Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Naturalisation of Minors Born in Ireland) Bill 2018: Committee Stage



Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

10:30 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister. I want to first thank her for her very constructive engagement with me on this Bill, which I welcome. It is a very positive way to approach Private Members' legislation. I thank colleagues across the House for their support for the Bill. I will speak briefly about the history of the Bill and the reason we brought it forward.

The principal Act we are seeking to amend, as section 1 sets out, is the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, so it is helpful at the outset of Committee Stage to refer back to the reason we are seeking to amend that principal Act in this legislation and to chart a way forward in keeping with that principal Act and the legislative framework set out in that Act as per section 1.It was wonderful to get such support from across the House but we had support across the House before when we in the Labour Senators group brought this Bill forward on Second Stage in the Seanad on 21 November 2018, which was passed, and we had hoped then to make further progress with it.

We restored it to the Order Paper this summer and were indeed prompted to do so and to take further action on it in memory of our dear colleague and comrade, Cormac Ó Braonáin, who was chairperson of Labour Youth and who died very tragically almost exactly one year ago. He had been passionately exercised by the need for us to do more for the rights of children born here in Ireland and to secure a pathway to citizenship for those children. Cormac and I had many conversations about how we would make progress with this very Bill. We are bringing it forward in his memory and Labour Youth, led by Cian Kelly and others, have instituted a great Born Here Belong Here campaign seeking support from across the country for a more generous approach to citizenship laws. We are also very grateful for the great support we have received from NGOs working in this area, in particular the Migrant Rights Centre and Mairéad Mc Devitt who has been tirelessly campaigning on this in recent weeks and emailed just yesterday from the centre, including to Senators, a very helpful background briefing to help in this debate. The Immigrant Council of Ireland and Brian Killoran, Nasc and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, are all very anxious to see some change in the law in this area.

One of the initial motivations for bringing the Bill forward in 2018 was the case of Eric Xue, the nine-year-old boy from Bray in County Wicklow who, colleagues will recall was born and had lived all his life in Ireland but whose family were then threatened with deportation in 2018. His classmates in fourth class in Saint Cronan’s National School in Bray organised a campaign to enable Eric and his family to stay. It was successful as it turned out and the Minister for Justice and Equality at the time granted humanitarian leave to remain as it was within the discretion of the Minister to so do. Our concern as Labour Party members and parliamentarians who had opposed the citizenship referendum in 2004 was that our law following that referendum had been drafted too restrictively, which meant that children who had such a strong stake in Ireland, like Eric, were not being given any pathway to legal citizenship or protection against deportation. Unless they could organise a campaign and the Minister was willing to grant this discretionary leave to remain, it would be impossible for them to secure a route to citizenship. We were anxious to try to provide such a route to citizenship.

Colleagues will recall that the 2004 referendum that I referred to inserted the 27th amendment into the Constitution amending Article 9. This is crucial when one looks at section 1 in the legislation that we have just referred to because the text of Article 9.2.1° of the Constitution following the 2004 referendum says:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this 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.

That final clause is the clause that enables or empowers the Oireachtas to legislate for citizenship entitlements up to and including citizenship by virtue of birthplace or lus soli citizenship, based on the place of birth. In fact, the Oireachtas, following that referendum - which the Labour Party opposed as we believed that we should have retained our right to citizenship on birth which is the lus solicitizenship - and its passage, passed the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004. This Act amends that principal Act mentioned in section 1, which is the 1956 Act, and effectively denied children born in Ireland an automatic right to citizenship by virtue of birthplace. What we see in the legislative framework since the principal 1956 Act, and following in 2004, in particular, is a very generous citizenship law when it comes to lus sanguinis, the old idea of birthright citizenship by bloodline rather than place of birth. Someone who has a parent who is an Irish citizen or is entitled to be one, is entitled to apply for Irish citizenship, whether or not they are born or are indeed resident in Ireland.

We have generous laws on that basis but what we lack now is that sort of generosity of approach when it comes to children born here in Ireland. What it has meant in practice and outcome, not so much because of the referendum itself which simply removes the constitutional provision entitling citizenship by virtue of birthplace but more by virtue of the subsequent legislation, is that we have seen that the children who have been born in Ireland, have grown up here and have known no other home but here are effectively stateless if they do not have Irish citizenship. They are being threatened with deportation along with their families. We have seen that deportations can and have taken place at the end of lengthy immigration or asylum application processes that could take years to determine, years in which a child is born, raised and educated here. We do not need another referendum to reverse or address this situation for this small number of children and their families. The 2004 referendum amendment, as I have said, gives the Oireachtas exclusive power to legislate for citizenship pathways.

Many of those who first supported that referendum in 2004 have agreed that this sort of legislation is required to enable children born here, and their families, to have a pathway to citizenship provided for in law. I am sure that our colleague and friend, Senator McDowell, will not mind me quoting his speech on this Bill on Second Stage on 21 November 2018 when he said:

I support this Bill and it should be given a Second Reading. It is well-intentioned and addresses an aspect of our current law which needs to be addressed by the Oireachtas. [...] I believe Senator Bacik's Bill is timely and appropriate and there has to be a mechanism for children in these circumstances to enter into a process where discretion will be exercised rather than just sit in a limbo for years, wondering if a knock will ever come at the door. That is not appropriate and it is the situation that Senator Lawless [Senator Mc Dowell was referring to then Senator, Billy Lawless] is dealing with in America. It is unjust and inhuman and we have to provide for it.

He then, having spoken about being the architect of the 2004 referendum, said:

The effect of that referendum was to vest in the Houses of the Oireachtas total responsibility for our citizenship laws to deal with it in any way it likes. That is not mean-minded but democratic.

It is important to emphasise the power of the Oireachtas because it is within the terms of the Constitution to provide for legislation of the sort that we are seeking to bring forward today. I welcome the Minister’s support for progressing the legislation further.

I also quote from the current Tánaiste, who responded to my party Leader, Deputy Alan Kelly, on 12 November in the Dáil that he would see what he could do, saying:

We have found solutions to these issues in the past. Only last year we brought in a scheme to regularise people who came here on a student visa, whose student visa lapsed and who ended up in the workforce. Many have been here for years. This is pretty much what happens to the undocumented Irish in America.


Perhaps we can come up with a scheme to facilitate these young people as well.

The Tánaiiste was talking about allowing people to apply for regularised status and was speaking just a few weeks ago.

I also welcome the very positive comments made about this legislation by the Seanad Leader, Senator Doherty, and by the Deputy Leader, Senator Chambers, and indeed by my Green Party colleagues here in the House. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party had in fact supported the Bill on Second Stage in November 2018.

How then would our Bill, if it were passed, change things and the regime as set out in the principal Act and the amending legislation? It would make three key changes to our naturalisation regime, remembering that naturalisation is also covered in this Bill and it is not just about citizenship. This is made clear in the title and section 1.

First, someone normally applying for naturalisation must have a period of one year's continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of application, plus a total residence of at least four of the eight immediately preceding years. Our Bill would, just in the case of an Irish-born child, change that four-year requirement to two years, effectively replacing a five-year residency with a three-year residency requirement.

Second, we would lift the requirement that the parent or guardian of the minor or child must satisfy eligibility criteria. We are seeking to ensure that the child's status is the determinant for an application for citizenship.

Finally, in calculating a period of residence, we know that under the current legislative framework, periods of residence where the person was supposed to have had permission to remain but did not have permission, or where it was for a temporary purpose, are disregarded. Our Bill would lift that requirement, but just in the case of an Irish-born child.We believe that this modest Bill represents a sensible and compassionate approach to regularising the position of Irish-born children who have spent years of their childhood resident in this country but who currently face an uncertain future and even threat of deportation. We know from more recent surveys since 2004 and, indeed, from a 2018 behaviours and attitudes poll that more than 70% of people believe that those born in Ireland should be entitled to citizenship.

I have received great correspondence that is very supportive of the legislation but some correspondence suggesting that the current legislation reflects a more European-wide practice or framework for enabling citizenship and naturalisation. In response, I would say that there is a very helpful document that was produced in July 2020 by the European Migration Network called "Pathways to citizenship for third-country nationals in the EU". I am very grateful to Chloe Manahan, my assistant in the Seanad, for bringing it to my attention because it is really useful as a guide to what are European-style laws for citizenship. The first thing that is pointed out in the document is that "the conditions of acquisition and loss of citizenship fall within the remit of national competence" so it is a matter for each national government of each member state. Ireland has sovereignty over its own citizenship laws so there is no EU legal template as such. It states "all Member States offer the possibility for third-country nationals to acquire citizenship of their jurisdiction through ordinary naturalisation, although the rules regulating this process differ across countries". It is a very helpful guide on the sort of rules that apply.

In some countries, residency requirements range from three years up to ten years in some cases. Some countries have special provisions for children born in the country to parents neither of whom are nationals, which is essentially the sort of provision that we seek to introduce. Some countries provide citizenship on an unconditional Ius soli basis for specified groups of individuals born on the territory at predefined times. This is of interest because there is a perception that this is not the case. In fact, Luxembourg and Malta have some unconditional Ius soli provisions or birthright of place provisions.

I am conscious that I have spoken for a good deal of time about section 1 but it is hugely important to set out the context for the Bill, the reasons we have brought it forward and seek to amend the principal Act referred to in section 1, namely, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, and the reasons to amend further legislation subsequent to the referendum. This is a Bill that is entirely within the terms of the referendum. It does not seek in any way to be undemocratic or rewrite the referendum. Clearly, the referendum on the 27th amendment gives the Oireachtas the power to legislate.

Before I sit down, I note the Migrant Rights Centre has provided us with some testimonials from parents affected by the current citizenship laws and the absence of a clear pathway to legal citizenship here. One testimony that was written by a parent whose daughter was born and raised in Ireland simply says:

My five year old daughter was born in Ireland, she's now going to primary school here. She's a bubbly, fun and creative person. She says ‘I was born in Ireland. This is my country.’ She doesn’t know any other home than here. She is very smart and when she grows up, she wants to be a teacher and dancer. I hope that dream will come true for her.This bill would be a dream come true for my daughter and our family because it will help us live without fear and mean she has a bright future. I see the impact of growing up undocumented and I worry about the affect this is having on her– it breaks my heart every day.

That is just one of the testimonials. I have heard from others, including one man whose three children have been born here, and go to school and preschool here, about whom I have written separately to the Minister. He stated, "He just wants to see his children happy, not live the life as we are now and to be allowed to stay in Ireland because we feel safe here and his children are at home here.. There is a clear need, which has been acknowledged by the Tánaiste and Government spokespeople in this House, for us to address the situation of undocumented children in Ireland in keeping with the spirit of our Born Here Belong Here campaign.

I am delighted to engage with the Minister here. I look forward to working with her and her officials. I know we have an agreement that we will meet over the coming weeks and that, early in the new year, we will have Government time to progress this Bill further on Committee Stage. Today, we hope to adjourn Committee Stage just after 5 p.m.. I also look forward to engaging with other colleagues across the House on ways to make progress with this important legislation.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I lend my support and commend Labour Youth. It is lovely that Senator Bacik started this debate by stating that it is in memory of Cormac Ó Braonáin. I commend the Labour Youth organisation and the Labour Party on bringing this Bill forward again. I was happy to be part of the group that supported this last time and that my party, Fianna Fáil, supported this. I am really happy that we have found a solution to progress this forward, that the Government is supporting this measure and that we will bring this legislation back in the new year to progress it and eventually get it on to the Statue Book. It is a commendable piece of legislation that will make a huge difference to the lives of these children. It is a small number of people but this is a decent and right thing to do. Given that we spend so much time talking about the undocumented Irish in other parts of the world, particularly in the United States, and calling for action to be taken there, then the very least that we can do is do as we say and do the same for the people who live in this country.

Once again, I thank Senator Bacik for bringing forward this legislation. I am very happy to see a resolution and lend my support.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Bacik for the approach that she has taken and the fact that we are having a general discussion about this today. As she has rightly pointed out, we will meet within the next two weeks to look at the issues that have been identified here, the problems we have and how we can move them forward whether through legislation or other means. I look forward to working with the Senator and others in that regard.

A country's citizenship laws are critical to the integrity of the State and the rights of the people. Therefore, it is very appropriate that we debate these issues in this House. I appreciate the intention of the Bill. As I have said, I want to work with Senator Bacik and others in trying to progress the concerns that have been outlined.

I welcome the opportunity to flag some of the developments that have taken place since the Bill was first presented to the House as I believe it will help in addressing some of the challenges that already have been outlined and are faced by many families and their children who have come to Ireland seeking international protection or, indeed, who may in fact have no valid immigration permission. I understand and appreciate that the Bill before the House specifically and intentionally focuses on children and that the aim is to protect children who are already integrated into Irish society who face the risk of being removed. Obviously we have all heard of different cases. We have seen very publicly where one has young people who have grown up here but who as a result, perhaps of their parents' illegal status, find themselves in a very difficult situation. It is very difficult for all of us to see a situation where one has a child who enters into education, goes through primary school, secondary school and even some getting as far as college, to suddenly find their very presence here in Ireland in doubt when they have been born here, grown up here, lived here and built their life here. This is what we are all trying to address and I fully support Senator Bacik in that objective here.

Ireland is an open democratic State that already provides many legal pathways for non-EU or non-EEA citizens to migrate here and contribute fully to Irish life. Ireland greatly benefits from this migration, whether it is economically, socially or culturally. In this regard, our citizenship laws are some of the most liberal in the European Union. Senator Bacik has outlined some of the others where there are more lengthy periods of time. I think it is Belgium where one has to wait for ten years. Our citizenship laws contain few obstacles overall in terms of citizenship for persons to lawfully reside in the State who meet the transparent legislative qualification criteria. We recognise the value of legal migration pathways, as do other EU member states, particularly more recently in working to deal with Covid-19 and seeing how important it is in that regard.

If I may, I wish to highlight some of what has happened and positive developments since the Bill was debated in the House in 2018. We have already taken action to address a certain cohort of the undocumented population in the State. In October 2018, a scheme was introduced to regularise non-EEA nationals who came into the State lawfully under a student permission and who maintained a lawful presence for at least two years. All successful applicants under the scheme were given a residence permission allowing unfettered access to the labour market. As of September 2020, the immigration service delivery function of my Department has made a decision on 3,106 of those cases, of which 2,253 have been granted and just 853 of those have been refused.

I was delighted also to bring with my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman,the report of the advisory group on the provision of support, including accommodation, to persons in the international protection process to the Government in October. Having received the report from Dr. Catherine Day, the report obviously outlines a new and more permanent system to replace direct provision and proposals for transition from the current system to the new system. The White Paper is currently being worked on and will be published by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, shortly. This will set out a new approach, we hope, to implementation, involving actions by multiple Departments, including my own Department.We are working very closely with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, with the Taoiseach's Department and others to ensure that this can be presented, and the White Paper presented, by the end of the year. That work has already started but will continue on a number of key recommendations in that report.

It is important for me to say that I am currently considering an approach to regularise the position of undocumented migrants and their dependants in line with the programme for Government's commitment. This would allow for long-term undocumented persons to apply for an immigration permission from my Department. I understand from speaking to the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland that this could be relevant for about 17,000 people, which could also include up to 3,000 young people or children. I have a report that has just come into my office this week from my own Department. Based on that report's recommendations, having engaged in extensive consultation with a lot of the organisations, representative groups and individuals, we will then set the process in train to set out a pathway and framework for the undocumented. The commitment is very clear in the programme for Government that that will be done by the end of the year and I very much intend to stick to that. It will, hopefully, support up to 17,000 people of which 3,000 are children.

There is a lot of merit in our current arrangements to make determinations on a case-by-case basis, as has been mentioned by Senator Bacik. It is open to the parent, guardian or person inloco parentisto the child to lodge an application for naturalisation on behalf of the child. The conditions for the naturalisation require a total of five years residence in the State, as provided in the Act. I know that the legislation before the House proposes to reduce the time. Inevitably, granting a residence permission to children, to young people who reside in Ireland without residency permission, will require that other family members must also be allowed to remain here in order to care for them, to support those children, in line with the broader rights to family life enshrined in domestic, international and EU law, and they would be entitled to apply for citizenship in due course.

As Minister for Justice, I have discretion to deal with each immigration case before me on its merits. There are statutory mechanisms in place to allow and make sure that every party can make representations in support of their claim and, of course, in support of their children. This is a discretion that has been frequently exercised in favour of the child, particularly where the family has claims on substantial and humanitarian grounds to remain in this country. My ministerial predecessors have frequently exercised this discretion in favour and support of the child in that instance.

In many cases involving children born in Ireland, leave to remain is granted. In terms of citizenship grants since 2010, approximately 28,781 were children. This includes 25,552 children of non-EEA nationals. They have become citizens of Ireland through naturalisation. This demonstrates in real terms the results of effective compliance with our present legal pathways to citizenship. The existing arrangements are fair and work for all of those who respect the laws and comply with them.

I wish to outline some of my concerns, and those of the Department and others, with elements of the Bill. If the Bill was enacted as it is proposed then it would create a situation in Ireland that would make us unique in the European Union, which Senator Bacik has touched on. Ireland would be the only state that granted citizenship to any child born on the island of Ireland, regardless of the legality of their parents' residence. We do have a duty to consider the consequences arising from the Bill if it were to be enacted in its current format, including the fact that from an EU point of view we would, in effect, be granting not just Irish citizenship but EU citizenship to children as well, and not just to children but inevitably to a much wider circle of people, as I have already mentioned.

Existing citizenship laws have also been carefully calibrated taking into account the complexities and very complex nature of the position in Northern Ireland and, more generally, keeping in line or broadly in line with other EU member states. The Bill if enacted, as proposed, would change the rules significantly for Irish citizenship entitlement in Northern Ireland as well. Currently, one parent must be an Irish citizen or be entitled to claim the same for the child to qualify for Irish citizenship, or one parent must have been lawfully resident on the island of Ireland for three out of the last four years. Of course with Brexit coming down the line, as the UK leaves the EU in the coming weeks, a range of amendments to current domestic legislation and administrative arrangements are under way to try and address the implications of this development in itself. This includes providing for residents of specified non-EEA national family members of UK citizens who move to Ireland post-Brexit by facilitating their entry and residence in the State. There will, obviously and undoubtedly, be children who will also benefit from these changes.

In the context of this proposed Bill, we do need to be conscious of the possible unintended consequences of changing our immigration laws at a time of huge flux. Covid-19 and Brexit are already likely to negatively impact on the economy and employment levels in Ireland. In addition to that, immigration rules have, potentially, wider implications for State services looking at immigration provision but also housing, education, medical services and welfare. All of these need to be carefully assessed and time needs to be given to look at those possible implications.

In summary, the proposed Bill is well intended and I support its objective. We all agree that many of the situations that we have discussed, and have been discussed previously when the Bill was introduced, should not be allowed happen where a child is born here, develops a life here, goes through school here and then finds himself or herself in a difficult situation. There are a lot of implications if we were to implement the Bill, as it currently stands, not least for our standing within the EU but the common travel area, Northern Ireland, our relationship with the UK but also other Departments and agencies as well. We have to take all of these into account.

I assure the Seanad that I will continue to exercise my ministerial discretion in cases involving the immigration status of children, particularly where humanitarian needs are presented to me and substantiated. I believe the positive developments that I have outlined, and the work that is under way, will have a positive impact on those we are trying to support today.

I want to work with Senator Bacik to address a lot of the issues that she has outlined, be it through legislation or other ways. I am fully committed to doing that and working with the House to address any of the lacunae in the law that currently exists. My apologies, I had a lot to say and I tried to condense it into the shortest period of time. I thank the Senator for her co-operation on this issue. I do want to work with her and look forward to working with her.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for outlining all of that to the House.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I thank the Minister. The concept of home is a very powerful one. It relates to a sense of belonging, a sense of community and it is the anchor in many of our lives. For those of us with a home it means that whatever the misfortune, ill health or crisis there is always a sanctuary. If one talks to people who are homeless they will talk about the gaping hole that it leaves, and about the stress and uncertainty of not having a place to call their own. What is in question in this debate is something very similar and no less fundamental. The reality in Ireland today, as the Minister has acknowledged, is that there are children who are either stateless or citizens of a country that is completely alien to them. They think of themselves as Irish but our legal system declines to recognise their identity and all because, in 2004, the Government of the day decided that it needed to stop so-called maternity tourism. It was a cruel decision then. It was challenged by my party, the Labour Party, and by many others in civil society who foresaw the damage that it would do. In recent years, we, as a country, have embraced a broader and more inclusive view of what it means to be Irish. Certainly, we believe that it is well past the time to extend that spirit of equality to those who should and would have been citizens had the twenty-seventh amendment not been passed.

The time has come to restore birthright citizenship, which should never have been taken away. I am very proud, as a Labour Party Senator, that the leader of our party in the Seanad, Senator Bacik, brought forward this Bill in 2018 and has brought it forward again today. The Bill was spearheaded by the Senator, campaigned on by Labour Youth and many other groups, and campaigned on so passionately by the late Cormac Ó Braonáin.

I want to acknowledge the comments made by the Minister and representatives of the other parties who will speak in support of the objectives of our Bill. It is critical that we press on with this Bill and do not delay because its importance for the many new Irish families cannot be understated. There are children in this country who are living under a cloud of uncertainty. They never know if or when the notice of intention to deport may arrive for their parents. They never know how safe they are in the country they call home. It is a life sentence having to live under the radar so these parents are without a driver's licence or passport, without access to the rights and duties of citizenship, and without the ability to work lawfully. This is a situation that is ripe for exploitation. Even though children born here who may now be young adults, about to turn 18 years or go to college, speak with an Irish accent and received all of their education here could, for whatever reason, be hit with a notice of intention to deport. They could be sent to a country halfway across the world, and a country that they have never known, all because with the 2004 referendum there is now no legal avenue for children born to undocumented parents to acquire residency or citizenship at a later stage in their lives. Restoring the right to citizenship is the only answer that can fit with our view of ourselves as members of a fair, just, free and equitable country.It is not enough to say that the rate of deportations is very low, for which we should be thankful, or that parents can apply for permission to remain and then access a legal path to residency. That is not acceptable. We cannot leave to chance the rights of children born here or brought here as babies. We cannot leave those rights to the discretion of officials in the Department of Justice. We cannot have an arbitrary system of immigration in which these matters are left to the discretion of civil servants. We need a standard system for all babies born here, particularly in cases where parents could be refused permission on so-called character grounds, that is to say, if they have a conviction or other matter on their file. Where does that leave the child?

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004 stands out as one of modern Ireland's great hypocrisies. If one is born with the right heritage and the right Irish blood in any part of the world, one can have Irish citizenship as long as one can prove that link through one grandparent. If one actually lives in Ireland and was born in Ireland, it does not matter whether one speaks the language, whether one knows and loves the country or whether one thinks of this place as one's only home if one has the misfortune of one's parents not having the right paperwork. It is not acceptable that we continue to cut these young people off from full legal recognition within the Irish national family. We cannot continue to deny them the full and enduring security in their home that only the right to citizenship can provide.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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For the purposes of clarification, while this is a Labour Party Private Member's Bill, we are on Committee Stage. The rules of normal Committee Stage procedure apply. There is no rota by party or group. Members must indicate if they wish to be on the list of speakers. The other issue is that the House agreed that this debate would adjourn one hour after it started, which means it will adjourn at 5.09 p.m. We will adjourn at that stage.

Photo of Lorraine Clifford-LeeLorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fail)
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I will keep my comments brief because I know a number of other speakers want to get in on this very important topic. I commend Senator Bacik on bringing this Bill before the House today. My colleagues in Fianna Fáil and I supported her in 2018 and are very happy to do so again. It is a very fitting tribute to the Senator's late colleague, Mr. Cormac Ó Braonáin, that she is bringing this before the House. I hope we can progress it together on a cross-party basis and see that proper pathways to citizenship are afforded to children who have made Ireland their home. These children are Irish. They contribute to our communities and enrich our society. The Senator referred to Eric, a little boy from Wicklow. There have, unfortunately, been many Erics since then. With all due respect to the Minister, it is simply not good enough to say there is an ad hocsystem available by which to gain leave to remain. It is not acceptable that an ad hocsystem decides these matters, which are very important to people.

People are living under the shadow of deportation. They are waiting for the knock at the door or for the letter to arrive. This fear and anxiety have a traumatising effect. We all know that childhood trauma can leave deep scars and this is not something we want for any child. We are a humane people but this system is inhumane. We talk at length about our Irish citizens abroad and about protecting their rights in the countries they have decided to call home, yet we turn a blind eye to what is happening here. It is not good enough. Many undocumented people live here and provide essential services such as care services or work in the food industry. As we have all very recently seen, these jobs are vital to our way of life in this country. It is completely unacceptable that vulnerable people like this are left. I really hope the Minister will listen to people's voices today and will work with Senator Bacik and her colleagues to progress this Bill because I, for one, want to see it come to fruition. I want all children who are born here and who form part of our nation to live free of the anxiety of waiting for a knock at the door.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
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I have never spoken from this part of the Chamber before. It is a different layout or space for me. The referendum in 2004 is one of my earliest memories of politics. I was 16 at the time so I was aware of the concept of politics but it the first time I was really aware of a political discussion happening. I remember being quite uncomfortable about the way some girls in my school were talking to others. I remember a sense of unease around it. I was not entirely what the story was, but I was uneasy. I remember a lot of talk about prams and buggies. All of these things were flying around. As has been said, I know the intention of this referendum was not mean-spirited but I believe we all recognise that, unfortunately, the discourse around it became very mean-spirited at the time. It really stoked a lot of fears in people and created a kind of thinking about migrants in Ireland whose knock-on effects we are still feeling.

This is a positive and good Bill. We have seen a lot of material online over recent weeks. There have been a lot of hand-wringers in the comments sections saying that we voted for this system. We also voted for a clause allowing us to legislate, however, which is exactly what this Bill does. There is no underhandedness and no one is trying to undo anything; there was a very clear clause in the amendment allowing us to legislate in this way. I commend my colleague, Senator Bacik, on leading the charge in this regard.

I will quickly provide some figures supplied by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. It did some research in 2019 with more than 100 undocumented parents and found that 68% of their children were born here. Some 58% of these were over five years old while 20% were over ten years old. Some 32% of the children and young people concerned were born outside of Ireland, 78% of whom had been living here for five years or more. In some cases they had been living here for more than 16 years. None of these children and young people has any rights to residency or citizenship despite being born or growing up here.

I echo the comment of my colleague, Senator Sherlock. People all over the world are able to claim Irish citizenship by virtue of lineage but those who have been living and growing up here, who are part of our school system and whose parents have been working here are now growing into adulthood and do not have that automatic right.

I will quickly talk about some of the impacts that growing up undocumented has on young people. An area about which I particularly care, but rarely talk about, is that of access to higher and further education. The children of undocumented parents do not have the same access to post-second level education as their peers. It is incredible to think that these children have come through the Irish schools system, including primary school and all the rough and tumble that comes with it, the junior certificate and the leaving certificate, and that they have often become Gaeilgeoirí who speak Irish better than many of us, but cannot access further and higher education in the same way as Irish citizens. That has a really severe knock-on impact on their sense of self, of belonging and of what they can contribute. As I always say, not everyone has to go on to further and higher education. That is a choice for people to make. For a group of people who have been here and who have been participants in Irish society to be locked out of this opportunity for growth and learning, however, makes me very sad. We need not go into the knock-on impacts of not being able to access education such as low-paid work and cycles of poverty. These young people have a valuable contribution to make.

I will not go on too much longer because I know my other colleagues want to speak. There is a mental stress and burden on people. Senator Clifford-Lee talked about Eric and said that there has been many other Erics since then. It must be really frightening for children to know that they could, at some point, get a call telling them they have to leave. It is not good enough that the reason these children do not end up having to leave is that parents, schoolteachers and schoolchildren stage sit-ins and other protests and organise petitions. That is not how we should treat young people who were born here, who live here and who belong here. It is not good enough that they must face this fear and mental stress.

There is also the matter of fear and stigma. Particularly in recent times, there has been a real stoking of racism and anti-migrant sentiment. I talk to my friends in the Mosney direct provision centre.We hear all the time about incidents of racism, exclusion, taunting and other stuff. It is just not good enough.

As I stated, I am very glad to be part of a party that is putting forward this Bill. I commend my colleague, Senator Bacik, on leading on this issue and I commend Labour Youth on its Born Here, Belong Here campaign and on being a progressive youth voice for change. There has been some terribly unpleasant stuff hurled at the young members of my party who are putting forward this progressive vision for Ireland, namely, that those who are born here belong here and that all are welcome. They are doing astounding work.

In 2004, I was too young to vote in the referendum, although I was acutely aware of what was happening. I am very glad that, 16 years on, I will have an opportunity to vote on this issue and, I hope, to right some of the wrongs done in 2004. I remind anyone watching these proceedings that this is about children. It is about children who were born here and who I, my Labour Party colleagues and, I think, many other Senators believe belong here. They are very welcome. I look forward to working with the Minister and my colleagues to get the Bill over the line.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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On behalf of the Green Party, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Under the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, our colleague, Senator McDowell, the 27th amendment to the Constitution, which was passed in 2004, removed the automatic right to citizenship upon birth. Once it had been passed, children born in Ireland lost the constitutional right to citizenship upon birth. The amendment instead gives the Oireachtas power to legislate for routes to citizenship and naturalisation. I say "well done" to the Senator for that. I remember my son was five years old at the time and I put him in the shoes of children who were born here but whose right to citizenship was removed.

In early 2004, the Green Party was the first political party to announce its opposition to the referendum. We campaigned fiercely for a "No" vote from the outset. Our campaign called out the Government proposal for what it was - a debasing of politics at the expense of the most vulnerable people in Irish society. We also pointed to the rushed nature of the referendum, arguing that the Government had not devoted enough time to a debate on the matter and that its claims that citizenship tourists were putting hospitals under pressure did not stand up to scrutiny. Now we see that those very migrants are the people working as nurses or doctors on the front line.

I am glad to say that the Green Party was not the only party to voice grave concerns about the referendum. We were joined by the Labour Party and Sinn Féin in campaigning for a "No" vote. It is a very happy day to be in the Seanad when one sees all Senators in agreement on this issue. The then Human Rights Commission, chaired by Maurice Manning, voiced serious concerns regarding the substance of the referendum and the manner in which it was developed and put to the people.

Thanks to all the gods, we have evolved since 2004 in a significant way, whereby we see cross-party support from every party, big, small and none, such that all Members agree that the amendment to the Constitution is ridiculous. I welcome all the work that has been done to date by the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, on this issue. The Bill has been fast-tracked. It is 2020 and the time is now. I have worked with hundreds of schools and have seen children from all over the world who are more Irish than the Irish themselves. They play the accordion and have better Irish than I do. It is ridiculously wrong to think that those kids are not Irish in every way. I again commend Senator Bacik on bringing forward the Bill.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House. She is very welcome. In 2015, I worked with the Migrant Rights Council of Ireland, MRCI, for three months. To say it was the best three months' work experience of my life is an understatement. I got to meet the most powerful young people in the world. I do not mean that in a patronising way. I hate it when people tell me I am a brilliant young Traveller woman. The young people I met were young, paperless and powerful.That is exactly what they were back then and still are today. It was a brilliant experience. Many of them became my friends. Those young people grew up in an Ireland where they did not know when there would be a knock on the door to tell them they had to get out of the country. I remember doing a workshop with a few of them where they put paper over their faces so that they could not be identified for who they are. They had to hide their identity. It opened my eyes to the inequalities in Ireland, especially the inequalities that I would not like to see for my daughter, Billie, or other young people.

There are a few points I wish to make, as well as reflecting on the issues raised by other Senators. The MRCI estimates that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 undocumented young people living in Ireland. I understand that the young people with whom I worked in 2015 are now documented, but one of them told me this morning that she will never get back her youth and childhood which she spent living in fear because she did not have papers. She still works on the campaign seeking justice for the undocumented young people. To me, that is powerful. I do not wish to go off the point.

Under the Act governing citizenship, the Oireachtas has the power to legislate for children born here to have rights from birth and to be citizens of Ireland. Last February, The Irish Timesreported on the case of a ten-year-old child who was faced with deportation. A 14-year-old teenager from Galway faced a deportation order, as did another child of 12 years of age. These are young people who play. We are all big GAA fans here in the Oireachtas. I know I am; I grew up in a GAA house. These are young people who play for their local football teams and speak the Irish language. We do not have to justify that they are Irish or say they have better Irish than other people do or that they do certain things better than we do. These young people are an equal part of our society.

The Ireland of 2004 is a far cry from the Ireland of 2020. Migration is a part of human activity. We need to make sure that families who move here or children who are born here are safe and treated with dignity and respect.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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Speaking on behalf of the Sinn Féin Seanad team, I thank the Labour Party for bring forward the Bill. Sinn Féin favours restoring the full right to citizenship and believes that, 16 years later, it is time to revisit the decision that was taken, especially when a recent poll indicated that 71% of Irish people would support it being revisited. That said, we welcome the conversation today on the Bill because we all know the current immigration system is patently unjust and that there is a significant amount of work to do to right the injustices in it. We need to provide a way for children who are undocumented to regularise their immigration status.

The House has heard today that under the current system there is no path to citizenship for children who are born here to undocumented parents, children who came to Ireland to join undocumented parents or children whose immigration permission has lapsed. We have heard about children who have grown up here and joined local GAA teams and gone to local schools but who are all in a legal limbo and living in fear. They cannot travel or access third level education. Without permission to work, they very often end up in exploitative jobs. In effect, the current immigration system prevents these children from reaching their full potential. They are reduced to participating in society while that society refuses to accept them in full or to recognise their full right to be here. They live under the threat of deportation to another country they have never called home. It is an unspeakably cruel system.

Senator Hoey is correct that this has a significant knock-on impact in terms of their sense of belonging. Ireland is an outlier among its European peers in that regard. Research carried out by the Migration Policy Institute shows that 24 of the 27 EU member states provide some way for undocumented children to regularise their status.It is time that Ireland caught up. We have heard the heartbreaking appeals and speak of primary school children who are campaigning for their friend to be allowed to remain the country and being forced to plead with a Minister for Justice not to deport that friend. These are only the high-profile cases. There are many others that do no capture the public attention or do not manage to tug at the heartstrings of Ministers or embarrass them into action. It is completely inappropriate that decisions such as these are being left at the discretion of a Minister.

It is worth putting on the record and recalling how we have ended up in this situation in the first instance. It is because the then Government misled the Oireachtas in 2004 into believing that there was a crisis of maternity tourism in order to force the referendum on the issue. There were claims that there was a spike in anchor babies being born. Senator Bacik rightly pointed out in her article in The Journal that the Government of the day inflated those numbers in that the statistics for babies born to non-Irish mothers with Irish fathers as well as babies born to parents with EU citizenship who did not benefit in terms of immigration status were all wrapped up in them. The Government decided to hold a referendum on a fundamental constitutional right to citizenship on the basis of little more than a rumour. It is akin to the current Government effectively holding a referendum having seen a racist meme on Facebook. We have seen this move before. A crisis is invented that plays on the fears and whips up the anger that is then directed towards the vulnerable scapegoat and away from where the failure lies, which is usually at the door of Government. It is the classic move from the reactionary playbook, one that we would all do well to learn from.

At the time of the 2004 referendum, the then Minister for Justice and Equality stood in this House and stated that by pandering to right-wing elements, the centre could halt their rise. I would like to point out that we do not defeat racism by pandering to racists. Racism must be resisted everywhere. The far right is on the rise in this country. We would do well to remain vigilant and not to pander to it. We have a chance now to undo some of the wrongs of the past and embrace all of the benefits that immigration brings to our society.

I thank the Labour Party for bringing forth this Bill, but we do need to revisit in its entirety the decision made in 2004.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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There are only seven minutes remaining and four more speakers, Senators Moynihan, Ruane, Keogan and Wall, are indicating. In terms of where we are at, this is not the end of the debate. It will continue on another day.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I will try to make my points as quickly as possible. I am proud to support my Labour Party colleagues who drafted this Bill, particularly Senator Bacik. The Labour Party campaign was spearheaded by our comrade, Cormac Ó Braonáin, who has been on my mind a great deal over the last couple of days as I watch Christmas lights going up and I recall the tragedy of his death last year. It is fitting that we are discussing this Bill as the first anniversary of his death approaches. Cormac believed in this campaign because he was a young man with passion and compassion. This Bill is about a passion for equality between the children of this island and compassion in the sense that no child should be left behind or have to live under the shadow of his or her being deported to a country to which he or she has no connection.

Ireland is a country of immigrants. We should appreciate more the difficulty and insecurity of not having a legal right to remain in a country. The Cathaoirleach has been very active regarding the rights of the undocumented in the US, yet we have many undocumented in this country and many of them have children. My Labour Party colleagues and I will support the Government in the context of the programme for Government commitment to regularise the rights of the undocumented. I pay tribute to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Green Party for their work to get that into the programme for Government.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with the undocumented in this country as they seek the same treatment that we ask from US politicians. I remind the House that in March next year or, perhaps, the following year when we don our green rags to advocate for the Irish undocumented, another basic principle of the US is that the children born there, for whatever reason, are entitled to US citizenship and can become US President. One of the basic provisions of this Bill is that all children born here are equal and have the right to the protection of this State. Simply put by my Labour youth colleagues, children born here belong here.

The Migrant Rights Council of Ireland which does incredible work on this and many other issues for migrants in Ireland estimates that there are between 2,000 and 5,000 children who are undocumented and do not have citizenship. Behind each of these numbers there is a story, a child with friends, hobbies, dreams and a Dublin, Cork, Meath or Mayo accent. They are Irish children. We hear in this House that the referendum in 2004 was not a mean-spirited in nature, but it was. That referendum weaponised fear among people in 2004. I recall tales of pregnancy tourism, open borders and anchor children. The people who are suffering the consequences of the framing of that discussion, which was unnecessary, are children born on this island.

Another referendum that used the same scare tactic of the unknown people who come here, displaying images of immigration into Britain, was that relating to Brexit. It gives me an uneasy feeling knowing that many of the people who voted to leave in that referendum based on the issue of immigration have more of a right to an Irish passport, with no requirement to visit here let alone live here, than children who live in this country.

I commend the Minister on her speech and on agreeing to work with all Senators across this House to right the wrong that was done 16 years ago. Let us continue to work together to make sure that we do that for all of the children born on this island.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Most speakers have covered the logistics within the legislation, the statistics, the referendum and so on. In the couple of minutes I have available, I will try to outline how I feel about this issue. Approximately two years ago, I attended several court hearings in regard to a deportation. As I sat in the courthouse, I was struck by the accents and Irishness of the people around me. As mentioned by Senator Flynn, we do not need to measure Irishness because people bring their own culture and heritage and we appreciate, support and love that too. I sat in that courthouse with a mother and her two sons waiting to hear yet again that they will be deported. I was sitting beside the eldest son, who was hoping to go to University Limerick, and the youngest son, who was in third year at that time. My arm was resting on my leg beside his arm. We were both wearing the same bracelet, which had been given us to us by an artist for our participation in his work. This artist gives the same bracelet to all participants but this young man had not been in an art piece with me so I was reminded that somewhere along the line he had participated in another part of the country in work by the artist with whom I had worked. I remember feeling incredibly connected to him in that moment. My bracelet broke. To remember the idea of this perfect circle and how love goes around and how when we treat each other well love is equal between people, families, nationalities and cultures, I had the bracelet tattooed on me so I could be reminded of that moment sitting in that courtroom and the sense and feeling of hopelessness that I would not be able to help that family in any shape or form. Luckily, following a campaign and through ministerial discretion, we managed to have the deportation order lifted. Two years later, I visited that woman, whose character was dismantled in the courthouse that day. She was unrecognisable to me. Her skin was glowing, her hair was beautiful and she stood tall. I could not believe how tall she was. I had spent several days with her in the courthouse and I saw the physical effect on her of living undocumented. Eighteen months to two years later, she looked like a different woman and could stand tall. I keep that vision with me. We could give this to so many people and families and lift from them that burden they are carrying with them.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House for the debate and I thank all members for their contributions. Members who were not able to get in on this occasion will be able to do so when the debate is resumed.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 5.10 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.