In one of the strongest attacks yet on the proposals for a citizenship referendum, the 26-County Human Rights Commission warned that the referendum may breach the rights of Irish-born children under two international human rights treaties.
But the Irish Ministry of Justice responded by insisting the matter was an internal one and that international law does not apply. It said its plan to restrict the citizenship of children born in Ireland to parents from outside the European Union, by dint of a constitutional referendum, was fully compliant with relevant laws.
Critics have dismissed the referendum, timed to coincide with local and European elections in June, as a desperate attempt by the right-wing Dublin government to motivate its supporters to turn up at the polls.
The Human Rights Commission accused the Dublin government of relying on “vague and anecdotal” evidence to justify the referendum.
“The differential treatment which is likely to result between citizen and non-citizen children may constitute unlawful discrimination under international law in respect of a new category of non-citizen children,” it said.
In a preliminary legal critique, the commission said the proposal to restrict the citizenship of children born in Ireland to parents from outside the European Union raised “significant issues” in relation to the human rights of such children and their families.
However, it was not apparent that the Dublin government had given “serious and comprehensive consideration” to the human rights consequences of the referendum.
The commission also expressed concern that the Government failed to consult it before deciding to proceed with the referendum and before it published the Bill to allow the poll take place on June 11th.
In addition, the commission said it was not convinced the Dublin government had demonstrated that there was a need to restrict citizenship rights.
It went on: “The commission believes that the data provided by the Government to justify the proposed amendment is weak and is concerned that much of the evidence and rationalisation for the proposed amendment seems to be vague or anecdotal in nature.”
“Any restriction on the human rights of children within the State must be guided by the principle of proportionality set out in international human rights law,” the commission said.
Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, rejected the allegations as “weak and tendentious”.
Mr McDowell denied that the proposal would breach either the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A spokesman for the Minister said: “The Government when drawing up the proposal would have looked at that area. They’re satisfied that it is fully compliant with international law.
“International law doesn’t just apply in this country. It applies in the international community. And if that argument is correct it means every country in Europe is in breach of international law.”
Despite this, however, the commission is to put more pressure on the Government over the referendum in a more detailed legal paper to be published before the weekend. This paper is also likely to address the possible implications of the proposed constitutional amendment on the Good Friday Agreement.