Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed)

An tAire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí, an Teachta MacDubhghaill, a rinne seo a leanas: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois".
The following motion was moved by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann:
—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.".
—(Deputy Kenny).

To become a citizen of Denmark by virtue of birth, a child must have parents who have resided in the state for ten years. The same requirement is in place in Greece. The average period of parental residency throughout the EU is five years whereas we propose only three. There was a time when birth alone allowed a person to claim British citizenship, but the law in this regard was changed almost 25 years ago in 1981. The last EU state to abandon the notion that birth gives rise to citizenship was Malta, which changed its law 15 years ago in 1989.

The proposed referendum is about protecting the integrity of the notion of Irish citizenship. It is primarily and foremost about the integrity of our citizenship law, whatever the figures may be. That said, it cannot be doubted that the loophole in the law has led to some unfortunate social consequences of which the maternity situation is one. It is a fact that the masters of the maternity hospitals in Dublin approached the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. They told him about the pressures to which their hospitals were being subjected by the increasing number of births to non-nationals. That is a fact.

It is not a fact.

It is also a fact that the masters provided the Minister with the figures which he subsequently quoted. Obviously, they took this action because they felt the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had a central role in solving the problem being experienced by maternity hospitals. Why else would they approach that Minister? Usually, the obvious person to contact about problems in maternity hospitals is the Minister for Health and Children.

One would imagine so, which is why that happened.

One of the masters said "it is surprising there has not been a major catastrophe within the maternity services as yet".

What about accident and emergency departments?

Another said in a statement to a newspaper in reference to the increase in births to non-nationals that "the projected number of non-nationals giving birth in Dublin is sufficient to warrant a fourth maternity hospital in the city". I have received numerous complaints from people in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary about similar pressures on maternity services in the mid-west. On 11 April,The Sunday Times quoted Dr. Michael Geary, the master of the Rotunda Hospital as saying “the concern I have is over women boarding flights from the UK or, indeed, France or Holland, when they start their contractions. It is a very worrying situation and there have been some near-miss maternal mortalities. Some women have severe medical problems so just the fact that they are in labour on a plane results in complications”. These are the people who subsequently tried to imply they were entirely neutral and had no view on the subject at all. They are rather peculiar statements of neutrality.

Is that not a health matter? It is very peculiar to apply to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in respect of a shortfall in the health service. It is the first time such a thing was known.

The Minister of State without interruption.

In the same edition,The Sunday Times investigated the numerical extent of the problem and stated that what cannot be denied is the number of pregnant asylum seekers turning up at Irish ports and airports.

The next time the Minister of State has a toothache, will he go to his local Garda station?

Of the 3,270 women aged over 16 who applied for asylum last year, 1,893, or 58%, were pregnant. At the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin there were 1,951 births to immigrants last year. Almost 14% came to the hospital between one and ten days before giving birth while about 13% arrived in labour. That strongly indicates that at least 27% of immigrant births, or about 500, were passport tourism cases. Those are the words of the researchers employed byThe Sunday Times, not mine.

Will the Minister of State give way?

No. Therefore, this is the very best case scenario.

Why not? As the Minister of State knows everything, surely he will give way.

I am entitled to make my contribution.

Can we allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption? He is entitled to refuse to give way.

Deputy Durkan will have noticed I am busy. Will he permit me to ignore him some other time?

On a point of order——

At least ten people are born each week at the Rotunda Hospital alone who have no connection to this country.

We must take a point of order.

On a point of order, the Minister of State may be busy, but he could well be better occupied.

I am not sure that is a point of order, Deputy Durkan.

That is a bogus point of order.

The Minister of State without interruption.

On a point of order, can we have a copy of the Minister of State's speech, please?

We should have a copy.

I am speaking from notes.

The Minister of State without interruption.

Ten people are born here each week and becoming Irish and, therefore, EU citizens who have no connection with this country. That is the lowest number in one Dublin hospital each week. It is probable that the real number is a multiple of that.

It looks like a script. The Minister of State is reading a speech.

The Minister of State has indicated that he is speaking from notes.

Irish citizenship automatically confers EU citizenship. Consequently, new citizens have the right to reside within the EU and their parents——

On a point of order——

I am entitled to my 20 minutes.

It is a point of order.

The Minister of State must accept a point of order.

On a point of order, it is normal procedure to circulate a copy of a Minister's speech.

I do not have a copy of a speech, I am speaking from notes.

The Minister of State has indicated that he is speaking from notes. Can he speak without interruption, please?

What is he reading from?

I will make out a copy of my speech and circulate it subsequently.

May I support the point of order raised by my colleague?

I do not have a script. I am reading what the masters of the maternity hospitals said.

The Minister of State's arrogance is fine when he is talking to his own colleagues.

That is not a point of order.

It is a point of order when he is speaking to the House.

Deputy Durkan, I have ruled that it is not a point of order.

I support the point of order raised by my colleague. The Minister of State is reading a speech.

I am not reading a speech. Will the Deputy accept my word for it?

I have ruled.

The Minister of State said he would circulate a copy later.

I will put a speech together and circulate it for the Deputy's information.

I suggest that if he has a copy now, he should circulate it in due deference to the House.

I do not have a copy.

What is the Minister of State reading from?

Deputy Durkan, resume your seat.

I am reading a quote from the masters of the maternity hospitals.

Deputy Durkan, resume your seat.

The Deputy has now taken up five minutes of my time.

What is happening now is in breach of Standing Orders.

I will rule on the point of order. A speech is a matter for the Minister, it is not a point of order.

That is simply what it says on the Acting Chairman's screen.

In fact, the Minister of State has said he would circulate a copy of his speech.

Deputy Durkan, resume your seat.

The Minister of State is out of order.

New citizens have the right to reside within the EU and their parents and, possibly, other relatives can apply to reside in the EU on that basis. They may be entitled to so reside depending on the law of each individual member state. It is even more bizarre that when those children reach child-bearing age, they can, in turn, confer EU citizenship on their children. Therefore, people who are at three or even four removes from Ireland and Europe can become Irish and, consequently, EU citizens.

Is it planned to remove the grandfather clause?

Can that be correct?

Is that what the Government is doing?

Then what is the Minister of State arguing about?

The Opposition argument can be reduced to one simple proposition; that the issue is extremely complex and should not be rushed.

Somebody going——

I did not interrupt the Deputy or his party.

I have not spoken yet.

I did not interrupt the Deputy's party leader, much as I was sorely tempted.

When we speak the Minister of State had better not interrupt.

The Minister of State without interruption, please.

The buzzwords are "complex", "confusion" and "difficulty". There is nothing remotely confusing or difficult about this proposition. While it is true certain aspects of immigration law are complex, this is not one of them. What is complex or confusing about the proposition that if a child is born to non-national parents——

On a point of order, having gone around to the other side of the Chamber and inspected what he is reading, I wish to bring it to the attention of the Chair that the Minister of State is reading a speech.

I am not reading a speech, I am consulting notes.

Has the Minister of State misled the House?

Deputy Durkan, I have already ruled on that point.

What is complex or confusing about the simple proposition that a parent of a child born in Ireland should have resided in this country for three years before the birth to enable that child to qualify for Irish citizenship?

As his party's spokesman on justice and a practising solicitor, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe will be very well aware that, judging from the volume of case law and material written on the subject, land law is infinitely more complex and detailed than immigration law. Nevertheless, there are aspects of land law which are quite simple just like this aspect of immigration law.

Is the reference to simple things like abolishing ground rents?

For example, if a person with a wife and children dies without making a will, his wife is entitled to two thirds of his property and the children to one. If we proposed to change property law to change those fractions to half and half, three quarters and a quarter or 100% to nothing, everybody could understand the proposal. It is a simple aspect of land law just as this is a simple and direct aspect of citizenship law. That is the reality.

The sincerity of a person's case or the sincerity of his attachment to the case he is making can be judged by the quality of the argument he or she puts forward to support it. Judging by the quality of the arguments put forward by the Opposition, I sincerely doubt their sincerity. The first artillery piece rolled out was the Good Friday Agreement, but the British Government soon put an end to that.

The British Government referred to the British-Irish Agreement. It did not refer to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Minister of State without interruption.

Even before the British Government's statement it was evident the argument was threadbare. I refer to a letter toThe Irish Times by Mr. Tom Hadden on 14 April. Mr. Hadden who is an expert in this area stated quite clearly that there was no problem. What Deputy Rabbitte says about various soccer players and other sports stars is beside the point. It could be said equally of any other EU member state as the grandfather rule applies in every one of them.

How about some urgency in producing legislation to solve the crime problem?

Deputy Durkan, please.

Deputy Costello mentioned the passports for investment scheme. Every Government, including those in which the Labour Party participated, operated the scheme. It was a Fianna-PD Government that in 1998 finally abolished the scheme. Deputy Rabbitte, who was very vocal on the matter this morning, sat at the Cabinet table for three years in a Government that operated the passports for investment scheme. This is not the only country in the world to operate it. This has been operated in countries in every corner of the world.

An even more ludicrous suggestion is that the Government is racist. A huge percentage of the immigrant community who come here simply to give birth come from countries where the very fact of giving birth does not automatically convey a right to citizenship. Would those people regard their own countries as racist because they do not give citizenship simply by virtue of birth? I do not think so. Do we consider the other EU countries, in line with whose laws we are trying to change ours, to be racist? I have not heard that argument advanced from any side of the House. I must conclude that we are accused of racism either because we are doing it now — the British did it 25 years ago — or because it is this Government that is doing it.

It is only five years since the Good Friday Agreement. Can the Government not be consistent about anything?

The next claim is that a constitutional referendum is very complex and that we got it wrong in the past and must live with the consequences. When did that happen? The Constitution has been in existence for less than 70 years. During that time it has been amended on no less than 22 occasions. Regarding 21 of those there was not a scintilla of controversy or criticism. The only amendment to the Constitution which brought criticism in its wake was the amendment incorporating the right to life of the unborn, and the only reason for confusion or controversy arising from that amendment arose because people who advocated it and persuaded the Government of the day to run it saw the Supreme Court interpreting it in a way which they did not like and which they did not anticipate. Ironically, when the people were called upon subsequently to pass judgment on the Supreme Court decision, they decided the Supreme Court was right and that its interpretation of what that article meant should not be diluted in any way. If we argue that we should not amend the Constitution because nobody can foresee at the time the ink is dry on the amendment how the Supreme Court will interpret it at any indefinite time in the future, we should put an end to all future constitutional amendments. If the argument were to be taken to its ludicrous and logical conclusion, we should abolish the Constitution altogether because we can never know how the Supreme Court will interpret any individual aspect of it.

The most risible suggestion put forward in defence of this so-called sincere argument is that Article 9 would be in conflict with Article 2 and therefore the whole thing would fall. This argument is put forward despite the fact that the Constitution is replete with examples of untrammelled rights which are subsequently qualified even within the articles. Not only the Irish but all other constitutions with which I am familiar are written in the same way. Deputy Rabbitte who advanced this as one of the pillars of his argument should consult the American constitution.

Is the confusion real or is it a smokescreen for something else? Deputy Rabbitte seems to have changed, at least in tone in recent times, particularly since this matter came to be debated. At the outset of his leadership he chose to behave like the political version of an ambulance-chasing lawyer. Now he gives the impression of a man who is cut to the quick, torn apart, even physically stricken by the chicanery, deceit and treachery he sees all around him.

Lawyers know a lot about chasing ambulances.

Should he grow a moustache?

Deputy Rabbitte said that he was sickened to his stomach by the alleged collusion between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Fianna Fáil on this issue. At the end of the Taoiseach's speech this morning, Deputy Rabbitte again declared himself to be sick. I am extremely sorry that anything this Government says or does is having such consequences for as important a part of Deputy Rabbitte's body as his stomach. He said he was stricken again recently by the alleged failure of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, to live up to his high expectations. He did not say what part of his anatomy that affected, and I prefer not to speculate. The Taoiseach should examine his conscience because he again made Deputy Rabbitte sick this morning. I ask my colleagues to desist from any statements, observations, U-turns or betrayals, real or imaginary, that might have any effect on Deputy Rabbitte in the future because there is only so much any one body can take.

At the time of the Labour Party conference last year a journalist — I think it was Ms Miriam Lord — compared Deputy Rabbitte to a character from Dickens, Mr. Pickwick. She was talking about his appearance but now a much more substantial reality is conjured up because Deputy Rabbitte's most recent statement brings to mind the famous line from Dickens that Mr. Pickwick looked like a man who was much put upon; so stop making Deputy Rabbitte sick.

I conducted an experiment recently, a pilot project, something with which the Labour Party would be familiar.

One needs to be careful with experiments given that they can go wrong.

I got a number of people in different electoral areas to question the Labour Party candidates who came to their doors on their views on this referendum. I have a miscellany of replies which were extremely interesting. Some candidates may count themselves fortunate that I do not have time to read them into the record.

I welcome Fine Gael's belated conversion. It is extremely foolish to allow itself to be dragged along in the slipstream of this tomfoolery. We have all heard of the Greek chorus. Far too often Fine Gael has allowed itself to be cast in the role of the "geek" chorus, like a brainless mutt chasing every bone that is thrown at it. My colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, once accused Fine Gael of allowing itself to be carried on the alluring tide of populism. Now it cannot even work out which way the tide is flowing. Cynicism or confusion, real or imagined, can be contagious. I admit to being confused about how anybody who has witnessed the minuet of hypocrisy, sanctimonious posturing and fake indignation that has passed for opposition in this debate can wonder why cynicism has become almost institutionalised in politics here.

I propose to share time with Deputies Crowe and Gregory.

In the proper context and in an appropriate environment a debate on citizenship would be very welcome — a debate on the nature of what it means to be an Irish citizen, what it means to be a citizen in a republic, what are the rights that being an Irish citizen confers upon an individual and, more important, what are the responsibilities that individual citizens have to act collectively to bring about the best possible society here. That is not the debate we are having. That is not the debate the Government wishes us to have. The Government has zeroed in on a very narrow aspect of the citizenship debate and in so doing has exposed its own cynicism regarding how it sees Irish citizenship in the 21st century. The debate on citizenship should not only be about birthright, it should also be about heritage and residency. In trying to make ourselves seem more like Berlin than Boston on this issue, the Government has forgotten that on many aspects our citizenship laws are far from liberal, and that as regards residency, citizenship granted to people who have lived in this country for a considerable length of time depends solely on the whim of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, whereas in other countries such citizenship is granted after a set period of residency.

Under legislation which can be changed by the Government.

I will come to the legislation in a moment. I speak in this debate as the only Member of this House who has birthright dual citizenship.

Does that make the Deputy an expert?

My birthright gives me citizenship of America. That same birthright gives me rights by heritage to Irish citizenship because my parents were among the thousands of people who left this country in the 1950s when their rights as Irish citizens to earn a livelihood and bring up a family were far from honoured by this State. If the Minister wants a debate on citizenship, it should be on those lines. Then we will be a better-informed society. The reality is that the Government does not want to change the Constitution to bring about the right of the Oireachtas to decide citizenship. This is because the traditional role of the Oireachtas has always been to honour the right of those born in this country to Irish citizenship, which has been its role in regard to all legislation passed since the foundation of the State, through the 1935 Citizenship Act, the 1956 Act and the 2001 Act which implemented the Good Friday Agreement and the relevant constitutional change.

The Government does not want to bring about a right of the Oireachtas to define citizenship. It wants its own means to define citizenship in its own narrow way. Members on this side of the House will not stand aside and allow the Government to do this for the cynical reasons it has chosen.

It is a matter for the people.

The Government chose to do this because it knows that, in the context of the upcoming elections, its record is exposed on every level.

It is distraction politics.

It is exposed in regard to how services and resources are provided in local communities and because we are the most unequal society in Europe, regardless of who is a citizen.

The Green Party will sort all that out.

The Government is refusing to contest the 11 June election on these grounds.

We never did and never will.

The Minister seems to believe this will not induce racism, a point he made in what I would call a pathetic speech, except he devalued the word "pathetic" by using it so often in his less than persuasive contribution. The Minister actually used the line: "If you are racist vote "No" in this referendum".

That is correct.

Have we reached the nadir of political debate? Given what the Minister knows, how can he label as he chooses anyone who dares to disagree with him? There are also those of us with other definitions and values regarding Irish citizenship who would like to contribute to the debate as to how we progress collectively as a nation.

The demography of Irish society, due to recent prosperity, is changing dramatically and we no longer have a replacement birth rate. My personal experience of being born in the United States is a good example as to how we might develop as a society. The experience of the United States as a melting pot and a society which welcomed — with different levels of success, it must be admitted — different cultures and collectively became a stronger country, particularly economically, is a model which we should try to put in place in this country. Otherwise, we will put in place a society with dual membership and, as a result, will also have a dual economy where those who are not Irish citizens will service those parts of the economy not deemed attractive to those defined, as any new law is likely to, as proper Irish citizens.

What of every other country in Europe?

At the moment, 40 of the 200 countries of the world have birthright as the basis for citizenship.

The Deputy's was confirmed by legislation, not by the Constitution.

Most such countries have that right within their national constitutions.

What about the other 100 plus countries?

Of the European Union countries, the United Kingdom changed in 1983.

It was 1981.

Malta changed in 1989. With the exception of Malta and a few other countries, the experience of changing the birthright rule in European countries was a reaction to the flawed immigration policies of such countries and because of the immigration problems brought about by their own colonial histories.

The Deputy's time is concluded.

I have heard enough. The Deputy is less than persuasive.

I had to listen to 20 minutes from the Minister of State.

It is injury time.

The appendix of the Minister's speech, with its spurious use of statistics, puts him firmly in the "lies, damned lies and statistics" category.

On a point of order, I thought it was forbidden to use the word "lie" in the House.

I am calling the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform "statistical".

The Deputy should withdraw the allegation.

The Minister was being statistical.

The Deputy should withdraw the word "lie".

It is not against Standing Orders to call the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform "statistical".

The Deputy mentioned the word "lie" and I ask him to withdraw it.

The Deputy cannot use the word "lie".

I am using the common phrase "lies, damned lies and statistics". I did not apply the lies or damn lies to any particular Member.

The Deputy should withdraw the phrase.

Why? He is right.

The Deputy is as confused about this as his arguments suggest.

With regard to use of the statistics for Dublin maternity hospitals and the way they are being used in this debate, has the Hanly report become so advanced that the only maternity hospitals operating in the State, and the only ones supplying statistics, are those in Dublin?

This is rubbish.

Until we have full statistical information, the Government's argument cannot be sustained.

The Government should tell us about the disability Bill.

It will be here long before the Deputy.

Yet again the Government is ploughing ahead with unnecessary constitutional change without any acknowledgement of the people's right to weigh up the facts. Three weeks ago, the House dealt with the electronic voting agenda and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, now wants to thwart the future of a generation of children at the press of a button.

We are told there is a problem in regard to people coming to Ireland to abuse our Irish welcome, that the Constitution needs to be changed and that women are arriving on our shores late in pregnancy and causing problems in our hospitals. However, we are not told what this Government is doing to prevent this dangerous practice. We are told there is a problem but not the scale of the problem. Are we being asked to change the Constitution on the grounds that the Government knows best? It seems so.

If someone asks what nationality a person is, the answer usually relates to the country where he or she was born. If one travels through an airport, applies for a birth certificate or completes a CV, the basic question of nationality is usually covered by declaring one's country of birth. It means in most cases where one's national affinity lies. Surely, if one is born in Ireland one is entitled to call oneself Irish and to be treated like everyone else.

Immigrants are not lesser beings but are most often highly driven and hard working people who have put their hearts into making better lives for themselves and their families. Immigration stands to enrich Irish society. Irish people come from the same history, are of the same calibre and have much to gain from those who come here with their skills, cultural and linguistic talents, etc. Most who come here do not see themselves as guest workers or temporary visitors. They fundamentally wish to stay and Ireland needs to face up to this and start to integrate these potential new citizens from the start. If we do not we will reinforce a two-tier society where some are rich and secure while others are forced to live in a perpetual state of uncertainty with minimum rights.

There is an arrogance to the Government's style, the same arrogance that emerged with the Nice treaty debate when the people gave a clear "No" response. What happened? They were told they had got it wrong and must go back to the drawing board. We are now told that we must slam what is perceived as the back door to Europe in the faces of children. However, Ireland is more than a back door to Europe and the fact that so many from other nations are making this a destination country is a great compliment and a heartening indication of the positive light in which Ireland is seen throughout the world.

Rather than rushing into a referendum, the Government needs to formulate an adequate immigration policy. The future cohesion of Irish society will rely in part on a proper management of immigration. The issue of integration also needs to be addressed and open discussion on the issues is essential. A rushed referendum will stop any chance of such debate.

Sinn Féin is opposed to this referendum and, at the very least, is calling for its postponement to allow for a proper debate. Bruce Morrison, who has been supportive of illegal Irish emigrants in the US and a friend of the Irish peace process, spoke recently in Ireland and stated it is long past time for Ireland to face up to its new role as a destination country and that role involves hard choices and important investments. If we do not create adequate immigration laws, we will pay the price down the road. As Bruce Morrison pointed out, we have a chance to get it right now if the Government would approach the matter in a responsible way.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland has also expressed concern at the proposed citizenship referendum, stating the Irish people have a right to consider any possible changes to the Constitution on the issue of citizenship. The proposed referendum asks people to vote on the fundamental principle of Irish identity. We own the Constitution and if changes are to be considered, then it is important that voters have the time to judge the implications.

There are also concerns that the proposed new legislation on citizenship may contravene long established aspects of human rights as outlined in Articles 2, 5, 24 and 26 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and Article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 7.1 of that convention states that the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. Article 7.2 states that parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, particularly where the child would otherwise be stateless.

On every important human rights issue the Government has sidelined the Human Rights Commission, the institution established to make informed judgments on these matters. We had the Immigration Acts 2003 and 2004, the Equality Bill 2004, the liquor Act 2003, the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 and the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003. True to form, the Minister overlooked the Human Rights Commission when making this proposed change. If the Government insists on railroading us into this referendum, it should at least allow sufficient time for all the information to be analysed so the public can make an informed decision. The people should be given credit for their intelligence. We have the right to make our own decisions and not to be pushed into situations to suit the Government's agenda. If the referendum goes ahead, Sinn Féin will ask the people to vote "No".

One of the most recent arguments put forward by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government for the proposed amendment is that citizenship must involve fidelity to the nation state or, as the Taoiseach said today, we must protect the Constitution. That argument is exceptionally hypocritical. The Constitution is being used or abused in an opportunistic and populist ploy to salvage the declining electoral support for the Government parties. That is the opposite to fidelity to the State. I hope the electorate will see this proposal for what it is, namely, a contrived ruse to distract attention from the real political issues, such as the chaos in the health service, the criminal control of house prices by a handful of billionaire developers, the incompetence of the Minister in failing to tackle the drugs gangs which plague many of our communities, the increasing inequality in our society at a time of great affluence for the wealthy and the endemic corruption in certain political circles. These are only some of the key issues which should exercise the minds of the electorate.

These issues, together with the deliberate misleading of the voters at the last general election, spell disaster for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats at the forthcoming local and European elections. Some cute manoeuvre was required to avoid a serious defeat in the June elections and this is it. I do not blame the Minister for it. I note the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is grinning, which is what I would expect because Fianna Fáil is brilliant at cute manoeuvres. This is a classic Fianna Fáil stroke. It produces a populist gimmick to distract attention from its appalling misgovernment and to neutralise the Opposition and then it smirks, like the Minister of State, all the way to the electronic count.

I like that.

That is what this referendum is all about. If changing the Constitution and altering the Good Friday Agreement, which was carried overwhelmingly by the people, was not a gimmick, what would be the normal course of action? The problem would have been clearly spelled out at the beginning and the full facts and figures would have been made available. The matter would then have been referred to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution where all-party discussions could have been initiated, as provided for in the programme for Government. All the parties in the North would have been fully informed and properly consulted. In this way appropriate consideration could have been given to the key question of the constitutional provisions on citizenship to establish if any change in the Constitution was required to prevent any abuse of Irish citizenship by anyone, whoever that might be.

As was correctly stated recently, the Constitution should only be amended when the need to do so is clearly and unambiguously established. It should be the last resort of legislators, yet in this case it is the Government's first port of call. The real abuse of the provisions of our Constitution is not being done through the scapegoating of asylum seekers, but through the cynical unprincipled elements of this Government. I hope the people see through this attempt to fuel prejudice because it will achieve little else.

If passed, what will the amendment achieve? Even if we accept the Minister's vague statistics, all that will happen is that a few hundred babies will be refused Irish passports. I remember when I was in school in the 1950s and this country was impoverished, we put our pennies into the boxes to save the black babies. Now that we are among the world's most affluent nations, our Government is seeking to scapegoat babies for political effect. This country and Fianna Fáil in particular have come a long way.

That is true.

As long as I am elected to this House, I will not be intimidated by such contemptible manoeuvres.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this important and straightforward issue. I respect the opinions of the Deputies on the other side of the House, but any Deputy who says this is a ruse to influence the electorate is way off the mark. Deputies should stop insulting the intelligence of the electorate. To say that people from a Labour Party or Fine Gael background will vote Fianna Fáil because of this referendum is to insult their intelligence. People have political affiliations. Just because the referendum will be held on the same day as the local and European elections does not mean people will be encouraged to change their vote to Fianna Fáil.

As someone who comes from the constituency of Wexford where a significant number of asylum seekers have come through the port of Rosslare and set up home, I am aware of the circumstances in which many immigrants find themselves. The majority of politicians in Wexford have behaved in a sincere way towards people who have found themselves without friends, family or support. There have been one or two outbreaks of racism but, on the whole, there has been little bad feeling towards asylum seekers and those who come to live in County Wexford.

There are approximately 400 to 500 Romanians, Nigerians, Algerians and others living in Wexford town. In Enniscorthy there are over 100 Nigerian families. I am of the view that people may live for four to five years in a constituency but still not feel at home there. Those to whom I refer have few rights. The legislation will change the position and give them the opportunity to become Irish citizens. Many of these people have children and have been living in my constituency for longer than three years.

The matter we are debating today is probably one of the most clear and defined to have been put to the electorate in a long period. Much political gain has been sought in recent days in implying that this issue has been rushed forward. However, it is a matter of public record that this proposal was put forward as part of the programme for Government almost two years ago. How long should we continue to debate the issue without taking action? There has been adequate debate and what is needed now is to allow the people to have their say in a referendum.

When enacted, the Bill will provide that in cases where a child is born to non-national parents, at least one of them will have to have been resident in Ireland for three or four years prior to the child's birth before the child can become entitled to Irish citizenship. This is in line with the citizenship requirements for any non-national marrying an Irish national to obtain citizenship. As public representatives, we have all regularly come into contact with Irishmen or women who have married people from other countries and whose spouses wanted to become citizens of this country. These individuals must undergo a particular procedure overseen by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is sometimes four or five years before they become Irish citizens. The legislation is very much in line with the existing system.

The Bill brings Ireland into line with the rest of Europe. It is as simple as that. Ireland is unique at present in respect of the fact that citizenship can be obtained by virtue of being born here. In the majority of other EU countries, citizenship is obtained through being descended from an existing citizen. The leader of the Labour Party earlier made a number of assertions. In particular, he made reference to Government candidates in the forthcoming local elections making political gain from this matter or including racist material in their election literature. I wish to point out to Deputy Rabbitte that, as far as I am concerned, I am sure it is the same for the majority of Deputies, the literature distributed by candidates for the forthcoming elections contains no reference to this matter. I have been out canvassing with councillors from my party in recent weeks and I have not seen any reference to the referendum in their literature. Perhaps reference has been made to it in some parts of the country——

There were one or two outbursts in the House.

——but I can place on record, without any fear of contradiction, that the literature of Fianna Fáil candidates in Wexford does not contain references to the referendum.

If the Minister of State went deep into Munster, he might run into difficulties in that regard.

Opposition parties are seeking to make electoral gains on this issue. Things are said at elections which do not stand up to scrutiny and such will be the case with some of the statements made here today.

I have been a Member of the House for 21 years and I have never seen such a straightforward and basic concept become so quickly clouded on foot of various ill-informed sources spreading rumours and misinformation. As already stated, I deal with a large number of non-nationals in my constituency who seek advice on a multitude of issues. I am sure the position is the same for Deputies in other constituencies. Most of these people are only interested in knowing how to go about obtaining a travel visa, work permit or whatever. Fundamentally, they all seek clarity on the procedures they must follow in order to achieve their goals.

The Bill will allow for the procedures to which I refer to become clear, concise and totally transparent to anyone wishing to obtain citizenship for their children in the future. No longer will cases have to be taken on a case-by-case basis in the courts.

The Bill is about clarity. Is it anti-immigration? No, and neither is it racist; it is designed to eliminate a loophole whereby the children of two non-nationals qualify automatically for citizenship of this State. All the political parties and those who have already spoken during this debate have indicated that problems exist and that there is a need to close the loopholes. However, there are some who question the manner in which this is being done. The record of the Government in assisting immigrants is possibly second to none. Every effort is made to aid and support them when they are in this country. It is important not to lose sight of that fact.

I pay tribute to the different groups and organisations which have tried to make life that bit easier for the significant number of immigrants who have arrived in this country during the past seven to eight years. The local vocational school in Enniscorthy has allowed a significant number of immigrants to become involved in PLC and other educational courses. These individuals are not allowed to work but if they become involved in such courses they can be re-educated and given opportunities in the community. The local clergy and sporting clubs have done everything possible to facilitate their entry into the community while they are waiting for decisions to be made in respect of their future.

It is a matter of concern that the racism slur has resurfaced. The word "racism" has been bubbling under the surface of every exchange that has taken place to date in respect of this matter. No one other than the extremists has used it but it still lingers as a direct accusation in respect of the Government. I wish to place on record my complete rebuttal of this underlying accusation. The Government has been most proactive in looking after immigrants.

Opposition parties have again decided,en bloc, to oppose an initiative of this Government and misrepresent what is being attempted. Members of the Opposition are slow to admit it but the loophole that exists must be closed. They are too concerned with attempting to convert this simple but pressing issue into a political football. They wish to present it as a complex constitutional issue. This is opposition for the sake of opposition. However, I do not believe that members of the electorate are as naive as the Opposition makes them out to be. I agree with the Taoiseach that the electorate know and appreciate the choice being offered as an obvious one. We have an opportunity to do something on 11 June and I am sure the correct choice will be made. This will eliminate abuses of our Constitution.

I hope this debate will continue in a calm and controlled fashion and that the slurs of racism being directed across the floor of the House will cease. I also hope that we will arrive at the correct decision. As already stated, Deputies Kehoe, Howlin and I have been working to ensure that people who arrive in Wexford are given the best reception possible, that they are not treated in some form of racist manner and that they are catered for and dealt with as they should be dealt with when they arrive in a place where they have no friends or neighbours or anybody to look after them. The statutory authorities, social welfare officers and local community welfare officers have been doing a tremendous job in trying to deal with this issue.

There are loopholes in the system and that system is being abused by certain individuals. It is important to eliminate such abuses by passing the referendum in order to ensure that people have the right to become Irish citizens through the proper channels and not in the piecemeal manner that exists at present.

I thank the Minister of State for sharing time. At the outset, let me agree wholeheartedly with his closing remarks. I sometimes think that in this House we live in a completely different world from the outside world. I have detected no undertones or hints of the issues such as xenophobia or racism that have been raised in the House.

On a point of order, it was the Minister who in his opening speech introduced that issue when he said that if one is a racist, then one would vote "No."

I was watching the screen and that issue was started on the Labour Party benches well before the Minister referred to it.

The Minister was the first speaker.

The Labour Party were filibustering for approximately 15 to 20 minutes before this debate started. From listening to Ministers and Deputies from all parties who are on the ground there is no hint or undertone of racism in the local elections, so far. To suggest, as many Members are suggesting, that the proposal before the House is in some way influencing the people in a material way in these local elections is completely without foundation.

What I have learned in my few short months in this House, and Deputy Durkan has been a Member for a much longer period, is that every time the Opposition is losing the argument, it simply will not listen to anybody else with a contrary point of view.

The Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is getting very red in the face.

Deputy Durkan, more than most Members, demonstrates that attribute.

The Deputy should not presume for a moment that the Opposition is losing the argument. He should remember Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War.

Those who are losing the argument simply do not want to listen. At the core of the debate are some very simple questions about whether we deal with our immigration and citizenship policy through our Constitution or in legislation? There is no doubt that when one analyses the arguments cogently, the Constitution is no place to include detailed provisions on citizenship and immigration policy. At the heart of the debate is the question of how to deal with immigration policy in this House and in the country? I make the case that the Constitution is no place in which to make policy. The 1937 Constitution delegated to the Oireachtas the power to formulate policy on citizenship and immigration, little though there was at that stage. I believe that was the correct and proper way of doing it. Unfortunately, one of the unforeseen consequences of the referenda to change Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution was that we inserted in the Constitution the basis of citizenship. I believe that was a mistake. Many people who studied those proposals foresaw that this would be a difficulty. At the heart of this debate, we have to discuss the right way to deal with our immigration and citizenship policy. I believe it is best dealt with through detailed legislation. The reason I say that is that 20, 30 or 40 years ago there was practically no inward migration to this country. If one was born in this country, one worked and died here and very rarely did one leave the country. Now the world is completely different due to a range of factors, including non-stop cheap airline travel all over the world, which is a unique feature of modern life, employment migration and asylum seeking by those suffering persecution in their own countries which is enhanced and facilitated by easy access to airline travel.

A feature of modern global living is the international education of students. The concept of global citizenship is something with which we will have to deal now, which we never had to deal with previously. For those reasons, a bland line or two in a constitution stating that if one is born in a country, one has a right to citizenship, does not take cognisance of the complexities and the nuances of the modern world. I am no expert in the field, but the expert group comprising former Attorneys General, judges and constitutional experts came to the same conclusion seven years ago when it reported to the Constitutional Review Group, stating that provisions on citizenship have no place in the Constitution.

The constitutional amendment did that.

On the contrary, the effect of the referendum on the Constitution in 1999 is that it put back into the Constitution the concept of citizenship and it was embedded in the Constitution. Before that, citizenship rights were derived from the Citizenship Act 1956 and not from the Constitution. That was the right and proper way to deal with the issue, but unfortunately it was an unforeseen consequence of the Good Friday Agreement.

All the legal eagles gave their approval to the Good Friday Agreement

For people to suggest the Government has come up with this proposal for purely electoral gain a few weeks before the general election——

That is the one sure statement the Deputy made which is absolutely accurate.

The Deputy forgot to mention that the Government was aware of the difficulty and the issue was included in the programme for Government. I know this was an issue at the last general election and it is an issue now. It was signalled in the programme for Government that the Government would take action on it. To level the accusation now that it is being done as a short stop-gap measure coming up to the local election is unfounded.

There is no doubt the provisions in the Constitution, as amended in 1999, have been abused to a greater or lesser extent. I cannot say with my hand on my heart the extent of the abuse but I know there is abuse.

It is because of the lies the Government told.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason that the public has turned off this House is because of Members such as the Deputy, who does not want to listen to other's point of view because he has lost the argument.

I have read Deputy Peter Power's meandering writing.

The Deputy's behaviour undermines this House. I regret to say that people do not respect the Dáil any more because they see the likes of the Deputy.

I regret to have to refer to the Deputy's meandering writing.

The essential point is not the extent of the abuse or the manner of that abuse, although it is certain that abuse is taking place. The essential question which has to be dealt with is how we deal with modern complex citizenship and immigration issues. It should be dealt with by legislation in this House. For that reason I support the referendum.

It is important that the two-day debate on this issue is separate from the debate on other issues of Dáil business. It is a very important debate and it is being misconstrued in many ways by the failure of the Government to offer leadership to the country in facing this very difficult issue.

My fundamental point is that the Government has failed to consult other parties on the issues and timing of this referendum and has failed to listen to the views of Members on this side of the House and other eminent people outside this House, who are involved with refugees and immigrants. At the core of the debate is a fundamental decision we have to make as a nation. The problems with the Government's attitude is that it is pushing ahead without that consultation and consent, North and South. I watched a recent appearance by Mark Durkan on the television. He was giving his views on the consultation he apparently had with some lawyer or official from the Department of Foreign Affairs over dinner at a restaurant in Derry. That is not good enough, given the divisive nature of racism and the fundamental nastiness of racist people in this country. They are in all political parties and in none. Their allegiances are across the board. We need to have this debate during a period when the focus will be on the issues, not the individuals.

To hold this referendum on the same day as the local elections will cloud the issue and, more importantly and sadly, will give a voice to those who are most racist. There are people who will tell the candidates: "I will vote for you if you will stop this immigration and stop black people and people from outside the European Union coming to this country". Some people are not prepared to admit it but I have met a significant minority who hold that view. Holding the referendum on the same day as the local elections gives a mandate to racism or racist views.

The Government has failed to offer true leadership on this question. It should nominate a special date, even the date of the presidential election, to hold a number of referenda. Last week a report which was well publicised and well supported was produced by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. It deals with private property. Why not have a referendum on that important issue, which has all-party support, on the same day as the referendum on this issue? Would that not be the most rational and responsible thing to do? Would it not receive greater support from across the country and from all groups and parties? The Government has failed to do that. It is a failure of leadership on the part of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. I listened to the recent interview with the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, on "Morning Ireland". She was really snookered for a reply when she was asked if she had consulted with people about this issue. She clearly had not. That is where the Government is wrong and where it has failed. That is the reason this process is going the wrong way.

Why do people want to come to this country? Why do they need to come here? What is so attractive about modern Ireland that they want to be part of it? It is because Ireland is a wealthy nation and provides the people who live and work here with a wonderful standard of living compared with that in Third World countries. If we were Nigerians or lived in Afghanistan or eastern Europe, we would want to be part of this society. We would especially want our children, if we could get into this country, to have the future this country can offer them.

This does not just apply to Ireland. This is a European issue. Much has been made of the British Government's support for what this Government is doing. However, what Europe is saying, in effect, is that it wants to close its borders and does not want any more people coming into Europe because of its economy and special needs. If one country is out of step, it has to change its way. The attitude is that we are all together on this issue.

Fundamental to this issue are the problems of poverty, Third World countries and selfish capitalism, in the historical sense, taking everything and not looking after the poor of the rest of the world. What the European Union ought to be doing and what this Government should support, and people such as Deputy O'Donnell in her capacity as a Minister of State was particularly good on these issues, is investing outside the European Union to make those countries wealthier, give stability to their economies and generate equity. We should treat them in such a way that they can develop their economies so migrants will not have to come to Europe or Ireland because their economies will be stable and progressive and their native countries will be attractive places in which to remain. That is the fundamental philosophical issue that is missing from this debate. It is something we should address as members of the European Union but the Government is failing to do that. It is failing to look at the big picture.

The Deputy from Limerick spoke about what he called "global citizenship". There is global citizenship. The news that bombs went off in Basra in Iraq today is known all over the world. We are aware that Diego Maradona was sick after going to a football match because we saw the report on the television two days ago. We all know about his condition today because we are citizens of the world.

Inequalities in wealth and health cause people to migrate and to come to this country. Much has been made of the babies of non-nationals being born in our fine maternity hospitals. Only the negative aspect of those births is being considered. The attitude is that it is awful more babies are being born to people from other countries. We forget, however, that the birth rate in Ireland is falling. Irish citizens do not have enough children to fill the jobs that already exist and that will be available in the future. Let us face that reality.

The other reality relates to health care. With more people coming to this country, bringing with them difficulties and diseases that do not exist in this country at present, there is a greater need for better and more specialists operating in our maternity hospitals to improve their services. One can argue that the 700 women who came from the UK to have their babies in Ireland is one thing but the Russian woman coming from Moscow with a great deal of money is something different but it means we have a world class maternity service which people want to use. Part of that has been driven by the arrival of immigrants.

What about the immigrants in this country, whether they are refugees, asylum seekers or whatever? They live in places such as the Butlins holiday camp or the houses built by speculators which the health boards can afford to rent for them. What is the problem? Is it a problem with race or with colour? I do not believe it is. These people cannot work so Irish people see them and their children on the streets. They are not allowed to work, yet there are labour shortages in the economy.

Last year approximately 50,000 work permits were granted by the Department for non-nationals to work here. What are we doing with the immigrants and refugees who are already living here? We are chartering aeroplanes with 30 or 40 gardaí on them and returning these people to Nigeria or eastern Europe. Where is the sense in that? Surely it would be more sensible to look at the qualifications, skills and knowledge of the people who are already in this country and match them to the job vacancies. If these people can give our country something unique and special and if they can fulfil our skills needs, why not let them stay? What is wrong with the Government that it is not considering this? I challenge the Minister to change his view and to look again at this issue.

I listened with respect to the Minister of State's speech. I understand and appreciate the work he and his colleagues are doing in Wexford. However, we should do more work on this. We have a black and white attitude; we are not putting enough thought into it. I can give an example. A gentleman from Romania came to live in Drogheda. He was a wonderful musician who had been a member of the state orchestra in his native country. He and his family lived in Mosney and became part of the community. The children went to the local school. What happened to them? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said they had to leave. I appealed the decision, as did others, but the community in Drogheda lost the best musician it ever had. He was a professional musician and wonderfully committed to our community. It is not purely a matter of economics. There are social and cultural issues to be considered as well. How much do we do in Ireland to celebrate all the different traditions and communities represented in our society? How constructive are we in pushing forward anti-racism policies and the view that all the people who are here are welcome, along with their cultures, and that we want them to share their wealth and their heritage with us as much as possible?

We are not looking at the big picture. We are listening to the whispered voices in the back rooms, the muttered words in the pub when a black person goes by. We are listening to the wrong voices. We are not making the right decisions. We are making decisions not because they are morally right but because they are politically expedient.

These decisions are narrow and mean-minded. We must also examine our own history, that of the Irish people from the 16th and 17th centuries when the Irish nation began to emerge. Is it not true that for generations our citizens left our shores, went to the UK, Europe and America, were welcomed there and became part of those societies? America then was a bit like Ireland is now: it needed more people. It did not have enough qualified people to fill its jobs and it welcomed those from all nations. It is a much bigger country than Ireland. The Irish people who emigrated sent back the money to send Pat and Mary to school. They used it to look after their sick parents and grandparents. What are the immigrants in Ireland doing today? They are doing exactly the same.

In this debate I would like us to see the bigger picture. We need a better country, a better Government, more leadership, more consensus and more nation-building. We do not have these things and we will not get them. That is why some very negative thoughts are being expressed during this debate. This does not need to happen and it will not if the Government will reconsider its decision.

I will return to the issue of timing. What we want is consensus. What we are entitled to is calm, reasoned, measured debate such as that taking place over these two days.

One would not have known it this morning.

The arrogance of the Government, however, will not allow it to listen to what we are saying. Many on this side of the House, particularly in my own party, do not have a fundamental problem with the ultimate decision that must be made. Our problem is the lack of consultation and the fact that this vote will take place on a day when other issues will dominate the debate — negative issues, particularly that of racism, will be to the fore. We have no personal problems with people on the other side of the House, but the integrity of every party here is being fundamentally examined. Is there a more fundamental human right than that of citizenship? Is it not the case that this debate should take place in the absence of confusion, ignorance and racism? The only way to do that is to show leadership: to put all those things aside and decide to hold the referendum in November or January or any other time. No major change will take place — there will not be an influx of millions into the country in the meantime. There will, however, be an opportunity for the Government to show leadership and concern and do its business on behalf of the people, especially by bringing everybody together. That is what this Government is failing to do.

What is now dominating the debate is the lack of concern, arrogance and ignorance of some people — I am not talking about those in the Oireachtas — who will drag this debate into a darker place. Their thoughts should not be given the benefit of expression. The Government must think again. It is not too late for the Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil and the PDs to show leadership and take the honourable course. They must listen to what we are saying and ensure this debate takes place in a cool, calm manner, which will not happen if things continue as they are.

I wish to share time with Deputy Wilkinson.

We should have been given more time — then there would be no problem.

There is no problem. I welcome the opportunity to express my support for this amendment of the Constitution and the legislation being proposed by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and endorsed by the Government. It is important that we debate this issue calmly and reasonably. It is important that we have an informed view of the concept of citizenship and that of membership of a modern nation state. Watching the debate so far, I have seen attempts to suggest that the nationality clause of the Good Friday Agreement has not led to any exploitation or any increased pressure on the health services. As Minister for Health and Children I must state that this is completely erroneous. Those who work in our maternity hospitals — not only the three hospitals in Dublin but those across the country — have explained to me the significant impact of the number of non-national births and the high percentage of female asylum seekers over the age of 16 — as many as 60% — who are pregnant. That has had an effect on our medical services. It is important not to try to pretend this has not happened. It has.

I have visited maternity hospitals and spoken to staff in different disciplines. They are all of the view that many of these people come to Ireland in full knowledge of the fact that giving birth in Ireland would——

How many?

I will come to figures in a moment.

Any day now.

I would appreciate if Members on the other side of the House would not interrupt me, as I do not intend to interrupt them. I am giving an honest assessment, as Minister for Health and Children, of what people have said to me. The figures are also available.

It does not mean there will be more specialists coming into those hospitals.

Deputy McDowell said he had met with the masters of the maternity hospitals in Dublin. This is not something that happens every day.

Who asked for the meeting?

The masters asked for it. They met with me first.

They asked to meet the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

Will the Deputy please allow me to speak? He is asking for a calm debate, yet he is constantly interrupting. I will tell the House what happened.

That was the first question I asked.

This is a debate, not a question and answer session.

There is no need for the Minister to be so narky about it.

Order, please. The Minister should be allowed to make his contribution.

He is very tetchy about it.

I just want to be able to say a few words about this, if I may.

Two issues were raised by the masters of the maternity hospitals and other obstetricians. One was the impact of the fact that up to 60% of women over 16 attending the hospitals — asylum seekers — were pregnant. That creates pressure on the service. There is also the issue of funding. They also raised the issue of what we intended to do about the problem. They did not give me a legislative or constitutional prescription, but they clearly asked about our proposals for dealing with it.

That is the reason for the meetings. They had two concerns, the first had to do with resourcing and the second was what to do about it. They were definitely of the view that the nationality clause was being abused and had facilitated this development. I can give the Deputy an example although I will not go into detail. The real concern related to the complexity of the cases that are arriving, for example, the lateness of the arrival. These cases created additional pressure on resources, not just on the obstetrics unit but on the neonatal units. That is the reality from which we cannot run away. There was one case that was relayed to us in correspondence from an obstetrician in a particular hospital which involved a quintuplet pregnancy. The person arrived 36 hours previously and took serious risks in making a long journey to reach Ireland and to give birth. The consultant told us that the person arrived in a very threatened premature labour situation. It was a scenario that raised serious concerns for the hospital with regard to the safety of the delivery and the fact that the woman placed her own life at risk by making such a long journey. We discussed the issue of carriers and airline responsibility. This is not just a single case. Doctors and nurses spend so much time dealing with such high-risk pregnancies and if the person had gone into labour during the flight the consequences would have been catastrophic.

I met with the masters of the maternity hospitals in December 2002, when they outlined the concerns they had on these issues. Particular concern was expressed for the wellbeing of these patients who were presenting in increasing numbers in these circumstances. We worked with the ERHA and developed the screening unit and outreach maternity clinic in Balseskin, north Dublin, to try to reduce pressure on hospitals in these situations. The Rotunda Hospital has seen non-national births increase from approximately 350 in 1998 to 1,951 in 2003. Non-national births accounted for over 29% of all births at the hospital in 2003. At the Coombe Women's Hospital, non-national births have increased from 61 in 1999 to 1,709 in 2003. Non-national births accounted for 22% of all births at the hospital in 2003.

What is the breakdown?

The National Maternity Hospital reported that non-national births increased from 1,460 in 2002 to 1,707 in 2003.

They could be American women working in Intel.

Non-national births at the hospital accounted for over 20% of all births at the hospital in 2003. At Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, non-national births increased from 229 in 2001 to 688 in 2003.

That was because of the existence of a centre at Mosney for asylum seekers.

The Deputy is correct.

The hospital authorities welcomed that.

Non-national births at the hospital accounted for 20% of all births. The health board specifically approached us following the build up at Mosney. There is a direct correlation between that and the pressures on the maternity and obstetric units in Drogheda. The point is that most people are under no illusion that this nationality issue is a factor in this growth. Let us not deny that. There seems to be a notion that if someone says that, then he or she is a racist.

The Minister does not know the numbers. How many-——

Let me give the example of the Southern Health Board. There are ten refugees and 545 asylum seekers in the SHB area alone. There are 564 non-nationals who are not refugees nor asylum seekers. There were, therefore, 1,119 births to non-nationals in SHB hospitals out of 6,000. That is a substantial number. Some of them tend to be complex cases. If we have a system in Ireland that is incentivising that pattern of behaviour then we have to do something in the interests of all concerned. There are real health and safety issues here for the individuals and families concerned. People are taking risks to avail of what is available here, both the citizenship facility and possibly the quality of our obstetric and maternity care. It is only in the context of debates like this that I hear people like Deputy O'Dowd celebrating that fact in Ireland. In the normal course of a debate on health, I get the opposite commentary.

Even though the asylum seeker numbers have fallen, about 60% of girls over 16 arrive pregnant and there has been no significant changes since the recent Supreme Court judgments. While there is a demand for funding, there are limitations to what we can achieve or what we can absorb in this area. We have to be practical. Consultant and midwifery strength cannot be increased overnight.

The Government cannot do it at all.

We have done it successfully. The people to whom we have spoken on this issue and who work in this area are in no doubt that one of the great incentives is our unique facility in Europe, whereby one is automatically a citizen in that situation. What we are doing in this amendment is bringing Ireland into line with its European partners. No other European state has this facility. We are still more liberal in comparison with our European partners on this issue. I get a sense that much of the opposition to this is more political and about timing than about the substance of the debate. That is not a good enough reason to oppose this because the Constitution exists for Governments to go to the people on issues that fall under that Constitution. It is then a matter for the people to decide. Governments in the Oireachtas have a right to put issues to the people. There has been a tendency recently to suggest that more time is needed to debate these issues. That is not a tenable position to adopt and is not one that I would commend. There are other countries that have referenda and others do not because they do not have written constitutions.

The feature of Irish citizenship law which grants an entitlement of citizenship to all persons born in the island of Ireland is unique in the EU. It is very unusual worldwide. Most other countries have laws whereby citizenship is acquired by descent from an existing citizen, and place of birth is wholly or largely irrelevant. It is clear that it does make Ireland an attractive destination for persons wishing to establish residence, not just here but in the EU. This has given rise to these figures since 1997, which are quite extraordinary. We should not wrongly label people who put forward a modest measure to deal with the situation.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. With modern travel, only a few hours on a plane will take one half way across the world. The world is definitely a smaller place now and it is time we did something to regulate the situation. We are not denying citizenship to anybody. There is no doubt about that. However, speaking to one humane and talented medical practitioner in a maternity hospital over the past week, I was left in no doubt that there is great pressure on staff and patients because of the current situation. There are great health dangers and language difficulties with people who arrive on our shores in the latter stages of pregnancy. The medical person to whom I spoke said many accidents were just waiting to happen. The Government is courageous and correct to tackle this question at this time.

The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state to grant automatic citizenship rights and therefore an EU passport. This is a fact we cannot ignore. A referendum on the citizenship rights to children born to non-national parents is a reasonable response to this problem. Most of the Members opposite agree this problem must be addressed. They agree one should not be automatically entitled to Irish citizenship as a birthright. At the same time, however, they accuse the Government of being racist for proposing a referendum. They blatantly contradict themselves in an attempt, perhaps, to confuse the electorate. To describe this referendum as being racist is political correctness gone mad. In this country we run the risk of avoiding rational political debate because certain public representatives will accuse one another of being extremist or reactionary. We cannot pretend there is not a crisis in our major maternity hospitals.

This referendum is not about race. Those who suggest it is are twisting the facts. The comments of certain members of the Opposition constitute irresponsible politicking. They assert that this Government is placing racism ahead of nationalism, as regards the citizenship referendum. This is totally untrue. It is a slur against the Government and the Fianna Fáil party. The referendum has, as its focus, the theme of nationalism, providing non-nationals with the opportunity of citizenship. It is certain members of the Opposition who have introduced the "red card" into the debate. That is a wrong tactic.

Racism is serious. It has ruined many lives through the centuries. To make such an allegation is an insult to those who have suffered, or are suffering, as a result of racism. Certain Members are using the issue of racism for political gain when they are well aware that it has nothing to do with this referendum.

One point the Opposition is ignoring is that the referendum is not affecting the asylum seeking process. Neither has it anything to do with it. Those who need the protection of asylum here will still go through the proper channels to attain citizenship. Certain Members try to make out that the Government is trying to prevent non-nationals from entering. The Opposition has deliberately twisted the issue. This approach is opportunistic, irresponsible and wrong. The Opposition is well aware the referendum is about the removal of a loophole in our system that has seen citizenship rights being abused.

The referendum is not about immigration procedures. It is not about race. It is about ensuring that Irish citizenship is not abused. We are entitled to bring the Constitution and our law on citizenship into line with European Union countries, so that we do not create unintended incentives that are unfair to us or to other member states. The Bill provides that in the case of a child born to non-national parents at least one will have lived in Ireland for three of the four years preceding the birth, before he or she is entitled to Irish citizenship. Where either parent of a child born anywhere in Ireland or the UK is a national or long-term resident, the child will still be entitled to Irish citizenship. I fully support the referendum.

I was a member of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, which produced the sixth progress report dealing with the referendum process. That report was prepared with great care and diligence. The Chairman, Deputy Brian Lenihan, was key to defining the recommendations in it. Under his guidance clear consensus was arrived at that what was being presented was a reasonable and thoughtfully prepared framework for holding referendums that would protect the public interest from Government abuse and incompetence. Regrettably, the approach of this Government as regards the particular referendum proposal is diametrically opposed to the recommendations in that report.

The recommendations were short but comprehensive. One was to amend the Standing Orders of this House to embody the presumption that every TD and Senator would have sufficient opportunity to contribute to the debate. That is not being complied with. In fact the truncated debate today flies in the face of such an inclusive approach. Limited time is being allocated outside a normal Dáil session in order to rush through a Bill about an issue of citizenship that deserves proper and calm deliberation, but regrettably it will not get it.

Another recommendation was that the Standing Orders should provide for the establishment, as necessary, of an all-party Oireachtas committee, either before a Bill is being printed, where the exact terms of the proposal need to be formulated, or after the Bill has been printed. There is need to evaluate the issues on the basis of a review of the knowledge of experts and the presentation of insights from groups outside the Houses of the Oireachtas, and for the publication of a report. Again, the Government is totally disregarding this approach. In fact the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is being reckless at a time when reflection is called for. His is a dishonest approach, when deliberation is required. He stated 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."

That is irresponsible. There is clearly no attempt to seek out any kind of party consensus on this. It is evident, particularly in this House, that the Government is showing arrogance and disregard for an issue such as this that needs to be attended to, as far as possible, within an all-party framework. What is most disturbing about the Government approach, however, is its contempt for the parties in Northern Ireland. It is not acceptable to me as a Member of this House to find the leader of the SDLP being so concerned as to criticise the Government with regard to that contempt. That is not the way good politics is practised. What we see here is a Minister, who certainly is not lacking in intelligence, but has no political sense at all as to what is appropriate when it comes to his responsibilities with regard to the Constitution and the Good Friday Agreement.

To have ensured that there was all-party discussion and time and space provided for hearings would have led to the best possible outcome on what is a complex issue. Putting our heads together on this issue is still the preferred option rather than being at loggerheads, but that is not what this is about. This is not about finding the best solution to a problem we all recognise exists. This is about taking an opportunity to damage the Opposition while trying to maximise support for the Government.

We all understand that Fianna Fáil and show politics go together, but Fianna Fáil and the PDs, in particular, are moving this into dangerous territory which goes way beyond the normal bounds of electioneering. Having listened to the contribution of the Minister I am deeply dismayed. The temperature has already been raised. This constitutional amendment is not about asylum seekers, as Deputy Wilkinson said. It is not even about immigrant workers. However, a Minister used this opportunity to send out the kinds of signals that give licence, as Bruce Morrison so well put it, to bring out the worst in people.

Deputy Wilkinson is an honourable man but I wish he would keep his lectures for his own party.

Hear, hear.

Already the evidence exists in this regard among members of his party, as has happened in the past. Fianna Fáil is not above using the race card and it is doing so again. I have the text of a document from Councillor Sheila Gallogly that was sent to me by e-mail. I do not know her, but I understand she is a Fianna Fáil candidate in the forthcoming elections. Under the heading "referendum on citizenship", she outlines her opposition to an open door policy and refers to asylum seekers, refugees and the referendum. It is clear she is linking fears people in her area may have about immigration in this regard to maximise her position for political advantage. That is a sample of the evidence that exists. These are early days and, regrettably, we will see worse.

It is a great shame the PDs have lost any kind of principle they may have once had because the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and Deputy O'Donnell in their days seemed to be able to find the gumption to fight and resist this kind of political opportunism. What happened to that? It has all dissipated. What happened in respect of the great stand the Minister, Deputy McDowell, took about "one-party government — no thanks"? We have one-party government, ably assisted by the PDs, to shore up the Fianna Fáil vote in these elections. "Bad government — no thanks" is what the Labour Party would say and this is bad government. It is bad, incompetent government to rush through a constitutional amendment that is legally flawed, has not had proper debate and deliberation and in respect of which no attempt has been made to find all-party consensus on this difficult issue.

This is a real issue and we should remember it is also about very vulnerable women in the late stages of pregnancy. That is what we are talking about. We are talking about women delivering babies. That is sometimes forgotten. It is as if hordes of pregnant women are lining up and we have to make sure that they do not break through the barricades. We do not know how many of them there are. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not know and neither does the Minister for Health and Children, but the latter knows he has an opportunity to use these people as an excuse in regard to the problems that exist, particularly in our maternity hospitals.

I accept there has been a large increase in the number of non-nationals giving birth. There are many non-nationals, many of whom are far away from home, living here. If many of them were not here our hospital service would have collapsed and our nursing homes would not be operating. We need and depend on these people. They are good people and some of them get pregnant and come to our hospitals to deliver their babies without anything problems arising in their final days of pregnancy, and what happens? They all get bundled into the figure the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform keeps promoting, namely, that one in four people who give birth here are non-nationals, as if one in four of the people who give birth come off the aeroplane in labour in order to get their citizenship. That is a dishonest approach. It is a frightening approach in terms of its implications as to how it can be promoted by unscrupulous candidates on the Government side. Even at this late stage I ask the Government to adopt the approach that has been spelt out in the report.

During the campaign on the last referendum on abortion the then Government tried to use and manipulate the masters of the maternity hospitals, but that backfired on it. This time the masters were determined they would not be used twice and they set the record straight. They did not plead with any Minister for a change in the law. That is not true and the Minister has put the record straight on that. I do not consider it is appropriate for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to use Dr. T. K. Whitaker and his expert group in the same way to shore up his argument. I would prefer to listen to Dr. T. K. Whitaker if he has anything to say on this issue because the Minister is an unreliable witness and cannot be trusted.

I am glad to have a brief opportunity to contribute to this debate. There is something surreal and unreal about this debate. It is a debate on a constitutional amendment. It is more important than any normal legislative debate we have because it is something we are recommending to the people to put into our basic law which subsequently cannot be changed without reference to the people yet again. However, we are meeting in special session. This is an unreal day, so to speak. We have not had normal Dáil business, there is no Question Time, Adjournment debate or votes, and not too many Government Deputies are present. We are meeting in special session today and tomorrow for time to be used up in order that the minimum constitutional provision of 30 days can be squeezed in so this referendum can be coupled to another vote in respect of which the Government is vulnerable.

I want to deal with the issue under a number of headings and I want to be as reasonable and balanced as I possibly can. In regard to a constitutional issue, a coherent and compelling case must be made for change, but we have not heard it. There was no attempt in advance of the drafting of this proposal to build a political consensus on this issue. As late a speaker as the second last Government speaker, the Minister for Health and Children, could not disentangle the figures because the first case made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is that somehow our maternity hospitals are being swamped by people using our Constitution and the right of citizenship by coming to this country to have children. However, he could not give the base figures for that. All we got were the global figures in regard to these matters that have been clutched at by every speaker on the Government side, as if they did not include female workers in Intel from America, Filipino nurses who are welcome here, the tens of thousands of workers from across the globe who are welcome here or people from the applicant countries to the European Union. They are all bundled into these figures to give the notion that a quarter of all births in our maternity hospitals fall into this category.

We then have comments such as anecdotal evidence and two hard cases given by the Minister for Health and Children. There is no logical link to suggest that 24% of all births relate to a group of people arriving here heavily pregnant, motivated only to achieve Irish citizenship. There is no compelling argument for that claim. We have not heard it. Let us hear it. If there is such an argument, there is a willingness on this side of the House to address it.

We need only recall the previous experience we had with amendments that were rushed through or ill-thought out, authored by the same Department, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which I had the privilege to shadow for a number of years. The last such legislation with which I dealt was the referendum on judicial conduct. I reread the Minister's contributions on that and all his speeches in that regard. He said with absolute certainty that his proposal was watertight, perfect, finely tuned and right. However, it imploded under the weight of logical argument and the proposal was never put to the people. Nobody has had any sight of it since.

I am wary of the certainty that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government present on constitutional amendments. The Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill was debated on Second Stage in the House but was subsequently withdrawn. On 2 May 2001, the Taoiseach informed the House: "I do not like the idea of having a referendum without the agreement of the House. That has not been a practice of the House." I agree with the Taoiseach that it is not the practice of the House, so why is it being done on this occasion? Why is the Taoiseach abandoning his own standard and the precedent he set for the Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill? In every other amendment, there is normally some degree of cross-party discussion. The Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill was ostensibly withdrawn because of the lack of political consensus. There is no rhyme nor reason to proceed with an amendment without any political consensus. With this Bill, no attempt has been made to build such a consensus. If a case had been made for a resolution of this issue, the parties would have found a mechanism to deal with it. A mechanism for amendments to the Constitution was established by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution when ably chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan, now Minister of State. Why is the very procedure he set out now to be shredded and abandoned?

The Labour Party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, dealt in detail with the implications of this amendment on the British-Irish Agreement and the disingenuous parsing and separation of it from the multi-party agreement. Both agreements must be construed as a whole as the multi-party agreement is an annexe to the British-Irish Agreement and cannot be disaggregated from it. Such an action is disingenuous and dangerous to the peace process and the maintenance of progress on the path to peace in a difficult time. The new basis for citizenship proposes that children of UK citizens born in Ireland will have an automatic right to citizenship. The Government speaks of closing loopholes, yet what if a non-national giving birth in this country declares that child's father is a UK national? Will DNA tests be done to check the veracity of such a claim? Is there a provision for a research board to test paternity? It is not proper to be frivolous on such a subject but I was told, rather tongue-in-cheek, that this will give a new dimension to the Kilburn High Street notion of giving someone a start. Now, if one can declare that the father of one's child is a UK national, there is an entitlement to Irish citizenship. The grandparent rule will not be changed meaning a different standard for the grandchildren of Irish citizens who can claim Irish citizenship but may never have set foot in the country or have any affinity towards it. Yet those children who were born and live in Ireland will have no such right.

The timing of the referendum is also an issue. If any Member is concerned that the Government would run this referendum on a racist basis, then he or she should read the speech of the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue. He told absolute falsehoods to the House when he claimed that those of us on this side of the House argued for an open door policy. I recall no Member on this side of the House arguing for such a policy. His little litany of invective plays well to the agenda of those who will stir up the basest forms of racism. His was a rant about what this side of the House favoured for immigration policy. An interesting start to the debate that does not augur well for balanced and reasonable argument in the future.

What is the extent of the problem? How should it be addressed? Is there a mechanism, short of requiring a constitutional amendment, that has not yet been explored? If the problem exists, is there a better way to deal with it to avoid unnecessary rancour? I know some of the Government backbenchers are uneasy. Even at this late stage, I ask the Government to disentangle this issue from the local and European elections. If a case can be made that there is an issue, a consensus can be built to address it. I guarantee the good will of this side of the House to address such a real issue in the interests of all current and future Irish citizens.

If Deputy Howlin claims that a compelling case has not been made, obviously he did not listen to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the start of the debate. Then again, with all the heckling, how could he have heard?

I welcome the opportunity to address this important issue for the country. This Bill is about bringing Ireland into line with the rest of Europe. The programme for Government contains a commitment to examine the need for constitutional or other measures that might be required to address the number of applications for residence being made by non-national parents of children born in the State. The constitutional amendment proposes 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. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill seeks to ensure that in the case of a child born to two non-national parents, at least one of the parents will have been resident in Ireland for three of the four years before the child becomes eligible for Irish citizenship.

This compares favourably with other EU member states. Spain, Sweden and Greece do not grant citizenship to children born to non-national citizens. Instead, citizenship can be gained through declaration when the child is aged between 18 and 20 years in Spain and between 21 and 23 years in Sweden. For the latter country, this is remarkable considering how liberal it is in itsmodus operandi. In Greece, when a child reaches 18 years, he or she can apply for naturalisation. The position is similar in Italy and France. The Government is proposing to bring our citizenship regime into line with Europe. The Irish regime will still be one of the most liberal in the EU if this amendment to the Constitution is passed. Irish citizenship law, which grants an entitlement to citizenship to all persons born on this island, is unique in the EU.

The general EU model is a law whereby citizenship is acquired by descent from an existing citizen, place of birth being largely irrelevant. In every other EU state citizenship is provided only to children of citizens or permanent residents, or to a child born on its territory after a set period of residence in that State, usually quite a long time and after attaining a certain age. The Government seeks to bring Irish citizenship law into line with the rest of Europe. It cannot be credibly asserted that this move is illiberal or unduly uncaring.

I listened to Deputy Rabbitte in an interview over the weekend and I may be incorrect but I think I heard him refer to trying to prevent pregnant women from boarding a plane in the first instance. That raises Deputy Howlin's point about perhaps having paternity cases. Can Deputy Rabbitte tell us how he would envisage people being prevented from boarding aeroplanes in other countries, that is if the women travel by aeroplane? Most asylum seekers arrive by other means, particularly from across the Border. How can one have an arrangement such as Deputy Rabbitte envisages whereby, in effect, people are tested before using the modus operandi to come here, whether by aeroplane or ferry?

What is standard elsewhere is hardly unreasonable for Ireland. The Supreme Court judgment of 23 January 2003 in the L and O case clarified the position of the non-national parents of Irish-born children. The judgment decided that the non-national parents of children born in Ireland had no automatic right to reside in Ireland. In the 13 months since the L and O case there has been no significant fall in the percentage of non-nationals arriving heavily pregnant into the State. This is clearly a cause for concern. The most logical conclusion to draw from this fact is that non-national parents perceive an advantage by giving birth in Ireland to a child who automatically becomes an EU citizen. It is also logical to conclude that because this does not happen in any other EU state, it happens here because those states do not share our citizenship laws regarding birth.

The data available from the Office of the Refugee Application Commissioner shows that over the past year the number of asylum seekers pregnant at the time of application was almost 60% of the total female applicants over 16 years of age. Approximately 25% of all births in public hospitals in the Dublin area last year were to non-nationals. When births in other hospitals, in particular in my constituency, Drogheda, are taken into account, the national figures are far higher. Data supplied by the masters of the three Dublin maternity hospitals show that those hospitals had 4,824 births to non-nationals in 2003.

Article 9.2 of the Constitution states, "Fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens." Citizenship is a precious thing and we cannot allow it to be acquired without consideration for that loyalty and fidelity, as required by the Constitution. The parties opposite are, in effect, calling for citizenship without responsibility. We need to be clear about that fact and they should state their views on this issue. We are also confident that these proposals are in line with the Good Friday Agreement. The draft legislation follows the definitions used in the British-Irish Agreement. In his speech, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform referred to Deputy Quinn's comments in the run-up to the finalisation of the Good Friday Agreement. Fianna Fáil in Government was central to the delivery of that Agreement and would do nothing to undermine it.

It would be extremely cynical for any party or Member of this House to play the race card on this issue. I urge all parties, inside and outside the House, to turn from this small-minded, reactionary route. For anyone to attempt to charge this debate with race issues will undermine not only his or her credibility and arguments but also the public's confidence in his or her ability to develop and put forward policy on asylum, citizenship or multiculturalism. It will undermine the vision of Ireland as a country mature enough to debate citizenship free from racism. I was disappointed to read that already Deputy Rabbitte has spoken of unleashing a racist undertone and the creation of a racist platform. This proposal does no such thing.

It is the duty of all Oireachtas Members who are in leadership positions in their communities to defeat all efforts to create such racist platforms or undertones. It is equally disappointing that Deputy Kenny asserted that the Government wants a divisive and contentious debate that could generate racist commentary. Let us keep race out of this referendum. It is baseless to assert that for the Oireachtas to be given more power to debate and enact laws on the issue of citizenship is racist or in any way empowers racists. The Cabinet considered in detail when to hold this referendum. We rejected the idea of a referendum to coincide with a potential presidential election. The incumbent President would be excluded from comment on the issue especially as the parties opposite would seek to turn any presidential election into a race referendum. We also rejected the notion of holding it on a standalone basis because there are lower turnouts for such referenda. This could result in a higher relative vote from both radical sides of the debate which would be undesirable. Multi-issue polling draws a higher, broader turnout. That is why we chose the date of the European and local elections. We also intend to deal with the citizenship issues at length in the subsequent Dáil debate.

The proposal 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, is to be commended to the House. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004 seeks to ensure that in the case of a child born to two non-national parents, at least one of the parents must have been resident in Ireland for three of the four years before the child becomes eligible for Irish citizenship. The House should reject outright any attempts to stoke a racist fire in the name of political expediency.

I wish to share time with Deputies Cowley and Harkin. This is a very sensitive issue to address. I had some work prepared but I will not read from it as I do not like reading from scripts in general. Following some of the television news reports about this debate this afternoon, to accuse the Government of encouraging xenophobia and racism might seem rather negative or disingenuous, given that many people have valid qualms about the right to citizenship. Nevertheless, I will say it because that is happening on the doorsteps.

During the debate on the Immigration Bill on 29 May 2003 I raised with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the attempt to attract white Anglo-Saxons as opposed to everyone else who wants to make a better life here. The Minister was very indignant and accused me of constituency envy. I would not envy Deputy McDowell in any constituency and am happy to live in Dublin Mid-West. It is a rapidly-growing and extremely multicultural constituency where one is as likely to see a person from Mozambique as from Montpellier within the towns of Lucan, Clondalkin, Newcastle, Saggart, Rathcoole, Brittas and Palmerstown.

Any debate on citizenship or immigration brings out the worst in people. When campaigning, if we ask people about issues of importance to them, they invariably bring up immigration. They are entitled to raise the issues of immigration, people's entitlement to come here and the working conditions they should have because those are valid concerns. Unfortunately, in the absence of a proper civic debate similar to the Forum on Europe, we are left with rumour and innuendo. At every third or fourth house I visit, I meet someone who tells me there are a lot of blacks in this country and that his or her neighbour knows one who waves a big cheque, gets a free car because he has been racially abused on the bus and gets free haircuts. It is absolute claptrap, a total urban myth that must be condemned. At any chance that my colleagues and I get, and any chance any Member of this House gets, because thank God there are no real fascists here, we must refute those arguments. During an election campaign, however, when people are canvassing, they have two or three minutes to ask for a vote and there is no time for a detailed debate on race, immigration, asylum and citizenship. We listen to the soundbites, say they are not true but do not have a chance to scotch the rumours.

This should not be an issue where Deputies appear on "Oireachtas Report" ranting and raving; it must be thought out. It is my firm belief that by holding this referendum on the same day as the local and European elections, the issue will be clouded by urban myths and I believe the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, his party and Fianna Fáil are fully aware of that. That is the nub of the issue.

My colleagues have mentioned the impact of this on the North and Article 2 and Article 9 of the Constitution. We need a proper debate on citizenship without any ranting and raving and without the urban myths. Many of those living in my constituency are from other countries. Some of them now have Irish citizenship and are very good citizens, better in many cases than those who were originally born here.

A debate on citizenship should take place outside the cauldron of electioneering. That is why I am asking the Government to reconsider its position — for the reasons outlined by the parties in the North and the parties on this side of the House. This debate is not about citizenship, it is about fanning the flames of racism outside the House. Impressionable people who are not inherently racist sometimes listen to urban myths and suddenly believe we are being overrun by citizenship tourists. This is a totally false premise and if the Government were being honest it would hold the referendum at another time in the year and not in the heat of an election.

There is a saying, "If it's not broken, don't fix it." We are having a referendum without any real idea of what we are trying to fix. There is a distinct lack of information about this topic and a perception that the Government is using it as a smoke screen to obscure the real issues — the broken promises, the 21 people regularly on trolleys in my constituency, the people who cannot go to the local GP because it is so difficult to get a medical card and they cannot afford to pay for a visit.

Because the GPs are so bloody dear.

Even those on very low incomes cannot get a medical card but the Government is using this referendum as a smoke screen to mask the reality. It is like the former Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, with his toothbrushes, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, with the smoking ban, which is the only matter on which I would congratulate him. The Government should deal with the collapsing health service, the overdue disability Bill, the paramedic numbers in EMT and the lack of helicopter emergency medical service with the same vigour as it is dealing with this referendum.

The doctors might charge less — €150 for one second with a consultant.

The Minister is missing the point. People cannot access the health services.

The doctors are as bad as the lawyers.

The Minister would know all about that.

Where, then, are the 200,000 extra medical cards that were promised?

Including the dead patients for whom doctors received €14 million.

No matter what the Minister says, there is a lack of capacity in the health service because of a lack of resources and not as a result of anything else.

We do not know the extent of this problem or how many people are coming at an advanced stage of pregnancy. It is not just non-nationals who are arriving in an advanced stage of pregnancy or without ante-natal care. In my surgery my wife, who is not medically qualified, has assisted in delivering two babies who could not make it as far as the hospital. People are always on the move now and these things happen when airlines carry people in the advanced stages of pregnancy, it is a fact of life in a modern nation.

There are problems when a woman arrives in hospital from an area infested with AIDS and who might have the disease and not have received ante-natal care. They present challenges for maternity units but this referendum is not the answer to those problems, the answer is to grant the resources that are needed to address the situation.

It is presumed that people are arriving to take advantage of citizenship opportunities. That might happen but the number involved is very small. If it is so small, why are we doing this? It is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, it makes no sense. It would have been more sensible to have passed the issue to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. Why did that not happen, as would have happened with other matters related to the Constitution? That it did not fuels the existing cynicism.

How many women are coming here heavily pregnant and how many arrive in labour? At what stage of pregnancy are these women when they arrive? This is information we do not have. The figures the Minister provided are very global in nature. They fail to outline the exact situation. It appears we are dealing only with a couple of hundred people.

When a Government is not prepared to commit resources, it creates a smokescreen or commissions another report. I do not understand why a report was not commissioned to consider this matter in more detail before deciding to hold a referendum. Perhaps it is deliberate. The Government may not want to know the true figures as they would expose the whole farce. We should have learned from past referenda that amending the Constitution to address a possible abuse by a few hundred people is ludicrous to say the least.

We depend on non-national doctors and others. I implore the Government not to throw out the baby with the bath water which is exactly what we are doing. We have much more important things to do than to take away the cead míle fáilte from those who need our help as we needed help in former years. Our greatest export was once our people which is why we should not adopt this course. We should get real about this issue and postpone the referendum.

It is the economy, stupid.

It is a smokescreen.

The Deputy should give up the fags rather than concern himself with smokescreens.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the citizenship referendum. I have thought carefully about the issue and tried to inform myself. I have listened to those of my constituents who have raised the matter with me. It is not all one-way traffic. There are divergent views and differing legal and political opinions. As this is where we are, we must decide what to do. A number of issues are involved and it is important to resolve them. The central questions involve identifying the issues and the ways in which to resolve them.

The phrase which continually occurs to me and seems to encapsulate the debate is "unintended consequences". Unintended consequences occur where something happens which we do not expect. In December 1999, we intended through the 19th amendment to the Constitution to recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to be accepted as Irish, British or both as they wished. That was the objective of the Good Friday Agreement. Our vote in that referendum extended citizenship rights to every person born in Ireland and its islands, a right enshrined in Article 2 of the Constitution. Some of those who voted "Yes" in the referendum intended that to be the case and, of these, some may have changed their positions subsequently. Others never intended Article 2 to stand as written. Everyone in each category, however, voted "Yes" and for many there were unintended and unexpected consequences. The issue of unintended consequences is one of the central questions we must face in the coming weeks.

Changing or amending the Constitution should be a last resort. We should only take such action when no other options are available. Apart from the 1999 amendment, many consider the second referendum on abortion to have had unintended consequences. People felt their intentions when casting their vote were not reflected in subsequent court judgments. This is one of the reasons we must be careful to avoid unintended consequences. Must we have a further referendum or will Article 9.1, which states that the future acquisition and loss of Irish nationality and citizenship shall be determined in accordance with the law, suffice? Is that not a vehicle with which to deal with the current problem?

An unintended outcome of the proposal before us may be that it inadvertently and unexpectedly unravels the Good Friday Agreement. While the British and Irish Governments tell us the Agreement will remain rock solid after the referendum, many parties and individuals question their judgment. Mr. Mark Durkan has called the proposal a scrambled referendum. Dr. Ian Paisley and the DUP welcomed the proposal which they see as an opportunity to unravel and unpick the Good Friday Agreement. As an unintended consequence, that would be a disaster. The issues at stake are neither simple nor straightforward. An honest and genuine attempt to consult all parties North and South must be made.

The All-Party Committee on the Constitution must be engaged and a Green Paper produced to deal with this matter justly, fairly and in keeping with the wishes of the people. Above all, this issue must be tackled in a manner which does not land us in the quagmire of unexpected consequences. I agree with Mr. Mark Durkan who described this as a scrambled referendum. That is the last thing we need. While there is an issue, we are dealing with it in haste when one should never amend the Constitution hastily.

Many Members accuse the Government of being political on this issue, although I will not do so. That is an accusation for the spin doctors. I am only interested in the outcomes of our actions. I heard promises from the Government in this House of consultations which might have produced a joint and agreed approach. Consultation with Members did not take place. Mr. Mark Durkan said of the Northern parties that the Government first ignored them and then dismissed them. He was notified of this matter after the fact, not at a briefing or meeting, but during a chit-chat over lunch. Some of the chat was on the record and some was off it. Why do we have an All-Party Committee on the Constitution when the Government does not see fit to consult it and seek its advice? When will the referendum commission be established? Its function will be to explain the referendum to the population, but with just over seven weeks to polling day, are we not skating on thin ice? If the Government intends to inform people fully, should the process not already have started? Does the fact that it has not confirm my view that we face a scrambled referendum?

Another issue of concern to many is that on 11 June most people will vote on three different matters. They will use the electronic voting system for the first time. I have heard Ministers tell us how aware the people are and how this will not pose a problem for anybody. While canvassing over the past two weeks, I have met many people who expressed concern. In the north western constituency, which covers almost 40% of the land mass of this country, people who vote will have to be aware of local and regional issues, local and regional politicians and the implications of a referendum on the Constitution. They will twice have to press a series of buttons to indicate preferences and vote and, subsequently, they will have to press another button to vote "Yes" or "No" in the referendum. I am not underestimating or undermining the intelligence of the electorate; I am reflecting what people are telling me on doorsteps.

While there is an issue to be resolved, we must deal with it in a manner which does not result in unintended consequences. I accept that in dealing with this matter we have a responsibility not only to ourselves and the will of the people, but also to those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of arriving here in the late stages of pregnancy. As a woman, I can only imagine their fears and hopes for their children. We have a responsibility also to our European neighbours. All this must be taken into consideration before we embark on a scrambled referendum.

I referred to our responsibility to our European neighbours. Sometimes, a Boston versus Berlin debate takes place here. Perhaps we should have one now and look not just to Europe, but to the USA and Canada also. We should remember the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who went to those countries. Their millions of descendants form the Irish diaspora of which we are fully proud. That diaspora exists because the USA and Canada granted citizenship to those who were born on their shores. I heard the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, say that those who went to those countries were not asylum seekers. Would he have said that to the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, those sent to Botany Bay? The Statue of Liberty welcomed the huddled masses. Her message is, "I will lift my lamp beside the golden door". It seems that if there are any golden doors in this country we are closing them.

I support the Government's proposal on citizenship. The reasons we need this amendment to the Constitution are straightforward. Our current citizenship law needs to be changed. Under our present law, citizenship is being given to people with little or no connection to Ireland or to its people. Such people will in turn be able to give Irish citizenship to their children and grandchildren. It is wrong that Irish nationality can be given out in this manner. Just as it was wrong for Irish citizenship to be sold for high prices under the passports for sale scheme, so too it is wrong for Irish citizenship to be given away free as if Irish citizenship, Irish nationality and the Irish nation meant nothing to us.

We saw the case of Mrs. Chen, who consciously went to Belfast to have her child born there so that she could argue that, with an Irish citizen child, she should have the right to reside in the UK. Irish citizenship law is being used to circumvent UK immigration control through the use of European Union free movement rights.

We have problems in our maternity hospitals which are symptomatic of the problems in our current citizenship law. The master of the Rotunda Hospital has, according to theIrish Independent, warned that it is surprising that there has not been a major catastrophe within the maternity services yet. The figures for Dublin’s major maternity hospitals show that approximately a quarter of births are to non-nationals. More than 80% of the births to non-nationals are to citizens from outside the European Union. That means approximately 20% of births at Dublin’s major maternity hospitals are to citizens of non-EU countries, or approximately 4,000 births a year in Dublin alone. Many of these were births to EU citizens or to non-EU citizens working here who are perfectly entitled to remain here with their children. However, it is believed the majority were to other non nationals.

The other problem, as Mr. Tommie Gorman of RTE reported last Sunday, is that health professionals in Belfast have noticed an increase in the number of non-nationals giving birth in hospitals there who are using temporary accommodation addresses and who are aware of Irish citizenship law. Non-citizens are going to Belfast and to other parts of Northern Ireland in late pregnancy to confer citizenship on their children.

For a variety of reasons, Irish citizenship law needs to be changed. I am not alone in holding that view. Deputy Enda Kenny has been reported as accepting that there is "a problem of non national persons arriving here particularly in later pregnancy". Even Deputy Rabbitte was reported last Saturday as stating that we cannot leave the door "wide open".

To change our citizenship laws we need to change the Constitution. That is the legal advice the Government has received. I am not a lawyer and therefore not in a position to contradict that point. However, it seems the current wording of Article 2 of the Constitution is clear: "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". What does entitlement to be a member of the Irish nation mean if it does not entitle somebody to Irish citizenship? The upshot of this is that if we want to change the current automatic entitlement to Irish citizenship for those born in Ireland we must change the Constitution.

If we change the Constitution, will the Government bring in a citizenship law which would be unduly harsh? In this legislation we have the answer. The Government has not merely produced its proposed amendment to the Constitution. It has also produced the draft legislation it will introduce in the event that the amendment to the Constitution is carried. This draft legislation was analysed by the Legal Affairs Correspondent ofThe Irish Times, Ms Carol Coulter. She concluded that if the legislation were enacted into law, Ireland would still be “one of the more liberal states in the EU from the point of view of citizenship”. Here is a person with no reason to particularly favour the Government point of view saying that if the Government’s proposals were accepted we would still have a liberal citizenship law. This is the answer to those who charge that the current referendum is racist.

I note that Deputy Cuffe is reported as indicating his party's support for an organisation called The Campaign Against the Racist Referendum. I am disappointed that he and his party would ally themselves to those who bandy around the word "racist" so casually. I am disappointed that a Member of the Labour Party who is not a TD referred publicly to "the racists in the Department of Justice". I oppose racism. However, I also oppose applying blanket terms of abuse to people not only because of their race, but also because of their professions, their political views or their employer. We should condemn and combat racism but we should also fight the wider problem of sectarianism and abusive behaviour. It is not merely wrong to unfairly and negatively label a person because of their race. It is also unfair to label a person as racist because they work in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I hope that, in time, the Green Party and the Labour Party will dissociate themselves from those who instrumentalise the term "racist" to unfairly abuse people against whom they offer no evidence of racism. Unfortunately, some people seek to identify so much with their followers that they cease to offer them leadership away from mistaken positions. Unfortunately, some people seem to believe that stating they are against racism means never having to say they are sorry. In my book, self-righteousness is no excuse for doing wrong.

One major difficulty is that none of the Opposition parties has produced its own detailed proposal on this matter. Instead of proposing something constructive, individual Opposition Deputies have remained in simple opposition mode. I was relieved over the weekend when Deputy Rabbitte announced that the Labour Party will shortly bring forward its own detailed proposals on this serious matter. I hope other parties and individual Deputies will bring forward their own proposals. In the absence of competing ideas on how to deal with the issue of citizenship, there is a danger that the people will be offered no choice but that between a Government proposal on one side and disunited chaos on the other.

The situation is straightforward. We need to change the law of automatic entitlement to citizenship for those born in Ireland. To do that we need to change the Constitution. Even after we have changed the Constitution and enacted legislation, we will still have one of the more liberal immigration regimes in the European Union, so what is the problem?

One issue that has been raised is the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement. I can understand that the SDLP has its own political instincts which it wishes to articulate. That is perfectly legitimate. I can understand that the SDLP, having laboured for years to install a new constitutional arrangement on this island, does not wish to see that arrangement threatened. However, the SDLP should be reassured by two facts. First, the Irish State operates in accordance with law. It would be unlawful for the Irish state to breach a binding international agreement such as the Good Friday Agreement. It is unthinkable that the Attorney General or his predecessor, the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, would propose legislation to this House which would involve us in a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. Second, the Government's proposed legislation follows exactly the detailed definition of entitlement to citizenship set out in Annexe 2 to the Good Friday Agreement. Far from breaking or threatening the Agreement, we are following its detailed provisions.

A second issue raised is the issue of the time required for the people to decide this question. People do not need much time to decide on the question of whether somebody with no prior links to Ireland should be automatically entitled to Irish citizenship merely because they were born here. People do not need much time to decide on whether the Oireachtas should have the power to determine the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen or is entitled to Irish citizenship.

A third issue is whether the referendum should take place on the same day as the local and European elections. I note that the Opposition has not stated when it believes the referendum should take place, just that it should not take place on 11 June. There are only two practical alternatives to holding the referendum on 11 June. We could wait until the presidential election later this year. That election might never take place. Furthermore, it would be grossly unfair to drag presidential candidates into a referendum on citizenship.

The alternative would be to hold a referendum on citizenship at some other time. This would involve extra cost. It would probably involve a lower turn-out. Worst of all, there would probably be a greater danger of racist tendencies and unthinking abusiveness surfacing if the referendum were held on a stand-alone basis than if it were held on the same day as local and European elections where it will not be the sole focus of political attention and debate. I favour holding this referendum on 11 June as this date would be best for a balanced debate, a higher turn-out and for limiting expense.

The Opposition's proposal is that we should refer this matter to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. That is a mistaken proposal. The fundamental issues are straightforward. Should children born in Ireland get automatic citizenship even if neither parent has any real connection with Ireland or with the Irish people? A referral to an all-party committee would make sense if there were complicated issues which needed teasing out but there are not. It would make sense if this was a problem we wanted to be seen doing something about but did not know what to do. However, we do know what to do. It would also make sense if we wanted to talk rather than take action but we do not.

If one had a leaking roof, one would not ask how many gallons per hour were coming into the house, sit down with one's extended family to decide whether there was a need to fix the leak, or spend time holding an architectural competition for a new roof. One would phone for help and set about fixing the roof immediately. However, under the Opposition's amendment we would sit down and have a lengthy chat while the problem got worse. On the issue of citizenship, it is not more talk or analysis of the options for action that is needed because all options for action lead unavoidably to constitutional change. If we do not do that, no other action to solve our problem is possible.

This must have been clear to the Opposition when it tabled its amendment which portrays clearly its fundamental problem, namely, while the Opposition can agree what it is against, it cannot agree what it is for. Without an agreed alternative, all it can manage is to agree to defer the problem, distract us from the issues and dither while we offer a solution. Instead of the mantra of "reduce, reuse and recycle", the Opposition strategy is one of "defer, distract and dither". The Government cannot afford such luxury but is condemned to take responsibility and must act.

The Government has done it on disability, no problem.

If we were to take the course of action recommended by the Opposition we would wait and allow still more people without any real connection with Ireland or the Irish people to confer automatic citizenship on their children; allow the overcrowded situation in our maternity hospitals to continue; keep the door open for non-EU citizens living in other EU states to come here and to use their new-born Irish children as the legal means for them to claim residency rights in other EU states; continue to have pregnant mothers living in Britain moving to Northern Ireland in the late stages of pregnancy and using temporary accommodation addresses to confer Irish citizenship on their children; and duck the problem and allow it to get worse although the solution is staring us in the face.

Deputy Kenny announced that the Opposition will enter Government to form a coalition of the caring. It would be no such thing — it would be a coalition of the careless. We can see what to expect from the Opposition's current conduct of the citizenship issue. Instead of principle we would get posture; instead of action we would get talk; instead of solutions we would get continued problems.

The Government is right that there is a problem with current citizenship law which was not intended when we approved the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and we can only fix that problem by amending the Constitution. If we amend the Constitution and pass the Government's proposed legislation, we will still have, "one of the more liberal states in the EU from the point of view of citizenship" according to Ms Carol Coulter ofThe Irish Times.

This referendum will not alter the rights of individual Irish citizens, north or south of the Border, or those entitled to Irish citizenship to automatically confer Irish citizenship on their children, or change the citizenship position of those who already have Irish citizenship. The question to be answered in the referendum will be simple, namely, should children born in Ireland get automatic citizenship even if neither parent has any real connection with Ireland or with the Irish people? The answer of the Irish people will also be simple.

In conclusion, if we are to protect the integrity of Irish citizenship and behave as good neighbours to our fellow EU members, we should pass this referendum. The Opposition's proposed amendment is an attempt by those who cannot see what is wrong to distract those who know what is right. I reject the Opposition amendment and commend the Government's proposal to the House.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Crawford, by agreement.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

There has been much debate on the Bill. To refer to the contribution of my constituency colleague, Deputy Grealish, what if the referendum was not to take place on 11 June? Fine Gael accepts there is a problem, although the Minister did not seem to think it a significant one until very recently. However, there would not be the slightest problem if the referendum was to take place on its own next October, after going through the relevant Oireachtas committee. Knowing this, why did the Government decide to hold the referendum on 11 June?

I was in the House some time ago when the Leader of the Opposition asked the Taoiseach whether a referendum would run in conjunction with the local elections on 11 June. The official answer was that it was not planned to hold such a referendum. From where has the significant demand come? Could what is to be done on 11 June not be put back until October?

I listened attentively to the Minister's speech in this debate.

Did the Deputy hear any of it?

I did and, what is more, I read it. The Minister is not the only one who can read. He might be a senior counsel but--——

It is just that the Opposition benches were so noisy.

It is this type of glib performance which makes the Minister so arrogant. He is not the only one with a monopoly on intelligence.

The Deputy takes me up wrongly. I was merely saying that the Labour Party benches made so much noise I was surprised anybody could hear.

The Minister had his chance to speak and should listen. One of his problems is that he does not listen. The Taoiseach said there was not to be a referendum on 11 June, which is on the record. What has happened in the meantime so that, as a matter of great urgency, it is necessary to hold the referendum on 11 June?

I thought the Minister would come to the House today with dramatic figures to show there was a significant flow of non-nationals into our maternity hospitals, that the number was increasing every month and that this month was the highest of all. However, he did not say that. Instead, the Minister and several Government Deputies used the phrase, "It is believed". What is believed? Ireland gave out over 40,000 work permits over recent years to a cohort of people, mostly of child-bearing age.

The Deputy is right.

It is reasonable to assume that an increasing number of babies would be born to people who are in this country correctly. While Fine Gael fully accepts there is a problem and has no difficulty with section 2, I cannot understand why the Government has created division for no reason other than the desire to hold the referendum on 11 June. I am long enough in the House to know there must be a good reason for this.

I took the Minister at his word before and after his meeting with the masters of the maternity hospitals, and had no reason not to do so. I believed they said to him there was a serious problem and they asked the Minister to do something about it.

However, the four masters afterwards said they did not in any way ask the Minister to do that. It was obvious they were asking for extra investment and greater facilities. The Minister was not able to distance himself from this and buried his head in the sand.

If that is the case, the Minister should tell the House that the masters of the maternity hospitals were wrong.

They never asked me for a ha'penny

That is not what I asked.

If the Deputy will give way, I will answer.

I have today placed in the Oireachtas Library a record of all my dealings with the masters. The Deputy should consider that record. If he has any difficulty about my truthfulness, let him make a further contribution at a later stage in this debate.

As I gave way, I will put a straight question. Did the masters of the maternity hospitals ask the Minister to have a referendum to solve the problem? I want the Minister to answer that question now.

The Minister must wait to reply. This is not a question and answer session.

I know that, but I gave way to the Minister.

The Minister will have a right of reply.

I did not say they asked me to have a referendum. However, they asked me to take steps to change the law and the evidence is in the Library if the Deputy wants to look at it.

They did not ask him to have a referendum.

I ask the Deputy to proceed in the normal way.

He denied that.

He denied that. The referendum is being held on a flawed basis. Why was that matter not put to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution? It exists to deal with such issues. There is no more appropriate place to discuss it. The referendum could have been held without any bitterness next October.

That is correct.

The people would like to see some change, but it must be done in a fair and even-handed way. I have heard enough from the Minister today to know that this referendum is being held on a flawed basis. Everyone in the House accepts there is a problem. Why foist this referendum on the people on 11 June when electronic voting will be used, which will be a major problem for many citizens? There will now be three, if not four, ballot papers in most places. Why does the Minister want to foist that on an electorate which has sufficient problems without this referendum?

Does the Deputy want me to answer that?

I am surprised at the Minister because Fianna Fáil are masters in this area. Canvassers will be asked many searching questions on the doorsteps about the Government's stewardship of the economy for the past two or three years. There is a significant gap between the rich and the poor in this country. The Minister thought the best way to camouflage the problems was to introduce an issue which would dominate the airwaves. He wanted to ensure an intellectual debate. I do not know if he is right or wrong, but the people know what is going on. They want to do the right thing. Citizenship is an extremely important treasure for people throughout the world and it is no different here. However, the Minister and the Government are cynical about this issue. They do not want to discuss the problems in local government, the health service and elsewhere which are thrashed out here on a daily basis. They hope to win the support of the electorate on this issue. It is a cynical exercise. I hope the people decide for themselves the real reason for this amendment.

I know there is a problem in this area, but I do not understand why a referendum could not be held next October, irrespective of whether there is a presidential election. What is the difference between a presidential and a local government election? Why could they not be held on the same day? I do not understand that. We may not have a presidential election. How many times have we held a referendum on its own? I remember a number of them over the years. If it is as important as the Minister believes, why could we not have a good day out next October?

There is a Progressive Democrats presence on the Government side of the House.

We have almost as many Deputies as the party the Deputy represents.

Fianna Fáil is having a holiday because it allowed the Minister to take the rap for it, which is what Fianna Fáil always does. Given the importance of this issue, why did the Minister not decide to hold the referendum on its own next October? Why did he not consult with all the groups, such as the SDLP? I hope there is no racism. It is only being mentioned because the Minister decided to hold the referendum on 11 June. It would not have been mentioned if the referendum had been held in October.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this important legislation. It is sad that we must deal with this issue in such an amateur way. I am pleased the Minister and two of his Progressive Democrats colleagues are in the House this evening. Deputy O'Donnell does not hold the same views as the group here this evening. She did not show a united front in terms of the urgent need for this referendum.

She is concerned and rightly so.

She was probably not consulted.

That relates to the issue of consultation. Government backbenchers are trying to claim they are the Government and the Opposition. It suits them to say in their constituencies, particularly in south Cork, that this legislation should not be rushed through, yet they all vote the same way in the Dáil. We saw that during the debate on the widows' pension and other issues. They claim they are against something, yet they support it in the Dáil.

I was interested in the speech given by the Minister for Health and Children, which was extremely good. He stated that this country is an attractive target. We know some people target this country. However, he has not made the health service attractive for Irish or non-national mothers and babies in Cavan and Monaghan. When I was in Cork recently, I received an emergency telephone call from a parent in north Monaghan who wanted to get a child into the centre of excellence in Drogheda but who had been told by the family doctor that the hospital had been taken off call because gynaecologists or paediatricians were not available. They were told to send the child to Cavan General Hospital, which is full, or to Tallaght. Yet the Minister says our country is attractive for mothers and babies.

That is a good point.

This issue is a smoke screen to ensure that the chaos in the health service and the problems in other areas are not highlighted during the election.

I heard in the past few minutes that the north Monaghan Fianna Fáil cumann has decided not to nominate anyone in the north Monaghan council area or the Monaghan Town Council area because the members are totally dissatisfied with what the Government has done. That is hypocrisy at its best. It is a gimmick.

It is also cowardice.

It is clear that the Minister for Health and Children, whom they met last week, will deliver something and then they will claim responsibility for it. It is a magic trick.

They know something. They are probably afraid to go forward.

This issue has been brought forward as a matter of urgency. As politicians, we must deal with people with disabilities. It is absurd that this legislation, of which the Taoiseach denied any knowledge a few weeks ago, can be rushed through the House, while people with disabilities are being ignored. It was only last year, when the Special Olympics took place here, that the Taoiseach claimed he was responsible for everything. However, that matter has been ignored and this issue is now being addressed.

I made it clear at the outset that Fine Gael is not opposed to this issue, rather it is concerned about the way in which it is being addressed. I represent a Border area and I have a keen interest in the peace process. However, there are those on the benches behind me who, from time to time, try to make out that I am not committed to the peace process. They should consider my record of involvement in farming and other organisations over the years. I know people in every county in Northern Ireland.

The peace process, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement came about on the basis of trust and open discussion. I was alarmed to learn that the leader of the SDLP, a group which was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, was not properly consulted on this matter.

It is amazing.

The Minister may be able to pacify Mr. Durkan in the long term but surely an issue of such importance should have been dealt with in conjunction with those who are committed to peace on this island and efforts made to ensure that they understood his position. My party leader, Deputy Kenny, is the type of person with whom the Taoiseach and the Minister could at least discuss this issue. However, the record does not show such discussions taking place. This is a constitutional matter and it is being rushed through the House.

The leader of the Minister's party, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, stated that she has been aware of this matter for six years and that it is part of the programme for Government. Surely if she knew about it for that length of time, there was some potential for bringing together the main Opposition parties and the main groups dealing with the Good Friday Agreement to achieve some sort of consensus on this matter. It may be difficult for the Minister to accept but there has been a total failure on his part.

We have been informed as to why this matter should be dealt with quickly. Deputy Grealish referred to a leaking roof and how one might deal with such a problem quickly. I agree with him because I was involved in the structural seal business for some years and I received many calls for work to be carried out as a matter of urgency. The Deputy is correct about leaking roofs but this is not an emergency issue because the problem has not arisen overnight. For example, it is only today that the Minister provided some broad figures. We accept that something needs to be done but this is not the sort of emergency to which Deputy Grealish referred. There are many other issues in respect of which urgent action is needed. I refer, for example, to the 200,000 people who were informed two years ago that they would receive medical cards. However, there are a further 50,000 people who are currently without medical cards because they were taken off them.

That is a lot of people.

People are dying on our roads at present. It was stated yesterday that gardaí have been detailed to deal with matters relating to the European Presidency and have not been available for traffic duties. I will be attending the funeral this evening of a child who died as a result of someone speeding.

There are a number of matters in respect of which Deputy Grealish's philosophy should be used. I wish to refer to one example, namely, insurance. Unfortunately, there are no members of Fianna Fáil present to hear my contribution. The leader of the Deputy's party has held the position of Minister in an extremely important Department which deals with the issue of insurance. He should approach her and communicate to her the philosophy he outlined earlier. The Government is trying to deal with the matter before us in a period of four to five weeks. It should try to deal with the insurance issue so that small businesses and others will not suffer as a result of the total failure to deal with it in the past. The philosophy of the leaking roof is very good and it should be put into action. The Minister is doing what is right but he is doing it in the wrong way.

I look forward to the Deputy's support when it comes to the vote.

I support the Government's proposals on citizenship. There are really only a few simple questions which we need to answer in order to convince ourselves that the Government is following the correct course.

Is the current law on citizenship satisfactory? The answer is clear: the current law on citizenship is unsatisfactory. It is noticeable that no party leader of national standing has attempted to argue that the current law on citizenship is one with which we can be fully satisfied. The reasons I find the current law on citizenship unsatisfactory are straightforward.

First, I am concerned that citizenship is being given to those with little or no connection to Ireland and to its people. Such individuals will then in turn be able to give Irish citizenship to their children and grandchildren. It is wrong that Irish nationality can be simply given out in this manner.

Second, when we consider the Chen case, it is clear that Irish citizenship law is being used to circumvent UK immigration control through the exercise of European Union free movement. People can argue that, with an Irish citizen child, they have the right to reside in the UK or any other EU country. We in Ireland should not allow a hole in our back fence to create problems for our neighbours in Britain or those throughout the rest of Europe. We should fix the hole to which I refer not only for our own good, but also for that of our neighbours.

Third, a difficult situation in Irish maternity hospitals has been made significantly worse as a result of our citizenship law. The master of the Rotunda Hospital has, according to theIrish Independent, warned that it was surprising that there had not been a major catastrophe within the maternity services yet. Do we have to wait for a catastrophe before we are prompted to act, as the Opposition seems to suggest by its proposed amendment?

Fourth, Tommie Gorman of RTE reported on Sunday that health professionals in Northern Ireland had noticed an increase in the number of non-nationals using temporary accommodation addresses giving birth there. There may be others in RTE who do not like that message or who seek to contradict it, but I believe what Tommie Gorman said.

Can we change the current unsatisfactory situation without changing the constitution? The answer to this question is that we cannot. The legal advice the Government received from the Attorney General is that we cannot restrict citizenship for people born in Ireland without changing the Constitution. Article 2 of the Constitution makes that clear. It states: "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." What does entitlement to be a member of the Irish nation mean unless it entitles somebody to Irish citizenship? There was a report by a lawyer inThe Irish Times yesterday which disagreed with that point. I will say two things about that: first, the paper merely identified the writer as “a practising barrister” but it failed to state that he is a leading member of and former electoral candidate for Fine Gael; and, second, that I would rather rely on the advice of the Attorney General in this matter. If we want to change the current automatic entitlement to Irish citizenship for those born in Ireland, we must change the Constitution.

Should Irish citizenship be automatically conferred simply as a result of a person being born here or should the Oireachtas have the power to determine the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen or is entitled to Irish citizenship? This is the key question on which the people will be asked to vote on 11 June next. That is all we have to decide. Children born in Ireland with one parent who is an Irish citizen or who is entitled to Irish citizenship will be automatically entitled to such citizenship.

The law on other cases will be decided by the Oireachtas. This is the proposal of the Government. This was the position recommended by the Constitutional Review Group headed up by Dr. T.K. Whitaker when it reported in 1996 that because of its complexity, citizenship "is more appropriately dealt with in legislation" than in the Constitution. That is my position. It is easy to see why the Whitaker group made that recommendation. When one has to go into the nitty gritty of specific cases of citizenship law — as we do in our capacity as Deputies helping our constituents — then one appreciates that our citizenship law cannot be reduced to a few lines in a document, such as the Constitution, which it is itself very difficult to change or amend.

If the people vote to change the Constitution, will the Government then establish an unfair situation? No, it will not. If the referendum passes and the Government's proposed legislation is passed, Ireland would still be "one of the more liberal states in the European Union from the point of view of citizenship" according to Ms Carol Coulter ofThe Irish Times. Ms Coulter, a person with no reason to favour particularly the Government point of view, states that, if the Government’s proposals were accepted, we would have a pretty liberal citizenship law. This is the answer to those who raise the charge of racism or to those who charge that the current referendum is racist. This issue is really very simple. Is the current law on citizenship satisfactory? I contend that it is not. Can we change the current unsatisfactory law on citizenship without changing the Constitution? No, we cannot. If the people vote to change the Constitution, will the Government then produce an unfair situation? No, it will not. The nub of the issue is whether children born in Ireland should get automatic citizenship even if neither parent has any real connection with Ireland or with the Irish people. Should Irish citizenship be automatically conferred simply as a result of a person being born here or should the Oireachtas have the power to determine the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen or is entitled to Irish citizenship?

The central question is whether children born in Ireland should get automatic citizenship even if neither parent has any real connection with Ireland or with the Irish people. Should Irish citizenship be automatically conferred simply as a result of a person being born here or should the Oireachtas have the power to determine the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen or is entitled to Irish citizenship?

I am sorry to say that I am not sure whether we can expect a balanced debate on this referendum. A balanced debate on this referendum would require the Opposition parties to indicate how they would deal with the problems of our citizenship law if they were in Government. There is a danger that instead of thoughtful proposals one would experience scare-mongering emotionalism peppered by unsubstantiated charges of racism. I hope we can avoid that. The Government's position is strong in logic and in facts. The Opposition is unsure how to react. So it resorts to procedural nit-picking. It is no wonder that the Opposition parties have preferred to focus on the process that has led us to this proposal than to look at the merits of the proposal itself.

There have been a number of concerns raised regarding the Government's proposal. The SDLP has raised the concern that this amendment could damage the Good Friday Agreement. There are a number of answers to that concern. First, the point must be made that when the Good Friday Agreement was concluded in 1998, we did not sign up to a final settlement. We signed up to a peace process. It is ironic to hear the SDLP echo one of the core criticisms made by the DUP against the Good Friday Agreement, namely that the Agreement represents a peace process rather than a peace settlement. There have been numerous changes since the Good Friday Agreement, which have had the effect of expanding the terms of that Agreement. What was Weston Park about if not to go beyond the terms of the originally concluded Agreement? My first response to the SDLP query is that I do not accept the premise on which it is based. I do not accept that the Agreement is something fixed in stone, never to be changed or touched. The very detailed political negotiations which have taken place since the Agreement show that there are many others who share this view.

Second, the Irish State operates in accordance with law. It would be unlawful for the Irish State to breach a binding international agreement such as the Good Friday Agreement. It is unthinkable that the Attorney General or his predecessor, the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, would propose legislation to this House which would involve us breaching the Good Friday Agreement.

Third, the Government's proposed legislation follows exactly the detailed definition of entitlement to citizenship set out in Annexe 2 to the Good Friday Agreement. Far from breaking or threatening the Agreement, we are following its detailed provisions.

Fourth, the British government has confirmed the opinion of the Irish Government that the changes we are now discussing do not conflict with the Good Friday Agreement. I put the argument to the SDLP that this referendum and the Government's proposed legislation is fully consistent with the detailed provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

A second concern that has been raised is the issue of the time required for the people to decide the question. I do not believe that the Irish people need a great deal of time to decide the question whether somebody with no prior links to Ireland should be automatically entitled to Irish citizenship just because they were born here. I do not believe that our people need a great deal of time to decide whether the Oireachtas should have the power to determine the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen or is entitled to Irish citizenship. Nor do I believe we need Green Papers or White Papers to deal with the problem.

The fundamental question of automatic entitlement to citizenship is not complicated. The constitutional step we need to take to solve the problem is not complicated. It is only those who seek to avoid the question who are aiming to defer the decision. The Opposition's proposal is to kick this problem into the long grass in the hope that it will go away or fix itself. Either that, or the Opposition is unable to answer the fundamental question at the heart of this debate in an expeditious and efficient manner. I suspect that the problem for the Opposition is that there are deeply divergent opinions within the Opposition on the substantive question at issue here. The Opposition can unite in opposing the Government. The Opposition can unite in raising procedural objections or detailed questions. However, the Opposition cannot unite around its own proposal on this important matter. It can unite to disagree, to defer, to dither on the issue but it cannot unite around a single, coherent proposal. This must have been clear to the Opposition when it tabled its amendment, which portrays clearly the fundamental problem of the Opposition. While it can agree that it is against the Government, it cannot agree on what it as an alternative Government would do. While it can agree on what it is against, it cannot agree on what it is for. The Opposition can create procedural wrangles. It cannot give proposals that will work. It can raise points of order. It cannot suggest alternative proposals.

Did the Minister of State ask his own colleague, Deputy Liz O'Donnell?

I did not interrupt Deputy O'Keeffe when he was speaking.

The Minister of State was not in the House.

The issue we face is very simple. Should children born in Ireland get automatic citizenship even if neither parent has any real connection with Ireland or with the Irish people? The Oireachtas should have the power to determine the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children, neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen or is entitled to Irish citizenship. That is the reason I will vote "Yes" to the Government's proposals here in Dáil Éireann. That is why I will vote "Yes" when the question is put to the people on 11 June. That is the reason I urge support for this amendment to the Constitution.

The Government is right. We have a problem with our current citizenship law. We can only fix that problem by amending the Constitution. If we amend the Constitution and pass the Government's proposed legislation, we will still have "one of the more liberal states in the European Union from the point of view of citizenship". The Opposition amendment would only delay what we know we need. The Government's proposals are sensible and reasonable. I support the Government's proposals.

First, I will comment on Deputy Tim O'Malley's contribution. The Government is missing the point. Everybody agrees we should ensure there is no room for abuse of our citizenship laws. However, this is a bigger issue and is not as simple as the Minister of State suggests. Whereas the referendum on the one line amendment is a simple "yes" or "no" answer, the topic of immigration, citizenship and non-nationals is a massive issue. As I have repeatedly said in the House, we do not have a policy on this. We do not have clarity or sufficient information and that is fuelling racism. It is not that anybody wishes to fuel racism but that is what is happening as a result of the lack of information, clarity and a comprehensive policy. This is the third or fourth time I have spoken on legislation relating to immigration, non-nationals and so forth but we have never had a full debate on the subject. That is what we are seeking. Let us have a proper discussion about it and formulate a policy.

The Minister said the Opposition parties cannot come forward with a set of alternatives. That is correct. Our party has not sat down to discuss this, no more than the Minister's has. There is disagreement in his party too. Nobody has discussed this fully. It is not a simple issue and it is a pity that we have to plough ahead with this referendum without having a full debate and putting all the information on the table. We are not even sure how big the problem is. We have repeatedly asked for figures on the number of children involved. How many babies have been born in the last number of years? How many parents have abused this loophole or are expected to abuse it in the future? We do not know.

The Minister spoke this morning about babies being born to non-nationals in our hospitals. He never clarified, however, how many of them arrived in this country in the few days before the babies were born. A chap from America has been living near me for the past ten years. He is a non-national. If his wife has a baby, it is classified as a non-national. The baby could be included in the Minister's figures but that is not what we are discussing and it is not the reason for the referendum. Figures are being thrown about to prove the case but that is not good enough. It is creating mistrust and causing a major problem among the public.

We have a problem with this referendum. We want to know the exact figures. If there is a major problem, we can work together and solve it. I am disappointed with the debate today. The arrogance is unbelievable.

On the Deputy's side.

On all sides. Members have been acting like children; nobody wants to sit down, discuss it properly and listen to the other side. The Minister turned his face away when he was being informed by Deputy Rabbitte of what people are saying about non-nationals. He did not believe Deputy Rabbitte.

Perhaps people do not tell Ministers, out of respect for their office, how they feel about non-nationals. Having listened to the debate today, I believe the Government is failing to see the real picture. It does not understand the public mood. That is not to say it is out of touch but I suspect people might not be telling members of the Government what they think. A person might think: "I dare not talk to the Minister, Deputy McDowell, about racism and non-nationals because he will bury me in an argument." It would be easier to talk to me about it because I am not as great an expert. However, I can see and feel the mood. I am extremely concerned. We have a problem in this country and pushing through this amendment and debating it in an arrogant manner will not help. It will give those who wish to fuel racism a chance to do so. They will be talking in the bars and restaurants and spreading the word. We do not wish to cause this but it will happen as a by-product of our discussions this week and the referendum.

There is a reason our party does not want this referendum to be held at the same time as the June election. There is a tendency among candidates and other people to talk about what non-nationals are getting or taking from this country. It is a disgrace but it is happening and candidates will tap into that. They will not put it in print or in their literature. However, they will be on the doorsteps sympathising with people whose son or daughter is waiting for a house for four years. "The other crowd got one", they will say, "but I will not let that happen". That is what will take place and that is the reason we oppose the referendum. This stems from the lack of a proper debate, no information and rushing this measure through the Houses. No wonder people are distrustful.

We have a duty as public representatives to work on this issue together and to find a suitable solution. A number of people have regretted that there is not cross-party support. It certainly is a pity. This is a serious issue, at least as serious as the electronic voting issue, in terms of its importance for our future. Again, legislation on matters that are essential for the future are being shoved through without cross-party support. This debate and the lack of cross-party support could mean that the referendum could fail. We are willing to accept that there might be a problem but that has not been proven. If it proves to be a problem, we are willing to solve it by a referendum or whatever other measure is necessary.

When correct information is not provided, there is an opportunity to circulate misinformation. There is a strong possibility that this referendum could fail, which would mean the issue being sidelined again. This Minister for lunacy, if I can call him that, who thought this measure should be brought forward, might fail purely because he would not work with the other parties. The huge problem he wanted to solve, therefore, will remain for another generation until somebody else attempts to solve it. It is a pity that by pushing this measure through, we will probably get nowhere with it.

If it fails, will there be a rerun a few months later, as happened with the Nice treaty referendum? The Government has not learned from that referendum. The Nice treaty referendum was pushed through the first time without any proper discussion. No information was given. Everybody assumed the referendum would be passed. However, it failed and that could happen again in this referendum.

The Minister said the Government's position is strong in logic and in facts. It might be strong in logic but not in facts. It is a pity we have not been given the facts. All Members said today that they hoped there would be a balanced debate but that cannot happen because we do not have the information the Minister has. How can there be a balanced debate? I would have expected to see fair play in the Houses of the Oireachtas, where everybody could be heard and where there would be proper discussions. I did not expect people to snub each other. I agree with Deputy O'Connor that it happened on all sides of the House. What happened in the House today is disgusting; I could not believe it. I could not even hear the Minister speak this morning because of all the shouting and ranting, not least from him.

Everyone was shouting at him.

He looked for it because he likes that. However, that is not the way to deal with this emotive issue. This will cause serious problems and we will not be able to solve them. The problems associated with citizenship and non-nationals are massive but we do not appear to care. We seem to think we can block gaps here and there and make it sound good but we do not really care about the nitty gritty of what will happen in the future. It will be bad.

What should be done? We need to get together with groups of people and convey the correct message to the public. We must explain what is happening and what plans we have to deal with this subject. We must talk about it in schools and elsewhere. I have been a Member of the House for nearly two years and I have mentioned this subject on a number of occasions but nobody has decided to inform people or to try to improve matters. However, when an election is due in two months it is decided to rush a Bill through the House that might appeal to people's emotions.

The Government cannot blame us for thinking there is a political motive for introducing this Bill. We have not been given the reasons for it. Three months ago we asked whether there would be a referendum and were told it would not happen. A number of Deputies put down questions seeking information a month ago but they were not given answers. The Opposition cannot be blamed for thinking there is another reason for bringing this Bill before the House in such a hurry. It is a little like Chicken Licken running around saying the sky is going to fall down. The sky will not fall down if this Bill is not passed. Europe will not be annoyed with us for not pushing through this amendment. There is no major panic. We can wait a few months to discuss this properly.

The Minister might not like the comparison but it is a little like George Bush rushing into Iraq without UN support. It is not as serious but the same logic applies. If George Bush had a second chance, he would probably wait for UN support before going into Iraq. Look at the problems he has now. The same applies to the Minister in this case. If he does not work with all the parties on the overall issue, not just this part of it, there will be problems. Let us watch how he will handle them. He will be back to the House, cap in hand, seeking our support after the problem has grown.

Nobody has all the answers. One of our candidates seeking election in Navan is a youth worker in Dublin. She is involved in groups that work with non-nationals. Her group has never been asked its opinion on this subject. It is one of the few groups working directly with non-nationals and immigrants every day. I have friends and colleagues who work in Mosney and they have never been asked what they think.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 6.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 22 April 2004.