Thursday, 17 January 2019
Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
I agree with the Minister's final comment, if nothing else. Unfortunately, the debate in 2004 was not based on fact, reason or logic; it was based on ideology. I am not saying that those who voted for a change in our citizenship laws in 2004 were racist. Certainly, the vast majority of those who voted thus were not racist. However, I contend that the arguments used by the establishment political parties -with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in the vanguard and Fine Gael trailing slightly behind - were racist.
It was a deliberately divisive use of the race card to distract from the real crises in public services caused by that Government's policies and the capitalist system.
I was somewhat surprised by the tone and content of the Minister's response. While I had expected him to oppose the Bill, I thought he would do so in the Fianna Fáil manner of saying he sees the problem and will seek to address it. I felt as though I had gone through a time machine to 2004 because the Minister played precisely the same card. The essence of what he said is self-evident. He said he opposes the Bill because if it was passed by the House, it would have the direct consequence of attracting more people to the State, that the consequential strain on our State services, including existing immigration provision, housing, education, medical services and welfare, would need to be carefully assessed and on that basis, he stated the Government would not provide a money message. Throughout the his contributions, the same arguments with no factual basis, namely, of anchor babies and birth tourism, were present.
It is unfortunate that the Minister chose to engage in those same arguments, ignore what has happened over the past 14 years and ignore the cases of injustice, such as that of Nonso in the Minister's constituency, which he had spoken out about, that of Eric, which has been referred to, and the other cases. The only reference the Minister made to them was when he stated he has:
discretion to deal with each case made to me on its merits. I frequently exercise this discretion in favour of a child and his or her family where claims to remain in the country are substantiated on humanitarian grounds.
That is a deeply unsatisfactory situation. I salute all those who have been involved in campaigns, because it is excellent work. It is because of them that the situation has been pushed on, as has been seen in opinion polls and so on, and that the deportation of those children was prevented. That it is part of the system that one must petition the Minister and hope that a Fine Gael Minister who represents one's constituency might feel some pressure on the issue, and further hope that the Minister for Justice and Equality will see the wisdom of one's particular case, is barbaric. It is reminiscent of a feudal system when one needed to petition one's king for one's situation. We need a just system which puts an end to these cases of injustices. The only way to achieve that is to eradicate the discrimination, which starts on the day of one's birth.
Fianna Fáil indicated that it understood the particular cases and so on, but that is a typical recipe of the party to take a position in favour of individual children whenever it is under pressure in certain constituencies while avoiding supporting legislation like that which is before us. If Fianna Fáil admits there is a problem, what will it do about it? There are no members of the party in the Chamber to answer, but what would they say to the children in the Gallery? How would they deal with the injustices, which result from their change of policies?
On the referendum and the point that the Bill is somehow undemocratic, the Bill refers to the wording of the referendum. Deputy O'Callaghan was clear that it allows for provision to be made by law. Furthermore, 14 years have passed and people are entitled to change their mind. The indication from opinion polls is that people have done so because they have seen what the law means, namely, that there are injustices. In three or four years' time, when the children begin to turn 18, the reality will be even more clear because there will be a divergence of the rights of two children who are on the same path in life except for the fact of where their parents came from, which is incredibly unfair.
One argument made against the Bill related to Brexit. We will never be able to raise any issue of any rights for any section of people without Brexit being used as the reason we cannot do it. The latest example during the week was the case of nurses. The Government cannot pay nurses because of Brexit, and nor can it end discrimination against a group of children because of Brexit. If one considers that argument, however, it does not hold any water. That women who are close to nine months pregnant will hop on planes and travel to Belfast to have a baby in order that the baby can be granted EU citizenship will not happen because of the difficulties involved. In any case, what extra rights does the Minister expect to accrue to the parents in that situation? Does he think they will have the right to remain in Ireland? Ireland and Britain are in a common travel area, however, and the parents will have the right to travel to Ireland in any event post Brexit. They would not have the right to remain in another European country. It does not hold water and it is just an attempt not to engage with the issue.
Another argument was that Ireland has a super-liberal approach to migration and that if we change the law, flocks of birth tourists will come here. It is true that we would be the only European Union country to have the right to birth citizenship, as was the case before 1 January 2005, but many countries - the US, Canada, New Zealand and many others - have such a law. In many other respects, Ireland lags behind other European Union countries. Deputy Barry made the point that the Government must answer to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for the absence of a process for regularisation, various processes for which exist in other European countries.
A point was also made about direct provision. I reiterate to the Minister that we should debate the question of direct provision again. He took offence at Deputy Barry's description of direct provision as racist, but one will not find an Irish person at a direct provision centre. Direct provision, and keeping people in horrific conditions of poverty and so on, from which some people disgustingly make significant profit, does not apply to Irish people. It applies only to people who have come here from outside the country. The Minister can come up with his own definition of racism to try to avoid that. Direct provision is not some sort of attractive situation to be in. While people have a choice not to be there, they have a right to work only under limited circumstances. The Minister asked what our alternative was, but that is simple: people should be given rights to work and access services, and they should be treated as human beings entitled to all the rights and decency of other human beings in the country, regardless of where they came from or how they came.
On a broader point, citizenship has been used as an exclusionary concept, which is unfortunately what the 2004 referendum was about. That was the context in which the race card was played and divisive rhetoric was used, but we should be entirely against it. There is no need for that exclusionary concept of citizenship and it is a thoroughly reactionary idea. It is simple that people who were born here or grow up here should be entitled to the right of citizenship. We should not discriminate on this basis. Rather, we should reject the divide-and-rule rhetoric which lies behind it, and should build joint struggles of all ordinary people for the kind of society and lives to which people are entitled.