Ruling 'justifies' citizenship referendum

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.


Charlotte(cbreen) - 19/05/2004 10:37

I truly believe that this issue is being twisted. People are not concerned about these children being citizens of Ireland. they are concerned about paying social welfare benefits to the parents of such children. This is not an issue of citizenship, but of fears for social welfare budgets. Irish people living illegally in the US had children there who were automatically US citizens. The legal or illegal status of the parents did not influence the status of the child. I have been brought up believing that anyone born on this island had automatic Irish citizenship. Are we now planning on revoking that because of the colour of someone's skin? Is that nor despicable? Let's be honest! This has sod all to do with citizenship and everything to do with whether the parents of such children can then stay in the country and be entitled to benefits because their child is an Irish citizen. And this is a valid point in terms of budgetary planning, I suppose. In the US, as far as I know, the parents have no status just because of the status of their children. They may leave the children in the country of birth, or not, if they themselves are deported. I'm not sure how I feel about whether a parent should be allowed benefits, but I do feel they should be allowed stay and get a work permit, so as to be with their child. One thing our antiquated constitution does protect is the traditional marital family unit. Are we not acting in an unconstitutional way if the family of an Irish citizen is not protected? Whatever the situation, this issue is not about citizenship, but about money and financial planning.

Frank(Franks) - 20/05/2004 09:33

Its payback time. Over the years, we Irish have exploited every immigration system in the world to our benefit and now we want to impose restrictions on people who are now in similar circumstances and looking for a better life. For a so called Christian country we could do with a dose of humanity.

Anonymous - 24/05/2004 16:39

To Frank, just because we exploited other countries immigration laws is no argument for us to throw open our doors to everybody and anybody. The Irish emigrants were not given any assistance from those foriegn governments who administer the economies to which we fled and in fact, most Irish people lived and worked in fear of the imigration officers. At present we are doing a damn site more for imigrants to Ireland than any foriegn government did for our emigrants. These so called "citizen tourists" are not trying to get citizenshipo so they can contribute to Irish society, they are doing it for selfish reasons. We need tom control our citizenship rights and protect them where needed. In the current climate we need very much to protect our very identity, something we are supposed to cherish above all as Irish people. In addition, we are leaving open the borders of every other European country because once someone gains Irish citizenship, they will gain European citizenship also. As Europeans, we MUST respect and uphold the laws of Europe. The best way of doing that is curtailing entitlement to Irish citizenship.

Charlotte(cbreen) - 25/05/2004 12:57

Yes, Anonymous. And so the child born in Ireland is an Irish citizen, but his/her parents are not. The citizenship of the child is allowed in current legislation, (which the Oireachtas could change at any time, if the referendum goes through). This isn't about citizenship. This is about fear over what that citizenship 'gets' you i.e. entry to the EU, social benefits etc. I truly believe that this referendum to a ploy to avoid having to question other parts of our constitution, namely the protection of the 'family unit' as defined by FF and the Catholic Church in the 30's. They have no intentions of supporting the families of new citizens, but don't want to have to redefine 'family' to conform to modern living. They've circumvented the issue on many occasions. I.e. Cohabiting couples have traditionally had no rights on a par with married couples in this state, but if a woman in receipt of single mothers allowance is found to be cohabiting, she will be reassessed, in light of her partners income. All drawbacks and no benefits! Basically, this referendum asks us, as citizens, to pass the definition of citizenship from the Constitution, (and our own control, as the constitution can only be changed by referendum) to the legislature and the politicians of this country. Sorry state of affairs, but I for one do not trust the politicians of this country enough to allow them that kind of power. They will then be able to make any changes they wish to the definition of 'new citizenship'. I repeat, this is not about citizenship, but about social welfare benefits, government budgeting, definition of the family unit, and access to the EU. But not about citizenship. If you are born in Ireland, you are Irish. That's self-evident. Whether your parents are entitled to benefit from the resources of the State is another question. But not one that centres on citizenship. This is being used as a blind, so as to avoid dealing with real questions. How many people can we support? If we do not allow new families into the country, how will we combat our current negative population growth? Who will pay taxes to support our growing elderly population? All social welfare questions, and still they have nothing to do with citizenship. This referendum is sticking a band-aid on the issues facing us.

Frank(Franks) - 25/05/2004 13:40

I think we have to get things in perspective and take a more strategic position. Firstly the numbers are not that great and are exaggerated. Secondly there can be enormous benefit to Ireland through cultural linkages and the goodwill generated with other countries. This is especially so as these countries improve their economic/political positions. Look at the strong links that have been forged with South Africa following our support for the removal of apartheid. Thridly, we are facing a shortage of workers given the declining birth rates and the aging population. If this is the case why should we be turning away potential citizens who in future years can help to alleviate this problem.

Anonymous - 26/05/2004 11:52

There is not an outright ban on children of "non national" being granted citizenship through birth. The wording of the resolution allows for citizenship to be granted when the parents are contributing to society in an economic way. Yes it is about economics, social welfare benefits etc, but that is because this is what has brought about this resolution in the first place, non nationals presenting in labour to avail of these benefits. Whatever your view on this referendum, you have to agree that, as members of the EU, we must do whatever it takes to respect and uphold the laws of our European neighbours just as we would expect to do the same for us. Additionally, this loophole came about due to a change in our constrituion to facilitate the good friday agreement.

Charlotte(cbreen) - 26/05/2004 12:54

Prior to the Good Friday agreement anyone who was born in Ireland was considered an Irish citizen under common law. So the government are trying to make that more restrictive. And the status of a child should not be dependent on the status of the parents. That would be completely against current legislation on the rights of children. The status of the parents has no legal implication on the rights of the child. Again I state, this is a social welfare issue and a child born in this island is entitled to be considered a citizen of this country. Your reference to a child being an eligible citizen only if the parents are economically contributing to the State is literally visiting the 'sins' of the parents on the life of the child and that is abhorrent. Whether or not the parents are economically contributing to the state should have no bearing on the case of the child. It should very probably have influence on the status of the parents, and on whether the parents are allowed to stay in the country, but should not effect the child. And if the parents are not allowed to stay in Ireland, they should have the option of whether or not to leave their Irish citizen child here, or to take said child with them when they leave. Again, nothing to do with the citizenship of the child.

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