Republican News · Thursday 17 February 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Contradictions cover a multitude of sins


Last Thursday, 10 February, the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O'Donoghue, announced to a distinguished gathering of NGOs and their representatives, over smoked salmon and drinks, that it was the policy of his government ``that all classes of immigrants, whether illegal or otherwise, will be treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with principles which respect their human dignity''. He omitted to mention, however, that they will be treated as second-class human beings.

The previous day, the minister published a second list of amendments to the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999, currently before the Dail, which aim to tighten up the High Court appeal procedures for asylum seekers whose applications for refugee status have been rejected.

At present, refugees have three months to appeal the refusal of status to the High Court. The minister proposed to amend the Trafficking Bill so that refugees who wish to appeal the Refugee Appeals Tribunal decisions (described as ``a travesty of justice'' by Senior Counsel Peter Findlay in his resignation last month from the chairmanship of the tribunal) will have just 14 days to lodge their application.

``It amounts to denying refugees the right to appeal, or to seek a judicial review at all,'' says Pat Guerin of National Federation of Campaigns Against Racism. ``A refugee, whose entitlement to legal aid is strictly limited, who may have difficulty with language and extreme difficulty with procedures, has to assess the basis of refusal and prepare an appeal and complete all this within the time limit that is near impossible. The proposed amendment is an unwarranted restriction on the rights of a person to defend their personal liberty.''

It is only through resort to the High Court that applicants for refugee status can get their case heard in a court of law, as opposed to the tribunal system, which as Peter Finlay pointed out, had unacceptable legal standards and ``trammelled'' over the rights of asylum-seekers.

The minister's amendments to the Trafficking Bill go on to say that the decision of the High Court on leave to apply for judicial review is final and there will be no appeal to the Supreme Court allowed, unless the High Court allows, on the grounds that the decision involves a ``point of law of exceptional public importance, and it is in the public interest that an appeal should be made to the Supreme Court''.

A spokesperson for the minister is reported as saying that the amendments would avoid situations where the courts were used to make applications which were `vexatious' or served to delay.

Amazingly, in the only publicly published response to Peter Findlay's resignation and the criticisms he raised of the tribunal appeal system, the minister proposes a further amendment, that ``a person shall not be appointed to be the chairperson unless the Civil Service Commissioners... have selected him or her for appointment to the position.''

In place of a public response to serious criticism by a senior appointee, the ministerial retort takes the form of an amendment to legislation which alters the methods of selection for that appointment. ``This is indeed dangerous stuff,'' Pat Guerin comments. ``We await the Department of Justice's response to Peter Findlay's criticisms. Is it simply to be a change in the law which amounts to saying that he should not have been appointed in the first place?''

``So much for treating refugees, illegal or otherwise, fairly, etc., etc. ``And what, anyway, is an `illegal' asylum seeker?'' Pat asks. ``Was it the Turks that Mr. Haider, in Austria was talking about last week, or just the foreigners that the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, says he's had enough of, or just the hundreds of refugees who have died on the way to Fortress Europe, or in detention or from racist attacks once they arrived here?''

Contents Page for this Issue
Reply to: Republican News