Thursday, 17 January 2019
Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of migration. I do not think we talk about it enough in this House. It is an enormous issue around the world. This will be known as the age of migration. The extent of forced migration and labour migration that is taking place around the world is significant. I read recently that since 2015, over 3 million people have been forced out of Venezuela.
We have seen the terrible tragedies where people have been forced out of northern Africa because of conflict there. They come to Europe or, in the case of those from South America, they go to the United States because they want to get a better life for themselves and their children. There is an enormous global issue with migration. It is important that we debate it in this country and in this House.
There is also the more specific issue of how migration affects certain young people who without any doubt are Irish people. Deputy Brady referred to Eric in County Wicklow. This area needs statutory reform. It is not really fair for minors aged 14 or 15 to become the centre of a public campaign to the Minister for Justice and Equality seeking to have them stay in the country when everyone knows they are as Irish as the next kid in the classroom. In fairness to the Minister, it is unfair that a Minister is repeatedly put in a position like that. We need statutory reform of the law on citizenship so that children, who have been here for a period of time, such as three years or more, will be given an avenue to seek citizenship. I go further than that. They should be given an entitlement to seek citizenship.
Migration in Ireland has had a very positive impact on the Irish population. Anyone who goes to underage soccer, rugby or Gaelic games will know the extent to which new Irish people give an impetus to the traditional Irish communities is fantastic. It has been a great success in this country. In this country we do not praise ourselves for many things. However, I believe we have handled well the migration that has taken place and was initiated at the beginning of the 1990s. It marked a change in the country's fortune and indicated how the country had progressed in terms of wealth and attractiveness for people from outside that instead of emigration we were now seen as a place for immigration. I welcome all the people who have come into this country. They have done a great job in adding to the cultural wealth of the country, and indeed just by adding to the gene pool of the country they have broadened and strengthened the whole theme of Irishness.
That brings me to this legislation, which seeks to give birthright citizenship to every person born in Ireland. We need to deal with the issue of birthright citizenship. It is not that common around the world for birthright citizenship to be granted. Only 30 out of about 190 countries in the world have birthright citizenship. None in Europe has it. Deputy Barry said that in recent years there has been a shift in European countries away from birthright citizenship. I await correction from him, but my assessment and knowledge of it is that birthright citizenship did not really apply in a European context. It originated in the United States, as Deputy Barry said. It was a response to the appalling decision of the American Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case, which found that black people in the United States of America were not citizens. That case led to the introduction of the 14th amendment to the American Constitution which provided that everyone born in the United States had an entitlement to American citizenship. It was done to deal with that specific issue.
In the 2004 referendum, 80% of the people voted in favour of putting the following into the Constitution: "a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of the birth of that person, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless provided for by law". I say to Deputy Paul Murphy and his colleagues that their Bill is carefully drafted. It is not unconstitutional because the provision in the Constitution expressly states at the end that it can be provided by law otherwise. However, let us be clear that the people knew what they were voting on in 2004. They were voting to take away the birthright citizenship that operated here. People can criticise them for that; I do not. I do not believe that the 80% of the Irish people who voted in favour of that were racist, but they had a reason to vote for it. Earlier the Minister mentioned that the masters of three of the maternity hospitals informed the Government that there was an issue in respect of the maternity hospitals. It would be undemocratic if this House were now to overturn that decision of the people by simply stating that the provision at the end gives us a way out and we can introduce legislation to make it different from that.
I am very sympathetic to the position in which individuals, particularly children, find themselves in Ireland. However, this legislation is not the way to resolve it. We need legislation on citizenship, but that needs to be led by the Department of Justice and Equality. The Minister should come up with proposals on how we can grant citizenship to children who have been here for a period of time so that they do not need to go through the process and the turmoil that people like Eric went through in recent times. We will consistently have more of them. It is very unfair to catapult a young person into the public eye like that whereby he or she becomes a public figure and is told to run a campaign to stay in the country he or she knows.
Although I am very sympathetic to the issue, I will not support the legislation. We need to recognise that if birthright citizenship were given to everyone born on the island of Ireland in the context of Brexit, everyone born in the North will automatically get European citizenship. That would mean everyone in the United Kingdom would be entitled to travel to Northern Ireland and have a child there. That would have a serious impact on the services in the North and would undermine the citizenship rules that operate throughout Europe.
There is no doubt that there is a problem here. My colleagues are to be commended on highlighting the problem and initiating a debate on the problem. It is unfair to categorise people who oppose this legislation or who voted in favour of the amendment in the 2004 referendum as being in some way racist. We need to be able to talk about migration and citizenship without the accusation of being racist always being brought up.
The country needs to have a policy. The Minister is the person responsible for formulating and developing a policy. In the time remaining he needs to get his Department to develop a policy to deal with the repeated problems we have seen in respect of children so that children such as Eric will know that if they are in this country for three years, for example, they have an entitlement to seek Irish citizenship.