Sunday 25 March 2018

We will not ignore our right to deport terrorists

French police patrol the area of the terror attack in Nice. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
French police patrol the area of the terror attack in Nice. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

Frances Fitzgerald

I am responsible for the security of the State, our borders, our citizens and indeed all those living here. This is not an abstract responsibility. It is one that I take extremely seriously. My department and the Garda authorities work to safeguard that security on a daily basis.

Like other democratic states, Ireland cannot consider itself immune from the threat posed by international terrorism and extremism.

A minute’s silence is observed in Nice this week as the victims of the terror attack are mourned. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
A minute’s silence is observed in Nice this week as the victims of the terror attack are mourned. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Our assessment is that, while an attack on Ireland is possible, it is not likely, and I can reiterate that there is no specific information in relation to any threat to Ireland from international terrorism.

The activities of a small number of people based here who may be of concern will continue to be monitored closely.

The recent attacks in France and Belgium demonstrate once more that we must remain vigilant against threats to our safety.

Earlier this year, the Government provided additional funding of €10m to enhance Garda capabilities in the fight against terrorism.

I also recently brought forward amendments to the law on the interception of communications and on covert surveillance.

These powers, which are common in other jurisdictions, are critical in supporting actions to counteract the evolving threat from international terrorism.

Just as the threat from extremism reaches across international borders, so must our response be one which is based on international cooperation with our partners, in the EU and further afield.

Like all countries, we are required to manage immigration into the State and, where appropriate, to deport people who do not have a right to be here.

The immigration system does not operate on a whim. A decision to deport a person is never taken lightly.

Only persons who are illegally present in the State fall within the scope to be considered for deportation.

Of course, we will always seek to prosecute persons involved in criminality where this is possible.

The grounds on which deportation can be based include national security, public policy and also the character and conduct of the individual concerned.

This does not necessarily mean a criminal conviction and includes intelligence provided by the security services.

Some people will argue that deportation is inherently wrong. I agree it is a challenging process for all concerned but it is also a very necessary feature of a functioning immigration system.

But I will not entertain the idea that we should ignore our right to legally deport any person, illegally present on our territory, whom we know to be involved in terrorist activities.

First of all, this would ignore the fact that this is a legal process, open to intensive scrutiny by the courts, and one into which human rights considerations are fully integrated.

Secondly, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and use of intelligence.

I will not ignore any relevant information that is available to me, nor will I ignore any of the legal paths open to me to confront terrorism.

Any decision whether or not to make a deportation order against an individual is based on the specific circumstances of their case. There are 11 grounds set out in the relevant legislation which must be considered.

Any rights under Bunreacht na hÉireann or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) must be taken into account, and deportation decisions are subject to review by the Irish Courts and, where appropriate, by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

I also firmly believe this is not a time for turning away from the world, to become insular in our thinking. I very much include our approach to migration in that.

Given our own history of emigration and the contribution that Irish people have made to other countries, we understand what drives people to seek a better life abroad and the benefits that can accrue to both individual and society through migration.

Ireland is renowned worldwide as a country where people want to come and live, where they are made to feel welcome and where they can live their lives free from tyranny and oppression.

We are open to migrants seeking to work, study and settle here. The number of citizens from non-EU countries legally living here at the end of 2015 rose to approximately 114,000 compared with 105,000 at the end of 2014.

Over 13,500 people became Irish citizens in 2015 and our one hundredth citizenship ceremony took place last year.

These new residents and new citizens enrich our culture and contribute greatly to our economy, as well as to the vibrancy of our society. And Ireland continues to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to our shores under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.

The vast majority of people only wish to go about their lives in peace as full and active members of our society.

I must weigh carefully what is in the public interest and ultimately I must serve that interest.

I make absolutely no apology for using all the options available under the law, including deportation, to deal with those who constitute a threat to the security of us all.

Frances Fitzgerald TD is Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality

Irish Independent

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