Thursday, 9 March 2017
Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to restore the eligibility of all persons born in the island of Ireland for Irish citizenship.
This Bill would reverse the changes to Irish citizenship law that were implemented in 2005 following the referendum in 2004. The Bill would give the entitlement to Irish citizenship to everyone born on the island of Ireland regardless of their parents' status.
Throughout Europe there has been an erosion of the rights of immigrants. We see an example this week with the Government's proposed changes to social protection payments to children. In recent decades, there has been a move away from giving people automatic citizenship based on their place of birth. Now, the right to citizenship is generally conditional on who a person's parents are and their status in the State at the time of that person's birth. Citizenship law has increasingly become about a person's bloodline and not where they were born and live. The Bill goes against that trend.
The Taoiseach will visit the United States next week to meet President Trump. I do not want him to go, but he is going apparently. The United States is one of the few remaining countries that grants citizenship to people born in the US regardless of their parents' status. In the course of the recent presidential election campaign, President Trump spoke about altering that. Many of the laws that President Trump is advancing have already been implemented in Europe. It is slightly hypocritical of Irish politicians who oppose President Trump altering US citizenship law, owing to the impact it would have on undocumented Irish people, standing over the same law here.
Why should we reverse this? It is very clear that the 2004 referendum on citizenship was based on a number of myths, some of them xenophobic in nature. The then Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat Government was unpopular and was facing into local and European elections. The then Minister for Justice and Law Reform played the race card. We had a referendum on the same day as the local elections that tried to shift the blame for inadequacies in maternity care and health care onto immigrants. There was the myth of birth tourism and even the myth of so-called "anchor babies", people travelling to the country, having a baby and going away again. These myths were pushed by some establishment politicians. Disgustingly, the parties representing the powerful and wealthy during the Celtic tiger scapegoated the most vulnerable asylum seekers during that referendum campaign.
I was a first-time candidate in the local election in Mulhuddart on at the same day as that referendum and I distinctly remember the message being advanced. I was standing in the most diverse, multicultural part of the State. I am proud to say that the Socialist Party at the time stood firmly against that referendum and outlined that immigrants are not to blame for problems in health care and housing. It is the politicians and the capitalist and business class in the country that are to blame.
Removing a person's status does not help anyone other than the Government and employers, who are then better situated to exploit that individual. Those with precarious immigration status are more likely to be facing precarious work, low pay and poor housing conditions. From 1 January 2023, adults who know nowhere other than Ireland as their home will not be considered Irish citizens. These will be adults who were born, brought up and educated in this country and who will not have the right to vote in referendums and Dáil elections. Will these people have problems in the future in the context of renewing visas? Will they have a status? Are they likely to become our problematic undocumented, concerned about the policies of each incoming Government every few years? At present, a person here must have one parent who has lived in the State for three of the past four years. Time spent here as a student, undocumented or applying for refugee status is not included.
Between 2005 and 2016 there were 6,419 naturalisations of Irish-born children. Those people would not have had to apply for naturalisation if the law had not been changed following the referendum to which I refer. Naturalisation costs quite a lot of money for families. The fee is €1,125 for adults and €375 for children. I meet many families who have to raise that money. Although it has been speeded up, it is still a bureaucratic process.
We should send out a message against division and against the erosion of rights for immigrants. It was for this reason that I sought leave to move the Bill.