Thursday, 17 January 2019
Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
As Deputy O'Callaghan has outlined, Fianna Fáil supports reform of citizenship rights, in particular for minors and children born in Ireland who are not Irish citizens. It is wrong that children are facing the possibility of being made stateless by the only country they have known in their entire lives. There have been a number of high-profile cases in recent times where children who have never lived in any other country, who only speak Irish and English, and who know no other home have faced deportation. That includes Eric in Bray who has been mentioned, Nonso in Offaly, and Shepherd the DCU student. Many people rightly came out in support of them.
At the moment the future of these children is dealt with in a very arbitrary way whereby it is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day to use his or her discretion to give permission on humanitarian grounds. Fianna Fáil believes it should be possible to regularise the position of children falling into this relatively narrowly defined category. That is why our party supported the Labour Party Bill in November which sought to provide an entitlement to apply for Irish citizenship to children who were born in Ireland and who had been resident here for more than three years. We felt that was a very fair way to deal with the issue. I am not sure if the Minister was referring to that Bill when he talked about a similar Bill. There is a vast difference between the Bill before the House and the Labour Party Bill on the basis that that Bill recognised the situation of children who had lived here for more than three years.
We do not believe, however, that the wholesale restoration of birthright citizenship is the correct approach. In saying that, I am trying to be as compassionate and understanding as possible to those who find themselves in that way as that could possibly be a return to many of the conditions that led to the original referendum in 2004.
We must put it on record that the proposal received the strongest ever level of support in any referendum, with 1,427,520 votes in favour. The latter represents 79% of the valid votes cast. This is very significant and must be borne in mind in the context of this debate. It is for this reason that Fianna Fail will not be supporting the Bill.
The policy of granting citizenship as an automatic birthright is very rare in the world. Indeed, no EU member state grants automatic and unconditional citizenship to children born to foreign nationals in its territory. A minimum parental residence period is applied by some member states, including Ireland, in respect of parents who have a child in a member state and Ireland has one of the shortest qualifying periods. A total of 18 EU member states have no such provision in their laws.
Combining national citizenship with EU citizenship means that member states must consider the impact on each other when changing their citizenship laws and in the context of Brexit, that is more important than ever. It is particularly important to consider how a change of this nature might impact on the Good Friday Agreement and the draft withdrawal agreement. All of this must be carefully considered.
As stated, Fianna Fáil supported a Labour Party Bill dealing with entitlement without reference to the immigration status of parents. Unfortunately, that Bill was not supported by the Government but it has progressed to Committee Stage. I hope that Bill will progress and that the Minister will address some of the many anomalies in the system in order to give certainty to children who have been here for more than three years. That would help to resolve some of the issues we face.