By Deborah Condon
Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, has insisted that a European Court ruling on citizenship, involving a Chinese woman whose baby was born in Northern Ireland, is further proof of the need to hold a citizenship referendum here.
Man Levette Chen purposely travelled to Belfast in 2000 to give birth, so that her child, a daughter, would gain Irish citizenship. Ms Chen and her daughter now live in Wales, where they hopes to stay. However the British authorities had rejected her application to live permanently in Britain.
Ms Chen appealed the decision and the European Court of Justice was asked to determine whether her daughter, an Irish national and therefore EU citizen, was entitled to stay and if Ms Chen could also remain. In a preliminary ruling, the Advocate General of the court yesterday said that Ms Chen should be allowed to stay on account of her Irish-born child.
Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell
While the Advocate General's ruling is not binding, it is unusual for the court not to follow his advice. A full court decision on the issue will be made later this year.
Following the ruling, Mr McDowell took the opportunity to appeal to voters to support the government's referendum on citizenship. He said that the ruling sent out a clear message that if people do not want to be sent home, 'all they have to do is get to either part of Ireland and have a child there'.
The referendum was proposed by Minister McDowell to end what he claims is an incentive for foreign mothers to give birth in Irish hospitals, so called 'baby tourists'. If passed, babies born in Ireland to non-nationals will no longer have an automatic right to citizenship.
The referendum takes place on June 11, the same day as the local and European elections.
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