Ireland prepares to restrict citizenship

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government says it is necessary, whereas many intellectuals denounce it as illiberal and racist. But the Republic of Ireland is on the brink of a placing a historic restriction on Irish citizenship.

The Government says it is necessary, whereas many intellectuals denounce it as illiberal and racist. But the Republic of Ireland is on the brink of a placing a historic restriction on Irish citizenship.

Voters in yesterday's European elections in the Republic were also voting on a referendum to the Irish constitution that would remove the traditional entitlement to Irish citizenship of anyone born in the country. Although there were allegations of racism before the vote, opinion polls show that a majority of voters intend to support the move.

If the constitutional amendment is passed, citizenship will only be granted to babies with at least one parent who has lived in Ireland for at least three of the past four years.

The move is opposed by two of the smaller parties, Labour and Sinn Fein, but the parties in the governing coalition support the move and so does the other large party, Fine Gael.

Many voters are confused as to what has motivated the move but a substantial majority appears to have accepted the argument that the present system is open to abuse because Ireland is the only European state with an automatic right to citizenship at birth. There have been reports of heavily pregnant women arriving in the country to have their babies and then departing again within days. But there is heated debate over the scale of such cases. The authorities say the new scheme would put a stop to the practice, portraying it as sensible protection and not a racist policy.

One critic, Proinsias De Rossa of the Labour Party, declared of the government: "They are promoting intolerance and they are a disgrace. People should vote against this proposal. It is not the kind of Ireland we want."

The former US Congressman Bruce Morrison, who has helped thousands of Irish people emigrate to America, argued that immigrants "have prospered in America and enhanced the prosperity and cultural richness of our whole nation".

A prominent Presbyterian churchman, the Rev Trevor Morrow, said the measure was outrageous. Reflecting Ireland's development as a multi-cultural society during the past decade, he said his County Kildare congregation had been "enriched by brothers and sisters from every continent of the world". Sunday school, he said, was like "a mini-United Nations".

Opposition has also come from writers and artists, some of whom issued a statement saying: "The right to citizenship through birthplace is a beautiful concept. It is expressive of the generous imagination and true spirituality of the Irish people."

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said citizenship should be awarded only to those whose parents had a genuine link with the country.

He said: "I want everyone to study the proposal and ignore attempts to make the debate more heated and emotional. We have been accused of being racists and of scapegoating women from minority groups. This is nonsense."

The government appears to have won the argument. A recent opinion poll showed that 57 per cent of voters were in favour of the move, 22 per cent were against and 21 per cent were undecided. Mr Ahern said that parents were using their Irish-born children to claim a right to live in Ireland or in one of the 24 other European Union countries. A change, he said, was needed to bring Irish laws into line with the rest of Europe.

He said that significant numbers were travelling to Ireland while pregnant and claiming asylum and that there were disproportionate numbers of late or unbooked attendances at maternity hospitals for non-EU nationals, a situation which he described as highly dangerous for those involved.

Comments