Thursday, 17 January 2019
Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
The debate this evening is welcome and long overdue. It comes on foot of the threat of deportation in respect of Eric Zhi Ying Xue. Eric is nine years old. He is in fourth class in St. Cronan’s national school in Bray in my constituency. He was born in Ireland, although he is not an Irish citizen and has never been outside the country. If he is forced to go to China, where his mother was born, he will have no access to China's health or education systems because he is not a Chinese citizen. I have worked with Eric and his mam over the last 18 months or so to stop this crazy, inhumane deportation. He was born here, goes to school here and has never lived anywhere else. This is his home. This is his country. I really hope common sense can prevail. They are not my words but those of the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. I agree with him. These comments are an admission that the stance that Fine Gael took in the citizenship referendum in 2004 was wrong. This debate is not about one vulnerable Irish boy facing deportation. It is about the many Irish-born children who have been deported since 2004, the children who are facing deportation at the moment and those who will face it in the future if this crazy legislation is not changed.
I refer to another headline: "Bray boy should be saved from deportation and granted citizenship". That was from a statement by Deputy Stephen Donnelly of Fianna Fáil in reference to the case of Eric last October. Deputy Donnelly represents the same constituency as me. It remains to be seen what Fianna Fáil will do in respect of this Bill and whether Deputy Donnelly and his party will follow through on the concerns he voiced before Christmas and save Eric from deportation, and the many other children who are facing deportation.
I dread to think of the number of children who have been forced out of their home and back to a country alien to them since 2004. I am proud that when the citizenship referendum was before the people, my party campaigned vigorously for a "No" vote. Sinn Féin was one of few political parties that stuck their heads above the parapet and fought this crazy legislation. For us, every person born on the island of Ireland is entitled to be an Irish citizen. That was Sinn Féin's position in 2004 and it remains our position today.
The spotlight was thrown on the issue of citizenship last year when the community in Bray and across the State mobilised and mounted a massive campaign to stop the deportation of Eric. An online petition demanding that the Minister intervene, stop the deportation and revoke the order gathered more than 58,000 signatures in a very short period. Subsequently, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, who had voiced his concerns already, announced what he called good news that Eric faced no imminent threat of deportation. While this was a cause of relief for the Xue family, it was not exactly good news given the meaning of the word "imminent". They still face potential deportation but it is not imminent. In other words, their child will not deported today or tomorrow but may be at some stage in the future. How is that good news for any parent or family or for the child?
While Eric's case is heartbreaking, and I will continue to work with his family to ensure he can remain at home and attending school in his community of Bray, we have to remember that this is not an isolated case. There are many others out there. Not every case will be brought to the attention of the national media and not every case will brought to the Minister's attention by a local Deputy or Minister. The only way to ensure that this cruel practice is ended is to support this legislation. The measly words of concern voiced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, are not enough and nor are the concerns expressed by Deputy Donnelly of Fianna Fáil. If they were true to their words, they would support this legislation and end the cruel, inhumane practice that has been in existence since 2004.