Irish Republican News · April 21, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Ahern dissembles through referendum debate

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today faced a barrage of criticism of his party’s decision to hold a potentially racist referendum on Irish citizenship on June 11 - the same day as local and European elections.

If passed, the referendum will remove the right to Irish citizenship of all those born on the island of Ireland.

Mr Ahern denied the referendum was racist. He said the phenomenon of non-nationals coming to Ireland for the purposes of giving birth to a child and the acquisition of citizenship and then leaving the country could no longer be tolerated.

The Dublin government also denies the referendum is a breach of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, despite fears that it has undermined the long-standing right of northerners to Irish citizenship. A joint statement issued this week on the matter by the Irish and British governments was denounced as a “political fig-leaf” by Sinn Féin.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell said he had compiled “clear and incontrovertible evidence” that a disproportionate number of non-national mothers are arriving at maternity hospitals at a late stage of pregnancy.

Figures supplied by the minister indicated there were 163 such cases at the National Maternity Hospital and 269 at the Rotunda last year.

The referendum should prove overwhemingly popular with Irish voters, whose traditional suspicion of outsiders is often linked to the island’s historic domination by British rulers. The current coalition government knows that it stands to reap the rewards of an anti-immigrant backlash on election day.

Enda Kenny, the leader of main opposition party, Fine Gael, called on the government to postpone the referendum. He asked for the issue to be referred to an all-party committee, which would report by September 1. He added that his party would ultimately would support the government in the referendum.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said his party would oppose the referendum.

“The taking of this referendum in the context of national elections was conceived in secrecy in the hope of electorally damaging the opposition and shoring up support for the government.”

Sinn Féin Dail leader, Caoimhghin O Caolain accused the Government of “breathtaking arrogance” in discussing the citizenship referendum plan with the British government despite failing to consult political parties North or South.

Speaking in the Dail, he said “this dangerous, divisive and reactionary referendum” should not go ahead. If the Government refused to listen to the wide range of opinion that is concerned about the referendum then Sinn Féin would campaign vigorously for a ‘No’ vote.

He accused the Government of “stirring the pot of ignorance, fear and bigotry.”

He said: “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.”

Mr Ahern insisted the two governments have taken separate legal advice on the issue and by signing the declaration had “eliminated” any possibility of the Agreement being compromised.

“That there is, and will be, no breach of the British Irish Agreement, is now beyond dispute,” he declared.

But O Caolain said the Dublin goverment had behaved in a “cavalier” and “dismissive” attitude.

He said the declation was nothing more than a “political fig-leaf” which did not take into account of the “full legal and constitutional implications for the Good Friday Agreement.”

The debate on whether the referendum should go ahead on June 11 is due to continue tomorrow, but no vote will be taken until next week.


The following ‘Declaration of the parties to the Agreement’ was issued by the Irish and British governments on Monday evening:

Declaration of the parties to the Agreement

Declaration of the parties to the Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Whereas an Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was done at Belfast on the 10th April 1998:

Whereas the two governments have considered Article 4(1)(b) of that Agreement and the amendments to the Constitution of Ireland set out in Annex B to the Section entitled “Constitutional Issues” of the Multi-Party Agreement and the current effects and consequences of Article 2 of the Constitution and the acquisition of rights to citizenship of children of parents without a sufficient connection with the island of Ireland;

The two governments hereby give the following legal interpretation:

That it was not their intention in making the said agreement that it should impose on either government any obligation to confer nationality or citizenship on persons born in any part of the island of Ireland whose parents do not have sufficient connection with the island of Ireland;

And therefore the two governments declare that the proposal to amend Article 9 of the Constitution of Ireland so as to provide that a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of his or her birth, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or is entitled to be an Irish citizen, is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless otherwise prescribed by law, is in accordance with the intention of the two governments in making the said agreement and that this proposed change to the Constitution is not a breach of the said agreement or the continuing obligation of good faith in the implementation of the said Agreement.

The British government notes that the Irish Government confirms that the rights of all persons referred to in Article 1(vi) of, and Annex 2 to, the said Agreement will be preserved by legislation.

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2004 Irish Republican News