Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Government's real motivation to deflect attention from record on health, housing and education

22 April, 2004


Speaking during the Citizenship Referendum debate Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan slammed the process by which the proposed referendum was brought forward saying the Government claims were "false" and "nonsensical". He said the "real motivation" is to deflect attention away from the coalition's abysmal record in Government on health, housing and education." Deputy Morgan went on to say "what this state needs is a fundamental and comprehensive immigration policy reform and the introduction of a positive immigration policy underpinned by respect for human rights."

Full text of comments by Deputy Morgan to Referendum debate follow:

I will address my comments to a number of particular points including the process by which the proposed referendum was brought forward and the false claims from the government that the decision to hold the referendum on June 11 was made in the public interest including claims that it is in interest of convenience and will save taxpayers money.

Any change to the Constitution of the State is of fundamental importance to all its citizens and should only be taken after full consultation and proper consideration. The necessity for such a change and the implications of such a change must be clearly outlined.

There was no consultation either with political parties, the social partners or interested parties on the proposal before the house today. The Government contrary to its initial claims did not make any attempt to consult with the parties either in this State or in the North.

The Programme for Government committed to initiating an all-party discussion on the issue of constitutional or other measures which may be necessary in relation to children born to non-nationals. This has not happened. We have all been merely informed in a contemptuously casual manner, as if we were disinterested observers, that a referendum with fundamental implications for citizenship will be held on June 11th.

If a constitutional change were necessary there is a process in place, accepted by all parties in this House, by which such a proposal is brought forward.

That is, that the matter would be examined by the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution. This Committee has just completed its examination of the issue of property rights and is in a perfect position to begin an examination of this issue. Indeed the matter was raised at the Committee and its members expressed a willingness to take this issue as their next task.

As it has done with other issues such as abortion and property rights the Committee can take submissions from interested parties such as the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Authority, and the National Consultative Council on Racism and Interculturalism, hold hearings and produce proposals regarding the necessity or lack of necessity for constitutional change.

In the case of the abortion debate the Government presented a green paper which was then considered by the Committee which carried out, in the words of then chairperson of the Committee Deputy Lenihan a "political assessment of certain questions which arise from it in the context of the submissions received and the hearings conducted". We need an explanation as to why the same is not being done with proposal before the house today. The Minister's claim that it cannot be done before parties have already taken positions on the proposal is nonsensical.

This referendum will completely eliminate the basis of Irish citizenship as has existed since the foundation of the state, in favour of a strict bloodline criteria. It is not a straightforward issue as has been claimed by the Minister. In addition to the legal, constitutional, and rights complexities, it is an issue that gets to the heart of how we, as a nation, define the basis of citizenship, and by extension how we want the Irish nation to grow and develop.

It is crucial that this issue gets proper public consideration and debate.

Given the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution is currently tasked with examining fundamental rights it is perfectly placed to now move to examine this far reaching proposal. Even at this late stage I would ask an Taoiseach to now refer this matter to the Constitution Committee.

The claims from the Government that the decision to hold the referendum on June 11th was made in the interest of convenience and to save tax payers money is blatantly untrue.

Has this Government learnt nothing from the Nice Treaty fiasco when they foisted a referendum on the people of the State without properly informing voters on the issues involved and in the absence of consultation. On such a fundamental issue, this is a pathetic argument and fails the recognise that the ultimate costs of making a huge mess of our citizenship laws.

The real motivation behind the timing is to deflect attention away from the coalition's abysmal record in Government on health, housing and education. The whole basis of this referendum being held at this time is to facilitate the government parties exploiting the race issue for their own electoral gains.

Mark my words we will have FF & PD candidates exploiting ignorance, bigotry and racism by seeking to deflect the blame for the crisis in our health service and the lack of social and affordable housing away from the incompetent government and onto non nationals.

What this state needs is a fundamental and comprehensive immigration policy reform and the introduction of a positive immigration policy underpinned by respect for human rights. Sinn Fein supports the recommendations of the Immigrant Council of Ireland's report on Labour migration into Ireland and calls on the Government to implement these recommendations including An integrated and representative approach to immigration policy, the immediate introduction of an anti-racism and anti-discrimination agenda, migrant worker rights must be equivalent to those of host society members and family reunifications as a legal right.

While failing to bring forward a proper, human-rights compliant immigration law and policy this Government is happy enough to stand by as migrant workers in this State are exploited. They have rejected repeated calls from those concerned for the welfare of migrant workers for employment permits to be issued to the migrant worker rather than the employer.

As Deputy O Caoláin stated if the Government refuses to listen to the wide range of opinion demanding that it call off this referendum then Sinn Féin will campaign vigorously for a 'No' vote.

Connect with Sinn Féin