Dáil debates

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]


6:25 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh agus feicfimid cá bhfuilimid ina dhiadh sin. I will probably not use all the ten minutes. I will probably use about five minutes. If that is enough for Deputy Brady, he can carry on.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí as ucht an Bhille seo a thógaint chun cinn. Beimid ag tacú leis. Is dóigh liom go bhfuil sé tábhachtach. Aithníonn sé fadhb shuntasach atá ann. Ba chóir go mbeadh na daoine seo ina saoránaigh, i ndáiríre, ach níl aon chosaint dhleathach acu.

I thank Deputies Paul Murphy, Coppinger and Barry and all the Members from that group who have brought forward this Bill and for bringing this debate to the House. It is a discussion that began in the public sphere quite some time ago and is only now beginning to enter into this sphere. The Bill would be a welcome change to the situation that exists. There have been many high profile cases recently where the law has been used in a way that is extremely unjust. The injustices have been seen in cases in the Minister's constituency and elsewhere. Regardless of whether or not the Bill is allowed to progress this evening - we await the comments of Fianna Fáil Deputies - it is an issue the Minister must look into. He must rectify many of the issues that exist in the law.

In October 2018 there was widespread criticism after it emerged that Eric Xue, a nine year old boy living in Bray, was facing the threat of deportation to China, despite having been born in Ireland and having no one in China. There was a significant outcry locally and nationally. The case jarred with the public because it was seen as oppressive and heavy handed to attempt to deport a child and take him from his home. As with any nine year old who has lived all his life in this country, the life Eric knows is one in Ireland and this is his home. It was also the case for Nonso Muojeke from Offaly, who had a deportation order made against him but was given leave to remain by the Minister. This is clearly an issue we will continue to see and it has been flagged in contributions. We need to address it. It will not go away. Cases like this, whether they attract public attention or not, will be cases that involve a serious injustice. Many of them will become political issues for the Minister, his party and the Government if it is not addressed. The situation is not remotely satisfactory or humane. These children are as Irish as the Minister or I. It is in many respects a form of State oppression that a legal technicality makes this person prone to a deportation. We do not need to look any further than direct provision to confirm the pattern and systemic nature of those policies.

The 2004 referendum was a deeply unsettling episode in Irish politics. The debate gave vent to much xenophobic commentary, explicitly and implicitly, with dog-whistling in respect of racism a common feature. The 27th amendment to the Constitution provided that children who were born in Ireland to non-national parents would no longer have an automatic right to citizenship of the State. Fianna Fáil was the proposer of the campaign, just three years after setting up direct provision.

Deputy Murphy's Bill seeks to insert in the consolidated Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts of 1956 and 2004 a new subsection providing that every person born on the island of Ireland would be entitled to be an Irish citizen. Citizenship for those born in the state, such as existed in this State before 2004, is not unusual, and is the case in countless jurisdictions, including the United States. Sinn Féin also supported the Labour Party Bill which sought to regularise the position of those living here longer than three years. This is a matter of regularisation of the real situation facing Irish children and families. We need to do this, or several more cases like those of Eric and Nonso will arise.

I may be wrong, but it appears as though this Bill may be defeated. If it is, I will be disappointed as will be its proposers. However, even if that is the case, the Government needs to take on board the message that is coming from Deputies and from the public as a whole. It needs to start figuring out how it will address this matter, affirm the rights these children should have and offer them protection from deportation.

As we are speaking of legislation governing immigration, I will take the opportunity to express my concern at the utterly unworkable practice directions given by the President of the High Court relating to judicial reviews for immigration and asylum cases. That they only apply to such cases speaks to something in and of itself. There are several difficulties with the directions, including expecting lawyers for asylum seekers to seek documentation from the jurisdiction from which they are seeking asylum. I hardly need to state the problems with this. Even on a cursory look, the directions hardly seem to be in compliance with the GDPR. They assume that a lawyer acts for an entire family, which may not be the case. They require that solicitors state the religion of the applicant sworn with the appropriate religious book in the presence of the solicitor. That is not fair, nor is it any business of the court. We need to consider whether it is possible to provide in legislation a neutral affirmation that can be used by anyone irrespective of their religion or lack thereof. That is one area in which the Legislature can intervene by addressing what are very unfair directions. I ask the Minister to address the issues I have identified as best he can at this juncture.

Sinn Féin will support this important Bill which addresses a major issue of fundamental human rights in respect of allowing these Irish children to remain in Ireland.


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