Irish politicians who defend the rights of undocumented Irish immigrants abroad but don’t address the same issue in Ireland are guilty of “gross hypocrisy,” a TD has claimed.
Last week, the Dáil debated a bill intended to restore automatic birthright citizenship to those born in Ireland to non-national parents after it was removed from the constitution in a 2004 referendum.
Should it be enacted, the proposed law – put forward by the left-wing Solidarity Party – would grant the right to citizenship to any person who is born in Ireland and subsequently lives in the country for three years, regardless of the parents’ citizenship or residency status.
In 2004, in a Fianna Fail-led referendum, 79 per cent of voters supported the removal of the constitutional provision granting citizenship to anyone born in Ireland.
Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s Minister for Justice, admitted last week in the Dáil debate that there were “hard cases” but maintained that his department could use “ministerial discretion” to resolve them instead of legislating.
Paul Murphy, a Solidarity Party TD from Dublin, told the Irish World that this was “not an answer” for these cases as campaigns and petitions are needed to raise the case to the attention of the department.
Last year, an opinion poll for the Irish edition of The Sunday Times showed that 71 per cent of respondents favoured birthright citizenship.
This swing in public opinion, at a time when President Trump has called for ending birthright citizenship in the United States, followed a high-profile case in which Eric Zhi Ying Xue, a 9-year-old boy who was born in Ireland, was threatened with deportation along with his Chinese mother.
His teachers and classmates in County Wicklow rallied around him and a petition asking the government not to deport Eric or his mother collected 50,000 signatures within a few days.
The family was instead given three months to make a case to be given legal permission to remain in the country, a possible route to full citizenship.
Mr Murphy, who helped launch the bill last week along with migrant rights activists, said that children born after the 2004 referendum have not yet reached the age of 18, where, thereafter, their rights will not be equivalent to those born with parents with Irish citizenry.
“Whenever these children reach 18 – which none of them has done so far – they won’t have access to the certain schemes, access to free third-level fees, won’t have the right to vote if they’re not citizens,” Mr Murphy said.
“There’s a certain hypocrisy to Irish politicians who will – correctly – defend the rights of the undocumented Irish in America but when it comes to Ireland…where people suffer similarly, we should sort out and regularise the situation here for them along with the undocumented in America.”
Though popular, birthright citizenship is opposed by the majority Fine Gael government. It reiterated last week that it will seek to defeat the new bill.
While the opposition party, Fianna Fail, are more sympathetic to the bill, Murphy said, they would need to change tack before the vote next week for the bill to pass.
Fine Gael and its Independent minor coalition have sufficient numbers to defeat the bill – which is scheduled to be voted on on Thursday, 25 January.
“It was revealing because the government took quite a hard line against the bill, unfortunately. They repeated a lot of the argumentation that would have existed in 2004; about a strain in public resources,” Mr Murphy said.
“They effectively alluded to the idea of anchor babies and birth tourism. There was never any proof provided at the time and its the same this time around.”
Fianna Fail’s justice spokesman said last week that the party will, however, support immigration reform for children born in the State who are not citizens.
“However, we do not believe that the wholesale restoration of birthright citizenship is the correct approach,” he said.
The 2004 referendum removed the automatic constitutional right to citizenship but didn’t remove exclude the right of Dail to legislate, Mr Murphy said.
Official figures for the numbers of children who may be affected do not exit. However, the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) estimates that between two and five thousand children are currently “undocumented”, meaning they are without a visa, as are their parents.
Mairéad McDevitt, an MRCI youth worker, echoed Murphy in saying that her organisation was not surprised by the outcome of the debate but found the “rhetoric very disappointing and out of step with Ireland in 2019”.
“Communities and schools around the country are calling for change; momentum is building and this issue is not going to go away. It’s only a matter of time before another ‘Eric’ or ‘Nonso’ comes to the attention of the public,” she told the Irish World.