Irish Republican News · March 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Awaiting `No' to planned breach of Agreement
Awaiting `No' to planned breach of Agreement

By Eamonn McCann

Could it be racism which has discouraged northern outrage at the plans of the Dublin Government to change the Belfast Agreement without consultation with parties in Northern Ireland?

Southern Justice Minister Michael McDowell intends to hold a referendum on Irish citizenship rights on June 11, the same day as the European poll.

The effect of the measure would be to scrap the right to Irish citizenship of babies born in Ireland to immigrant parents - a right enshrined in the 1998 Agreement.

The principle laid down was that all those ``born on the island of Ireland'' are entitled to Irish citizenship. This wasn't entirely new. But the Agreement strengthened the principle and made it explicit. Dublin now proposes unilaterally to change it.

The intention behind the inclusion of the principle was to make it easier for northerners to get Irish passports. It was presented as a gain for nationalists. But children born to immigrants on either part of the island also benefited.

Thus, as of now, a baby born in Ballymena or Belturbet to parents who had fled to Ireland from oppression or to seek work is entitled to automatic Irish citizenship.

To put it another way, all babies born in Ireland, irrespective of the skin-colour, ethnicity or origins of their parents, are currently categorised as children of the nation and are entitled to be cherished equally as far as citizenship is concerned.

This is what the Ahern Government is out to end. It isn't northern-born children the southern politicians are mainly worried about but children born in their own jurisdiction to immigrants from the poorer countries of Europe or from Africa: or to be absolutely exact, it's the presence in the Republic of the parents of such children.

Until January last year, the parents, while not themselves entitled to citizenship, did have a right to residency.

Residency rights on these grounds were extended to 3,153 people in 2001. The following year, the number was 4,027.

Racist, ultra-nationalist and anti-immigrant campaigners, many in influential positions in the media, raised a hue and cry.

Just as predictably, mainstream politicians and commentators took to arguing that the way to stop this racism growing was to give way to it.

In a ruling 15 months ago, the Republic's Supreme Court voted five to two to remove the parents' right of residency.

The result has been the deportation of the parents of a number of Irish citizens. All the deported parents have so far taken their Irish citizen children with them.

If they were left behind they would, of course, be entitled to the care and protection of the State.

Asked about this possibility, McDowell went on record with the remarkable statement that he wouldn't be ``blackmailed'' by the deportees.

It's hard to see what he can have meant by this other than that he'd remove the possibility of such ``blackmail'' by removing the children's right to citizenship in the first place. Which is precisely what he proposes to accomplish on June 11.

It strikes me as remarkable that matters can have reached this stage without any sign of outrage from those people in this jurisdiction who never give over about the necessity of defending the integrity of the Agreement, the whole Agreement and nothing but the Agreement.

If it were people born of locally rooted parents from whom it was proposed citizenship rights should be removed, would not the howls of anger echo from the rooftops across the land?

Which is why I ask whether there might not be an element of racism in the reaction - or lack of same.

Should not all supporters of the Agreement be making plans now to travel to the south in the run-up to the citizenship referendum to join in the campaign for a no vote - let's hear it once more: Ulster Says No - and to demand an end to the deportation of the parents of children endowed with citizenship under the Agreement?

© 2004 Irish Republican News