Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Dangerous, divisive and reactionary referendum must not go ahead

21 April, 2004


Speaking during the Citizenship Referendum debate in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said "this dangerous, divisive and reactionary referendum" should not go ahead. He said if the Government refuses to listen to the wide range of opinion that is concerned about the referendum then "Sinn Féin will campaign vigorously for a 'No' vote." He accused the Government of "stirring the pot of ignorance, fear and bigotry."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say "while all the political parties in Ireland and the Irish people were kept in the dark this Government entered secret

consultations with the British government. The result of those consultations was the scrap of paper issued on Monday 19 April as a Joint Declaration by the British and Irish Governments." He said it was nothing more than a "politicalfig-leaf" which did not take into account of the "full legal and constitutional implications for the Good Friday Agreement."

Full text of script follows

On behalf of Sinn Féin, as the only all-Ireland party and one that is deeply concerned about the effect of this referendum on both sides of the border, I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage, not to go ahead with this dangerous, divisive and reactionary referendum on 11 June.

I appeal to them not to make this profound change in the Constitution and in the Good Friday Agreement which the people voted for by an overwhelming majority in 1998.

If the Government refuses to listen to the wide range of opinion throughout the country and in the Oireachtas calling on it to relent then Sinn Féin will campaign vigorously for a 'No' vote.

In promoting this rushed referendum the Government is stirring the pot of ignorance, fear and bigotry which produces outright racism. In holding the referendum in conjunction with local and EU elections Government members may hope to benefit their parties electorally. But they will only do so at the expense of civil rights, community relations and the Good Friday Agreement. This is the work of an irresponsible Government.

The Government had no statistical basis for its claim of a crisis number of births and a widespread abuse of citizenship law. It has yet to produce the evidence. And even if it is accepted that there is such a problem it is wrong to assert that it can only be rectified by a referendum which will fundamentally alter our citizenship laws and our Constitutiuon.

I charge this Government with deliberate deception of this Oireachtas and of the Irish people.

On 17 February last I asked the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil if it was intended to hold a referendum or referenda in 2004 to change the Constitution. I want to remind the Dáil exactly what the Taoiseach said:

"The Government has no proposals at present to hold a referendum to change the Constitution. The position continues to be held under review in light of developments, including: the outcome of the examination by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution of property rights issues; the outcome of the study being conducted by a sub-committee on procedures and privileges on reform of the Seanad; and the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference on the draft constitutional treaty which commenced in Rome on 4 October."

The Taoiseach's answer could not have been clearer. No proposals to hold a referendum. No mention of citizenship. No mention of the Good Friday Agreement. The Taoiseach also told the Dáil:

"The complexities involved in holding a referendum require that careful consideration be given to the frequency with which referenda can realistically be held and the significance of the issues in question." Yet here is the Taoiseach today asking the Oireachtas and the people to endorse a complex referendum proposal with profound consequences for citizenship rights and the Good Friday Agreement and without referral to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, no prior consultation with the political parties North or South, no engagement with civil society, no research, no evidence, no white paper, no green paper and no real debate.

Did the Taoiseach tell the truth to the Dáil on 17 February?

We now know that on 14 January the Franchise Section of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, on instructions from Minister Cullen, wrote to the Department of Finance informing them that 300 further electronic voting machines had been ordered because:

"There are strong indications that there may be a further ballot paper at the June polls. This would increase time of voters at voting machines."

What did Minister Cullen know that we did not know on 14 January? Did the Taoiseach know it? Even if this letter had not come to light under the Freedom of Information Act, thanks to Irish Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting, there would still be a huge question for the Taoiseach to answer.

And it is this.

Does he expect us to believe that on 17 February - only nine weeks ago - he was not aware that this constitutional amendment and its associated complex legislation were in preparation and that, at the very least, there was a possibility that they would be put to a referendum this year? If he knew thatthen he misled the Dáil on 17 February.

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