I call the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to move the motion for a Second Reading of the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2004.
Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004: Second Stage.
I bring to the attention of the House-——
I have called the Minister. Does the Deputy have a point of order?
The schedule circulated by the Whips clearly sets out that today's business is the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. My party wants to oppose the Order for Second Stage. We are told repeatedly from the Chair that the ordering of business is "a matter for the Whips". I have received a document from the Government Whip which states that the Order for Second Stage will be taken. This referendum is being forced through the House with the transparent purpose of its being put to the people in an election atmosphere. In accordance with the report of the committee chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan——
We cannot discuss this matter now. What is the point of order?
I do not propose to discuss the matter. I merely want to bring to your attention the recommendations of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. The committee in its sixth report recommended, for example, that even "the Standing Orders of the House should be amended so as to embody a presumption that every TD and Senator will have sufficient opportunity to make whatever contribution he or she wishes to make". The report further states:
Measures should be taken to ensure that a Bill to amend the Constitution is fully debated by the Dáil. Given the importance of a constitutional amendment, every Deputy and every Senator should have the opportunity to express his or her views. The Bill therefore should be debated in principle and in detail by each House. To ensure this, the committee considered whether a minimum period for the Oireachtas debate should be specified in the Constitution.
In conclusion, the report recommends that the lower limit, namely the lower limit provided in the referendum Act 1994, should not be otherwise resorted to because it is not ordinarily adequate. Moreover, its use for contentious or complex proposals might give the people the impression that they are being unduly pressed into taking a particular decision.
The report is referring to the 30 to 90 days range and is saying the 30 days should not be resorted to except in emergency circumstances. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and with the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. This is not an emergency measure but it is transparently being rushed through for base political motives. Therefore, my party will oppose the Order for Second Stage.
The Whips' document is not a House document. The Order Paper is the correct document. The Bill is down for Second Stage and the business of today and tomorrow was set by the allocation of time resolution passed by the Dáil on 8 April last. That provision provided for the times of the sittings and the business to be taken, namely, the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004 — Second Stage. It has already been decided to take Second Stage. I call on the Minister to propose the Second Reading.
On a point of order, since when is a Whips' document not a House document? The Taoiseach answers questions every day on the Order of Business.
The Order Paper is the official document.
The Taoiseach says repeatedly the ordering of business is a matter for the Whips. I have received a document from the Whips. When was Second Stage ordered?
It was ordered on 8 April.
It was ordered, voted on and agreed.
Therefore, we will have the vote next week after the debate as to whether to have the debate.
That is what was agreed.
It was already voted upon.
The House is being reduced to a farce.
The vote is on Second Stage. The Minister is in possession. I have answered the Deputy's point of order.
Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
On a point of order, on Holy Thursday it was stated that Second Stage of the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004 would be taken. However, no order was made to take the Bill, only a decision that there would be a debate on it. The Government Whip, who is well briefed on procedures, has correctly sent us a schedule which states that an order is required because no order has been made by the House to take this Bill. There is a requirement for an order.
The effect of the resolution on that day means it has already been ordered that Second Stage will be taken today. The question of making an order for Second Stage does not arise. I call on the Minister to proceed with Second Stage.
It was only a notice.
We oppose that because the order has not been made in the House.
The Minister should sit down.
This is a transparent effort to hype this debate. The Members do not want a debate.
The Chair has ruled that the decision has been taken. Please allow the Minister to continue with his speech.
The purpose of the Bill——
I suggest that we adjourn the House for 15 minutes to clarify the matter for all sides.
Order, please. The Minister is in possession. He must be allowed to make his speech.
What is the Deputy's point of order?
The purpose of the Bill——
Will the Minister give way to a point of order?
On a point of order, the Minister should not be so arrogant.
The Deputy is trying to stifle debate.
Can the Minister obey the Chair? A point of order has been called. He should sit down.
Deputy Stagg on a point of order.
The Deputy will not allow a debate.
What is the Deputy's point of order?
As there is doubt about this matter, the House should adjourn for 15 minutes to allow the Whips to meet to clarify the situation and come back to the House with an order. That would be a suitable way to proceed in an orderly fashion.
Second Stage of the Bill has already been ordered.
It has not.
The resolution which is prefaced "notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders" modifies Standing Orders in the manner set out in the resolution. The Standing Order for Second Stage, therefore, has already been taken.
On a point of order, is it not the case that the Minister in his opening remarks confirmed the validity of the argument presented by my colleagues on the Labour benches when he stated that he wished to move the commencement of the Second Stage debate? That proposition has been put before the House. Opposition to that proposal has been validly expressed. I confirm our support in opposing the Minister's proposal.
It has already been agreed.
The Deputy will vote on that in due course.
That will happen at the conclusion of Second Stage when we are moving on to Committee Stage. The Minister moved that Second Stage would now be taken.
Deputy Ó Caoláin has already voted on it.
The Chair has ruled that the order has already been made.
The House has not decided the matter.
The House decided to take Second Stage of the Bill today.
We did not decide to vote on the Bill.
On a point of order——
The Minister moved that Second Stage be taken today and the Opposition has clearly indicated that it opposes that.
That is a matter of record. The House decided that. I call Deputy Quinn on a point of order.
This is not a normal routine measure, but a proposal to amend our Constitution. It is a reasonable request from these benches, which dispute that the procedures have been properly adhered to, that you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as the protector of this House, avail of the opportunity to adjourn for 15 minutes so that proper clarification can be obtained.
We will abide by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's ruling. However, we respectfully suggest that the Chair is not in full possession of all the facts. This is not the place to have this debate. I suggest that there should be an orderly suspension for at least 15 minutes so that Members can be satisfied that, in their duties and obligations, they are adhering to the highest standards of parliamentary democracy. We are not so assured. If the Constitution is to be changed, the observance of democratic procedures should at least be maintained.
The Order for Second Stage has been made. I ask the Minister to proceed.
No, it has not.
On a point of order, it is clear that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform agrees with us. His opening remark was, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
No, he said "I move the Order for Second Stage".
He proposed that he move the Order for Second Stage. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform actually has the same understanding as Members on this side, namely, that notice was only given but that the Order for Second Stage was not made. We need clarification on this matter. If the Minister starts his contribution again, he will say the same thing. Why should we not halt proceedings for ten or 20 minutes in order to obtain clarification? We could then proceed.
The Deputy and the House will have the opportunity of calling a vote on that motion in due course.
What we are discussing here is a constitutional amendment. This is the most fundamental issue we could possibly discuss.
The Order for Second Stage has already been taken.
We are opposing the Order for Second Stage——
The Deputy's party did that on 8 April.
——while the Minister is proposing it. We should obtain clarification on the matter.
The Order for Second Stage was opposed on 8 April and voted on.
On a point of order, may I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle a direct question in the interests of procedural clarity? Is it not the case that what was decided the week before last is that a motion would be taken today to allow Second Stage to proceed? That was agreed by the House. What now needs to be——
The allocation of time motion incorporated the taking of Second Stage today. That is quite clear.
Deputy Howlin should respect his colleague, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
Perhaps I may put the question without heckling from the Government benches.
The Deputy is heckling the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
As I understand it, what was agreed on the previous occasion was that the question that Second Stage be taken would be put today. Is it not now proper that the House agree to take Second Stage now and, if such agreement is reached, proceed to the Second Stage debate? That is what we understand should happen and it is what the document circulated by the Government Whip seems to indicate. Will the Chair provide clarity on the matter?
The business to be taken today is Second Stage of the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill. Our deliberations are, if not previously concluded, to conclude at 6.30 p.m. on Thursday, 22 April.
When was that order made?
On a point of order——
I call the Minister on a point of order.
The Deputies opposite seem to be labouring under an illusion.
That is not a point of order.
The vote that will be taken on Tuesday next will be on the basis of the question, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." That is what will be decided at the end of this debate.
The Minister has no Order for Second Stage.
The Deputies are being disorderly.
The Minister is being ignorant.
The Deputy should stop heckling. He was giving out about that subject a moment ago. He is behaving like a baby.
It takes one to know one.
The Minister should seek advice from his nanny.
In order that there be no misunderstanding, the vote on the Order for Second Stage was taken on 8 April. The motion I am now moving is, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." That will be voted on at the end of the debate.
When is the Minister going to move the Order for Second Stage?
The Order for Second Stage has already been put and decided. I call on the Minister to proceed.
The purpose of this Bill is to make an amendment to the Constitution. The amendment is very simple and proposes to restore to the Oireachtas the power to legislate as to the circumstances in which citizenship will be conferred on a child born on the island of Ireland to parents, neither of whom is an Irish citizen and neither of whom is entitled to become an Irish citizen. The Oireachtas had that power up until 1999. This Bill is designed to restore to the Oireachtas in a carefully balanced way a measure of the general power given to it under the 1937 Constitution by Article 9.1. 2° to legislate for the grant of Irish citizenship. The change would give to the Oireachtas the responsibility for specifying the circumstances in which an entitlement to Irish citizenship would arise for persons born in the island of Ireland to parents, neither of whom was entitled to be an Irish citizen.
In 1996, the Constitution Review Group, the report of which I have in my hand, had considered whether it would ever be appropriate to have such right of citizenship based on birth written into the Constitution. Having carefully considered the matter, the group of experts which was chaired by Dr. T.K. Whitaker and included very many eminent, well respected legal minds, among them the then Attorney General, Mr. Dermot Gleeson, senior counsel, the former Attorney General, Mr. John Rogers, senior counsel and the then future Attorney General, Mr. David Byrne, senior counsel, as well as other senior legal academics and practitioners, concluded that it would be inappropriate to insert such a provision into the Constitution. Its report stated:
The Review Group, recognising that a provision on citizenship by birth necessarily includes exceptions and conditions and is correspondingly complex, is of the view that the subject is more appropriately dealt with in ordinary legislation.
It concludes that a provision on the subject should not be inserted in the Article. Those words and that analysis were, I suggest, prophetic and weighty.
Read Article 2 of the Constitution.
That report was sent for consideration to an all-party Oireachtas constitutional committee, then chaired by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe and of which I was a member. Let me congratulate Deputy Jim O'Keeffe on his appointment as Fine Gael spokesman on justice, a position he last held in 1979.
That all-party committee set itself a work agenda and studied that report. No member of that committee at that time ever suggested that the conclusions on citizenship by birth made by that group were wrong. The report pointed to the danger of attempting to write into the Constitution a right of citizenship based on birth, without providing for the complex conditions and exceptions which would be dictated by common sense and would best be left to the statute law of the State. We do not need another expert review or another all-party committee to give us the same advice eight years later.
A little bit of consultation.
Before I come to the detail of the proposal before the House, I would like to reflect a little on the nature of citizenship and nationality.
A committee of one.
Article 9 of the Constitution, as much a political as a legal document, declares that fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens. It is important on occasion to remind Members who talk about citizenship that loyalty to this State, which has only one Army, is a fundamental political duty of all citizens
Tell that to the tax exiles, as well.
This encapsulates to my mind the essence of the intertwined concepts of citizenship and nationality. To be a citizen of the State is to be as Article 2 states "part of the Irish nation"; to be part of the community which forms that nation; to share the benefits and the vicissitudes that membership of that society brings with it; and to accord respect to the entity that has bestowed citizenship on the individual.
The payment of taxes is not addressed.
Citizenship is the means whereby we become members of a moral, cultural, political, social, economic and legal community based on rights and duties established in law.
Citizenship, then, is not just an entitlement to a passport with a particular symbol on its cover, although possession of a passport is undoubtedly an important attribute of entitlement to a particular citizenship. It is a complex of rights and obligations shared by people of a common nationality, and a symbol of the sovereign nature of the nation State.
Governments have a duty then to safeguard the institution of citizenship to ensure that it continues to fulfil the requirements of its role as a manifestation of a nation whose people value membership of that nation. That is, for example, the reason I was able to take the opportunity, on coming into office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to secure the agreement of my colleagues in Government to deliver thecoup de grace to the scheme of investment based citizenship. In doing so I was continuing the process set in train by my predecessor, Deputy O’Donoghue, who had started winding up that scheme.
Will the Minister go to Saudi Arabia to get the passports back?
As the Minister who categorically ended granting of citizenship to investors under the "passports for sale" scheme, I am entitled to state that any abuse of citizenship, by which it is conferred on persons with no tangible link to the nation or the State whether of parentage, upbringing or of long-term residence in the State, flies in the face of Article 9.2 and devalues the concept of citizenship. That is the reason the Government is putting forward this proposal — to eliminate an aspect of our law that exposes Irish citizenship to abuse.
The nature of the abuse is that it is possible for somebody with no real connection with Ireland, North or South, to arrange affairs so as to give birth to a child in Ireland, North or South. By virtue of our laws as they currently stand, that child acquires an entitlement to Irish citizenship. That carries with it a number of important benefits for the child in question. As an Irish citizen, the person is also an EU citizen with all the rights of free movement and other treaty rights that go with that status. In addition, as an Irish citizen, the person can avail of the common travel area arrangements that exist between Ireland and its near neighbour, the UK.
In international terms, this is an extraordinary situation. No other country in the world has a situation where citizenship can be acquired through this most tenuous of links with the country of citizenship and which carries with it such a wide range of free movement and other options for the citizen.
There are 40 other countries.
I will repeat myself because Deputy Higgins seems to be a slow learner. No other country has this combination ofjus soli and the right to travel in other states.
I will help the Minister understand that tomorrow.
I am sure the Deputy will.
It is another of the Minister's untruths.
Do some reading in the meantime. The aspect of our law that gives rise to this abuse is the universal entitlement of any person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and its seas, to be an Irish citizen. The position until December 1999 was that under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, every person born in the island of Ireland was an Irish citizen. This was a matter of statute law and was something that could be changed by an Act of the Oireachtas.
In December 1999, however, this universal and unequivocal statement was changed in two respects. Most importantly from the point of view of the current proposal, the adoption of the new text of Article 2 of the constitution removed the question of citizenship arising from birth from the statutory to the constitutional level. The new Article 2 did so by creating an "entitlement and birthright" for every person born in Ireland "to be part of the Irish nation". The effect of this is generally accepted to be that each person born in Ireland, North or South, is entitled to be an Irish citizen.
People voted for that.
The new Article 2, along with Article 3, arose out of the complex of agreements known as the Good Friday Agreement. The aim of the two new Articles was to replace the territorial claim made in the pre-existing Articles 2 and 3 with a formula which recognised the legitimate aspirations of all sectors of society in Northern Ireland. The British-Irish Agreement, which represents the international element of that complex of agreements, also addressed the aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland. As regards citizenship, Article 1(vi) of that agreement recognises "the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose".
In Annex 2 to that agreement, the two Governments declare that it is their joint understanding that the term "the people of Northern Ireland" in Article 1(vi) means, for the purpose of that provision, "all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence". That means people who were born to an Irish citizen, a British citizen or to a long-term resident. Thus, a person born in Northern Ireland to parents, neither of whom is British or Irish or has a right to reside in Northern Ireland without restriction on their period of residence, is not part of the people of Northern Ireland according to the common understanding of the two Governments. However, by virtue of Article 2 of the Constitution, such a person is part of the Irish nation and is entitled to citizenship. The effect of Article 2, however, is that the entitlement and birthright to be part of the Irish nation extends even to people born in Northern Ireland who are not part of the people of Northern Ireland. This is an anomalous and undesirable effect. The Government's proposals are designed to address this undesirable anomaly in a manner consistent with our international obligations under the British-Irish Agreement and within the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement as a whole. That the Government's approach is so consistent is acknowledged in the joint interpretative declaration issued by both Governments on Monday, 19 April.
The undesirability of the effect to which I have referred stems from the fact that persons with no substantial links to Ireland, North or South, are arranging their affairs so as to ensure that a child is born within the island of Ireland, thus acquiring, despite the lack of association with either part of the island, an entitlement and birthright to be part of the Irish nation.
Who are these people?
It has never been suggested that the parties to the negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement at Castle Buildings in Stormont in 1998 set out to deprive the Oireachtas of the right to decide the circumstances in which children born to non-nationals on the island of Ireland would become entitled to Irish citizenship. However, a number of people, including myself, were aware that the wording of Article 2 might cause problems in the future in relation to immigration policy and law. As a legal practitioner who had appeared in the Fajujonu case, it was clear to me that coupled with existing Supreme Court jurisprudence a major issue was emerging as to whether the new constitutional provision would seriously constrain the State from effectively controlling inward migration, especially by reducing the right to deport persons who had given birth to a citizen child in Ireland.
The Minister has a unique record of being wrong on constitutional matters.
I was not the only person who had doubts on the matter. The Department of Justice, as it then was, also saw the implications in this area. For completeness, I must say that my constituency colleague, Deputy Quinn, who is here today, wrote to the Taoiseach raising the issue. One of the options canvassed by Deputy Quinn in his letter was a balancing amendment to Article 9 of the Constitution which he stated would not impinge on the Good Friday Agreement. As he put it, "On the grounds that it would not require any change to the wording at Castle Buildings, there would be no question of reopening the concluded talks process." A number of people saw this difficulty at the time.
What did the Taoiseach say?
Why did the Government ignore it?
If the Deputies listen they will learn. At the time it was a matter of political judgment whether the introduction of the immigration issue into an already sensitive debate on the concluded Good Friday Agreement would be appropriate.
The Government is full of sensitivity.
In retrospect, it may be that the much lower volume of migration and asylum-seeking at the time led to a belief that the issue was of far less importance than the crucial task of securing a consensus, North and South, to the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would now suggest that a similar amendment to Article 9 would contravene the Good Friday Agreement.
People have criticised me for not producing evidence that this sort of abuse is occurring. Some have sought to go further and, head in the sand, deny that it is occurring at all. I am the first to admit that comprehensive figures are not within my remit to gather, coming as they do primarily from maternity hospitals whose first concern is quite properly for the health and well-being of the mothers in their care and not the gathering of statistical information on their country of origin, immigration status or motives for the benefit of my Department.
That did not stop the Minister from claiming that was the reason for this amendment.
That said, I have compiled sufficient information to provide clear and incontrovertible evidence that a disproportionate number of non-national mothers are giving birth to children in Dublin maternity hospitals and that a disproportionate number of non-national mothers are presenting to maternity hospitals at a late stage of pregnancy.
Disproportionate to what?
They were asylum seekers and now they are non-nationals.
I am appending to my speech——
The Minister is changing his argument.
Will the Deputies listen? They will have plenty of time to contribute.
The Minister referred to these people previously as asylum seekers, but now he says they are non-nationals. They could be from Lithuania.
Please allow the Minister to make his contribution.
If Deputies insist on being disorderly they are wasting their own time.
Listen to him. Does anyone remember when he was over here?
Will the Minister take a question?
I have appended to my speech statistical information——
Will the Minister answer a question?
The Deputy does not realise how pathetic she sounds.
The Minister says he has the facts——
Allow the Minister to continue without interruption.
The Deputy is entitled to ask a question under the rules of the House.
I am entitled to ask a question. The Minister said he did not have the facts and now he says he does, but he still has not given them to us. Will he give us the facts? I will give way to the Minister when he answers that question.
The Deputy does not realise how pathetic she sounds. I am entitled to make a speech.
The Minister sounds much more pathetic.
I have appended all the statistical information the Deputy requires.
Is the Minister giving way to a question?
No. There is a point of order.
Is it not in accordance with the rules of the House for a Deputy to rise when a Minister or any other Member is speaking and ask that person to give way without being abused by the Minister for doing so? The Minister or any other Member is required to say "Yes" or "No" to the question. That is the question we have asked and it should not represent an opportunity to abuse other Deputies who correctly asked the Minister a question.
I know that under the rules of the House I am entitled to give way but I do not propose to do so, as the Deputies opposite will have plenty of time to make their own contribution. The tone of the debate this morning is childish and it is pathetic. It is setting a very bad example to the Irish people.
So far the Minister has insulted three Members.
The Minister should just get on with his speech.
I have no doubt that this display of petulance and childishness will be observed very carefully by the Irish people.
Do we need to remind the Minister that this is actually about children?
Would the Minister give way?
I have indicated that I will not.
The Minister is not giving way and the Deputy must resume her seat.
The Minister has cast slurs on Opposition Members because we seek to respect the integrity of our Constitution. The Minister is making it up as he goes along. He is changing his position day by day.
The Deputy is being disorderly.
I can assure the Deputy that her sweet and melodious tones will have plenty of time to make their contribution at a later stage of this debate. I have compiled sufficient information to provide clear and incontrovertible evidence that a disproportionate number of non-national mothers are giving birth to children in Dublin maternity hospitals.
I wish to raise a point of order.
A disproportionate number of non-national mothers are presenting to maternity hospitals at a very late stage of pregnancy.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh wishes to raise a point of order.
The Minister's time is now concluded. He began his speech 30 minutes ago, his time has elapsed so his speech should conclude.
Time is up.
The Minister has 12 minutes left.
I have appended all the statistical——
The Chair has ruled that there are 12 minutes left.
I wish we all received that length of time.
Are we to presume that the Opposition will have similar extensions of time to accommodate the debate?
The Minister has 12 minutes speaking time left.
Is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle suggesting that all injury time, as it were, during speeches will be added on at the end?
It is a matter for the Chair.
There has surely been agreement in the House on speaking periods. A Standing Order exists which specifies the length of those speaking periods.
The last interjection by Deputy Stagg tells it all. He refers to injury time and he is right. Game playing is what this is all about.
There is a fair amount of game playing going on over there.
The Members of the Opposition do not know how pathetic they sound.
The Minister should listen to himself.
The proportion of women asylum seekers of child-bearing age who are pregnant at the time of application in 2002 and 2003 remains constant at 58%, which is an extraordinarily high rate in comparison to any normal population standards.
How many women are involved? That is spurious.
It is impossible to demonstrate the motives of individuals who come to Ireland and have children to a point of mathematical certainty. Equally, I want to emphasise that it is almost the universal understanding of those who are active in the field of migration and in the field of maternity services in Ireland that citizenship is a very significant pull factor inducing people to come to Ireland to have children. I have heard no one of any authority deny that.
It has been suggested that I have shifted my ground from the effect of this issue on maternity hospitals to its effect on the integrity of our citizenship and immigration laws. With respect to those who make that comment, I have not shifted my ground.
They pulled the rug from under the Minister.
The evidence that we have a serious problem in terms of the integrity of our citizenship law is to be found in the fact that huge and unprecedented pressures have emerged in our maternity hospitals. They are not two separate issues from which I can move, one to the other. They are two sides of the same coin. I have placed in the Library of the Oireachtas copies of the documents relating to my dealings with senior management of the maternity hospitals so that a clear picture can emerge of the nature of those dealings. Anybody who examines those documents will immediately appreciate that I have been motivated at all times by proper considerations, including the overwhelming need to avoid ammunition for racism in Irish political debate.
I do not claim that all of those who give birth to Irish children here seek to remain on that basis. I am aware, anecdotally, however, of women from eastern Europe and elsewhere in the world——
——who have come here on holiday visas, given birth, collected the birth certificate and the passport for the child and returned home.
The Minister wants to change the Constitution on the basis of anecdotal evidence.
I have no practical way of stopping that sort of maternity holiday. I have been criticised for using the expression "citizenship tourism"——
And rightly so.
——but that is precisely what we are faced with. The point is that an unintended effect of the wonderful achievement of the Good Friday Agreement, in advancing the peace process on this island, is the opportunity for this sort of abuse. The Government owes a duty to the people of this island to put measures in place to stop the abuse. That is what this referendum is all about.
Why does it have to be done by referendum? Could the Government not just bring forward suitable amending legislation? The short answer, after a long cogitation, is "no".
And no constitutional amendment; it is futile.
That is the election story.
We know what is being said on the doorsteps.
The Attorney General's strong advice, which I accept, is that any law which sought to deprive a person born in Ireland of the entitlement of citizenship, or even to postpone the right of such a person to exercise that entitlement, would be shot down by the Supreme Court as being inconsistent with Article 2. There is no alternative to addressing this issue at constitutional level. That being the case, and having given the matter deep consideration, the Government has decided that the most appropriate way of amending the Constitution is by dealing with the matter in Article 9, which already contains provisions relating to the power of the Oireachtas to legislate for the acquisition and loss of Irish nationality and citizenship.
That Article 9 power extends to provisions as regards the acquisition of Irish citizenship by descent and by naturalisation, but does not allow the Oireachtas power to limit Irish citizenship acquired by birth in Ireland. The amendment proposed restores that power to some extent, but it would not allow citizenship to be redefined and qualified by statute in an unfettered way. That is not and could not be the case. Any change, as a matter of international law, must be consistent with the British-Irish Agreement, which guarantees the continuing entitlement of the people of Northern Ireland to be Irish citizens. The change to the Constitution proposed limits the scope of the Oireachtas's discretion to legislate, by confining that discretion to cases where the person is born in Ireland to parents, neither of whom is, or is entitled to be, an Irish citizen at the time of the birth. The proposal does not give rise to any reasonable fears about the identity and interests of the people of Northern Ireland or about how those matters could be addressed by future legislation.
Deputies will note from the detail of the draft implementing Bill that it is intended that the statutory provisions will apply in a similar way to persons born, whether north or south, to non-national parents with lawful residence.
I am confident that this House and the Seanad will be able to address the subject matter of the Bill and the Government's proposals in a most exhaustive way. By the time these proposals get to the people, their decision will have been fully informed by the parliamentary process on which we are embarking — however hesitantly — this morning. I see no reason this matter should be referred to the Joint Committee on the Constitution, since by their stances already publicly expressed on the Government's proposals, at least two of the parties represented in this House have declared their opposition. The possibility for all-party agreement is therefore nil, and any attempt to seek it now is futile. I repeat, however, that the all-party committee in 1996 and 1997, chaired by Deputy O'Keeffe, received an expert report on this subject and nobody has ever suggested since that this analysis or conclusion was wrong.
People have criticised this proposal as racist.
Ask Deputy O'Flynn.
My message to those who favour discrimination against people, based on skin colour or other ethnic characteristics is as follows: if you are racist vote "no" in this referendum, because there is nothing racist about this proposal.
On a point of order, it is racist.
Yes, it is racist.
On a point of order——
That is not a point of order.
It is a point of order.
There are rules and regulations on language that can be used in this House.
That is not a point of order. I call on the Minister to continue.
I will hear the Deputy on a point of order.
The Ceann Comhairle has ruled regularly here recently on various words being used across the floor. One of the words that is not allowed to be used about or directed at any Member or Members of the House is the word "racist".
That is the ruling.
The Minister knows that some Members will vote "No" to this measure and he is saying they are racist. I suggest he withdraw that slur on Members of this House.
If the Deputies would only listen instead of screaming abuse at me, they would realise that I never referred to any Member of this House——
The implication was there.
Order please, allow the Minister to continue.
The Minister is clearly seeking to imply that those who will vote "No" are racist.
They are slow learners.
That is the purpose for which the Minister played the card.
Allow the Minister to continue.
The Minister played the card and he should withdraw the remark.
The humbug and cant I am hearing today really shocks me.
I must point out that time spent on a point of order is not counted as speaking time by the Minister.
I see no reason this matter should be referred to an all-party committee.
Is there no ruling on this matter?
Order please, I have made a ruling on it.
What was it?
People who are avowedly anti-racist——
We cannot hear the Leas-Cheann Comhairle with the Minister's shouting.
I propose to repeat what I said.
In the context in which it was made, it was a political charge.
A political charge.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, with the greatest respect, I will repeat what I said——
The record will show that it was a political charge.
——-and I think everyone will see that it does not refer to anybody in this House.
On a point of order——
There is only one point of order and that is a genuine point of order.
This is the only point of order I will make. I assume that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will accept a precedent on what is now deemed to be a political charge, which refers to the——
The Deputy is now questioning my ruling.
No, I am not.
I have made the ruling and we must proceed.
I fully accept the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's ruling provided that it will apply to all other similar charges in the future and not only to suit on this occasion.
What I said was that people who are avowedly anti-racist have criticised the conjunction of this referendum alongside the local government and European Parliament elections as likely to bring out the racist in the electorate. I regard such arguments as unnecessarily scaremongering and well wide of the mark. They are arguments against ever putting this issue or any issue related to citizenship or immigration to the people.
That is not true.
Consider the practical options open to the Government — run it as an issue on its own——
That is simply not true.
Will the Deputy listen for God's sake?
That is not true. The Minister made that up, he invented it.
Please allow the Minister to continue. The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak.
The Deputy is a unique combination of nastiness and unruliness.
The Minister would recognise that.
Consider the practical options open to the Government.
No one has called me a racist yet.
The options are to run this as an issue on its own, to run it with an as yet uncertain presidential election later this year or to put it to the people while they are already going to the polls on the local and European elections. To the extent that racism is likely to feature at all in a referendum campaign, the first of these options is in fact the most likely to engender that sort of heat since there is nothing else for the electorate to consider except the single issue. If the matter is to be put to the people along with a presidential election — about which there is a great deal of doubt as there is as yet no indication of any worthwhile opposing candidate——
Put forward Michael.
——there is the potential to skew the debate in a most unfair fashion.
What does the Minister mean by that?
We thought it was a joke.
There was a time when the PDs were able to get candidates. It was a good time.
I would ask the Deputy to be presidential and allow me to speak.
Will the Minister take a question?
Will the Minister give way?
Does the Minister suggest that we should put advertisements in the newspapers like the PDs?
If the matter is to be put to the people along with a presidential election — about which there is a great doubt as there is no indication yet of any opposing candidate — there is the potential to skew the debate in a most unfair fashion, with the incumbent constrained by office to maintain a proper reserve on matters of political controversy while her opponents would be as free to shout as long and as loud as they liked on one or other side of the issue.
On a point of order-——
Deputy Higgins to make a point of order.
Is there not a long-standing convention in this House that Members do not make reference to the Office of President or to the incumbent? This is quite disgraceful irrespective of the election that is to come. There is a long-standing precedent on that since the foundation of this State. I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to rule on that. People who have occupied the Chair's seat have ruled on it in the past.
We will be talking about cutting turf next.
Reference to the President or the office should not be made in the House.
Will the Minister then withdraw it?
He must withdraw it.
He did not refer to the President.
He did and he must withdraw his comments.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the sensible——
The Minister has no right to comment on the behaviour of the President in office or whether she should declare herself a candidate in the forthcoming election.
I made no comment on the behaviour of the President.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I ask you to rule on this.
I have ruled that references to the President are not in order.
Will you ask the Minister to withdraw his comments?
The Minister should withdraw his comments.
He did not refer to the President.
He must withdraw his comments as he has been ruled out of order.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I did not refer to the behaviour of the President.
Yes, he did.
I did not.
He did not.
He referred to what was available to the incumbent should Her Excellency wish to contest the election. I do not mind the Minister's insults——
What I said a Leas-Cheann Comhairle——
Will the Minister take responsibility for his words?
Will Deputy Michael D. Higgins just keep quiet for a second?
The Minister is like a schoolyard bully.
We are not sitting here just to keep quiet.
I heard what the Minister said. At least, I stand over what I say. The Minister does not remember what he says.
What I said, and if the Deputies would listen——
It is like Alice in Wonderland — words are whatever he says they are.
I said as the House knows——
The Minister has been ruled out of order so he must withdraw it.
What I said was that it is a not a good idea to combine a controversial referendum with a presidential election because——
The Minister claimed that the President's opponents would be allowed to shout as loud as they wished. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle ruled on it and he must withdraw the comment.
——the incumbent in certain elections——
He must withdraw.
It is in his speech.
I did not know it was a controversial referendum.
Does the Minister want us to rake it up again? It is in his script.
The Deputy is behaving disgracefully.
The Minister must withdraw his comments.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, has the Minister withdrawn his remarks?
The Chair has ruled but the Minister chooses to ignore it.
I have ruled that any references to the President are out of order.
Deputy McDowell did so.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins knows well that I——
It is in the script.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins is behaving disgracefully.
Order. The Minister should conclude.
Will he withdraw his comments?
The Government's proposals will result in a fair and sensible citizenship law.
Has the Minister withdrawn his comments?
The Chair has ruled that any reference to the President is not in order.
The Minister has ignored the Chair's ruling.
It will be a law that will acknowledge the role that non-nationals established here play in society by ensuring that their children born here have the entitlement to be Irish citizens.
The Minister to conclude.
On a point of order——
We do not care what skin colour the parents have or with what accents they speak. We do not care if they dress in bright or muted colours. Accordingly, their children will be part of the Irish nation by operation of law.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order — I am an orderly Member.
Deputy O'Sullivan, I have already ruled on that matter.
Our law will no longer act as an incentive for people to put their lives at risk by travelling late in pregnancy, seeking to give their child what they perceive to be an advantage.
What is Deputy O'Sullivan's point of order?
Thank you for your protection. Can it be clarified whether the Minister has withdrawn his remarks on the presidency?
I made no remarks on the presidency.
The Minister did.
The Chair ruled on it.
Has the Minister withdrawn his remarks?
There is nothing to withdraw.
The Chair has ruled.
The Minister's time is up.
Well done to Deputy Stagg.
I recall the comments made to Deputy Jim O'Keeffe by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, in 1979 when he was an eloquent chairman of the Fine Gael constituency executive in south-east Dublin. Much water has flown under the bridge since then.
They were lucky to get rid of him.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.
Is that agreed? Agreed?
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
—in accordance with the recommendations of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution's report for clear and agreed procedures for the holding of referendums on constitutional amendments;
—considers that political parties, North and South, view the proposal for an amendment to Article 9 of the Constitution, as impacting on Article 2 and thereby the Good Friday Agreement and the process of its present review;
—believes there is a need for an All-Party Oireachtas committee to consider the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004, and specifically to evaluate the issues on the basis of the knowledge of experts and the presentations of the insights of groups outside the Houses and to report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas before 1 September 2004;
declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill.".
This motion has been tabled by myself, Deputies Rabbitte and Sargent and the spokesmen for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party.
The Fine Gael Party acknowledges that Article 2 of the Constitution, inserted following the Good Friday Agreement, creates a potential for abuse of Irish citizenship. The Fine Gael Party shares the objective of closing off that potential abuse and is committed to working constructively with the Government and other parties to find the best resolution to that problem. The best vehicle for achieving the best solution lies in having the issue considered calmly and rationally by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. However, if the behaviour of the Minister at the start of this debate is anything to go by, the next seven weeks will see a degeneration into classic Fianna Fáil diversionary tactics in the local and European elections.
Past rushed constitutional change has subsequently led to legal quagmire. I warn against future court challenges arising from this constitutional change that have not yet been foreseen. A willingness to engage constructively has not been matched by the Government. Instead of working collectively with the parties in this House and the Northern Assembly for a solution, the Government has created an adversarial and divisive climate.
It could have been done differently in an upfront and transparent way. However, for its own reasons, the Government has chosen to play political games with a sensitive issue. It is almost as if the Government wants a divisive and contentious debate to generate racist commentary. I find the Minister's comment that those who may be racists and who wish to vote "No" to do so is unnecessarily provocative and must be withdrawn.
The Taoiseach failed to make any reference to this referendum when he answered questions to the House on 17 February for 45 minutes. He knew the Government's proposals and his action and behaviour amounted to contemptuous treatment of the Dáil. The Tánaiste has admitted that the Government has been aware of the difficulty in this area for six years. She also said that nobody foresaw these consequences in the drafting of the Good Friday Agreement.
However, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform put forward an alternative wording at the time of the Agreement. The commitment in the programme for Government to initiate all-party discussions on the issue has not been met. There was no consultation with the political parties in this House or with me as party leader, despite this being a specific part of the Government decision, as announced. I admit that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform passed me in the corridor and informed me that the machines will take it. Neither has there been consultation with the political parties in Northern Ireland.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has made claims about maternity hospitals yet has failed to produce conclusive supporting data. The Government pleads that its decision to hold the referendum on 11 June is not a cynical political tactic. Its failure to engage in any meaningful consultation undermines that plea. This is made all the more obvious in the absence of any coherent Government immigration strategy. The Minister's rush to this matter has been reckless and arrogant. The Tánaiste says the Government will give as much time as is requested for the substantive legislation but is not prepared to give more time and debate for a consideration of the change in the Constitution. This is completely inconsistent. If it is important to give time to the substantive legislation, which it is, surely it is equally, if not more, important to give time to debating the need for a constitutional change in the first instance.
It is impossible not to interpret the Government's solo run on this issue as anything but a political stroke to shore up votes for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in the local and European elections, and to divert attention from the real issues of the economy and what is happening outside. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, would know all about that.
It is beneath the Deputy to say that.
He would know all about that.
The Minister would know all about that.
That is contemptible.
It is a masterstroke.
In this and subsequent debates over the coming weeks this party will seek to persuade the Government not to hold this referendum on 11 June and instead refer the matter to an all-party committee on the Constitution, set up for this purpose, to report by 1 September. This is the right course of action for four reasons. The Government's failure to consult with the parties in the House has created an adversarial approach which needs to be defused. The implications of the referendum for the Good Friday Agreement have caused concern to the political parties in Northern Ireland, which will damage the review process and confidence-building there. That the Government chose to consult with the British Government while keeping the political parties in Northern Ireland in the dark fuels further suspicion. Fine Gael will outline other possible ways to deal with the issue which deserve consideration and debate. My colleague, Deputy O'Keeffe, will develop these points in his contribution. It is regrettable that he must make them here and not in the context of all-party committee consideration.
Deputy Rabbitte referred to the sixth report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution which recommended calm and measured debate on contentious issues, and the Government should heed that recommendation. That committee, chaired by Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, gave good advice. It recommended that measures be taken to ensure that a Bill to amend the Constitution is fully debated in the Dáil; that every Deputy and Senator should have an opportunity to express his or her views; and that where an issue is extensive and multi-faceted the Houses should consider setting up an all-party committee to prepare and publish a report. What could be more extensive and multi-faceted than the issue of citizenship, particularly given the implications for the Good Friday Agreement? We will try within the narrow time constraints imposed by the Government to have the type of constructive problem-solving dialogue which should have been conducted between the parties in recent months and attempt to turn the Government away from this unnecessarily rushed and potentially divisive referendum. Government Deputies and Senators have expressed disagreement with the date. The Tánaiste has stated that the decision to hold the referendum on 11 June was a judgment call. If so, it was the wrong call.
The Minister said this morning that it would be wrong to hold a contentious referendum in conjunction with the presidential election. Surely it is worse to hold it in conjunction with local elections and those for the European Parliament when approximately 2,000 candidates are standing, which may give rise to racist commentary at some point during the campaign?
If it cannot be held during the presidential election because of its contentious nature, the same applies equally, if not more so, in the run-up to these local and European elections.
The members of Fine Gael are approaching this issue as responsible parliamentarians. If the Government is genuine about achieving cross-party discussion, dialogue, and support it should accept this reasoned amendment and refer the matter to an all-party committee for report before 1 September. This would facilitate a referendum, if necessary before the end of the year, if that course of action were to be recommended. This is a reasonable proposal which would defuse the current adversarial and divisive debate on this sensitive issue and I urge the Government to accept the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his compliments. It is quite astounding that he should quote the advice of the Constitution Review Group, the Whitaker report of 1996, to shore up his argument for an immediate amendment, in particular not to have an all-party committee examine the issue. Has he forgotten that subsequent to that report was the amendment which apparently caused the problem in 1998, put to the people by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government without the benefit of an all-party report, and that Article 2 will remain in the Constitution with various complex incoherencies possibly arising from that? Does that not relate to the need for an objective all-party examination of the issue?
I also take issue with the Minister's remark to the effect that if one is a racist one should vote "No" in the referendum. I would caution him against the use of that kind of language. It is unnecessarily provocative. Many will vote "No" in this referendum for sincere reasons which may not be accepted by the Minister. His remarks are not helpful to the debate.
It is time to write it down.
In amending the Constitution we should follow the principle of "hasten slowly". Our Constitution is the basic law of the State, protecting our rights and opposing tyranny. It is not the preserve of the Government or even of the Opposition; it belongs to the people. Therefore it must be amended with due deliberation. If one were amending the rules of the local flower club or cattle show, one would follow certain procedures, give due notice and have proper debate. The rules and procedures are laid down for amending the Constitution after due deliberation in the sixth progress report of the all-party committee. Underlying everything in that sixth progress report of the committee, chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan, and of which I was vice-chairman, is the need for due deliberation, a careful process, informing and involving the public, ensuring that at all times there is dispassionate, objective debate, bringing the people along and listening to what they say. Unfortunately this issue is being dealt with in quite the opposite way and I am not sure why.
I have heard no adequate explanation for the rush to headlong judgment to bring this before the people on 11 June. This issue has been with us since 1998, when the Minister was concerned about the amendment to Article 2. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform foresaw it at the time. I would be very interested to see the Department's papers of advice at the time.
It was given a remedy.
They should be made available. This is not something that arose only in recent weeks as we were notified on Spy Wednesday, the Wednesday before Easter, of the Government's intention. If there is a problem, let us have a full debate on its extent. I raised a series of questions with the Minister on that issue. I received 12 pages last night, at 6 p.m., followed two hours later by a further amendment to the original package. It was a rather indigestible package to receive at supper time.
The Deputy posed a great number of questions.
Why did the Minister take so long to respond to my legitimate queries? They came under three headings — defining the problem, exploring the options and the Government's preferred option. It is necessary to examine those points fully. The Minister either had the answers and should have given them to me straightaway or, if he did not have them, did he come to a decision without having considered all the options? The Government has promoted a constitutional referendum in an extremely narrow timeframe without reference to the all-party committee. On that issue alone, leaving aside the substantive merits of the proposed amendment, there is clear need for consideration, deliberation and analysis.
The Government, however, wants to impose a timeframe which makes that impossible. It has not even offered this House and the people who voted to adopt the nineteenth amendment of the Constitution, the amendment to Article 2, an explanation of the position because it persists in its obstinate refusal to address the magnitude of its proposal. This matter has a bearing on the Constitution and on the international obligations assumed by the State, and the position of the Government gives rise to the most serious concern.
It is not enough to say this proposal does not impact on the Good Friday Agreement, it is more complex and requires greater analysis. The British Government has given the Government some comfort and support on the amendment but the Good Friday Agreement was not just between the Irish and British Governments. In a technical sense, the three pages of the Agreement completed on 10 April 1998 were between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland, but the 33-page annexe to the Agreement represent the positions reached in the multiparty negotiations. There is, therefore, an interlocking between the positions reached in the multiparty negotiations and the agreement reached by the two Governments but that has been overlooked in the rush to judgment on this referendum. It is correct that the only legal obligations arising are between the two Governments but there are political obligations as a consequence of the multiparty arrangements and those obligations have not been discharged.
At minimum, this proposal should have been discussed with the parties to those multiparty negotiations and that has not happened. Mark Durkan of the SDLP has come out strongly on the issue. On 7 April he was handed a document that was not a consultation or discussion document and that is no way to do business or amend the Constitution. I ask the Minister and his colleagues in Government to have more respect for the Constitution and the complex issues related to Northern Ireland and not to rush to judgment and put this issue before the people on 11 June.
The Minister can say the proposal does not directly impinge on Article 2 of the Constitution. If so, should we not deal with an amendment to Article 2? There is, however, an indirect impact on Article 2 because there is a restriction of the rights included in it, raising the question of what might happen to someone who has rights under Article 2 but does not have rights under the amended Article 9. If someone is part of the Irish nation under Article 2 but does not have citizenship under Article 9, what will that mean? An Irish national will not have Irish citizenship. Will that person be entitled to reside in Ireland?
I raise this as an issue that should be teased out. The Government has not examined it properly. It is on my next list of questions for the Minister when he has replied to my 34 preliminary questions. There are many other issues that need to be resolved and rushing this Bill through the House is no way to do that. Many of us want to see the problem fully examined and the best solution reached. The Government's haste could result in the worst of all worlds — an amendment of the Constitution that will not resolve the problem and that might make it worse.
There is a European dimension to this issue. Under European laws and regulations, citizenship is a matter for the member states. The Government, however, proposes most favoured nation status to the 50 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom, giving exceptional rights to one member state beyond the others. It will open up our citizenship pool to 50 million citizens of the United Kingdom. Are we discriminating against the other 23 member states of the European Union by granting most favoured nation status to the citizens of one other member state? How does that fit in with the principle of equality in the EU context?
Before changing the Constitution, which should always be done with due deliberation, we should examine possible alternatives. These alternatives should fit into the development of an overall immigration policy that looks with a humanitarian aspect at the issues of labour requirements, work permits, rights of residence and citizenship. That backdrop has been ignored.
We should examine the extent of the problem. I am still unsure if there is a problem in our maternity hospitals, with the integrity of our citizenship or the health and welfare of pregnant mothers from abroad and their offspring who are born here — the three reasons the Government has advanced for the proposed amendment. These issues should be explored to see if we can resolve them by legislation. The Minister will shake his head on that.
I am told that is not possible.
Have all the options been examined? What about carrier liability? When I asked if consideration had been given to alternative means of deterring such persons from arriving in Ireland, the Minister in the package he sent to me last night referred to carrier liability arrangements designed to prevent the arrival in Ireland of persons without proper passports or visas. These provisions, however, do not apply to arrivals from the UK common travel area. We are an island nation. If we can secure co-operation from the UK to get this declaration about the Good Friday Agreement — and I would like to see similar co-operation on Sellafield and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings — can we not explore co-operation in carrier liability arrangements?
Women who are heavily pregnant are allowed to board aeroplanes. Can we introduce further restrictions in that regard? While I am sure Mr. Michael O'Leary and Mr. Willie Walsh will not wish to hear me suggest such a thing, is it not an option provided it can be implemented on an all-island basis?
Pregnant women have rights.
Allow the Deputy to continue without interruption.
I raise the issue as one which should be explored. There are no direct flights to Dublin from Lagos, Bucharest, Manila or any of the other places to which the Minister has referred.
A possible legislative approach has been dealt with in some detail by Mr. Colm MacEochaidh, a colleague of the Minister at the Bar and a member of Fine Gael. He argues coherently that as no court or judge has declared definitively that Article 2 has the meaning contended by the Government, it is possible to introduce legislation to impose restrictions. If necessary, such legislation could be referred to the Supreme Court under Article 26. That argument has not been fully teased out. Mr. MacEochaidh makes the point that the decision to hold a referendum in circumstances where the need to alter the Constitution is not clearly and unambiguously established offends the idea of a constitution. Mr. MacEochaidh's basic point is that it is possible to introduce legislation to amend the Citizenship Act. If there are questions as to its constitutionality and the impact thereon of Article 2, the issue can be referred to the Supreme Court on the basis of the President's dissatisfaction. An adjudication can be arrived at there.
The advantage of such a course of action is that a Supreme Court decision would permit us to be quite clear as to the nature of the problem and the necessary extent of the minimal intervention in the Constitution required to bring it within the principle established by the court. That is one of many options which should be considered in the context of an all-party Oireachtas committee examination of the issue.
The Deputy has two minutes remaining.
That is part of the problem. There are many aspects of the matter which I would like to bring to the attention of the House which could more sensibly and reasonably be considered in the context of an all-party Oireachtas committee examination.
I return to a point I made earlier. If the problem has arisen as a result of Article 2 of the Constitution, it seems the Minister is proposing to amend it by the back door. The amendment will restrict the application of Article 2. The source of the problem as expounded by the Minister appears to be Article 2. If Article 2 is the problem, it should be addressed in an honest and up-front manner. While that would necessitate wider consultation with Northern and British parties, such consultations should be commenced if that is what is needed. Fine Gael accepts that there is a problem and is genuinely committed to remedying it. We wish to find the best solution. If that takes time, we should accept it. We should never rush to amend the Constitution. The Minister should consider a direct amendment to Article 2 containing the very words he wishes to include in Article 9. Such an amendment would have the effect of eliminating an incoherence between an amended Article 9 and the existing Article 2.
Another possibility would be to limit the broad scope of Article 2 by inserting into it the one Irish citizen-parent requirement. There are a number of legislative and constitutional possibilities which should be considered in a calm, deliberative manner. That is not happening. I urge the Minister to consider fairly and seriously the proposal of Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party. It is made in good faith and reflects the prescribed methodology of the sixth report of the all-party committee. While the Minister might not achieve consensus if the constitutional issue is dealt with in that manner, he will at least have ensured that all issues are fully resolved. A report will result to provide a proper basis on which to make further progress.
It is eight weeks since the Taoiseach told the Dáil that his Government had no plans to hold a constitutional referendum this year unless one was required on Europe. However, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was able to tell the nation a few weeks ago that he had been working on a proposal for this referendum since 2002. The day after the Government's proposals were published, it was still insisting publicly that no date had been set for a referendum despite the fact that in January secret provision was made to accommodate a third issue at the polls on 11 June. I wrote that day to the Taoiseach to say the issues involved in the referendum required a rational debate in a calm environment. I wrote that the Labour Party was prepared to consider the terms of any referendum and accompanying detailed legislative proposals in as non-partisan a manner as possible. I also explained that the acid test for the party would be the Government's willingness to de-couple the referendum matter from the impending elections. A majority wants to see this happen. The Government has, however, decided to proceed in as partisan a way as possible.
Ministers' speeches on the subject have become more and more aggressive and untrue and misleading claims have been made about consultation. The issue is beginning to find its way into election literature in ways which make it clear that the issue of citizenship is to be seen as symbolic of the Government's overall approach to immigration. Ministers are going around the place saying this is a simple and reasonable proposition, a notion repeated this morning by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — as he acknowledges by nodding his head. In unnecessarily intemperate exchanges with my colleague, Deputy Burton, the Minister said in the House that one could not run a controversial referendum like this during a presidential election. I will be checking the Official Report to confirm that. It is a simple proposition in one context but a controversial referendum in another.
Ministers say that all they wish to do is restore to the Oireachtas the right to legislate in an important area. For seven years, the Government has taken every conceivable step it could to remove all power from the Houses of the Oireachtas and any other organ of public accountability. The very sanitised nature of the proceedings here today and the way in which this Parliament is being obliged to conduct itself in this debate give the lie to the claim by Ministers that they are only interested in returning power to the Oireachtas. I take legislation and the abuse of the law seriously. I am very much aware of a broad public perception that there is a loophole in our law which is being abused. If that is the case, there will and ought to be legitimate public concern. However, it is fundamentally wrong that a succession of Ministers has used a single statistic to exaggerate the size of this loophole in the public mind.
Instead of giving us true facts and figures, the Government relies on the totally misleading mantra that one in four births in Dublin hospitals last year was to a non-national mother. The non-national mothers in question were, among others, American, Dutch, French, German, Filipino, Russian, Nigerian, Canadian, British, New Zealanders, Australian and Japanese. The vast majority were living and working in Ireland in perfectly legal circumstances. While the Government's referendum and the legislation accompanying it will not change that by one iota, I am sure people will not be told that on their doorsteps. In other words, if this referendum is passed, the number of births to non-nationals in Dublin hospitals will remain as near possible to one in four. The difficulties of resources, staffing, accompanying health difficulties and language will continue to exist. What will be the Government's next response?
It is the children of women arriving late in pregnancy, giving birth for the sole reason of claiming citizenship for their child, who are the ostensible targets of this referendum, and not even all such women, because the legislation published by the Minister makes it clear that a child born in Ireland of a British parent will in future have entitlement to Irish citizenship, and offers no basis whatever of proof of parentage. I read in this morning's newspapers in the letter to Deputy O'Keeffe that the total number of non-EU, non-national mothers arriving in late pregnancy at the National Maternity Hospital last year was 163 — approximately three a week. Even if we assume that each one of them was here to try to secure citizenship for their child, is it for this we are being asked to change the Constitution?
If this is the extent of the problem, why has no solution been canvassed other than a change in our fundamental law? Why is it that heavily pregnant women, according to anecdote usually travelling alone and often in distress, are allowed to board aircraft to Ireland without the remotest comment? If trafficking is involved, why is it that there is no attempt to find out from the women who arrive here how the arrangements were made, and how they found out about this so-called loophole? Since 2000, trafficking in illegal immigrants has been punishable by up to ten years in prison and-or an unlimited fine. How many persons have been arrested for or convicted of this offence?
I told my party's weekend conference that Ireland needs, and has needed for some years, an immigration policy. The issue of citizenship is obviously related to the whole issue of immigration, and it makes no sense to tackle one without the other — unless, of course, political propaganda and spin will be employed to convey the impression that the people are really being asked to vote on a "get tough on immigrants" policy. A rational, colour-blind policy that takes account of Ireland's needs, and that is willing to allow and enable people to make a better life here, requires all-party support for its development. Instead we are approaching the issue in a highly-charged, selective and partisan way. We will regret that. It is entirely disingenuous to posit in this House that because two parties have so far declared opposition to the referendum that the matter could not be studied by an all-party committee.
Ireland's history was shaped in many ways by emigration. The coffin ships of the 19th century were replaced by the mail boat in the 20th century. In both eras there were destinations that were willing to make Irish people welcome. Are we now to send a coded signal to the rest of the world that none of their huddled masses is to be made welcome here? I will return to this subject later. I must first address the other area in which this referendum can only do damage.
The referendum on the Good Friday Agreement was the only occasion in the history of our State when all the voters on the island of Ireland had an opportunity to vote on an Agreement that, among other things, resulted in a change to our Constitution. If for no other reason than that — and there are other reasons to which I will refer — we should not readily agree to any unilateral attempt to override that outcome, without even notice to, let alone consultation with, the other parties to that Agreement.
The Government may have been engaged over the past couple of days — and the Minister's excited condition is testament to it — in spinning madly the assertion that because the British Government is not bothered, there is no difficulty with the Good Friday Agreement. To help the spinning, it has tried as hard as possible to create confusion between the British-Irish Agreement and the multi-party talks agreement, implying that only one was relevant to this debate. As part of that process, it has secured the agreement of the British Government to a so-called legal interpretation.
I challenge the Government now to publish all the legal advice available to it on this matter. I challenge the Government to publish not only the Attorney General's advice received by the Government in the course of its preparation of the referendum proposal, but also all correspondence behind this so-called legal interpretation. This House, and the people, are entitled to read in full all the argumentation put forward to the Government by its legal advisers in this matter.
This week, both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have slipped into their press comments sly references to the British-Irish Agreement when asked questions about the Good Friday Agreement. They are desperately trying to create a confusion between the two. The British-Irish Agreement is an international treaty and binding between the two sovereign states in the normal way. However, it has, as an annex, the multi-party talks agreement, the outcome of so many weeks of negotiation at Castle Buildings at Stormont.
The multi-party talks agreement, which deals in detail with strands 1, 2 and 3, rights, equality and so on, would not have of itself any binding status as a treaty, since it was not entered into between parties competent to contract in the international arena. However, the British-Irish Agreement is not capable of being interpreted without reference to the multi-party talks agreement. Given the entirely bound together nature of the two, it is impossible to argue that the two documents should not be read together as a coherent whole.
For example, the text of the proposed changes to Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution were set out, in full, in the multi-party talks agreement, but its adoption, by Government order, is referred to in the British-Irish Agreement as the trigger that brings all the institutions, strands 1, 2 and 3, on line. They are both integral parts of the overall Good Friday package. The first part of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties is relevant in this respect. It provides as follows:
1. A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.
2. The context for the purpose of the interpretation of a treaty shall comprise, in addition to the text, including its preamble and annexes: . . .
As I pointed out, the multi-party talks agreement is an annexe to the British-Irish Agreement, so the international treaty must be interpreted by both the British and Irish Governments in good faith in its context, which includes its preambles and annexes. We are entitled to know on what legal basis the joint "legal interpretation" from the British and Irish Governments feels free to depart from that principle, all the more so because this so-called legal interpretation represents a fundamental change in the legal understanding of the Government. On 20 April 1998 the Taoiseach wrote to my predecessor, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, stating: "The proper interpretation of the two opening sentences of the new Article 2 is that they confer on every person born in the island of Ireland an entitlement and birthright to Irish nationality and hence to citizenship." He went on to state in that letter that "considerations of peace in Northern Ireland would outweigh any concerns relating to immigration". This morning the Minister said that was a matter of political judgment in the context of the time, implying that if he had been in the Taoiseach's place he would have done differently. That seems an entirely inadequate explanation of the reply given to Deputy Quinn's questions at the time.
How, in the light of that, can the Government now sign up to a "legal interpretation" with the British Government stating that "it was not their intention in making the said agreement that it should impose on either government any obligation to confer nationality or citizenship on persons born in any part of the island of Ireland whose parents do not have sufficient connection with the island of Ireland?" It is clear from the letter of 1998 that not only did they know what the intention was, they knew what the consequence would be, accepted it fully and went into it with their eyes wide open. It is fundamentally dishonest now to claim that this was all somehow unanticipated.
The Government's dishonesty goes deeper than that. On 14 May that same year, my predecessor asked the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Dáil whether his Department intended to change the ground rules for Irish citizenship, because leaks to that effect had appeared in the newspapers. The Minister replied that a recommendation had been made by an interdepartmental committee to consider legislation that might eliminate the possibility of citizenship being granted to babies born to non-national mothers here. However, he said that matter, "will fall to be considered in the light of the agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations on 10 April and its implementation". The Taoiseach referred specifically to that reply in a further letter to Deputy Quinn on 21 May 1998, the day before the Good Friday referendum, stating, "I can assure you that in the event of the new Articles 2 and 3 taking effect, no legislation will be proposed by this Government to the Oireachtas which imposes restrictions on the entitlement to Irish nationality and citizenship of persons born in Ireland."
Did the Government bring that correspondence to the attention of the British Government when it was seeking the political cover of the legal interpretation after running into difficulty over recent weeks and finding this referendum was not the cakewalk its inspirers thought it to be? Did the Government tell the British Government it has always been aware that the consequence of changing Articles 2 and 3 would be to confer nationality, and hence citizenship, on every person born on the island of Ireland, and that it had always accepted this consequence? I doubt it. I repeat that those trying, as senior members of Government have in recent days, to convince the nation that they had never foreseen this consequence are simply not telling the truth.
We amended Article 2 of the Constitution in 1998 to preserve the rights of those from Northern Ireland to be Irish citizens, which was an integral part of the peace process, replacing the so-called "territorial claim". However, the Minister now proposes to amend Article 9 of the Constitution to directly override Article 2. No honest interpretation is possible except that this amounts to a unilateral amendment of the Good Friday Agreement.
We know from the Minister that the Northern parties were not consulted — they were simply informed. However, they have sat up and taken notice, including at least one party that never supported the Agreement in the first place and would welcome any precedent showing that the Agreement could be re-written at will by anyone.
The fact that the British Government is prepared, no doubt for its own reasons, to sign up to a legal interpretation at variance with the facts is not the point. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have rejected concerns expressed about the citizenship referendum. They are both reported to have said the referendum would not cause any difficulty with the Agreement. However, each of them was careful enough to specify on tape that it would not cause any difficulty "with the British-Irish Agreement". This is the significant point the Government seems to be relying on. It is saying, in effect, that if the British Government has no problem from the point of view of the British-Irish Agreement — the only legally binding document in terms of international law — then a breach of the multi-party talks agreement is of no legal significance, since that document is a political rather than a legal document. This makes one wonder what is going on in the wider peace process at present which, as Deputy Jim O'Keeffe said, is a matter we do not have time to discuss today.
The attempted separation of the international treaty from the domestic political outcome of the Good Friday talks has no validity. The reality is that the elements of the Good Friday Agreement are inextricably part of the same package. The legal compact must be interpreted in the context it was arrived at, which includes its annexes. What, therefore, is going on in Irish constitutional terms? On the one hand, one would be entitled, by virtue of birth in Ireland, to be part of the Irish nation. On the other hand, notwithstanding any other provision of the Constitution, one could be stripped of the entitlement to both citizenship and nationality. Would one still, in some grandiloquent but meaningless gesture, be part of the Irish nation while, at the same time, not entitled to Irish nationality and citizenship?
There is only one precedent of which I can think. As Humpty-Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone when he met Alice through the looking-glass, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less". However, while Humpty-Dumpty was pontificating along these lines to poor Alice, he was sitting on a wall. We all know what happened after that.
If we consider a group of people who under Article 2 have an entitlement and birthright to be part of the Irish nation, we can see how this amendment would operate in practice, for example, how it would apply to a small group such as sportsmen. Steve Heighway, I understand, had neither Irish parents nor grandparents. He was entirely fortuitously born in Ireland. John Aldridge and Andy Townsend have two Irish grandparents between them. While Jason Sherlock has an Asian father and Paul McGrath is black, they both have Irish mothers. Paul McGrath was born abroad.
All of these individuals are part of the Irish nation. Indeed, how many times in the past have we all been proud to share nationhood with each of these individuals? However, what is the Government's cut-off point? Which of these five people should not in future be accepted as part of the Irish nation? Would it be the fortuitous birth, the grandparent rule or the child born outside marriage abroad? It is not good enough to say that the rule is not retrospective. If one does not want it to happen in future, it is because one thinks it should not have happened in the past.
It is striking that we propose to remove the rule of entitlement to citizenship by virtue of being born in the Coombe Hospital in the Liberties in Dublin, while holding on to the rule that an Irish-born grandparent can be produced by someone from Cricklewood or the Bronx to guarantee exactly the same result. Is there not a certain irony to the fact that a Fianna Fáil-led Government is seeking to amend Mr. de Valera's Constitution in order to remove an anomaly and cure an unintended citizenship advantage conferred purely by an accident of birth? It was Mr. de Valera's US citizenship that saved him from execution in 1916 — a citizenship that the infant son of two immigrants of uncertain status automatically acquired solely by reason of the fact that Mr. de Valera was born in New York.
The effect of this proposal is to create a "doughnut" form of citizenship entitlement, whereby those born in the heart of the capital city of this country can be excluded from citizenship, while there will remain far more people born abroad entitled to Irish citizenship than there are people entitled to it by birth in Ireland. They are entitled under the grandparent rule and there are millions of them, but the Government has no plans to amend that rule because most beneficiaries of that rule are English-speaking and white — some of them might even be good enough to play for Ireland.
Let us have an answer to that. It is the real world.
I take our Constitution, and the process of amending it, seriously. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution reported on the referendum process and set out clear and agreed procedures for the holding of referenda on constitutional amendments — agreed procedures that cannot possibly be complied with in order to meet this artificial and suddenly imposed 11 June deadline.
There has not been a Green Paper on citizenship, nor consultation with the Opposition parties, the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution or the human rights commissions, North or South. There have not been, and there are no plans for, public hearings on the factual issues said to give rise to the need for this referendum campaign. Nonetheless, we need to hear from all the interested parties. We should hear from the national immigration bureau of the Garda Síochána, the maternity hospitals, the health and social welfare services and other statutory agencies, and also from NGOs and advocacy groups. We could then arrive at an informed view.
While this is what public hearings should be about, they will not happen. There will simply not be enough time for a fully-informed debate on the proposal with only eight weeks until election day, time which was intended to be devoted to local and European issues.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform first sought to justify the referendum on the basis that the masters of the maternity hospitals had pleaded with him for it because so many non-national mothers were presenting late in labour. However, the masters went on the public record and contradicted this. On Tuesday last, however, we were able to read selected minutes, documents, correspondence and records apparently suggesting that the Minister was right all along. The Minister's selective leaks suggest nothing of the kind. He misrepresented the context and content and who initiated the meeting, and he was wrong about the date. I am sorry if I used the word "lie" in this regard. I only did so concerning the Minister's misrepresentation of the date. I withdraw the word "lie" and say that it was untrue. The Minister knows the date was in October 2002 not 2003, and he well knows the significance of that.
The Minister has been asked repeatedly to provide figures to show the numbers of non-national women arriving at hospitals late in labour and giving birth in Ireland purely for the purpose of securing citizenship rights for their children. He was unable to do so, although he was clearly in possession of figures, as we now know from his reply to my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, in today's newspapers. They did not help his case and that is why he did not offer them in debate. Oddly, he was able to state in great detail the exact number of babies born to Nigerian parents and last summer on the radio he was able to tell us that "you only have to have eyes in your head to see the scale of the problem". However, the only thing our eyes can identify for us is colour. It would be terribly unjust to accuse the Minister of facilitating those who play the race card.
The Minister has not explained what abuse of citizenship law is taking place. What is its nature and scale? Even if women are being flown in just to give birth, although we still do not have details about that, we must remember that giving birth to a child here confers no rights on the mother or father. The non-national parents of Irish born children do not have the right to live here on the basis of their child's citizenship. Despite his denials this morning, the Minister did a U-turn on the motivation for the referendum. He switched from the pressure on the maternity hospitals to the need to protect the integrity of Irish and EU citizenship law and then back to the grossly misleading mantra of the number of non-national births in our maternity hospitals.
As regards the integrity of EU citizenship law, we know from a reply by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to a question in the Dáil that no such concern has been raised at any formal level with the Government by any other member state of the EU. In any event, there is little enough integrity to a citizenship and immigration law that lacks any clear statutory underpinning or framework. The Minister has promised comprehensive legislation on immigration since he came into office. However, we are still waiting. Instead of producing an immigration code, he and his predecessor have concentrated on new and easier ways of deporting people. Even the new legislation on work permits, which was promised for more than a year, has still not appeared. The Minister told us he has had this proposal in mind and has been working on it since 2002.
The Tánaiste introduced that and it has gone through the House.
There is no such legislation. The Minister is wrong about that.
If his concern is the integrity of citizenship and if he has been working on this legislation for 18 months, why has he been unable to produce even a line of legislation to end forever the practice of selling passports?
Does the Minister want to correct that?
In his announcement of the referendum, the Minister said the legislation would end this practice. However, the best he can do is a further promise to amend the legislation which will be brought into the House if the referendum is carried to outlaw passports for sale. There has already been Private Members' legislation on this issue in the name of Senator Quinn. There is no complex draughtsmanship involved. We are entitled to be suspicious about this and to wonder whether the Government cares about the integrity of citizenship enough to deal with this issue.
I am convinced that rushing into a referendum on the same date as the local and European elections, without any period for reflection or consultation, is the worst way to change our Constitution and citizenship law. We have seen the huge problems a botched and hasty referendum can cause. We should not be in any doubt about this. Bruce Morrison said last week that this proposal could encourage people to exercise their worst instincts about newcomers rather than their best. Candidates on doorsteps whispering about how they will get rid of the people who get everything the State can hand out will only exacerbate that tendency. The Government knows that.
It has already started.
Many people feel abused because they cannot get various rights, such as housing and medical services, as a result of Government policy. They are right to feel abused, aggrieved and angry about the situation in which they find themselves and about the run-down streets and estates, the poor or absent medical services, the missing policing, the petty crime, the heroin and anti-social behaviour. Government candidates are now preparing to tell them that it is all the fault of the non-nationals or aliens, as they used to be called. Faced with the prospect of a drubbing at the voting booths, the Government has decided to say cynically to the people that it is the only one dealing with the immigrants because the others want to open the door wide and let them all in.
Faced with the prospect that the politics of fear can do immense damage and with the reality that we may be about to unleash a racist undertone, to put it no more strongly than that, I must make two points. The Labour Party is prepared to play its part in addressing whatever abuse the Minister can substantiate. The Labour Party is not in favour of an open door policy and it does not believe that everyone who lands in Ireland is entitled to receive an Irish passport, whether in the Shelbourne Hotel or in the Rotunda Hospital. The Labour Party is willing to play a constructive role in addressing the issue in the framework envisaged by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. I do not expect the Minister will accept my offer. That would be to deny the transparent purpose of this referendum being taken at this time.
For all the reasons I have given, from the initial deception of the Dáil by the Taoiseach on 17 February up to yesterday's desertion by the Tánaiste of the previously held Progressive Democrats' position and because any Government that would unnecessarily add to the difficulties already surrounding the Good Friday Agreement does not deserve support, the Labour Party will oppose this referendum.
Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt le Teachtaí Ó Caoláin, Higgins agus Finian McGrath.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Green Party supports the amendment to put the citizenship proposal before the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. The Minister should not be too worried about the position of the Opposition parties in that regard. The Green Party's call to reject the Government proposal was contingent on the Government's determination to proceed at the local and European elections and on the need for a wider debate. If we could have a wider debate, all bets would be off and the Minister might get the consensus he sought.
The Green Party and the majority of Irish citizens support a managed, fair, transparent and rights-based immigration regime. This applies to any essential reforms of our system which might have implications for immigration and citizenship. There is popular recognition that our system is in need of attention. However, the debate on proposals for change must be based on facts. Any change to policy must be strictly evidence based. My party believes that the best way to ensure this debate is conducted on the basis of facts and with a view to an exhaustive and rigorous examination of all the implications arising from the Government's proposals, including those for the Good Friday Agreement, is to refer this matter at once to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution.
The Taoiseach and the Government must recognise the need for such a debate. There is a widely held view that the Government's determination to hold the citizenship referendum on the date of the local and European elections is based on cynical electoral calculations through Fianna Fáil research, which highlights the importance of immigration as an issue among the electorate. I put it to the Government parties that if they are sincere in their determination to conduct a reasoned debate on these issues, they should join us in condemning the election candidate in the Dublin area who has already issued a leaflet containing a deliberate misrepresentation of the Opposition parties' position, which is calculated to inflame and promote xenophobia.
The serious issues raised in this debate cannot and must not be addressed on the basis of myths, which feed prejudice, or confusion, which is promoted by the Government's muddled approach to policy making and enforcement. Our Irish citizenship is too precious for that. The Government claims that the integrity of our citizenship system is at stake. It is the view of the Green Party that the integrity of our public is now also at stake in the wake of the Government's handling of these issues. At the heart of our identity as a republic, we have set our faith against any form of sectarian or racist exclusion. Our republic aspires to celebrate inclusion and diversity. Our vision of citizenship and identity is both Irish and global in its reach.
In a report commissioned by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform from the international organisation on migration, the significance of the issue is well understood. It states that the questions of a country's citizenship and of the circumstances in which it may be acquired, whether by right or as a privilege, are often questions of a highly philosophical and political nature which may go to the heart of a nation's perception of its own identity. The Government is proposing to interfere with Irish citizenship laws which have existed since the foundation of the State. Moreover, our traditional common law approach to acquiring citizenship is part of our inheritance as a republic. Any policy changes to be introduced in laws concerning citizenship and immigration must be fair, well thought out and evidence-based. We note with alarm that the statistics to support the Minister's core claims regarding citizenship tourism are not wholly available in terms of Ireland. The Minister said as much earlier and, subsequent to his initial claims, he has been forced to shift the ground of his argument for change. These are not the actions of a man with evidence in pursuit of conviction, they are those of a man filled with misplaced conviction in pursuit of evidence — any evidence or argument will do.
A gap as big as the hole in the ozone layer has opened up in the Minister's argument, not to mention his credibility as an advocate. His Department published statistics for the Dublin maternity hospitals, including the number of births in 2003 to non-nationals, namely, 4,824 or 25% of the total number of births in public hospitals in Dublin. Upon this and other statistics, the Department came to the conclusion that "There are also very obvious implications for the future of Irish immigration policy and for the maintenance of the integrity of Irish law on immigration and residence." Only later did the Minister, Deputy McDowell, concede, upon questioning from a journalist that while 25% of births in Dublin's maternity hospitals were to non-nationals, some of these were to citizens of other EU states and people here on work permits and only one third of them were to people in the asylum process. In other words, the Minister has conceded that the precise breakdown which would give evidence of the extent of the so-called citizenship tourism phenomenon is not available. It is no wonder that the Minister has been forced to back-pedal and state that he is not pinning his hat on the issue of statistics from maternity hospitals.
The Minister's claims on behalf of the masters of the maternity hospitals that they pleaded for a change in the law were flatly contradicted by those individuals. The masters countered that they had neither sought a meeting nor had they pleaded for a change in the law. Not surprisingly, the masters of the maternity hospitals confined themselves to issues they know best. Not least among these are the medical risks to which young mothers are exposing themselves and their unborn children by presenting late in their pregnancies.
In March the Minister proposed a new referendum on the Constitution based on an assertion that there is a growing crisis in our maternity hospitals, particularly those in Dublin. Just a few weeks later, he has shifted the grounds of his argument to such a degree that the maternity hospitals have become a side issue. He stated that this is "not an issue about maternity hospitals". The way he is going, this issue will quickly become an end to his career.
The Minister's record on these issues can only reinforce widely held suspicions about the motives of this Government. I refer here to motivations driven by electoral calculations and an appeal to the fears of the misinformed and the prejudiced. This is the Minister who has brought us a number of debacles which have fed a growing unease with the state of our immigration laws and their enforcement. For example, Deputy McDowell was behind the forced deportation of Irish-born children together with their non-national parents, following the abolition of those parents' right to apply for residency in Ireland. In the words of Ray Dooley, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, "Irish citizen children must not be forced into situations where they may be exposed to a risk of torture, extreme poverty or hardship".
The Minister's Immigration Act 2004 has been described by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties as draconian in nature, lacking in basic safeguards and divorced from the practical operation of the immigration system. The Act was clearly inspired by the Aliens Act 1935, the origins of which can be traced back to the Aliens Restriction Act 1911 — a legal instrument drawn up by Britain in a time of emergency to prevent German spies infiltrating the country. These are the kind of actions which have led former US Congressman, Bruce Morrison, to describe the Government's asylum and immigration system as hopelessly inefficient. Mr. Morrison also stated that "There is so much work to be done to bring together a coherent immigration policy in Ireland rather than jump into a referendum."
The Human Rights Commission, specifically in the person of Maurice Manning, has expressed preliminary concerns about the referendum, including the possibility that it might be inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement. The joint declaration by the British and Irish Governments has done nothing to reassure us. The leader of the SDLP, Mark Durkan, has also expressed deep reservations about the Government's unilateral move to undo carefully negotiated arrangements under the Good Friday Agreement. This is a time of deep political uncertainty about the future of the Agreement, its institutions and its statusvis-à-vis, for example, the Democratic Unionist Party’s continuing insistence that it is up for renegotiation. Not for the first time, the Minister, Deputy McDowell, finds himself playing into the hands of the Unionist enemies of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Green Party believes that Bruce Morrison put his finger on the nub of the question when he stated that governments often excuse their lack of enforcement of laws by writing new laws that will not be enforced either. Constitutional referenda should not be used to cover up the failings of Ministers and we do not believe the people want the Constitution abused in this way. In this matter, as in so many others, the Government is the author of its own misfortune. The Government parties have contributed significantly to the confusion, to the irregular and contested enforcement of existing immigration regulations and, ultimately, to the lack of transparency that feeds the misinformation and prejudice surrounding the issue of immigration and asylum seekers in Ireland.
Instead of addressing its own role in creating confusion and feeding prejudice through its incompetent management of the immigration issue, the Government is preparing to further exploit the consequences of its own incompetence. This is what lies behind Bruce Morrison's comment that to ask voters to decide in a vacuum with inadequate enforcement of existing laws is to invite them to exercise their worst instincts about newcomers rather than their best. That is what is dangerous about this referendum and it is why my party supports the amendment to Second Stage referring this matter to the Oireachtas committee on the Constitution.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, as the only all-Ireland party and one that is deeply concerned about the effect of this referendum on both sides of the Border, I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage, not to proceed with this dangerous, divisive and reactionary referendum on 11 June. I appeal to it not to seek to make this profound change in the Constitution and in the Good Friday Agreement, for which the people voted by an overwhelming majority in 1998. If the Government refuses to listen to the wide range of opinion throughout the country and in the Oireachtas calling on it to relent, then Sinn Féin will campaign vigorously for a "No" vote. I wish to indicate the support of Sinn Féin for the amendment tabled by Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party.
In promoting this rushed referendum the Government is stirring the pot of ignorance, fear and bigotry which produces outright racism. In holding the referendum in conjunction with local and EU elections, Government members may hope to benefit their parties electorally. However, they will only do so at the expense of civil rights, community relations and the Good Friday Agreement. This is the work of an irresponsible Government.
The component parts of this Government were keen promoters of the passports for sale scheme, better described as a scandal.
Such irony. The Government had no statistical basis for its claim of a crisis number of births and a widespread abuse of citizenship law. It has yet to produce the evidence. Even if it is accepted that there is such a problem, it is wrong to assert that it can only be rectified by a referendum which will fundamentally alter our citizenship laws and our Constitution.
I charge the Government with deliberate deception of the Oireachtas and of the people. On 17 February last I asked the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil if it was intended to hold a referendum or referenda in 2004 to change the Constitution. I want to remind the Dáil of exactly what the Taoiseach said, namely:
The Government has no proposals at present to hold a referendum to change the Constitution. The position continues to be held under review in light of developments, including: the outcome of the examination by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution of property rights issues; the outcome of the study being conducted by a sub-committee on procedures and privileges on reform of the Seanad; and the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference on the draft constitutional treaty which commenced in Rome on 4 October.
The Taoiseach's answer could not have been clearer. No proposals to hold a referendum and no mention of citizenship or the Good Friday Agreement. He also told the Dáil that "The complexities involved in holding a referendum require that careful consideration be given to the frequency with which referenda can realistically be held and the significance of the issues in question."
Today, however, the Taoiseach and his representatives are asking the Oireachtas and the people to endorse a complex referendum proposal with profound consequences for citizenship rights and the Good Friday Agreement and without referral to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. There has been no prior consultation with the political parties North or South, no engagement with civil society, no research, no evidence, no White Paper, no Green Paper and no real debate. That is the reality.
Did the Taoiseach tell the Dáil the truth on 17 February 2004? We now know that on 14 January 2004, the franchise section of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, on instructions from the Minister, Deputy Cullen, wrote to the Department of Finance informing it that 300 further electronic voting machines had been ordered because "there are strong indications that there may be a further ballot paper at the June polls. This would increase time of voters at voting machines." What did the Minister know that we did not know on 14 January? Did the Taoiseach know it?
Even if this letter had not come to light under the Freedom of Information Act, thanks to Irish Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting, there would still be a huge question for the Taoiseach to answer, which quite simply is this. Does he expect us to believe that on 17 February — only nine weeks ago — he was not aware that this constitutional amendment and its associated complex legislation were in preparation and that, at the very least, there was a possibility that they would be put to a referendum this year? If he knew that, then he clearly misled the Dáil on 17 February. Those are the facts.
I will turn now to the implications of this constitutional amendment for the Good Friday Agreement. By the very manner the Government has proceeded so far, and before the proposal is even put to a vote, it has damaged and undermined the Agreement.
The Government undertook no prior consultation with the parties that negotiated the Agreement, including Sinn Féin which is the largest pro-Agreement party in the Six Counties. Like Sinn Féin the SDLP has expressed its opposition to this referendum proposal. Thus we have the two parties representing virtually all Nationalists in the Six Counties speaking out against the Government's proposed course of action.
Citizenship by birthright was enshrined in the amended Article 2 of the 1937 Constitution to guarantee the right to Irish citizenship of people born in the Six Counties. Yet, the Government is ignoring the political representatives of those in the Six Counties who value their Irish citizenship. Not for the first time, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell has handed Dr. Ian Paisley and the Democratic Unionist Party a priceless political gift. They were told solemnly by both Governments that the Agreement would not be re-negotiated but now the DUP asserts almost daily that the Agreement can be changed at the whim of the Governments acting either together or unilaterally.
While all the political parties in Ireland and the Irish people were kept in the dark the Government entered secret consultations with the British Government. The result of those consultations was the scrap of paper issued on Monday, 19 April, as a Joint Declaration by the British and Irish Governments. Once again we are expected to accept it like tablets of stone carrying the definitive legal interpretation of this amendment.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, let me state we do not accept it. It is not a legal interpretation; it is a political fig-leaf. The full legal and constitutional implications for the Good Friday Agreement are only now being explored in the two legal jurisdictions North and South. This affects both the Constitution and the Good Friday Agreement and it is an insult to expect us to swallow whole the so-called legal interpretation contained in the Government's Joint Declaration. When the people voted for the Good Friday Agreement in this jurisdiction, they did it by way of endorsement of constitutional change. The amended Article 2 enshrined the right to citizenship by birth. That is how it has been interpreted by the courts, reaffirmed as recently as the Supreme Court decision of January 2003. The two Governments' Joint Declaration of 19 April purports to reinterpret Article 2, as endorsed by the people and as contained in the Good Friday Agreement. People in the Six Counties will have no input into how the citizenship which they enjoy is determined by law for others in the future, if this constitutional amendment is passed. The British and Irish Governments are un-picking and undermining the Good Friday Agreement. Coming on top of the British Government's repeated assaults on the integrity of the Agreement, this is totally unacceptable and an indictment of the Irish Government's current handling of the peace process overall.
This is no surprise as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is presenting the Bill, opposed the peace process at its inception and was a late convert, and has repeatedly shown his disregard for the basic principles underlying the Agreement, real inclusivity and respect for the democratic mandate and right of all elected voices.
This Bill should go no further and if it is passed by the Oireachtas, I urge the people to reject it at the polls. They have a priceless instrument enshrined in the Constitution and no Government should be entrusted with determining who is entitled to citizenship on the island of Ireland. It is the people who should remain sovereign.
The structure of the proceedings in the Dáil today and tomorrow shows the utter contempt of the Government in the manner it treats this Parliament. The Taoiseach is not present and cannot be questioned. The possibility of raising private notice, oral or written questions has been ruled out by order of the Government and the sheep behind it who voted for it. The critical issues that need to be brought to the attention of the Irish people and on which the Government should be questioned are Northern Ireland and the gutless and breathtaking obsequious response by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the US President's decision to legitimise Israeli terror and the theft of the land of the Palestinian people. It is a full five weeks since the Taoiseach met President Bush in the White House and we have not yet been able to question him on the justification the President gave him for his lies about weapons of mass destruction and invading Iraq, or an explanation for the disaster that ensued.
The referendum to restrict the citizenship rights of children born in this State is irredeemably compromised and discredited from the beginning by the utter dishonesty of the proposing Minister and the motivation behind it. Deputy McDowell began his campaign by claiming a crisis in the maternity hospitals, in other words beginning the campaign with the worst kind of scaremongering and the figures he gave today are equally unrevealing, for example there is no breakdown of the figure of 5,000 or so non-EU nationals who gave birth last year and their reasons for being in Ireland. Look at the meanness of the Government. Thousands of women who are non- nationals staff our hospitals, as doctors, nurses and nurses' aids, keeping them from collapse. Furthermore industry, from the hospitality sector to others, depends on the labours of non-national women who pay their taxes and contribute to the country. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform states the country needs the fruits of their labour and their taxes but woe betide them if they go into labour because their children are an inconvenience to the State and will be cast out.
The Minister referred to the pressure on the services in the maternity hospitals. I accept there is pressure, but what is the reason for it? In the 1950s and 1960s, 60,000 live births a year were recorded in the State. By the cash strapped 1980s the birth rate had risen to 72,000 live births a year, but in the early 2000s it dropped to 54,000 live births. Where are the difficulties? The Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government ripped out 3,000 beds in the 1980s, with the closure of maternity hospitals. The reality is that any old reason will suffice to get the referendum show on the road because this debate has nothing to do with issue and everything to do with the base calculation by the Government. This completes the hat trick — rural housing and decentralisation of public services were the issues for the rural areas and immigration is the issue in urban areas which the Government believes will save the skins of its desperate candidates.
The Government believes it can cynically manipulate the Irish people by raising half truths and fears on immigration into getting the people to vote "Yes". The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform know that candidates from their parties will stride around housing estates and streets whispering behind their hands that the reason for the housing and hospital crises is not the disastrous policies of this Government but immigrants. The Minister's hypocritically reasonable tone is a cover for the bigots in the Government parties and those outside, happily a minority. It is a cynical diversion from the real crises and problems.
However, I have absolute confidence in the majority of the Irish people. They may or may not vote in favour of the referendum, and I urge them not to do so, but even if they do, they will not, like sheep, vote for Government candidates. I believe a large majority will vote in the European and local elections to punish this Government for its treachery and particularly for believing that it could cynically manipulate the people into voting for a cynical clutch of desperate politicians by virtue of putting this referendum before them.
I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking on this Bill. Before dealing with the detail of the proposal, I wish to put on record my anger and disappointment at the delay in enacting another important measure, the disabilities Bill. Despite this Government being in office for two years, the disabilities Bill has not yet come before the House even though it also deals with the rights of citizens with disabilities. However, they must wait indefinitely. It is a disgrace and simply not good enough.
This debate should be about the integrity of Irish citizenship law. Sadly, it is not. It should be about the rights of children. Sadly, it is not. Ten or 15 years ago the country was torn apart by the abortion referendum debate. Now, we are creating a situation in which we will not grant rights to children. We should examine ourselves, open our minds a little further and see what is happening in society. A referendum can be proposed and held in less than 60 days, yet no disabilities Bill can be introduced for the 2,826 citizens in residential, day and respite care who have intellectual disabilities. It is hypocrisy and a shame. A Green Paper is required on this issue, as is debate and discussion.
Why is immigration always presented in a negative way in our society? We need to look at the positive side of immigration. We must study the real issues and consider the people concerned. Consider our history and look at our families whose members are in America, England and Australia. Look at the massive contribution they have made. We should cop onto ourselves — it is our turn to do something on this issue.
I disagree with and condemn the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's reference to "citizenship tourism". I strongly support the parties to the Good Friday Agreement who have raised concerns about this issue. I share those concerns. It is also important to consider Article 2 of the Good Friday Agreement which provides that it is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. There is nothing wrong with that. I support that principle. I also strongly support the views of Bruce Morrison. This man looked after 48,000 Irish citizens in America. He worked hard with the Irish Government to get them their visas. It is refreshing that there are ten non-national candidates standing in the local elections, 50% of whom are Independents. I wish them well. I hope they top the polls in their constituencies and that they take on the candidates in Dublin North-West who are distributing racist leaflets.
This issue relates to the rights of children and equality in society. The Minister says he is not encouraging racism but the reality on the ground contradicts that. I can give three brief examples. A couple of days ago an Irish citizen who is engaged to a non-national and wishes to bring that person to Ireland to meet his family contacted my office to ensure there would not be a scene at the airport. He is bringing his fiancée into the country. The second example occurred in my constituency ten days ago. When walking around I was abused by somebody for supporting immigrants. I was told they are "taking our jobs and houses". The third classic example occurred last Monday night. Two non-nationals approached me and thanked me for speaking out on their behalf. They feared the tone of the debate. That is the reality.
A candidate in Dublin North-West is distributing leaflets which call us windy, pinko liberals on this issue and describe us as soft on immigration. I will challenge those people. That is how this debate should proceed. I urge people to examine the facts and the reality. Let us look at the myths. The most common one is that the country is flooded with asylum seekers. In fact, they represent a relatively small proportion of total inward migration. From 1995 to 2000, half of the new arrivals were returning Irish emigrants. A total of 50,000 work permits were issued last year compared to 7,900 asylum applications. The latter number would not even fill Tolka Park on a good night.
Another myth is that asylum seekers get money for cars, mobile phones and drink. They receive full board accommodation while applications are processed. Otherwise, they receive the same social welfare entitlements available to Irish people. The third myth is that asylum seekers do not want to work or are here to steal our jobs. They are barred from working while their cases are examined. However, many do voluntary work in refugee projects. It has been asserted that many asylum seekers are bogus and have no right to be here. Some are found ineligible under the Geneva Convention but this ignores the fact that most are forced to leave their home countries because of dire economic, political and social circumstances.
I urge the people of Ireland to reject this referendum and vote "No".
I wish to share time with the Taoiseach. All states need effective laws to deal with the entry, residence and departure of non-nationals in the interests of the wellbeing of society. Governments must protect the borders of the state, its economy and public services as far as practicable. A government that does not do this would be behaving in a reckless and irresponsible manner.
The Bill before the House is reasonable and balanced and is another policy initiative, following the introduction of a series of measures since 1997 to deal with the issue of immigration. The Government proposes to amend Article 9 of the Constitution to return to the Oireachtas the power to decide the citizenship entitlements of people born on the island of Ireland, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen. It also proposes to introduce the Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2004 if the referendum is passed. This Bill has been published.
The Bill will provide that in the case of a child born to non-nationals, at least one of the parents will have to have been resident in Ireland for three of the four years preceding the birth of the child before the child becomes entitled to Irish citizenship. Where either parent of a child born anywhere in Ireland is a UK national or long-term resident, the child will be entitled to Irish citizenship. I join the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in calling for a calm, measured and informed debate, both inside and outside this House. Everybody's view deserves to be listened to and treated with respect.
The wider immigration question — issues regarding refugees, asylum seekers and non-nationals generally — is one of the most important questions this society has to deal with today. It is a matter of great concern in the community. When the history of this time is written, the decisive measures taken in this regard by this Minister and his predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, since 1997 will then be fully appreciated.
The Opposition has stated that this referendum is being rushed and has been hastily planned. I cannot agree. If anything, the Government probably should have acted sooner on this matter. The programme for Government stated that the Government will keep under review the number of applications from non-nationals to remain in the State on the basis of parentage of an Irish-born child and initiate all-party discussions on the issue of such constitutional or other measures which might be required. This referendum has been on the cards for some time and now is the time to proceed with it.
The other argument put forward by the Opposition, that a referendum should not be held at the same time as the local and European elections, is also fallacious. Its argument is that we should not discuss a political issue, a matter connected with immigration, in the context of democratic elections involving candidates. Heaven forbid. This is simply turning democracy on its head. The Opposition, in pursuing this argument, underestimates public representatives who, by and large, are responsible people. It also underestimates the intelligence of Irish people.
This referendum has been on the cards for some time now. The time has come to proceed with it.
The other argument put forward by the Opposition — that a referendum should not be held at this time as the local and European elections are under way — is also fallacious. Its members contend that we should not discuss a political issue, a matter connected with immigration, in the context of democratic elections involving candidates — heaven forbid. This is simply turning democracy on its head. In pursuing this line the Opposition under estimates public representatives who, by and large, are responsible people, and they under estimate the intelligence of the people generally. I have a problem with the idea of an intellectually superior elite deciding what issues people can or cannot cope with, and I am uneasy with the notion that legislators know best. Immigration is a controversial issue, but matters arising from this can and should be put to the people for a decision. They will decide on it, in their wisdom, in due course. What could be more democratic than this? It is one man, one vote and everyone has his say.
The immigration question is being discussed throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. It is only right that we should have a national debate on it in the context of this proposal. Anybody seeking to have a debate on this should not be labelled racist. As a people, we are mature enough to discuss such matters. I also belong to the old school of thought that public representatives should represent the views of their electorate. They should show leadership, but this should not negate their representative role. There is considerable support for this measure in the wider community and I believe it will be passed. I suspect the Opposition Members also believe this. This is despite the fact that this measure has been universally condemned in the liberal press. That says something about the nature of the print media here. However, that is an argument for another day. The timing of the proposed referendum is the right one. There will be a bigger turn-out and everyone will have his say.
The idea of considering what people are saying on the ground was derided last night on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" when my colleague, Deputy Ardagh, had the audacity to put it forward. We all know what people say to us in our clinics. They relate anecdotal evidence of what is happening in our maternity hospitals. They say that non-nationals are taking our jobs and houses and so forth. Deputy Finian McGrath raised that issue in his contribution. I listen to what they have to say and I respond in a calm, objective way. Public representatives have made a major contribution towards combating racism and our role should not be under estimated by anyone.
Those in the Opposition have said there has been no consultation on this proposal. That is simply not true. As the Tánaiste said, we cannot have endless consultation on this issue. Many years ago, as a city councillor, I learned that constantly calling for more consultation on an issue is a tactic used by those who are fundamentally opposed to a measure but know they do not have the numbers to support them. There is an element of that in this debate. It is also the case that Opposition members attack the Government on any issue they can find. The enactment of the Irish nationality and citizenship (amendment) Bill 2004 will allow for much more consultation and debate when the time comes. I welcome the joint declaration from the British and Irish Governments in which they state that this referendum has no implications for the British-Irish Agreement. From experience I know the British, in particular, would not make such a statement lightly.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated that this referendum must go ahead because of a crisis in our maternity hospitals caused by the arrival of pregnant non-nationals and asylum seekers. He has also stated that we need this referendum to protect the integrity of Irish citizenship law. He pointed out that Ireland has the most liberal citizenship regime in Europe.The Irish Times criticised him for putting forward two different views but both views are equally acceptable and justify the legislation. I fully support the Bill.
I am pleased to be here today to contribute to this important debate. There is apparent agreement that there is clear and systematic abuse of Ireland's constitutional right to citizenship. This is a problem. What we need to do, in a rational way, is to identify a solution to this problem. That is what this referendum is about.
It is obvious that citizenship is a fundamental aspect of our political system. However, citizenship is not only concerned with rights. It is also about duties and responsibilities. It is about the relationship between the State and its citizens and the duties of citizens toward other citizens. Abuse can devalue our sense of citizenship and we need to prevent this.
In approaching the solution to this problem the Government was particularly conscious that Article 2 of the Constitution had its origins in the British-Irish Agreement. We wished to maintain the integrity of the agreement in preparing a change to our Constitution. We do not wish to be in breach of the agreement, which imposed obligations on the two Governments. For this reason the Irish and British Governments, the parties to the British-Irish Agreement, have issued an interpretative declaration which is clear and unequivocal in its terms. It acknowledges that the two Governments have considered the current effects and consequences of Article 2 of the Constitution. It states that it was never the intention of either Government that persons born on the island of Ireland to parents who did not have, at the date of birth, a sufficient connection with the island of Ireland would be conferred with Irish citizenship.
Both Governments accept that amending Article 9 is not a breach of the British-Irish Agreement. It is simply not tenable to argue that anyone wanted to see our citizenship laws being abused in a manner that is now all too frequent. The interpretative declaration is a legal document with a status in international law that copperfastens the integrity of the British-Irish Agreement and eliminates the suggestion that there is any breach of the agreement's provisions. That there is and will be no breach of the British-Irish Agreement is now beyond dispute.
To clarify the confusing and confused public statements about this proposed referendum I will set out what will be the constitutional and legal position on citizenship should the amendment be passed by the people. Article 2 and the new Article 9, combined with the enactment of the draft legislation, will have the following effects. A child born on the island of Ireland at least one of whose parents is an Irish citizen or entitled to Irish citizenship will continue to enjoy, by virtue of Article 2 of the Constitution, a constitutional right to Irish citizenship. Thus, a child born in Belfast to parents at least one of whom is an Irish citizen or entitled to Irish citizenship continues to have a constitutional right to Irish citizenship. A child born on the island of Ireland at least one of whose parents is a British citizen will be entitled to Irish citizenship. This right will derive from statute. The obligation to grant citizenship to this category of persons when born in Northern Ireland is provided for in Article 1(vi) of the British-Irish Agreement and Annex 2 to that agreement.
A child born on the island of Ireland at least one of whose parents is entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on his or her period of residence will be entitled to Irish citizenship. This right will derive from statute. The obligation to grant citizenship to this category of persons when born in Northern Ireland is provided for in Article 1(vi) of the British-Irish Agreement and Annex 2 to that agreement. Article 1(vi) of and Annex 2 to the British-Irish Agreement are thus being complied with. A child born on the island of Ireland at least one of whose parents is entitled to reside in the State without any restriction on his or her period of residence will be entitled to Irish citizenship. This right will derive from statute. A child born on the island of Ireland at least one of whose parents has been lawfully resident on the island of Ireland for not less than three out of the four years immediately preceding the child's birth will be entitled to Irish citizenship, except where the parent was during that period residing in the island of Ireland pending the outcome of an application for refugee status or pursuant to a permission to reside for educational purposes. This right will derive from statute.
Through the referendum we will confer on the Oireachtas the power to legislate for the conditions for granting citizenship to children of non-nationals. We will not be unique in this respect. All other member states of the European Union provide for the acquisition of citizenship through legislation or regulation. None of those member states has a constitutional right to citizenship by virtue of birth in its territory. Notwithstanding that, even after the proposed amendment is passed we will still provide for the right to citizenship for certain categories of persons in our Constitution. However, the right to acquire Irish citizenship for persons born in Ireland who do not have at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to become an Irish citizen will now be regulated by statute.
We also need to protect our laws from being used to abuse European citizenship. We know from the Chen case currently before the European Court of Justice that the acquisition of Irish citizenship by children of non-nationals — with no sufficient connection to Ireland — has implications for other member states. That case concerns the birth in Belfast of a child to a Chinese woman who is claiming a right to reside in Britain by virtue of the Irish citizenship of her child. It is common ground in that case that the reason Ms Chen went to Belfast was to ensure her child, when born, would acquire Irish nationality, thereby enabling her mother to raise a possible claim to remain in the United Kingdom. This situation illustrates an unacceptable consequence of Article 2 of the Constitution. This abuse is not what the Governments and the Irish people expected would occur, but it has occurred and we need to take corrective measures. Hence the proposed referendum.
That case is still before the courts.
I am aware of recent criticism about this proposed referendum and the related legislative proposal. However, opponents of this change have failed to recognise the views of the Constitution Review Group. In its report of May 1996 the Constitution Review Group addressed the issue of citizenship and made a recommendation that the acquisition of Irish citizenship should not be provided for by the Constitution but on the contrary should be set forth in legislation. The justification for this proposal was simply stated. The imposition of conditions and qualifications on the grant of Irish citizenship is more appropriately a matter for legislation. I agree with the eminent group chaired by Dr. T. K. Whitaker which prepared this report, but my agreement is qualified by the desire to ensure that for children born on the island of Ireland whose parents are Irish citizens or entitled to become Irish citizens, the right to Irish citizenship remains enshrined in the Constitution.
The rights of children of non-nationals to Irish citizenship will, as a result of this proposed amendment to Article 9, be provided for in legislation, but at the same time those born to Irish citizens or to those entitled to Irish citizenship will continue to have a constitutional right to Irish citizenship. This cannot be repeated often enough. The birthright to citizenship for these persons, which includes those born in Northern Ireland, is being maintained. The rights of the people of Northern Ireland as defined in annexe 2 of the British-Irish Agreement are also protected. Article 2 remains in our Constitution. It is not being deleted.
We all want to have an enlightened debate about these proposed changes. Misrepresentation of the consequences of the proposed amendment serves only to obscure the real issue — that is to take appropriate and proportionate measures to end the abuse of our citizenship laws. We need a solution and the Government has proposed one. The Opposition has criticised the process of consultation but, so far, not the principle of preventing abuse of our rights to citizenship. If it is agreed that there is a problem then surely we must recognise the need for a solution. Thestatus quo is not acceptable.
The issue at the heart of the referendum is clear and simple. It is about stopping abuse of our Constitution. It also involves recognition that citizenship is about obligations as well as rights. It is about stopping the exploitation of our Constitution to exploit European citizenship. The Irish people understand what we are about. They know and appreciate that the choice is an obvious one. We can either do something or do nothing, and the latter is not an acceptable option. The former is the course we are pursuing. The Government will not abdicate its responsibility to promote a measure to solve a widely recognised and acknowledged problem. We need to protect our Constitution and our citizenship laws from abuse.
Through the procedure of the referendum the Irish people are being given the right to decide, as the final arbiters of national policy, whether they wish the current situation to continue or not. The period between now and 11 June will provide ample time for debate, reflection and consideration by the people. To those who object to the referendum taking place on 11 June I say this: on the basis that there is a problem that needs to be solved, why should we delay its solution? For how long are we to delay consulting with the Irish people in order to allow them to decide on this issue? The presidential election would be an utterly unsuitable occasion for this referendum for reasons that are obvious to everyone.
How long did the Taoiseach delay on the issue of building land?
What more suitable day exists than one which ensures maximum participation in the democratic process of voting — the date of an election? The choice of 11 June is thus both reasonable and fair.
Our decision to hold this referendum occurred against a background of looking at other possible solutions and for some time we have examined potential legislative solutions but none of those was compatible with the Constitution. We also sought to clarify the law before the Supreme Court in the L and O case and anticipated that this might have mitigated the problem, but this turned out not to be the case. A different problem developed with non-nationals coming to Ireland for the purposes of the birth of a child and the acquisition of citizenship and then leaving the country. This is not a phenomenon we are obliged to tolerate any longer. While immigration was a known fact at the time of the conclusion of the British-Irish Agreement, the substance and degree of the abuse of our Constitution requires us now to act to resolve this situation. After proper reflection on our position the clear and only option open to us was to propose an amendment to the Constitution, and this we have now done.
The origin of the problem is constitutional in nature and hence a referendum is an essential and unavoidable part of that solution. Delay in holding the referendum would merely extend the opportunity for further abuse of our laws on citizenship and that is not acceptable. There can be no greater illustration of our democracy than to consult the Irish people and that is the inherently democratic exercise in which we are now engaged. How can anyone fear expression of the will of the Irish people?
Finally, the allegation that this is a racist referendum is deeply offensive and a slur on the Irish people. It is an insult to the intelligence of our electorate and it is the ultimate act of cynicism. I can think of nothing more cynical than to oppose this referendum, knowing there is a problem to be solved. Those who have predicted a racist dimension to the referendum should now reflect on the wisdom of their allegations and address the proposed change on its merits and not on the basis of soundbites and slurs. In everyone's interest they ought to avoid creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by their language. It is not the Government but others who have brought the issue of race into this debate. We have proposed new citizenship laws which will continue to grant citizenship regardless of race. The race card should not be played by either side.
I commend this proposed referendum to the House and to the people.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Olivia Mitchell.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is a pity we are not sitting today in a regular manner with the Order of Business, Question Time and Adjournment debate. I do not accept that we cannot receive answers to at least written questions from Ministers when the House is sitting. I have no difficulty with the concept of discussing this issue but I have a difficulty with the method by which we have come to debate this and with the railroading of this issue through to a referendum.
Amending the Constitution is a very significant and serious step. It is not one to be taken lightly and should not be taken without a clear need to do so being shown. Up to now the Government has failed to show that need, yet it thinks it is in order to proceed with these changes. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government have to a large extent hailed the phenomenon of the rise in non-national women having babies in Ireland as the reason for this referendum. It seemed that the potential crisis in waiting in our maternity hospitals is the main reason behind this proposed referendum. If so it is the quickest reaction to a problem facing the health service that I have ever seen.
Being the only EU country that operates in this way, granting citizenship based on birth, is at least a more significant and probably more honest reason for the referendum, but it is a great pity this perspective could not have been articulated from the beginning. It is also a pity and a shame that the masters of the Dublin maternity hospitals had to be dragged into this issue in a manner which they clearly never intended.
The method and manner in which the Government has approached this referendum has been cynical to say the least and is clearly based on trying desperately to seek advantage in the June elections. Fine Gael has always stated that we need to seek a resolution to the issues and we want to contribute to finding that resolution. However, the Government has made no attempt to facilitate that or to facilitate discussion on the issue. The fact that the Government has yet to answer Deputy Gay Mitchell's various Dáil questions clearly shows its hypocrisy when saying it wants this issue to be non-political. The fact that the Government responded to Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's questions at the 11th hour leads me to the same conclusion. There is little point in even raising these matters but they need to be raised. The way Dáil questions are being treated by several Ministers shows little regard for democracy or for the House. I am still waiting for responses to questions I put down for the Minister for Education and Science some weeks ago on curriculum support units and inservice training for teachers. One would imagine this type of basic information would be readily available in any well organised and ordered Department, but clearly this is not so. This is unacceptable in every case but when the issue being considered is held up as the basis for holding a referendum to change our Constitution, and we cannot get basic information, then it is a disgrace.
There are only two possible conclusions we can draw from this. First, the information is not available. If that is the case, what has the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform been talking about? If it is available why has he not complied with his duty to this House and released it in response to Deputy Mitchell's question?
I accept that information on this matter was given last night to Fine Gael in two tranches. I am interested to know whether this information was made available to the Minister before or after he made his various pronouncements. There has been no real, meaningful consultation on this issue. Deputy Haughey said he does not want endless consultation, and I agree with him, but there should at least be some proper consultation. It is quite clear the Minister is making this up as he goes along. In March, he based much if not all of his reasoning for this referendum on the situation in the maternity hospitals. On 8 April, he said the real issue was "the integrity of Irish citizenship laws". One can only wonder what May will bring. The briefing document of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, published in March, also relied solely on the first reason.
It also appears quite clear that there has been no meaningful discussion with the parties in Northern Ireland on this issue either. We cannot just wave away any possible consequences for the Good Friday Agreement as easily as the Government is attempting to do. While it is clear that the amendment is to Article 9 of the Constitution, what is less clear is the possible effect this will have on Article 2 as agreed by the people of Ireland in the 19th amendment to the Constitution, almost six years to the date from that which the Minister is proposing. Given that they agreed "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," I find it hard to believe that no one foresaw this problem, which the Government, all of a sudden, deems to be potentially catastrophic. Did the Government have no advice on this issue at the time? That is a legitimate question it must answer.
All parties in the North have raised questions and fears, which must be properly responded to and debated. A joint declaration, now called an interpretative declaration, involving the Prime Minister is just that. That the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach both say it is so does not make it so, and they must prove it is so. The exclusion in Annex 2 of the Agreement is not in the Constitution or in Irish law. We are being asked to accept a great deal on the good faith of promised legislation.
That is not so.
It is so and the Government has yet to prove otherwise.
The British-Irish Agreement is incorporated into the Constitution.
We will not accept any interruptions.
Annexe 2 is not. The proposed amendment to Article 9, by starting with the phrase "notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution," effectively means Article 9 takes precedence over Article 2. The Taoiseach has argued it is simply not tenable to argue that anyone wanted to see our citizenship laws being abused in a manner that is now all too frequent. I do not believe anybody has articulated that case and this party has certainly not done so. The Taoiseach, when citing the Chen case, should clearly accept that it is before the court and that no decision has been reached on it as yet.
For some years it has been very clear that this Government has no clear or coherent policy on immigration. This Bill is its one and only solution or policy proposal in this wide-ranging area. It is nearly impossible to obtain clarity on the entitlements of people regarding whether they can stay here or whether they are to be deported, on who can work and on who can stay to study. Some have clearly been abused and exploited as employees and others seem to be working illegally. Others want to work and cannot do so. However, there seems to be no real policy on any of these issues. Again, it is being made up as we go along by reacting to circumstances as the political climate dictates. We are being asked to accept a great deal on good faith.
The Minister states in his proposal document that he is committed to the basic principles of the draft Bill. He may well be, but it deals with only the issue of citizenship, which I accept is as it should be in terms of the referendum. However, the Irish people are at the very least entitled to a real and proper immigration policy from the Government rather than a policy of dealing with the issue of citizenship alone. If the Government does not provide such a policy, it is allowing the scare-mongering, the rumour mill and the anecdotal stories to rule the day and to prejudice the opinions of many people.
I disagree with the Minister on the issue of referring this matter to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. I echo the comments of my party leader Deputy Kenny who stated that this is the best solution for calm and rational debate. We have made rushed amendments to our Constitution before, leading to years of controversy before change was made again. The sixth progress report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution recommended calm and measured debate on contentious issues. From what we have seen so far and from what we have heard this morning, this advice should be heeded.
It is wrong to rush through this referendum on 11 June. The Tánaiste's selective quoting of timescales for other referenda is not relevant. The negotiations surrounding the Good Friday Agreement were given unprecedented coverage in the media, giving people masses of information on the issues involved. In any event, practically all parties were in support of it. The two divorce referendums were very much a matter of personal choice on an issue which had the potential to affect us personally. This issue will not just affect us personally but will affect others as well. We are making a serious decision to amend the Constitution in a very rushed manner, denying children the right of citizenship in the country of their birth. I accept that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are more complex than just being a matter of birth. I include some of the issues the Minister raised today in that context, but it is these issues we need to discuss rationally.
Rushing ahead with this referendum on 11 June is pointless. The comments on the Presidency do the Government and particularly the potential candidates no service. Do the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste really believe that if they hold this referendum on the date of a presidential election it will be divisive and that holding it on the date of the local and European elections will not? I do not know how many candidates will be running for President — last time out there were five — but I know I will leave it to the people to decide their worth. I do not see a problem for presidential candidates on this issue. They can legitimately refuse to discuss something, the legislation regarding which they may ultimately have to sign into law or refer to the Supreme Court.
When it comes to the actions of thousands of candidates around the country, from all parties and none, I do not know how those opposite can be so naive and ignorant. Are they that far out of touch with reality? Do they not remember the lessons we should have learned from the last general election? I hope the abolition of the dual mandate will remove some of the worst offenders from the electoral process this time out. The comment by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that "if you are racist vote "no" in this referendum, because there is nothing racist about this proposal." makes absolutely no sense. Despite this, it is a cheap shot that will only fuel bitterness and divisiveness in this debate. The Minister has done nothing to prevent this, he has poured petrol on its potential to ignite and he should be ashamed of it.
My party has already stated it will not be found wanting in finding a solution to what we accept is a potential problem with our Constitution. However, we question the timing and method of finding that solution. I am utterly convinced that every State has the right to protect and secure the integrity of its borders and its citizenship rights. If those borders and citizenship rights are no longer legally secure, for whatever reason, and if this insecurity or vulnerability has implications for other countries, we do not just have a right but an obligation to take whatever steps are necessary to regain control and determine precisely how the very considerable privilege of citizenship is to be attained.
Why are we dealing with this Bill now? What is the rush? I recall emergency legislation that was promised in the context of the need to finish the motorway in my constituency. It was promised almost three months ago and it pertains to a real emergency and a job that cannot be completed because of the absence of such legislation, yet this Bill can come from nowhere almost overnight. Why are we dealing with it now? There are so many other immigration issues that have not been resolved. Why do we force economic migrants into the soul-destroying and absolutely demoralising asylum seeking process? After forcing them into this process, they are not allowed work and when they do not work we call them wasters. Why not take time and proceed in a way that will build consensus? I heard the Tánaiste state it is difficult to achieve complete agreement. It is, but a majority recognises there is a problem and would be constructive in helping to solve it.
I have no doubt that our acceptance that there is a problem is viewed by some as racist. Worse, I believe the issue will be used by real racists to reinforce their existing prejudices and to air them with impunity over the coming months. Worse again, the Government knew this. At some level — although the Government denies it — this is part of the reason this referendum is being proposed at this time. The Minister has shown that he knows exactly the potential electoral advantage of creating a bogeyman for the public to fear and offering oneself as its saviour.
The arguments regarding the need to deal with the problem which has arisen as a result of the Good Friday Agreement are compelling and stand in their own right without any need to resort to the kind of unsubstantiated old guff which, unfortunately, we frequently hear about racism nowadays. We may think we have heard a lot of guff recently but when we get into the campaign for the local and European elections, every other issue will be forgotten in a frenzy of racist accusations and counter accusations — these may be made privately on doorsteps but they will be made. We have managed to keep a lid on this problem for some time but once we cross the Rubicon of raw, open and vicious racism, there is no undoing the damage and no turning back. Once we have debate openly acknowledging real naked racial hatred, the situation will be irretrievable and there will be no turning back. On its own, this is the most compelling reason not to hold the referendum in the pressure cooker context of a political election where individual candidates have so much of their personal reputation and future at stake that, as anyone who has ever been a candidate knows, reason and moderation go out the window. Here we have a perfect topic for them.
The second reason for waiting is that if we rush at this change, there is every danger that we will get it wrong. We made a constitutional mistake, have known that for six years and have seen its impact over a number of years. Up to three weeks ago there was no rush to do anything to close this particular loophole. However, suddenly in the space of three short weeks it has become a crisis with which we must deal immediately. In those three weeks we have recalled the Dáil, the referendum Bill has been published, draft legislation has been published and we must get it through as quickly as possible so that it can be put to the people in six weeks time. Why is this? I do not understand the reason for the speed. How can the Government blame us for thinking that this is all about gaining some kind of electoral advantage?
The reality is that if we get this wrong — and many people have mentioned the dangers of getting it wrong — there will be no electoral advantage for anybody. We will get it wrong if we rush at it. We all know the potential pitfalls of messing about with our Constitution, even when we give it all the thought and time in the world. Most of us accept that we have left an unintended loophole in the Constitution. If we are lucky, we will probably get one shot at fixing it. We do not always get even that one shot. I dread mentioning the infamous abortion referenda fiascos. We got it wrong that time and the situation was irretrievable; we could never get it right afterwards. There is every danger that we will do the same again. Nobody was happy after several attempts to change the Constitution regarding abortion and there is every possibility that on a controversial issue such as this, the same will happen.
I urge the Minister to proceed slowly with caution and to try to build consensus. He should refer this issue to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and let us as dispassionately as possible look at all the angles and options and return to the issue in the autumn. The issue should not be postponed indefinitely but we should return to it in the autumn with clear heads and the clearer views we all tend to have after an election.
As health spokesperson for my party I wish to refer to the maternity hospital issue and to the suggestion that this referendum is the result of a request from the masters of the maternity hospitals——
That suggestion was never made.
I accept that may be the case. However, the masters have a genuine concern. As spokesperson on health, I hear more than most of the undoubted difficulties our maternity hospitals experience. I have heard of the difficulties future mothers have in booking a place in hospitals, of the overcrowding when they get a place, of women being turfed out 24 hours after giving birth, of the strain on staff in dealing with the different cultural practices of non-national mothers and their families, of infection risks and the dangers of mothers presenting in the last stages of pregnancy — often straight from the airport. Nobody disputes the existence of additional pressures on the hospitals as a result of the increased number of births, some of which are non-national births.
Pressures and shortages exist across the health service and maternity hospitals are really not much different from the rest of the service. Demands have been made for information on the extent to which the problem of overcrowding in the hospitals and the increased number of births is due to the desire to claim citizenship. It is impossible to be precise about the figure. However, I feel this does not matter. The number of births is minuscule compared to the potential number of births. It is this principle we must address rather than suggest the difficulty in the maternity hospitals is the problem. There is a genuine practical problem which is surmountable. It can be solved with money, just like the other problems in the health service. However, the potential long-term problem is that we could become the maternity unit for the entire non-EU world. It is the scale of potential abuse which justifies the need for change in our Constitution rather than any of the surmountable practical problems we have seen so far which certainly do not require changes in the Constitution.
I accept that we could have a major problem in the long term. If the problem is a long-term one we have time to deal with it. We should take the time to deal with it effectively and calmly. We will not have an unstoppable tide of pregnant women arriving between now and 11 June. I urge the Minister to take his time in proceeding with this. He must consider whether rushing into this and getting it wrong is worth the risk he is taking in ramming it through now against public will and against the will of many in the Dáil, especially when there is so much potential to build consensus on the issue.
I, too, am pleased to contribute to this debate on the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill. The Minister said earlier that there is a clear and systematic abuse of Ireland's constitutional rights on citizenship and that this is a problem.
I hope the Deputy disagrees with him.
I am inclined to disagree with the Minister in this regard. The problem is that currently our laws allow people to use the system to gain citizenship. I do not believe that the problem is the abuse by others of our weaknesses. The problem is our weakness and this is something we must address.
We are effectively debating citizenship today. We are debating the preciousness of citizenship and the value we put on it. Many contributors have pointed out that many rights and benefits are associated with citizenship. Citizenship also carries duties. The Minister referred to Article 9.2 which states: "Fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens." Fidelity is defined as loyalty and steadfastness and the nation is the people who live in a country. Loyalty also means feelings of allegiance. The State is the whole body of people in Ireland who are united with one Government. We may not all like the one Government which is in power at any point in time but we accept it and have a loyalty to it.
The gift of citizenship should not be treated as a good or chattel which can be obtained by default and then used for the benefit of individuals in another ——
Plenty of passports were sold, however.
The question of passports is also being addressed in this Bill. It is not——
There was not much respect for them back then.
When Fine Gael was in Government it had the opportunity to change matters but it did nothing. The problem is being addressed now. The gift of citizenship should not be treated as a chattel and then used for the benefit of individuals in another country. The privilege of citizenship in these circumstances is not appreciated. Irish people expect our citizens to appreciate the unique national sense of being an Irish citizen. At present there is an anomaly in the Constitution which gives citizenship to people who have little or no allegiance, not even through their parents, to the nation of Ireland.
The Constitution allows for a person who is born on the island of Ireland, irrespective of any connection or allegiance to Ireland, to be a citizen of Ireland. This was brought about by the wording inserted into Article 2 of the Constitution to give effect to the terms of the Belfast Agreement. It was never intended in the drafting of the terms of the Agreement that this anomaly would be introduced. The Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill changes neither the terms of the Belfast Agreement nor the constitutional changes adopted to give effect to the terms of the Belfast Agreement. The Minister went over this in detail in his speech but I also had a little piece prepared on it. As he stated, in Article 1(vi) of that Agreement the participants recognised "the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland." The Minister went into greater detail, stating that the people of Northern Ireland included the people who had allegiance to the country — Northern Ireland — where they actually live and were people who were born in Northern Ireland before the Belfast Agreement. The people of Northern Ireland, who identified themselves and were accepted as British or Irish, may choose to confirm that their right to hold British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and it would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland. That, effectively, is why Article 2 was put into the Constitution. It was to give effect to that. In the Agreement itself, there was no question of recognising the birthright of all people who were born in Northern Ireland; it was "the people of Northern Ireland." This amendment to the Constitution in no way affects the Belfast Agreement in that regard.
As a result of this anomaly people who do not have allegiance to the State through their parents' citizenship or continued legal residence are using this loophole in our laws to gain Irish citizenship by stealth. The intent behind this act is, in some cases, not to contribute to the nation of Ireland but to access residence in other EU countries. One might ask what is so wrong with that. There are many answers. If one goes around the houses knocking on the doors, one will not find the type of racial hatred that has been expressed from the benches opposite but genuine concern that there is a loophole.
They must be different doors.
People believe the system should be changed so it cannot be used in situations where there is no demonstrable allegiance to the State. There also does not appear to be anyquid pro quo in the process of citizenship by birth and there is a feeling abroad that people are pulling the wool over the eyes of the nation.
Irish citizenship is being used in an unintentional way which is embarrassing to the State. As other Members mentioned, there is the case of Ms Man Levette Chen and her daughter, Kunqian Catherine Zhu, who have appealed to the European Court of Justice a decision of the British Home Secretary that they do not have the right to reside in the UK. Ms Chen and her husband work for a Chinese company exporting goods to the EU. They came to the UK when she was approximately six months pregnant and acting on legal advice received from a lawyer in the UK, Ms Chen travelled to Belfast in July 2000, where she had her baby on 16 September 2000. I do not in any way want to cast aspersions on Ms Chen. The facts of the case are what I am highlighting. It is her legal team who suggested to her that she go to Ireland and have the child born there so the mother would be dependent on the child for immigration status.
One can never depend on legal teams.
Obviously there are legal teams in the UK who are encouraging non-nationals to come to Ireland to have a child born here so the parents may claim residence within Europe. At present if one is a citizen of Ireland, one is also a citizen of the EU.
Citizenship evolved in ancient Greece to exclude, rather than include, others.
That is what we are at too.
It developed under the Roman system which, in order to bring people into the fold, granted citizenship to people of conquered countries to integrate them into the Roman Empire. Over the 18th century citizenship developed to include rights of individual freedom and of protection through the courts. In the 19th century citizenship came to include the right of political participation and was concerned with the extension of access to the parliamentary process. The republican movement developed throughout Europe in the late 18th century and early 19th century and the questions of democracy and how citizens controlled and directed their lives were important. In the 20th century citizenship came to include the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security and the right to a share in social heritage. This is the type of citizenship that applies in Ireland. In Ireland people are entitled to social welfare payments. When they grow old they are entitled to a decent old age pension. They are entitled to a medical card if their income is below a certain threshold. They are entitled to housing if they are on the housing list.
They are entitled to it but unfortunately they do not get it.
All of the economic resources are put at the disposal of the country to try to give all of these necessary entitlements to the people of Ireland. That is why citizenship of Ireland is so important and valuable.
Then came the EU citizenship which derived from the Maastricht treaty in February 1992. As a result of that treaty, every person holding nationality of a member state is a citizen of the EU. In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam gave a further right to EU citizens to bring cases in the European Court of Justice against EU institutions. In the Ms Chen case, that is what is being used to fight the decision on residency in the UK. The case is now being fought in the European Court of Justice on grounds of the citizenship of the child Ms Chen had in Ireland. Ms Chen had every right to use all of the methods at her disposal and every non-national who comes here and becomes a citizen has the right to use every method at his or her disposal to ensure the maintenance of benefits accrued.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell spoke of the problems in the maternity hospitals in Dublin. Since 2002, there have been many problems due to the number of non-nationals who have come to Dublin. As the Minister said, there were huge and unprecedented pressures. I spoke recently to a midwife in the Coombe hospital, where it is accepted that pressures exist. We have, however, a health service staffed by doctors and nurses who are equal to the task and can manage the situation despite the admittedly huge pressures. All credit is due to the doctors, midwives and nurses in our maternity hospitals for the great work they have done. These pressures should not continue. There are resources which could be used elsewhere if there were not such pressures on the maternity hospitals.
When women arrive at hospitals in late stages of pregnancy, the first consideration for doctors and nurses is the health and welfare of the mothers and their children. The concern of the doctors and nurses is not about resources or cost, but about having in place the physical resources necessary to protect the health of the mothers and babies. There are problems for a non-national mother arriving during a late stage pregnancy in a maternity hospital in Dublin. No ante-natal history is available to the hospital. Normally, when a woman is pregnant, after a month, six weeks or two months she begins to attend the hospital. Blood groups are sorted out, any problems are taken care of and everything is put in place so that the birth can occur successfully. Everything is arranged so that problems which are foreseen can be dealt with. Some of the non-national women who arrive at hospitals in late pregnancy face danger. In a way, the legislation will be doing a service for these people. The Minister has spoken of "citizenship tourism" and has been castigated for using that term, but from the reports I have heard, having spoken to people in various countries, I know that people have planned to arrive in Ireland at the opportune time to have a child. The Irish people do not appreciate this. Loopholes allowing for such situations should be closed, and anomalies dealt with.
The broad issue of immigration policy also arises. All right-thinking people in the Dáil and in Ireland would like to see a genuine immigration policy appropriate for people who wish to emigrate from countries poorer than Ireland and also for Ireland, which needs people to fill jobs. We do not have enough people to fill all the vacancies. Moreover, most people will accept that the added colour and cultures that have come to Ireland have enriched the country, making it a more cosmopolitan, interesting, exciting and pleasurable place in which to live.
One of our immigrants, Benedicta Attoh, is to run in the local elections in Dundalk. Many of us saw her recently on television. Benedicta is a Nigerian mother of six, with a business in Dundalk, and as I said last night, after voting for my Fianna Fáil colleagues I intend to give her my next highest preference — notwithstanding the possibility of there being a Progressive Democrats candidate's name on the ticket.
That is absolute sacrilege. There is a crack in the woodwork here.
Could the Leas-Cheann Comhairle tell me how much time I have left?
That is probably just as well, considering the direction in which the Deputy was heading.
It is all a question of citizenship, which we value. To show how we value it, we should encourage our citizens to engage and participate more in our democracy. We should encourage people to get involved in charitable causes and in the special reserve police force, if that comes into existence, to get involved in civil defence, to join the Army and the caring professions and to participate and engage fully in a democracy so that together all our citizens can have a better country in which to live. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. The phrase "I am not a racist but..." is what I and everyone else in this House hear in our clinics and in our constituencies. By means of the amendment before us, the Government will fuel this attitude in the run-up to and during the local election campaign right up to polling day. That is the sad aspect of this issue. If the Government came to this House with a genuine proposal, we would wholeheartedly welcome it and would work with the Government to address the matter, but it is purely for electoral purposes that this legislation is being brought forward. It will fuel the bigotry of the people who say "I am not a racist but...".
There is a great deal of public confusion. Anyone with a skin pigment different from our own is automatically assumed to be an asylum seeker. When the issue arises on people's doorsteps, I spend a great deal of time explaining that there is an array of different individuals in this country, not all of whom are asylum seekers. Everyone would agree that Paul McGrath is Irish. There are non-nationals in this country married to Irish people. There are EU nationals in this country who have a right to be here, just as Irish citizens have the right to go to any other part of the European Union. There are migrants in Ireland with work permits. For example, 12.5% of the population of the town of Roscommon is made up of Brazilians, whose first language is Portuguese. There are Bosnian refugees in Ireland. Before them there were Vietnamese refugees who came to this country 20 or 30 years ago and comprise a very small percentage of the population. We then have two types of asylum seekers. Some come to Ireland because of genuine threats to their lives. Others are economic migrants seeking asylum, who hope to have their applications approved so that they can live and work in this country just as the Irish did in many parts of the world.
It should be acknowledged that there is a significant number of people among the latter group who are well educated and cannot work in this country. Will the Minister explain why they cannot do so? We have doctors, engineers and every type of specialist in centres across the country who, legally, are not allowed to work. Much of the bigotry could be addressed if those people had the right to work. There are even people in Ireland who are married to Irish nationals but do not have the right to work; they have to apply for work permits. Employers are not very eager to go through the work permit system.
Fine Gael acknowledges that Article 2 of the Constitution, as inserted following the Good Friday Agreement, creates the potential for abuse of Irish citizenship. As my party leader stated earlier, Fine Gael shares the objective of closing off that potential abuse and it is committed at all times to working constructively with the Government and all other parties to finding the best solution to that problem. However, shoving something through at the last minute is not the best way to do that. I listened to my Dáil colleague Deputy Ardagh and I thought I was listening to "Bull Island". He spoke about the privilege of Irish citizenship and the fact that some people have no allegiance or connection to the State. I presume many of the Fianna Fáil members that are here today are speaking with a "tongue in cheek" approach, in light of all the passports divvied out over the years by Fianna Fáil-led governments. Some of them have brought economic benefits to the Minister's county as he well knows. The reality is that all of a sudden we have this huge respect for Irish citizenship which was not there in the 1980s or 1990s. It seems hypocritical that Members in this House talk about the privilege of Irish citizenship.
No one from the Government has given an answer on this problem. Why do we not have any details on the numbers of people coming here, or the number of people that will be affected by this legislation? Why has no research been carried out? This Government has brought in consultant after consultant over the past seven years. There have been enough reports from experts in every area to fill this Chamber. Whenever the Government has been in difficulty, it immediately calls in the experts to produce reports. Why not produce a report on this issue? The Government gave a commitment in the programme for government that it would look at the issue. Why did it not do so over the intervening two years? Is this is a real problem, or a potential problem? No one seems to be able to answer that today. Deputy Ardagh alleged that people were being advised in the UK to come to Ireland to obtain citizenship of the EU. That is incorrect. It was the case a few years ago that people were coming here from the UK to have children, but that is not currently happening. This is because people are now able to get direct flights to Dublin so they do not need to stop over in the UK first. There is no research into the extent of the problem.
What happens if this constitutional amendment does not address the problem? We will still have the same number of people coming in, whatever number that is. What do we do then? If citizenship is not the reason people are coming, then what happens? I do not believe the sole reason for someone who flies in from Lagos to have a child here is that the child can have Irish citizenship in 18 years' time. No one has yet provided the information to contradict me.
Why has this amendment not been referred to the Oireachtas committee on the Constitution? There have been suggestions that there are other options. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe will propose a number of other options that should be considered and that could resolve the issue. If his solution does not address the problem, it is flexible so that we can come back and review it. We do not have that flexibility in a constitutional amendment. Why are these suggestions not being considered? Why are we not getting the opportunity to consider them at an all-party committee on the Constitution? Why will we not have the legislation prior to the referendum? The people are being asked to trust the Government that promised 2,000 extra gardaí two years ago, none of whom we have seen. We are being asked to trust the Government that promised the abolition of waiting lists in our hospitals by April 2004, which has not happened. Does anyone seriously believe we can trust this Government? I would not trust it as far as I could throw it, and this is not too far.
What guarantees do we have that we do not end up in the same situation as we were in the 1980s on abortion? The referendum that was passed provided for the one thing that it was supposed to prohibit. We could end up in a similar legal quagmire. Therefore, why can we not let a committee look at it? The Tánaiste spoke about the consultation that took place with the parties on this side of the House. We know that no consultation has taken place and that the Minister has buried his head in the sand. Consultation for five minutes over the coffee table is the sum total of the consultation that took place.
That is the way they did it in the days of the Roman empire.
There is also the issue of the implications for the Good Friday Agreement, with which the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, was involved at the time. Why was there no discussion with the parties in Northern Ireland on the issue? It defies logic that the Government was prepared to discuss the issue in a hurry with the British Government, but was not prepared to discuss the issue with the parties in Northern Ireland. This must cause concern to Fianna Fáil, the republican party that professes to be an all-Ireland party. It was not prepared to talk to its colleagues north of the Border. It is hypocritical and adds to the suspicions of the true intentions of this Government on the referendum. This represents the typical twisting and turning by the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and the Taoiseach.
If one actually talks to the staff in the Dublin maternity hospitals, rather than inviting them in and spinning what happened afterwards as the Minister did, one would find that many of the non-nationals coming here are actually quite wealthy. When asked why they come to Dublin, they cite the quality of our maternity service as the reason. That will not be addressed by this referendum. No one on the other side of the chamber had the gumption to carry out a survey. The vast majority of those people have never attended an ante-natal clinic and many have major complications. If they are coming here because of the health service it seems sensible that the reason is so that they can have a smooth delivery. That puts huge additional demands on our health services. That problem will not be addressed by this Bill.
Take the case of a woman in her 41st week of pregnancy. She arrives at Dublin Airport from Lagos via France, with her two children, a 16-month old boy and a two and a half year old boy. Why did she come here? She is a well-educated wealthy woman. The reason is the health service, as she told staff in one of the Dublin maternity hospitals. Many of them finish up in the UK afterwards, not in Ireland.
In such cases the children must be made wards of court while the mother is in the maternity hospital. The vast majority of such women coming here are 38 to 40 weeks pregnant. Hospital staff are being told the reason they leave it so late before coming is that they will be moved to other parts of the country if they arrive earlier. They do not want this because they believe the quality of service available in Dublin is second to none. Many Irish women travel to Dublin to have their babies.
Why are the airlines carrying these people into this country? Many Irish women are refused permission to travel by airlines even though their term of pregnancy is relatively short, and despite having doctors' letters certifying they can travel. Yet the airlines have no difficulty in bringing people half way around the world and dumping them here in Ireland. Why has the penny never dropped for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, who is jumping like a butterfly all over the place about bus deregulation, penalty points etc? The Minister, who could fill this room with all his press statements, has never commented on this issue. It just shows how incompetent this Government is and why we cannot address simple problems. The only explanation for this being discussed in the House today is politicking, not a serious attempt to address the specific issue.
On 30 September last I tabled a question in the House asking the Minister for Health and Children to indicate the sums of money sought by each health board to deal with the issue of asylum seekers and the additional demand they were putting on the health services. I asked how much of that money was actually furnished to the health boards. The reply is not one cent so it is a big issue with the Government and has been for the last two years. The Tánaiste said the Government had been examining this matter, yet it is not worth one cent so far as the health services are concerned. Enormous additional demands are being placed on the health services as regards maternity, blood screening, respiratory services etc. These services are being demanded and are required by asylum seekers, not necessarily people who come into this country at the last minute, but those who are resident here and who are applicants for asylum. Not one cent has been given by the Minister for Health and Children to the health boards to address this problem.
Take the experience in two hospitals with which I am familiar. Some 11% of births in University College Hospital Galway are to asylum seekers. This legislation would do nothing to address that 11% birth rate because we do not have direct flights from any of these countries, be it France or Nigeria, into Galway airport. The same applies to Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe. There is no airport near that hospital. The problem will not be solved by this referendum. There are significant additional demands for maternity services. The Western Health Board has sought additional funding from the Department of Health and Children but has received nothing. The same health board has sought additional funds for the community and acute services because of the additional demands. It has received nothing under this heading either from the Department. None of these problems is going to be solved by this referendum.
It is estimated that it costs approximately €13 million per annum to deal with the 22,500 asylum seekers in this country at present. This does not take tourists into account. The legislation before us will do absolutely nothing to address the situation.
The reality is that this is another blind pulled by a pathetic Government over the chaotic health service that exists in this country. In the same way as the introduction of the smoking ban was intended to divert attention away from the crumbling state of our health services, the proposed referendum is to again hide the scandal that no funding has been provided to deal with the additional demands caused by asylum seekers.
If the Government is genuine about achieving cross-party support, it should accept the amendment put forward by Members on this side of the House and refer the issue to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, with a mandate to report by 1 September, so that we may have a referendum before the end of the year.
This debate is not evidence that the Government wants to address the problem. It is pure politicking. I was listening to the Tánaiste yesterday when she was being interviewed about the legislation being debated today. The Government has been aware of the problem for a considerable time. She said it had been included in An Agreed Programme for Government. If it has been such a burning priority for Government over the last two years, why has there been no consultation, either with the parties in this House or those north of the Border? Why has no additional funding been provided for the maternity hospitals in this State? Many of the maternity hospitals are being run on a shoestring at the moment due to the lack of resources and the additional demands they face from asylum seekers who are resident in Ireland, quite apart from the tourists who come here. Why has there been no action by the Minister for Transport? If there is a significant problem with women coming into this country who are 38 to 40 weeks pregnant, why have the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform not mentioned it in this Chamber and sought to put regulations in place? The reason is that this is not a Government priority. It is just being used to deliver seats in the local elections. The Government parties know they will be annihilated if they do not bring forward this referendum.
No debate on the proposed referendum on citizenship would be complete without an examination of the historical record. In this respect I wish to refer to the laws enacted, measures adopted and structures put in place when I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from 1997 to 2002.
When I became Minister in 1997 I inherited an immigration and asylum service which was completely outdated and grossly under-resourced. There was no legislative framework to deal with the asylum issue in a modern setting. Indeed, the most recent legislation in that area dated back to the quaintly named Aliens Act 1935.
That is not true. There was the Refugee Bill 1995.
Additionally, the administrative structures were in a state of chaos. A mere handful of staff was working on thousands of applications which had built up over previous years. During its period in Government, the rainbow coalition produced the Refugee Act 1996. The 1996 Act was woefully inadequate and hopelessly flawed. The result was that the backlog——
The 1996 Act was introduced by the Minister's own Government.
——of applications for asylum continued to rise. There should be no surprise about this. The rainbow coalition did not know what to do about the asylum problem and accordingly did what it did best, nothing. I proceeded to put in place a modern, up-to-date legislative and administrative framework ——
Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle ask the Minister to give way?
The Minister will be heard without interruption.
——for the procession of asylum applications. This included the Immigration Act 1999, which introduced provisions for the effective processing of applications for refugee status; the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, a new independent statutory agency to decide on asylum applications; the Office of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, a second independent statutory agency to decide on asylum appeals; the Refugee Legal Service to ensure that independent legal advice was available to asylum seekers at all stages of the asylum process; the Reception and Integration Agency to co-ordinate the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country to ensure that they were provided with accommodation and services; significant additional staffing resources — the largest allocation of resources to any area of the Civil Service by the then Government — to ensure that all asylum applications were dealt with efficiently and effectively; the fingerprinting of asylum seekers to facilitate the detection of multiple applicants; and the effective application of the Dublin Convention.
I also introduced a series of necessary measures to combat illegal immigration and to prevent abuse of the asylum procedure to circumvent legal immigration controls. These included the Immigration Act 1999 which put the State's procedures for deportations on a statutory basis for the first time ever and set out the rights of persons liable to be deported and the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 which provided for an unlimited fine or up to ten years' imprisonment or both for a person convicted on indictment of trafficking in persons. I introduced substantive changes in regard to the acquisition of Irish citizenship by non-nationals who marry Irish citizens in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2001 to restrict the scope for abuse in this area and provided for the forfeiture of the means of transport used for trafficking in illegal immigrants. I established the Garda National Immigration Bureau, led by a detective chief superintendent, to combat trafficking and to co-ordinate the effective implementation of deportation orders. I established a statutory scheme of judicial review in asylum and immigration cases to ensure that, after all due procedures have been gone through, the judicial process could not be used to frustrate a person's deportation where it had been held that there was no basis for the non-national's continued stay in the State and a draft scheme of the immigration (carriers liability) Bill which provides that an airline or ferry bringing a passenger to Ireland without adequate immigration documentation would be subject to financial penalty.
I also established closer contacts at both strategic and operational level with the authorities in the UK and France and Garda liaison officers took up duty in London and Paris. I introduced readmission agreements with Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Nigeria, a streamlined system to facilitate the lawful entry of persons into the jurisdiction in conjunction with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure that labour shortages in the economy could be addressed through legal immigration to the State and a comprehensive modern code of immigration and residence law to provide for the implementation of fair and sensible immigration policies, while at the same time respecting the rights of non-nationals in their dealings with the law.
During my term as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform I was determined to ensure that immigrants, irrespective of their status or whether they happened to be here legally or illegally, had their human rights fully respected. Measures introduced included the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 which are generally regarded as being the most comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in the EU. The Equality Authority and the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations, two independent statutory agencies, were set up to implement this legislation. There was ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. We established the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism to develop programmes and actions aimed at developing an integrated approach against racism.
I am proud that between the years 1997 and 2002 I put in place a modern, up-to-date policy approach with a legislative framework consistent with best international practice and an innovative administrative structure with the necessary resources to ensure the efficient and effective discharge of policy in the asylum and immigration areas. I am pleased to note that this policy approach has been followed by my successor in office and that the legislative framework and administrative structure introduced by me have stood the test of time.
Members opposite may wish to forget it now but all this was done in the face of trenchant and vociferous opposition from powerful forces inside this House and outside of it.
A claim of another conspiracy.
On numerous occasions I explained in this House and elsewhere that an open door policy on immigration would be catastrophic for Ireland. Arguments about the Irish emigrating to Australia, America, etc. were thrown back at me from every quarter. When I explained that there was no comparison, few were willing to support me. When I opposed calls for an amnesty because it would attract more asylum seekers in the expectation of more amnesties, I was roundly condemned. When I introduced fingerprinting to protect the integrity of asylum law, I was lampooned. When I legislated to close the door on marriages of convenience designed to secure citizenship, I was scorned. When I strenuously resisted extending the right to work to asylum seekers because it would become a pull factor for other asylum seekers, I was pilloried.
It appears the Minister missed a career there.
When I explained that fewer than 10% of asylum seekers were refugees, I was excoriated. The whispered and unspoken charge among many of my critics was the basest allegation of all — that the policies which I was pursuing were racist. It mattered little that nothing could have been further from the truth but the truth had become the enemy. Let it not become the enemy again.
In a fog of confusion the Opposition called for simplistic solutions and argued for an open door policy to give a general right of work to asylum seekers, and for an amnesty for asylum seekers irrespective of the validity of their claims. They argued against fingerprinting of asylum seekers; that employers of illegal immigrants should go unpunished; for a cessation of deportations; against measures to combat marriages of convenience which secured citizenship; against expediting judicial reviews even in manifestly unfounded cases; that economic disadvantage, of itself, should provide an automatic and unfettered right of passage across national boundaries; and for policy positions which were not followed by any other international state.
It was obviously a good Opposition.
In summary, it argued against the protection of Ireland's social and economic condition and the preservation of its security.
If I had relented, listened to the Opposition's nonsense, succumbed to the temptation of short-term populism——
The Minister has already succumbed to something.
——and opted for short-term political advantage rather than the longer-term interests of the State, there is no doubt that, within a very short period——
While the Minister was doing all that, crime was rampant.
——we would have experienced a level of uncontrolled illegal immigration with which we simply could not have coped. The consequences for this country would have been catastrophic. The Members opposite know now that this would not have been in the interests of persons with a well-founded case for refugee status or in the interests of economically disadvantaged persons. They know it would not have been good policy and that, most certainly, it would not have been in the interests of this State.
At this juncture, I will pose one simple question; to whom should the people listen now in regard to the referendum?
That is a very good question.
Should they listen to people who argued for an amnesty for asylum seekers, that asylum seekers should have the right to work and that we should have an open door policy on immigration? Or should they listen to people who understood the situation and did not flinch under the most enormous pressure?
Our hero, the Minister.
Let it be remembered that the people who are arguing against the referendum, or the timing of it, are the people who believed a few years ago that such a referendum was unnecessary, but looking back from this position, it is necessary. If they were wrong back then why should anybody expect them to be right now? The truth is that they were wrong back then and they are wrong now.
It is well known that I have for long been a supporter of this referendum. There is nothing complex or difficult about it.
So it is your referendum, not the Minister's.
In 1998 a change was made to the Irish Constitution which provided that every child born on the island of Ireland was entitled to claim Irish citizenship.
The Deputy was the Minister.
Was the then Minister not responsible for that?
The Minister caused the problem and now he wants to solve it.
The Minister should not blame us for his problem.
It was never intended that people coming in from abroad, mostly illegal immigrants, would seek to take advantage of that in respect of children born here. Ireland is the only EU member state to grant an automatic citizenship right and we cannot ignore the fact that non-nationals are coming here so that they can have children born as Irish citizens.
Can the Minister quantify that?
I recall when I met the Nigerian President, Mr. Obasanjo, to sign a re-admission agreement, he outlined that there were people working in banks, in solicitors' offices and in various professions in Nigeria specifically coming to Ireland so that their children could claim Irish citizenship.
What is wrong with working in a solicitor's office?
I had hoped to resolve the situation through the courts when I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Supreme Court decided that parents of an Irish child did not have an automatic right to stay but that the children had an automatic right of citizenship. No other country grants this facility. It is reasonable for the people to change the Constitution to provide that a child be an Irish citizen only if one or other of the parents has lawfully been here for a period of time. Last year, between 20% and 25% of births in Dublin's three maternity hospitals were to non-nationals. The number of non-nationals pregnant at the time of application was almost 60% of the number of female asylum seekers aged 16 years and over.
Elections will be held on 11 June when the people will also make a decision on amending the Constitution to provide that the parent of a child born in Ireland be lawfully here for a period before being entitled to citizenship. Balanced immigration policy and laws are needed.
The Minister is on tenuous grounds and going into dangerous territory.
It is most important that our citizenship and immigration laws are respected and upheld. When they are consistently breached and abused, a fertile seed for racism is sown.
Whether people like it or not, there has been a change in migration flows throughout the world. The whole question of immigration will become more of an issue in the coming years. No one should be under the illusion that this referendum will be a panacea, as it cannot resolve all of the problems regarding this issue. It must be remembered that hundreds of thousands of people are coming from other jurisdictions into the EU. Many of those people are facilitated by ruthless gangs. The consequences of these gangs' actions were seen in County Wexford some years ago. Admittedly, the majority of asylum seekers in the EU are at the coalface of human misfortune. However, there are no circumstances under which a country of this size can accommodate all those people coming into the EU or even a significant percentage thereof.
There have been calls for simplistic solutions such as quotas. The truth is that the immigration and asylum procedures are governed by the Geneva Convention which demands that each country must, of necessity, examine each and every application for asylum. There is only room for clarity and not obfuscation on this issue. When I asked how one would get around this issue, no one could tell me how. There is no utopian solution to the immigration issue or any other issue. States must enact legislation to protect their borders and their social and economic fabrics. Every state is entitled to ensure that it protects the security of its people.
It is a good job every other state did not use those rules when dealing with the Irish.
The Irish who went to America and Australia in the 19th century did not claim asylum there. They went as emigrants leaving a famine-ridden country in the depths of despair.
That is dangerous territory.
Many of the asylum seekers in the EU are escaping the same circumstances. However, 21st century Ireland, on the periphery of Europe, cannot be compared to the vast continents of America and Australia. The Irish economy cannot be compared with any degree of seriousness to that of the largest economic engine in the world, the United States of America.
The truth must be told. The truth is that there has been abuse of Irish citizenship law.
How much abuse?
This constitutional amendment is a simple solution to a problem that has arisen. The referendum will ask the people to amend the Constitution in that context. On 11 June, the people will make a sovereign decision on the citizenship rights under their Constitution. That is their prerogative and it is theirs alone because they are Irish citizens. That is how it has been ordained and it is a cherished prerogative because only a citizen may vote to change it.
Has Deputy Healy-Rae approved this script?
Accordingly, citizenship cannot and should not be granted lightly. In the hierarchy of rights, it is the principal one and, as such, is entitled to protection from abuse. There has been abuse which must end now.
Will the Minister inform the House how much abuse there has been?
It is just as well that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, did not hear his predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, on the plethora of legislation he introduced on this issue. Considering his paltry track record for legislation as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, perhaps Deputy McDowell could have a word in the Minister's ear on the 40 Bills still waiting to be dealt with urgently.
I was disappointed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform supplied statistical information only to the Fine Gael Party spokesperson, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, and not to the other party spokespersons. He claims to have supplied it on request. However, at a consultative meeting with the Minister on 7 April, I understood that any available information would be shared with Opposition spokespersons as I had requested. It is also disappointing that an appendix should then appear in the Minister's Second Stage speech and in the media which was not circulated to the other spokespersons. However, it makes no difference as it contains irrelevant information with no breakdown of facts and figures. As the Minister said, it is little more than anecdotal information. When a Minister uses the term "anecdotal" to justify legislation, there is something wrong. However, when he uses it to justify a constitutional amendment, there is something seriously wrong.
The Minister also said the possibility of an all-party agreement is nil and any attempt to seek it is futile. The Minister knows that is not true. When I met him on 7 April I proposed that there should be an all-party Oireachtas committee and that the Labour Party would accept the outcome of the deliberations of that committee so he is simply telling us an untruth here.
If the Minister had established the correct procedure and allowed an all-party committee to be established perhaps we would not have a situation like the Mrs. Chen case to which the Taoiseach alluded in his speech when he talked about claims and appeals as a reason for constitutional change. Surely one awaits the outcome of matters of this nature and if the outcome is negative, that should be fed into the consultation process to become a factor in an argument on why we have to close a loophole. If the case fails there is no loophole. No one in the European Union has brought this to our attention as a loophole caused by our legislation. That there is a case before the European Court of Justice which has not been decided is another reason against jumping into a constitutional amendment now. We do not know what the outcome will be. If the outcome is negative why would we need a constitutional amendment? If it is positive the Government has an argument to bolster its case. Instead it is rushing this on, willy-nilly.
The most disappointing aspect of the Minister's contribution was his bald statement "if you are racist vote "No" in this referendum". It is unworthy of anyone in this House, least of all the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to brand anyone who might oppose the amendment — that is the effect and there is no sense in Deputy O'Dea shaking his head at it. It brands the opposition to the amendment as racist. The Minister should not have put that into his speech and he should not have put it in upper case as he did. He said that the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution addresses a "fundamental issue". The Tánaiste said recently that everyone agrees there is a serious problem to be addressed. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil on 30 March that our citizenship laws are being "rampantly abused" and again in his contribution today he said "the substance and degree of the abuse of our Constitution requires us now to act to resolve this situation". That is erroneous because no figures have been given. The British and Irish joint declaration on Monday, 19 April stated that the amendment to Article 2 of the Constitution was not in accordance with the intention of the British-Irish Agreement of 1998. As a result the Government has decided to spring the amendment upon us and has done so out of the blue. It is strange that such a "fundamental issue" and the "rampant abuse" could have crept up on us so suddenly that we must reconvene the Dáil a week early and have an emergency debate this week.
This Second Stage debate will be guillotined at 6.30 p.m. tomorrow and debate will be further guillotined on Committee and Report Stages. It will be similarly rushed through the Seanad in order to meet the minimum deadline to enable the vote to take place alongside the local and European elections on 11 June. Is it any wonder that the Opposition parties smell a rat? Is it any wonder that we see the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2004 as a blatant political ploy, a diversionary tactic or smoke screen to distract from the dismal failures of this dismal Government? So badly are the Government parties doing in the recent polls that they are prepared to play the race card, the last throw of the dice for a desperate scoundrel. The coalition's sense of desperation became evident when the Minister for Finance announced decentralisation for civil servants inlieu of a budget last December; when the Minister for Community and Family Affairs announced her u-turn on the widow’s benefit; when the Minister for Health and Children travelled to Ennis and Nenagh to distribute money and take the sting out of the anti-Hanly report campaign; and when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform once again pulled out of the hat 2,000 extra gardaí, the two new prisons and his magnificent causeway to Spike Island, all without Cabinet approval. Even the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy “Zero Tolerance” O’Donoghue, would not have risen to that level with all of the promises and pledges that Deputy McDowell read out to us.
Did Limerick get anything?
I am not sure but he is spreading the promises generously.
Its time will come.
It is reminiscent of the trees that a certain Fianna Fáil Minister planted for the 1983 by-election and had uprooted and removed after his party lost the election. Election promises may be removed but a constitutional amendment is far more permanent. It is wrong and immoral for any Government to be cavalier and reckless with the Constitution. It is a crime against the people and the democratic institutions of the State, and an insult to the Republic. Already, responsible and respectable voices have been raised against this referendum. All the Opposition parties are opposing the amendment presented today, Labour, Fine Gael and the Greens have tabled an amendment at the outset of the debate urging the Government to go back to the drawing board and adhere to agreed procedures for holding referenda on constitutional amendments as outlined in the recommendations of the report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution.
The Deputy should not forget the Independents.
The Independents are giving full support to that motion and amendment, as has now been confirmed. The SDLP has angrily attacked the proposals and categorically denied that it was ever consulted. The DUP has gleefully pointed out that the Irish Government is unilaterally renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement while the parties to the Agreement are sitting in Stormont with strict instructions not to dare to renegotiate any element of the Agreement as it is set in stone and they are allowed only to review it.
The Government has played right into the hands of those who wished to destroy the Good Friday Agreement and we will see the impact of and fall-out from that in the coming months. Mr. Bruce Morrison, the former US Senator who did such sterling work for Irish immigrants in the United States in the 1980s and who acquired some 50,000 precious visas for illegal Irish immigrants there has opposed this referendum on principle. The chairman of the Human Rights Commission, the statutory body set up under the Good Friday Agreement, with its counterpart in Northern Ireland, has expressed the gravest concern about the inadequate time scale and the implications of the referendum for the Good Friday Agreement. Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty, the former Supreme Court judge and a well-known friend of the Taoiseach wrote in the latest issue ofThe Dubliner that “The idea that there should be a constitutional referendum to deal with non-nationals coming here to give birth lacks any rational basis.” He goes on to say that the objection to politicians interfering with the Constitution to provide ad hoc solutions to specific problems is fundamental to a constitutional democracy such as ours. He stated that the role of a constitution is to provide the framework for the exercise of legislative power, that it sets out the headlines, is meant to be far-seeing and its provisions are not to be tampered with at the whim of politicians. These are strong words but there were stronger to come. Hugh O’Flaherty concluded by asking what difference it made if our citizenship laws are more liberal than other countries in the European Union. So what indeed? What is the problem? Why is it so urgent? What are the facts? Where are the numbers?
On 19 February, the Taoiseach told Deputy Quinn that he had no intention of holding a referendum this year. Until the end of March the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste denied that there had been any decision to hold a referendum during the forthcoming elections. Suddenly, on 31 March, the Taoiseach discovered "flagrant abuses" of our citizenship laws and the urgent need to combine the local and European elections with a referendum.
On 7 April, when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform briefed the parties' justice spokesmen, he reiterated the canard that the masters of the maternity hospitals had pleaded with him for legislative action because of the soaring birth rates to non-nationals. There is still no breakdown, however, of the number of births to non-nationals in the maternity hospitals, despite request after request. He specifically mentioned that he has no precise figures for the Rotunda hospital but there are no precise figures for any of the maternity hospitals. We still do not know how many children were born to the 48,000 migrant workers who were invited to this country from the four corners of the globe by the Tánaiste to act as bonded employees of her beloved entrepreneurs. In the figures trotted out by the Minister, we have not been told the number of children born to parents who, having fled persecution in their own countries, have been granted asylum and refugee status under our strict asylum laws. We do not know the number born to asylum seekers who have had to languish idle for years through no fault of their own while waiting for their asylum applications to be heard. We do not know the number of those referred to by the Minister as citizenship tourists, those wealthy people who fly into Ireland to have their baby, get an Irish passport and fly out again. We just do not know what the problem is or if there is a problem at all because there are no statistics. We are, however, going to change our Constitution.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated that he had identified a problem in October 2002, nearly two years ago. Of course he did nothing about it then. There was no sense of urgency because that was after the 2002 election but we are now in the run-up to the 2004 elections and we must rush this legislation through.
We do know, however, that we sold our citizenship to the highest bidder in the 1980s and 1990s. Under the passports for sale scheme, any rich sheikh or shady entrepreneur with a spare £1 million to invest in an ailing Irish business was welcomed with open arms. Occasionally even he and his family were waited upon by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice of the day and the passports were handed over personally in the salubrious environs of the Shelbourne Hotel. Despite my best efforts and the best efforts of the Labour Party to highlight the abuse of the passports for sale scheme, the Minister does not propose to include any provision in his draft Irish nationality and citizenship Bill to address this situation. He does not propose to revoke Irish citizenship from those wealthy foreign nationals who are fugitives from justice, yet who use their purchased Irish passports to travel the world.
Victor Kozeny is a Czech national whose career I have been following and reminding the Minister of for some time. On 27 April, the national television broadcaster of the Czech Republic will come to Ireland to cover the ceremony of accession and it has asked to interview me about this man. I would be surprised if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not been asked for a similar interview.
Victor Kozeny is a fugitive from Czech justice facing an international warrant for his arrest on charges of defrauding 800,000 Czech citizens of £3.6 billion. The US authorities are seeking his arrest and extradition on fraud charges involving up to £150 million. The Czech Republic has stripped him of his Czech citizenship but he travels the world unhindered on his Irish passport. In January he announced his intention to use that passport to found a political party, the Civil Federal Democracy Party, and to stand in the first Czech elections to the European Parliament. Without his Irish passport he would be unable to run for election and he would almost certainly be languishing behind bars. I wonder when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will direct his attention towards plugging this blatant loophole. To 800,000 citizens of the Czech Republic, this is a fundamental issue.
Yesterday I listened to the Tánaiste on "Morning Ireland" desperately trying to defend the Government's failure to consult prior to the announcement of the referendum. There was no consultation at all with other parties. How could there be when this was the Government's secret election weapon to be kept under wraps until the last moment? As recently as 31 March, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, told the Dáil that no formal discussions had taken place with the British authorities on this subject. By the time the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform briefed the justice spokespersons, he was able to tell us that he had consulted the British Government and obtained its approval for his proposal.
The process of amending the Constitution is very important. The Constitution is the fundamental document that defines our democracy and should be treated with the utmost respect.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this proposal. I have raised some doubts about the wisdom of holding the referendum on the same day as the local and European elections and I am not alone in that — I am reliably informed there was a detailed Cabinet discussion of the subject. I recognise there are strong and compelling arguments on both sides but in this case I find I am in a minority and I must accept that.
How will the Minister of State vote?
My concern related to the holding of the elections and the referendum on the same date and I do not resile from that. I have no difficulties with the timing of the referendum because it is my view, as was clearly expressed this morning by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and others, that this problem has been allowed to fester for far too long and it is time we confronted it.
Irish citizenship is about much more than entitlement to an Irish passport, it is a badge of identity, a statement to the world of who we are, the essence of our sovereignty as a nation. Is it not eminently reasonable, then, that to become an Irish citizen a person should have a much greater connection with this country than simply being born here? If a person has no connection with this country other than being born here, is it right that he should be identified to the world as a citizen of Ireland? Is Irish citizenship so paltry, trifling and inconsequential? No other country in the EU feels that way about its citizenship.
Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.