The 1916 Proclamation declared that, 'The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, … cherishing all of the children of the nation equally'. This was further upheld in the Constitution, which declared all citizens equal before the law. So who are the citizens of Ireland? According to Article 2 of the Constitution:
'It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.'
The Fianna Fáil minister for justice, Michael McDowell is asking the people of Ireland to change the constitution. Currently, the citizenship laws, as outlined in the Constitution, are from the principle of jus soli – literally meaning 'from the soil'. This means that any child born in Ireland will be deemed an Irish citizen. McDowell wants to change this to the jus sanguinis – 'from the blood' principle – which means a child born on the island of Ireland will only be deemed a citizen if it has one Irish parent. Mr McDowell obviously does not believe we should cherish all the children of the nation equally.
So, why the need to change the constitution? The government's initial reason was that there is a 'crisis' in Irish maternity wards. In their document 'Citizenship Referendum – The Government's Proposals' it is stated:
'Maternity hospitals in particular in Dublin are experiencing a high incidence of the unannounced arrival in their facilities of non-national women in late pregnancy, or in the early stages of labour and have expressed concern that as a result the lives of the mothers and children are put at risk. This phenomenon is directly related to the fact that Irish law at present gives to children the entitlement to Irish citizenship and thus to citizenship of the European Union.'
In the Dáil, An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern went as far to point the finger at Russians, Ukrainians and Moldavians. He claimed that they are taking advantage of Ireland's jus soli citizenship laws to have children in this country and then leaving to find work in other states of the European Union. The government has offered no statistical evidence that this so-called 'citizen tourism' is happening. It is interesting to note that he didn't point the finger at Ireland's main asylum seeking populations – the Nigerians and the Romanians – but then the accusation of racism would be more easily laid at his door. The government has also failed to offer statistical evidence that 'non-nationals' are at the root of the maternity ward crisis. McDowell claimed that the masters of Dublin's main maternity hospitals had 'pleaded' with him to change the law on citizenship status. However, the masters publicly denied this. Dr. Seán Daly, Master of the Coombe Hospital, claimed that he and other masters were being used as 'scapegoats'. A letter was recently published in the Irish Times signed by 31 doctors who claim that 'The number of late arrivals, of whom a significant number are Irish women, is only 548, which is clearly a tiny proportion of all births.'
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