Dáil Éireann - Volume 638 - 04 October, 2007

Adjournment Debate. - Visa Applications.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: The self-styled Irish Anti-War Movement, which is involved in the troops out of Shannon campaign, is scheduled to hold what it describes as an international anti-war conference in Dublin on Saturday, 13 October. According to the pamphlet published to advertise the conference, one of the objectives of the organisations is:

how we can build the movement of resistance to war and occupation over the coming months, including the threat of attack on Iran. Unity of the anti war movement across organisational and territorial boundaries and solidarity with those who fight the illegal occupation of their country is what we seek.

For a group which calls itself an anti-war movement, it has invited some curious people to its conference. It is worth noting one particular individual, Ibrahim Mussawi, who is associated with the Hizbollah run Al-Manar television station in Beirut. The other interesting person among the invitees is a member of the Al-Sadr group, which is directly involved in much of the murder, bombing and mayhem taking place in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

I raise this issue because it is important that well intentioned members of the public and the Members of this House are not misled into believing the agenda of this movement is worth following. This is not a peace organisation. The persons invited to the conference starkly illus[1789] trate its distorted perspective on international politics. It is not so much an anti-war movement as a strident anti-American one. Rather than an organisation which wishes to see the peaceful resolution of conflicts around the world through discussion and compromise, it is a collection of misty-eyed old Soviet Union sympathisers who have now befriended Islamic fundamentalists.

Al-Manar is basically a Hizbollah propaganda television station, spouting anti-American and anti-Semitic diatribes on a regular basis. The type of broadcast for which it has been responsible resulted in 2005 in a call by the European Parliament for Hizbollah to be labelled a terrorist organisation. France closed down Al-Manar channel following a decision by the country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State. The court ruled the station had violated France’s laws against incitement and was endangering public order. The United States has long labelled Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation and has since taken the unique step of labelling a television station as a terrorist organisation.

Hizbollah has been opposed to every reasonable attempt to resolve the Middle East conflicts between Israel and Arab states and Israelis and Palestinians through peace processes. It has opposed every reasonable attempt to put in place an effective and workable peace process and has been involved in kidnappings, bombings, murder and mayhem. It is essentially an Iranian and Syrian proxy group intent on sabotaging all attempts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which fall short of the total destruction of the Israeli State.

In violation of an existing United Nations resolution, a very significant amount of armaments are being shipped back into southern Lebanon, paid for by the Iranians with Syrian assistance, for the benefit of Hizbollah. Essentially, a Syrian proxy has done everything possible to destabilise the integrity and political democracy of Lebanon.

It is extraordinary that a member of a group such as Hizbollah should address a meeting designed to oppose occupations, as the raison d’être of that group is to support the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Most of the violence Hizbollah has been responsible for since the Syrians left Lebanon has been designed to encourage them to re-occupy the country. I ask the Minister not to grant a visa to this individual to address a meeting in this State and put down a marker that it is unacceptable for people representing terrorist organisations to have a platform here.

I think it is a disgrace that some Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, including a member of a party that is in Government, will, according to the leaflet published by the Irish Anti-War Movement, share a platform with a member of Hizbollah at this meeting. If we have no other duty, Members of this House must uphold democracy and oppose terrorism. In the context of the tragedies that have befallen the [1790] state of Lebanon we have a duty to ensure that we do not give succour to groups or individuals intent on destabilising Lebanese democracy and which are committed to having Syria occupy the country again.

I welcome the establishment of the conflict resolution section within the Department of Foreign Affairs. It should help us examine how we approach conflicts and our treatment of those who wish to be guests in our country but are resolutely opposed to reasonable initiatives seeking to solve a major problem in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be addressed in a constructive way.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: I am, of course, very conscious that the matter raised by Deputy Shatter gives rise to serious issues. On the one hand we all have the responsibility to ensure that those freedoms which we cherish so dearly, such as the right to peaceful assembly and the right to voice one’s opinions, are upheld. These rights must undoubtedly be accompanied by a corresponding obligation to respect the rights of others who hold a contrary view. I would add, and I say this without in any way wanting to prejudge consideration of any application, that in circumstances where the State uses its discretion to allow an individual to enter the State there should be no abuse of this privilege.

In addition to the rights and obligations I have already mentioned I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, have additional obligations, not least the obligation to protect the citizens of this State. Therefore, in deciding on any application for a visa to enter the State I will take into account various factors, such as concerns about national security or danger to individuals, before making a final decision. Naturally I will also consult with the Garda Síochána before arriving at a final determination in any such case.

The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be consistent with the legal duties I have with regard to deciding on visa applications made by individuals to debate the merits or otherwise of particular cases across the floor of this House. I am not in any way diminishing any of the concerns expressed by Deputy Shatter and I assure him any decision I reach will be based on my discharging my responsibilities in line with legal requirements and taking into account all the factors to which I must have regard.

I can also say that, while on one hand I have no desire to stifle public debate on the war on Iraq or any other matter, I must also have due regard to the requirements of public order in its widest sense. Inevitably conflicting considerations can arise in dealing with issues such as these. I again assure the Deputy I will balance them in accordance with the law and in the overall public interest.

[1791] The fundamental purpose of immigration laws generally, of which the visa system is a part, is to regulate and control the entry of non-nationals to the jurisdiction. There is international recognition that regulation, in accordance with law, is necessary to achieve a number of important objectives in the interests of the common good. These include, for example, ensuring that the economy is not undermined by unsustainable migration flows, ensuring that persons who are permitted to enter the State with stated objectives actually pursue those objectives, and the prevention of abuse by criminal or terrorist elements.

The purpose of the visa system is to authenticate potential travellers prior to their departure for the State with a view to obviating difficulties that arise when a person arrives in the State whose entry has to be refused on legal grounds. Credibility is central to the visa determination process. In assessing visa applications, the visa officer will consider a number of factors including the following: whether the applicant’s stated purpose for the visit is the real purpose of the visit; whether the applicant is likely to overstay the length of time applied for; whether the applicant is likely to breach the conditions of the visa; whether the applicant is likely to breach the common travel area without an appropriate UK entry visa; whether the applicant is in a position to fully support himself or herself without any recourse to public funds or resources; and whether the person is likely to present a threat to the public order or security of the State. Any previous immigration history, either positive or negative, of the applicant will have a bearing on the decision.

I am informed that the person in question was invited to come to Ireland by the Irish Anti-War Movement to participate in a debate organised by that movement. The visa application is currently under consideration and no decision has been made.