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Citizenship Bill rejected for institutionalising inequality

27 October, 2004

Aengus  Ó  Snodaigh  TD,  Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights has said Sinn Féin cannot support the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill because it  "institutionalised  inequality  on  the  basis  of  the nationality of one's parents".   "Equality  at  birth  is a core republican and democratic principle.
Irish republicans do not want Irish nationalism to be exclusive and insular, but rather inclusive and internationalist, and rooted in full equality," he said.

Expressing  his disappointment with the result of the Citizenship referendum and the   Bill   before  the  House  Deputy  Ó  Snodaigh  said,  "I  admit  to  deep disappointment  with  the  referendum  result and this Bill before us, because I believe  that  it  takes  Irish  nationalism backwards, and fails to advance our nation  towards  an  inclusive  and  truly, proudly multicultural Ireland.  I am disappointed  because  it  would  appear  that  the  majority  of  voters of all
political  persuasions  have  not  learned  compassion  from the legacy of Irish emigration,  but  instead swallowed the bait when encouraged by this Minister to scapegoat  others for the unequal distribution of wealth and access to resources that this Government has not only presided over but aggravated."

The Dublin South Central TD expressed his regret that the concerns raised by the Human  Rights  Commission had not been addressed in the final draft of the Bill. He  also  called  on  the  Minister  for  Justice to keep the promise he made to Opposition  spokespeople  in  which  the  Minister  said he would regularise the status of the non-national parents of Irish citizen children facing deportation.

Full text follows

                  Second Stage Speech by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD

As  democrats,  we in Sinn Féin recognise the referendum result that has allowed this  legislation to go forward.  However, consistent with our opposition to the antecedent constitutional change that has removed the equal right to citizenship by  birth  and  replaced it with an institutionalised inequality on the basis of the nationality of one's parents, we cannot support this Bill.

Equality  at  birth  is  a  core republican and democratic principle.  The equal right  of each and every child to full citizenship on the basis of birth alone ?
not  wealth, not race or ethnicity, not gender or any other factor - that is the jus  soli  principle is absolutely fundamental to republicanism and I believe to
democracy.   I  cannot consent to its abandonment to a jus sanguinis regime that has its origins in the racist doctrines of colonial Europe.

This Bill demands that we narrow the right of citizenship from a right conferred by  birth  on  this  island,  to  a  right  based  on what the Bill refers to as
"sufficient  connection"  but  does not actually define.  But who are we kidding when  we set this arbitrary threshold?  Approximately 1.8 million Irish passport holders  were  born abroad and currently live abroad.  They are citizens only by virtue  of hereditary descent under Section 7 of the present Act.  How are these people  more  connected  to  Ireland  than those actually born here?  How do you prove  that an infant does not have "sufficient connection" to a place?  And how do  you prove that an infant born overseas has greater connection to this island and  its people by virtue of its parents who have chosen to leave, than one born in  Belfast, or Dublin, or Galway whose parents have chosen this island as their home?   You  cannot.   And  how  deep is our hypocrisy in this presumption, when untold  thousands of our ancestors and even immediate relatives have claimed the right to remain in America or Canada on the basis of the birth of child citizens of those countries?

Irish republicans do not want Irish nationalism to be exclusive and insular, but rather  inclusive and internationalist, and rooted in full equality.  That ethos
has  never  been  more  important  than  now, when we are contemplating a United Ireland in the near future, one that must treat all people born on the island of equal  esteem, regardless of affinity, ethnicity, religious or political belief, or  the origin of one's ancestors.  We must be absolutely consistent in this.  I appeal  to  deputies on all sides of this House who plan to support this Bill to think hard on its implications for the future.  Take this opportunity to reflect
on  what  really defines Irish nationality, and how we want to build our nation. I  admit  to deep disappointment with the referendum result and this Bill before us,  because  I  believe that it takes Irish nationalism backwards, and fails to advance  our  nation  towards  an  inclusive  and  truly,  proudly multicultural Ireland.   I am disappointed because it would appear that the majority of voters of  all  political  persuasions  have  not learned compassion from the legacy of Irish  emigration,  but  instead  swallowed  the  bait  when  encouraged by this Minister  to  scapegoat others for the unequal distribution of wealth and access to  resources that this Government has not only presided over but aggravated.  I say again, this is a mistake which we will all pay for down the road.

I  do  recognise  and  appreciate  that greater efforts have been made since the Government's  original  proposal to Good Friday Agreement-proof the legislation, in  keeping  with  their  responsibility  to  ensure  that neither violation nor dilution  of the Agreement is a byproduct of this policy and this law.  However, I  must  point  out that there is an anomaly resulting in the formulation of the Bill  ?  a  loophole,  to use the Minister's language ? that violates the stated principle  underlying  the Bill, that of citizenship on the basis of "sufficient connection". In accordance with provisions in the proposed new Sections 6A(2)(c) and 6B(2) and (7) in Section 4 of the Bill, ALL British citizens ? regardless of whether   they   have  ANY  connection  whatsoever,  much  less  a  demonstrably "sufficient"  connection  with Ireland, have a privileged position equal to that of  Irish  citizens  when  it  comes to the automatic right of their children to citizenship.   So  under  this  legislation  a  couple  with no Irish connection whatsoever,  who  have lived all their lives in Manchester could come to Ireland to  give  birth  and  have  Irish  citizenship  rights  conferred on their baby. However,  the  same will not be said for the couple from Cape Town, or Hanoi, or Santiago.

With  regret  I  note  that  once  again  the Human Rights Commission has raised significant  concerns  prior to the final draft and publication of the Bill, but
that  most  of these, again, have not been addressed.  I note that the Immigrant Council  of  Ireland  shares many of the same concerns, and I will take these up with  the Minister in greater detail at Committee and no doubt Report Stages, in the  context  of discussing Sinn Féin amendments.  I also note that the Minister said  he would engage in a "wide-ranging" consultation process on this Bill, but I have no evidence that this was the case.

Finally,  I  want to repeat Sinn Féin's call on the Minister to keep the promise he  made  to  the Opposition Spokespeople and move immediately to regularise the status of the non-national parents of Irish citizen children facing deportation, and  particularly  those  whose  applications  were  made  before the Government changed  their  policy  and  made  it  retrospective in the wake of the Lobe and Osayande  decision.   It is not acceptable that the Government changed the rules and  forced these people to return to square one.  It is not acceptable that the Government  has accelerated deportations of the parents of these Irish children, which  has amounted to the effective exile of 32 of these citizens to date.  But we  don't  know  what  will  happen  to them in future, because the Minister has admitted  to  me  that  the  Government  has  washed  its hands of them.  It has effectively told them get out and don't come back.  It has forced the parents to surrender  the childrens' Irish passports ? or in other cases it has facilitated the  obtaining of Irish passports to get these citizens out of their own country quicker.   The only alternative, which has happened in at least one case we know of,  is  for the parent to leave the child behind here in its country of origin, of citizenship.  But we don't really know how often this has happened, or indeed the  fate  of such children because the Minister has admitted to me that he does not  keep track of them either.  This is a scandal and a stain on the nation.  I urge the Minister to regularise these families now as there is no logical reason not  to  grant  them amnesty on a humanitarian basis and in the name of fairness now  that  this Bill will not doubt pass, and in view of the possible success of the  pending  High Court challenge, and in view of the potential implications of the  European  Court  of Justice decision in the Chen case, which has reaffirmed the right of EU child citizens to the care and company of their parents.ENDS

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