That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to restore the eligibility of all persons born in the island of Ireland to Irish citizenship, to extend the eligibility for Irish citizenship to children resident for a period of time in the island of Ireland and related matters, to enhance the eligibility for Irish citizenship for children resident in the island of Ireland.
The Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Citizenship for Children) Bill 2020 has two purposes: to restore automatic citizenship for all children born on the island of Ireland; and to provide citizenship for children residing here for three years or more.
It is fair to say that the decision to move this Bill at such a relatively early stage in this Parliament has been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Bill will reverse the legislation enacted in 2005 on foot of the 2004 citizenship referendum, which was, in my opinion, a racist referendum, and it aims to provide security of rights for thousands of young people growing up in this country undocumented.
The 2004 referendum removed automatic birth right for citizenship for young people born on this island if they did not have parents coming from the EU or a small number of other European countries. It has impacted the lives of thousands of young people, not least the hundreds of young people who have been deported from this country since that time or who face deportation today.
It is particularly apt that the Bill is being moved at this time because a young person who was born around the time that legislation was enacted is approaching his or her 16th birthday now, and is facing into the denial of freedoms and rights that their peers, their friends and their classmates enjoy. Let me give the House a couple of examples from some recent parliamentary questions.
I wrote to the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, to ask if measures would be put in place to ensure that persons born here post-2005, who are not Irish, UK, EEA or Swiss nationals, will not need to apply for work permits or other organisations to work here. In his reply, the Minister stated that in order to work in the State, all non-EEA citizens require a valid employment permit or relevant immigration permission issued by the Minister for Justice and Equality. Therefore, young people born in this country face the prospect of having to apply for work permits in order to work in this country.
I asked the Minister, Deputy Harris, if measures would be put in place to ensure that students born here, who have been long-term resident in Ireland but are not Irish, UK, EEA or Swiss citizens, will be able to avail of the free fees scheme and apply for SUSI grants. In his reply, the Minister said that to qualify for a student grant it is the candidate's nationality or his or her immigration status in the State that determines whether or not he or she meets the nationality requirement outlined in the Act and regulations, and went on to say that where students do not qualify for free fees funding, they must pay the appropriate fee. In other words, young people born in this country or who grew up in this country face the prospect of having to pay exorbitant fees to go to college and, in effect, of being locked out of third-level education. This is a scandal.
If the Black Lives Matter movement showed anything, it showed that the children of immigrants are not prepared to accept this discrimination, they want equality and they want the removal of obstacles to a decent life.
This is summed up by some of the things that were said around that movement. Tamilore Awonusi observed that:
During the recent discourse, the “Ireland isn’t racist” rhetoric has made me uncomfortable. Could it be that this “norm” is so embedded in our culture to the point that we’re oblivious to it?
Erica Cody stated "We’ve endured so much and Irish people of colour are ready to tell their stories and ready to be heard," and that "‘this is not going to go away and people are ready for change worldwide." We are attempting to bring the mood on the streets into this Parliament with a clear message summed up in this Bill that the time for discrimination is gone and the time for equality is now.