If there is a crisis on the maternity wards, it is due to the fact that Irish hospitals are chronically under-funded, not because 'citizenship tourists' are swamping them. Indeed, the birth rate has fallen significantly since a peak in 1981 when there were 72,158 births. In 2000 there were 54,239. Because of the government's policy of closing more and more maternity hospitals (ten maternity units in nine counties are due to close at the time of writing), there is of course a greater pressure on maternity wards in centralised hospitals. 40% of all Irish births take place in just three Dublin hospitals, hospitals that are suffering from repeated cutbacks in government spending.
The government recently moved away from the 'maternity ward crisis' argument, following the hospital masters' denials and repeated calls from opposition parties to produce hard evidence. In the Fianna Fáil booklet 'Vote Yes To Common Sense Citizenship' there is now an emphasis on protecting the 'integrity' of Irish citizenship. Integrity is an interesting choice of word from party who has shown very little integrity in public office. In fact, during the 1990s, Fianna Fáil sold passports to wealthy non-nationals (including Osama Bin Laden's brother-in-law and Al Quaeda fundraiser Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz) under Charles Haughey, who was Taoiseach at the time.
According to Bertie Ahern, 'Irish citizenship should be available to those from other shores who, having lived and contributed to Irish society, wish to apply for it'. This isn't exactly the case. If this referendum is passed, it will create an extraordinary anomaly: a child of non-Irish parents but who is born in Ireland will not have the right to claim Irish citizenship, yet a person who was not born in Ireland – who doesn't necessarily have Irish parents but has just one Irish grandparent – will have the right to claim Irish citizenship. Where is the contribution to Irish society under these circumstances?
There are many American legal websites such as www.uslawfirm.com that offer services such as 'acquiring the required birth, death and marriage records in the United States and Ireland, as well as genealogical research if necessary, to secure your Irish citizenship and passport.' The website outlines the benefits of owning an Irish passport: 'International opportunities in European employment, real estate investing, exploring cultural heritage, safe international travel, corporate expansion in the European union markets, trust/retirement, planning European investments, foreign study'. The government is apparently happy to give passports to wealthy Americans with an eye on a myriad of business and travel opportunities (not necessarily conducting them in Ireland), but is less than generous when it comes to giving passports to children born in Ireland whose skin might be a little darker than the average Irish person.
Michael McDowell (whose surname, ironically enough, comes from the Irish for 'son of a black foreigner') argues that the proposed change to the referendum will bring Ireland in line with other countries in the EU. This may be the case, but Ireland's legal system is based on common law, the rest of Europe (with the exception of the UK) has a civil law system. Also, in 1993, the heads of member states agreed that it was up to individual member states. Ireland's current jus soli citizenship laws are in line with over 40 other countries, including the US, Canada, New Zealand, India and Pakistan. In the past, hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants benefited from America's jus soli citizenship laws, and it is undeniable that America has benefited from immigration. In an address to the Immigrant Council of Ireland Conference in December 2003, American attorney, legislator and immigrants' rights campaigner Bruce A. Robinson stated that 'Immigration is good for countries. Immigrants bring new strength, new energy… [they] have the motivation, energy and ambition to try to do something to find a better future for themselves, their children and grandchildren … One of the reasons the United States has so much entrepreneurial vitality – and it really is one of the strengths of our country – is because we have been fed decade after decade by this new energy of these brave people who just do not take no for an answer.'