuable economic, social and cultural role immigrants [1123] play in Ireland? Will he highlight this positive side to immigration?

Mr. Cuffe: Information on Ciaran Cuffe Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe Will the Minister clarify the cost of Operation Hyphen in terms of the Garda overtime that was required to arrange for the deportation of 16 individuals?

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I am not in a position to furnish the House with the cost of Operation Hyphen. I agree with Deputy McGrath that immigrants have made and are making a valuable contribution to Irish society from the highest paid to the more modestly paid posts which they occupy. I do not detract in any way from that economic and social reality. However, it is not negative to enforce immigration law. I intend to increasingly enforce it and to make it more effective in the coming months. The law is to be complied with. Irish laws are not very onerous or exacting and anybody who comes to Ireland must comply with our immigration laws. I will not allow a free-for-all to develop.

I agree with Deputy McGrath's remarks about racism. I ask the Deputy to consider that one of the things that would contribute massively to the potential for the emergence of racism in our society would be the perception that those who have a responsibility for upholding the law on immigration had given up on the job and were allowing a free-for-all to develop for those who wished to come here in any circumstance, regardless of the state of our law. It is not a question of Operation Hyphen having overtones or undertones of racism; it is simply an exercise in indicating to people in this country, whether they come from America, Africa or elsewhere, that they must comply with our laws. The effect of Operation Hyphen has been to bring about a much more compliant attitude towards our immigration laws.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

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