There are several ways by which a person might illegally immigrate to Ireland. They might, for example, come here on a temporary work visa that entitles them to be in the country for a period of time, and then stay here long after that visa has expired. They might simply sneak in on the back of a lorry through one of the ports, risking their own lives in the process. They may come on a student visa, and never leave.

All of these things have one thing in common: They are against the law. The whole point of giving people time-limited visas is that the state is seeking to regulate immigration and get people who visit the country to go home again.

For this purpose, for example, we have passport control at our airports. We have a whole Garda National Immigration bureau. We employ a whole raft of civil servants to process visa applications and make decisions about them.

Well, we may as well fire the lot of them and save the money, because none of it matters, per the politicians:

“Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Greens are discussing plans to give up to 17,000 undocumented migrants legal status in Ireland as part of their programme for government talks.

The parties are in talks to establish a regularisation scheme for undocumented migrants in Ireland. Under draft plans, the criteria for a such a scheme would be set out, subject to it being compliant with EU and Common Travel Area obligations, within 18 months of the new government taking office.

While there has been no final agreement, a source involved in the talks said a commitment to setting up a scheme would be a “big win” for migrants’ rights campaigners.

Fianna Fáil and the Greens have previously supported calls for a regularisation scheme for the estimated 15,000-17,000 undocumented people in Ireland, including 2,000-3,000 of these who are children.”

“Undocumented”, by the way, is a lefty NGO-invented phrase that sounds nicer than saying “illegally resident”. And like most lefty NGO phrases, it’s been adopted uncritically by the media, who tend to be eager to help out. Similarly, “regularisation scheme” is a fancy way of saying “let them off the hook”.

The 2-3000 children, it must be remembered, are entirely blameless. Many of them will have been born here to parents who broke the law and find themselves now without any right to live in the only country that they have ever known. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for their plight, and the fact that most of us don’t have hearts of stone will be eagerly exploited by their law-breaking parents and their parent’s advocates. Many of them are in Irish schools, with Irish friends, and potentially face being packed off to Brazil or Uganda or Nigeria, countries where they may not even speak the language. Packing them off in such a manner is a rough decision for any Government to take.

But equally, this very situation, and its likely consequences, were put to the people in a referendum just eighteen years ago. And “no”, we said, by a huge majority, “you can’t just come here, have a child, and get the right to remain here forever”.

That decision may have been right, or it may have been wrong, but it was, very clearly, a decision – and a decision taken democratically. To the extent that the Irish people have ever expressed a collective view on this question, the answer was “out with you, kids or no kids”.

Ultimately, though, it’s a simple question: The country either has immigration laws, or it doesn’t. There is no other law on the statute books for which Government considers providing regular amnesties to those who break it. You won’t ever find coalition negotiators discussing an amnesty scheme for people who drove drunk, for example, or those who don’t pay their TV licence.

The only one that does come to mind is the tax amnesty of 1988, when the Government told people who’d been evading tax that if they paid up now, there’d be no penalties or prosecutions. But that differs in one important respect: To avail of the amnesty, you had to undo your crime. You couldn’t just say “I haven’t been paying my tax but I’ll start now” – you had to pay every penny you’d avoided paying for years.

In this case, there’s no such cost to the proposed Amnesty. It amounts to simply telling people that it doesn’t matter that they broke the law, which of course amounts to saying that the law doesn’t matter in the first place.

So what about an alternative? Give these people an option: Either they can go back to their country of origin, or they can pay a fine to remain here, to pay the state back for the services they have used while here illegally. If they’re legally here, after “regularisation”, then oblige each of them to pay a fine of €30,000, deductable from their paychecks over the course of their lifetimes, or from their estates when they die. If all 17,000 take that deal, then that’s half a billion in revenue to the state over the course of their lifetimes, in return for which they become legal citizens.

Breaking the law should carry some penalty. If we don’t want to deport children, then we should at least ensure that those who came here and broke the law make some kind of contribution to the country in return.