Since partition of Ireland in 1921, the Republic has been one of the most homogenous nations in Europe – the vast majority of the population was white and Roman Catholic. The advent of the Celtic Tiger in the 1990s brought with it a significant increase in the nation's finances, thanks to membership of the European Union and increased investment in the IT sector from the United States. Ireland had the fastest growing economy in Europe (between 1988 and 2000 the job market grew by 50%) and as such, became a nation of immigration rather than one of emigration. Unlike other European countries like Britain, France and Germany, Ireland has experienced immigration during a very short period; although the vast majority of 'immigrants' during the 1990s were in fact Irish people returning to the country – 55% in total. In fact the vast majority of Ireland is still white and Roman Catholic.
At the last census in 2002, out of a population of 3,584,975, those listed as 'Non-Irish' were 224,261. By far the largest group of non-Irish people resident in the State during the 2002 census were people from the UK* (103,476)[*The referendum will not affect British citizens living in Ireland – a child born in Ireland to two British parents will automatically claim Irish citizenship.
], followed by the US (11,384) and Nigeria (8,969).
Many people in Ireland believe that most of the foreign-born people are here illegally or claiming asylum. This is simply not true. The vast majority of non-Irish people currently residing in Ireland are here legally – they work and pay taxes, or are here for study. The total number of people claiming refugee status in 2002 was 11,634. Because of its relatively low population, Ireland takes a very small percentage of asylum seekers – only 1.5% of asylum seekers in the EU. According the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, there are currently 20,556,781 'people of concern' in the world. Ireland takes roughly 0.05% of the world's refugees – the vast majority travel to neighbouring countries. Asylum seekers are denied the right to work and are not allowed to go on any housing lists. They are given three meals a day and must live on an income of €19.50 per week (with an extra €8.55 per child). Once granted refugee status they are able to gain employment. They are not the drain on the economy that the government would have us believe. Let us not forget that the government spent €50 million on the electronic voting fiasco, having recently slashed the welfare budget by a similar amount. The government is trying to distract our attention from their woeful mismanagement of the nation's finances by making scapegoats of the most disadvantaged in society.
Ireland needs to embrace its immigrant population, not to demonise it. Like many European countries, Ireland has a birth-rate which is below the rate of replacement. The birth-rate is falling and life-expectancy is increasing. Ireland will have an increasingly ageing population without the workforce necessary to support it. This will lead to an increased burden on taxpayers. As well as the low birth-rate, it would be erroneous to assume that Irish emigration is a thing of the past. According to the Central Statistics Office, 'the 15 to 24 age group continued to record net losses due to emigration'. Prohibitive housing prices and high costs of living are encouraging young Irish people to emigrate. We must also think about how this referendum will affect children born in this country. The Children’s Rights Alliance questions the government's thinking: 'If Government policy is to keep Filipino nurses in Ireland, why punish their children by weakening their rights, by denying them Irish citizenship? If the objective is to have fewer non-Irish-national births, why not issue fewer work permits?' The government needs to think of the long-term benefits of immigration, and develop a cohesive immigration policy. The constitution does not have to be changed to do this.
Allen, Kieran: The Case Against McDowell's Referendum – Bookmarks Ireland, PO Box 1648, Dublin 8
Irish Council for Civil Liberties – 'ICCL Briefing on Proposal for a Referendum on Citizenship, 21 April 2004'