The Dublin government has been strongly criticised for its decision to hold a referendum on citizenship on June 11th, the same day as the local and European elections in the 26 Counties.
The referendum bring issues of identity and race into the election frame, and the proposed clampdown on immigration is highly popular with Irish voters. As a result of the potentially divisive debate, the right-wing parties are likely to gain in the elections at the expense of Labour, the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party.
Voters will be asked to empower the government to restrict citizenship rights in what the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, described as a measure to remove an incentive for foreign mothers to give birth in Irish hospitals.
Article 2 of the 1937 constitution was amended by the referendum which approved the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in the 26 Counties. In a concession to unionists, the article was amended to replace the identification of Ireland as the island of Ireland with an identification of the Irish people as all those born on the island, conferring citizenship at birth.
The government has now claimed there is a problem of non-nationals coming to Ireland during pregnancy in the hope of gaining citizenship rights for their new-born.
Labour Party leader Mr Pat Rabbitte said the coalition fovernment was ``exploiting the immigration issue'' by holding the vote on June 11th.
``From the very beginning the handling of the issue has been dishonest and underhand,'' he said.
He said the only consultation he received from the Coalition on the issue was while ``having coffee in the members bar'' of the Dail.
Fine Gael's Enda Kenny accused the Government of ``debasing'' the Constitution and ``exploiting the immigration issue'' by holding the referendum on the same day as local and European elections.
He called for consultation with all political parties on the basis of good faith.
``Can you explain to house and country, what is the rush about holding this referendum on the eleventh of June?'' Mr Kenny asked.
``Is it not perfectly obvious...that rushing to amend the Constitution of Ireland has lead to legal quagmires in the past,'' he added.
Ms Harney said the Government ``are not rushing this''.
``The Good Friday Agreement was signed into law and the referendum was held 42 days later on the island of Ireland. It is 65 days to the 11th of June,'' Ms Harney said.''