26 March 2005

Irish Examiner

McDowell accused of changing story on deportation

By Paul O’Brien

JUSTICE Minister Michael McDowell was last night accused of changing his story as to whether he had read the file of Olunkunle Elunkanlo before deciding to deport him.

In an off-hand remark in the Dáil on Tuesday night, Mr McDowell appeared to suggest he may have delegated the reading of the file concerning the 20-year-old Nigerian student, or other cases, to his officials.

However, on Thursday night, a spokeswoman for the minister said he couldn’t remember whether he had read the file or not.

In between, Mr McDowell had announced a major climbdown by saying he would allow Mr Elunkanlo to return to Ireland on a six-month visa to do his Leaving Certificate.

The minister said his original decision had been wrong.

“I question whether in fact he ever read that file,” Fine Gael justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe said last night: “Anybody who read the file would hardly have come to the decision he came to.”

There was a serious legal issue at stake, he added, because Section Three of the Immigration Act 1999 sets out 11 different criteria which the minister must himself consider before determining whether a deportation order is to be made.

In Tuesday night’s Dáil debate, Labour TD Joan Burton said it was the minister’s job to personally consider the files in such cases, “but he passes it to others”.

Mr McDowell replied that “the deputy should acquaint herself with the Carltona principle”. This principle, which emanated from a 1944 British act, allows ministers to authorise senior officials to act on their behalf, although the ministers ultimately remain answerable for the actions.

The inference drawn by Mr O’Keeffe was that Mr McDowell had delegated Mr Elunkanlo’s file, or others, to officials for reading.

But on Thursday, the minister’s spokeswoman said: “He doesn’t remember this particular case.”

The minister was unavailable last night to clarify the matter.

Files on possible deportation cases are prepared by the Department of Justice’s repatriation section.

The minister receives the file together with a summary of the case and a deportation order, which he signs if he deems it warranted.

The department indicated on Thursday night that reading the summary would be sufficient for Mr McDowell to sign a deportation order.

Last night, Mr O’Keeffe said the minister had “changed his story”.

“It would be quite shocking indeed if we had a situation where the Justice Minister himself wasn’t fully complying with his statutory and legal obligations,” Mr O’Keeffe added.

The opposition has also called on the minister to clarify whether garda immigration officers entered a house in Athlone without a search warrant to look for a child earmarked for deportation.

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