Irish Republican News · April 4, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Hard To Understand McDowell’s Mindset

By Vincent Browne (for the Sunday Business Post)

There is an irony and a justice in Minister for Justice Michael McDowell being shamed over deportation.

It was he who instigated the dishonourable citizenship referendum a year ago. It played to the racism of a certain section of the Irish people and had no discernible public interest justification, certainly no proportionate one.

Remember what that constitutional amendment was about? It was solely to deprive children born in Ireland to non-Irish parents of the right to Irish citizenship.

It did not in any way affect the rights or entitlements of anybody else. It gave no right to residence here or entitlement to citizenship to the families of such children, fathers, mothers, siblings or anyone else.

The Supreme Court had previously opened the way to the deportation of the parents of Irish children, and McDowell, with familiar compassion, had made it clear that such parents would indeed be deported with or without their Irish citizen child.

He played the Chen case card. Remember that? This concerned a woman whose child was born in the North and who, as a consequence, was entitled to Irish citizenship, and who claimed a right of residence in Britain on the basis of European law.

The European Court of Justice found she had such entitlement, but on conditions that made her circumstances and the case entirely irrelevant to the issues of immigration and asylum in Ireland.

The conditions were that she could fund herself in whatever European state she opted to reside with her Irish citizen child, but if she became a “burden’’ on such a state, her entitlement to remain there was revoked.

McDowell claimed - or sought to - that the Chen judgment (actually at the time it was merely an advisory opinion of an advocate-general) made it essential that Irish citizenship law be changed because the fabric of European immigration policy could be endangered by the Irish “loophole’’.

It was a cynical distortion of the reality: that being that the Chen judgment was, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

The sole targets of that citizenship amendment were Irish-born children. The campaign played on racist sentiment in the midst of local and European elections.

I suspected that the ploy was to embarrass Sinn Féin: the party would be forced to take sides one way or another on the issue, and if it opposed the change, it would be damaged in what McDowell might perceive as the Sinn Féin “constituency’’ in the south.

If it supported the change, it would be embarrassed among its left-wing constituency and vis-a-vis its own ideology.

Whatever else one might say about Sinn Féin - and there is quite a lot to say - it passed that test well, opposing the referendum as a racist ploy.

And, by the way, I do not think McDowell is racist, but there was a perception that the citizenship issue would play well with the electorate, to the benefit of the government parties in the elections. It did not work out like that, for although the referendum won 80 per cent support, the government parties did disastrously.

It is hardly surprising, given that background, that McDowell would make such a miscalculation on the deportation of Olukunle Elukanlo, the Palmerstown College student.

But the mindset that would ordain the deportation of a student who had been here for several years, who clearly had integrated well into his school and community, and who was a few months away from sitting the Leaving Certificate is consistent with the one that ordained that citizenship referendum.

This wasn’t a singular impulsive error. McDowell did this with his eyes wide open, then with familiar, almost fanatical, fervour, defended it.

Did you see him advising the media to think through the logic of its outrage over what he had done in terms of encouraging every stray Nigerian youngster whose father was dead and whose mother was missing to come to Ireland?

Is there not something troubling about a person of such a mindset being Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

That department has been afflicted with ministers of deep conservatism and law-and-order blinkers for years, but do we now have one without any of the milk of human kindness?

Anybody who thinks he may have learned a lesson from the humiliation the students of Palmerstown College heaped on him would be mistaken.

He also deported Nkechi Okolie and her three children from Athlone. These people had been here for years, had formed friendships and connections, and were then plucked cruelly from the environment that had become their home.

Then there was the deportation of Elizabeth Odumsi and Iyabo Nwanze, who, between them, left four children behind. These women, befriended by Bertie Ahern, at least for the purposes of a photo-opportunity, were also plucked from their homes.

Worse than that, they were rushed out of the country and weren’t able to bring all their children with them.

The public outrage is a reassurance that savage callousness is not representative of the Irish sentiment.

One does not have to believe in what is called ‘an open door’ policy on immigration to be appalled at what has happened.

As Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, said during the week, issues of normal compassion and reason have a role here.

Where families have put down roots, where children, in their formative years have become connected here, where the duration of their stay is, even in part, contributed to by the chaos of our own arrangements, then these human concerns trump the formalities of immigration and asylum regulations.

If there is any justice in politics, there will be electoral retribution for this in the not-too-distant future.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News