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Justice minister sets out reasons for opposition to child citizenship bill

18 Jan 2019 / legislation Print

Justice minister's speech opposes citizenship bill

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan set out his opposition to granting citizenship to all children born in Ireland in a speech in the Dáil yesterday.

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017 is at the second stage before Dáil Éireann.

The Solidarity group, which is bringing forward the bill has said it would undo  "Trump-style citizenship laws" following the 2004 referendum on the issue.

Integrity of State

The Justice minister said in the Dáil that citizenship laws are critical to the integrity of the State and the rights of the people, therefore it is important to debate the issues, guided by facts.

He said that the bill was far-reaching and would, if enacted, create a situation unique in the EU in granting an automatic and unconditional citizenship for any child born on the island of Ireland.

Enactment would have consequences for Ireland’s relationships with other states including our nearest neighbour, the minister said, in that it would grant not just Irish citizenship, but EU citizenship. 

“At the moment, the State retains discretion to grant citizenship in circumstances where a child is born on the island of Ireland to parents who were not born here. 

"That discretion is an important check on any potential abuse,” he said.

“I would remind the House that the 2004 referendum, which placed this rule in the Constitution, arose following a call from the three Masters of the Maternity Hospitals in Dublin for a change in the law. 

Consequent risks

“They made their call because of their concern with the rapidly increasing number of mothers who were presenting for the first time at an advanced stage of pregnancy, with consequent risks for the health of the mother and child, and implications for the capacity of the maternity hospitals to function. 

“The view at the time was that, in many cases, women were being exploited – forced either to travel here in the late stages of pregnancy or to give birth here, as a means of guaranteeing citizenship and residency for a wider cohort of family members. 

 Maternity hospitals

“Of course, these were the cases witnessed by the maternity hospitals and the immigration services – they were not the cases in the public domain and it is convenient for some to forget about them now. 

"Just looking at the figures – the number of asylum seekers applying for leave to remain increased by 400% between 1999 and 2002, going from 1,227 applications in 1999, to 6,549 applications in 2002,” he said.

The minister said that the bill allows no room for consideration of the particulars of each case, including the parents’ immigration status, their method of entry into the State and the length of time unlawfully present.

“While the bill is silent on the position of the parents and other siblings, I am sure its authors are well aware that the granting of citizenship to a child born on the island of Ireland has the almost inevitable consequence, given the broader rights to family life enshrined in domestic, international and EU law, of granting an immigration permission to the parents and other family members, and so this is not really a bill about children alone at all,” he said.

Legal pathways

The minister said that Ireland is an open democratic State that already provides many legal pathways for non-European citizens to migrate here and Ireland benefits greatly from this migration: economically, socially and culturally.

In this regard, he said, Ireland’s citizenship laws are some of the least onerous in the EU, providing few obstacles to citizenship for persons lawfully resident in the State who meet the qualifying criteria.

Since 2010, just over 27,000 children, most born to non-EEA nationals, have become citizens of Ireland through naturalisation, he pointed out.

Flexible mechanism

He also, as minister, has a flexible mechanism to deal with cases on their merits.

The bill, if enacted, would also change the rules significantly for Irish citizenship entitlement in Northern Ireland, which in the context of an unpredictable Brexit scenario, is a serious concern, the minister said.

“It is self-evident that if the proposed amendment was passed by this House, and had the direct consequence of attracting more people to the State to achieve residency status through the birth of a child here, the consequential strain on our own State services, including existing immigration provision, housing, education, medical services and welfare, would need to be carefully assessed.

“In light of this, I wish to flag that the Government will refuse to grant a money message in respect of this legislation,” he said. 

Latitude for refugees

The minister said that Ireland’s immigration laws gave the latitude to offer solidarity to other member states dealing with emergency humanitarian crises, as well as countries hosting large refugee populations. 

Refusing to support the bill, the minister said that he stood over current pathways that are fair and accessible for those who wish to comply with Ireland’s immigration provision.

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