Ireland's immigration Bill 1999


BORD FAILTE, the Irish tourist board, sells an image of Ireland as being a very friendly place to visit, a place where you are guaranteed a huge "Cead Mile Failte" (a hundred thousand welcomes). Tell that to the group of nine Polish tourists whose friendly welcome in mid-June consisted of spending a night in Mountjoy prison before being dispatched back to Poland unceremoniously because "they didn't have enough money". Or to the Japanese academic who wanted to come to Ireland for the Bloomsday celebrations, also in mid-June, but was refused permission to land in the State.

These are just two cases which made it into the media, without doubt there are many more. The friendly Irish welcome has been replaced by the hostile, suspicious glare of the immigration official. Fortress Europe has come to Ireland with a vengeance. In January, the High Court found sections of the 1935 Aliens Act unconstitutional and ruled that the Department of Justice did not have the power to deport people from the State. This has resulted in a huge crackdown at points of entry in an effort to keep people out.

The Fortress Europe club, to which the Irish government has gained full membership, is brutal in its dealings with people fleeing the troublespots of the world. Within the past twelve months, at least two states - Belgium and Austria - have killed asylum seekers during attempts to deport them.

The UNITED website ( documents over 1,300 refugee deaths through Fortress Europe since 1993. Examples include: September 1997 - 26 North Africans drowned when trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar; last July two teenagers were found frozen to death in the cargo hold of a plane that flew from Nigeria to Brussels.

Political Hypocrisy

When the Kosovo crisis was at its height in June, the Irish government - after much soul-searching - eventually agreed to the admission of 1,000 Kosovar refugees into Ireland. Perhaps one of the sickest examples of political hypocrisy for decades (and we've had a great deal of it!) was the sight of Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue posing with the first group of Kosovars to arrive.

This was the same Minister who had threatened that up to 90% of asylum seekers in Ireland could expect to be deported. The man whose Department had already refused asylum to the nearly 200 Kosovar refugees who had arrived here in the previous two years, and who was in the process of shepherding the 'Immigration Bill 1999' through the Dáil. This Bill had but one purpose - to quickly restore the right to deport. This was also the same Minister who had consistently refused to extend the right to work to asylum seekers.

Hypocrisy is of course nothing new to politicians - either in Ireland or elsewhere. Neither is a complete disregard for any semblance of democracy. The Minister cast any pretence at democratic debate completely aside in the final days of the Dáil session, before its three month summer holiday. Debate on the Immigration Bill was taking too long for the Minister's liking. Anxious to have a deportation process in place before going away to enjoy his holidays, the Minister proposed a 16-page amendment to the Bill, and placed a guillotine on debate. On Thursday July 1st, 75 proposed amendments were dealt with in one vote, and the Bill was forced through.

Unprecedented Power

This Bill gives unprecedented power to the Minister. A deportation order can be made against any non-national who has been "Éindicted for or charged with any crime or offence" [Section3.2(b)] (no presumption of innocence; not even a serious crime - someone could conceivably deported for not buying a television licence or for breaking the Litter Act by dropping a cigarette box on the street!). Or indeed against "a person whose deportation would, in the opinion of the Minister, be conducive to the common good"[Section 3.2(i)].

It is fair to say that John O'Donoghue's vision of what might be "conducive to the common good" probably differs greatly to that of the ordinary worker. After all, it appears that he believes that the Department he is in charge of is called the department of 'Just Us' or alternately "just me and my henchmen".

Apart from the anti-democratic way in which the Bill was rushed through parliament (proof again, if such proof were needed, of the uselessness of our so-called 'democracy'), this measure presents all anti-racists with a direct challenge. Deportations are about to resume. Fortress Ireland is about to unleash its brutality in an even greater fashion than heretofore on asylum seekers.

We must unite and stand together in physically resisting deportations. To borrow a phrase it would be "conducive to the common good" if we managed to defeat the government's attempts to throw people out of the country.

Gregor Kerr

(member, Anti-Racism Campaign)

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 58 published in Oct 1999