The government had a comfortable majority in tonight's Dáil vote on a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue. A Labour party motion criticising the minister's handling of the asylum seekers issue was defeated by 78 votes to 74. All four independents who normally support the coalition were on side for last night's vote giving the government a comfortable majority.
Therefore, most interest was in the contribution of Liz O'Donnell, who just over a week ago had described the policy on asylum seekers as a shambles and in chaos. In the event, she was considerable more conciliatory in acknowledging the progress made by the government in putting in place a fair asylum process.
She said that she had never wished to inflame public debate or cause insult to any person, not least the Minister for Justice. "I acknowledge", she said, "that he is working in very difficult circumstances." She added that her criticisms, at all times, were of defects in the system and administration. However, opposition deputies saw Liz O'Donnell's speech in a very different light, labelling it a climb-down.
Labour leader, Ruairí Quinn described it as a humiliating surrender to what he called superior numbers on the Fianna Fáil benches. However, a PD spokesman said that Minister O'Donnell was satisfied there was a determination to deal with the various issues involved.
This morning, the second stage of the Illegal Immigrants Trafficking Bill was debated in the Dail. Mr O'Donoghue has compared those who traffic in illegal immigrants with the slave traders of old. He told the Dáil this morning that traffickers subjected such immigrants to extortion, intimidation and other abuse. This, he said, did not cease after the immigrants reached this country, but continued as debts were paid off.
He was opening the debate on legislation providing heavy penalties against those found guilty of bringing illegal immigrants into Ireland. It provides for unlimited fines and up to 10 years imprisonment as well as the forfeiture of vehicles.
Fine Gael's Jim Higgins accused the Minister of being forced to accede to PD pressure and grant work permits to refugees. However, Deputy Higgins claimed that, to date, only between 15 and 30 permits had been granted despite about 2,000 applicants. Labour's Brendan Howlin called for what he termed a coherent and humane immigration policy. According to Deputy Howlin, it was only natural that immigrants should come here seeking a better life just as countless Irish citizens had emmigrated in the past.
In the Dáil last night, John O'Donoghue defended his record in dealing with the issue of asylum seekers. However, he also acknowledged the need to provide more resources to deal with the volume of asylum applications. Stressing the need for sensible immigration laws, the Minister challenged the opposition parties to state their policies in the area.