The Senator must not have been reading the newspapers if she thinks that. In this House, this has been described as a racist referendum. I have been strongly accused in both Houses of playing the race card, though we have had a much more moderate debate in this House than in other places. I have no interest in playing a race card. This is not a race card. The way to avoid the emergence in a PR-based democracy of parties of the extreme right on this issue, such as emerged in Austria, Holland, which we all look to as a liberal society, and Denmark, which is held up as an enlightened and liberal society, is for the Government of the day or successive Governments to approach the issue straight down the middle with a firm hand on the tiller. It must not be swayed by any temptation to play the race card nor must it be frightened away from doing the right thing by political correctness. One must go straight down the middle.
The Irish electorate understands that issue clearly. Our society is free from racism. Apart from a few people of passion who are writing newspaper articles, the great majority of people on the street are not excited by this proposal or scandalised by it. They are simply saying that it is sensible and they propose voting for it. They will not shower their number one votes on people who appear on one side of this issue rather than another when it comes to choosing their local authorities.
I agree with Senator Walsh's point that there seems to be a hypersensitivity to this issue being dealt with at all. There is a constant refrain that to deal with it in the political domain is somehow to risk or to be reckless as to whether racism emerges. I do not believe racism will emerge in Irish politics regarding this issue or that anyone will get a significant number of votes, more or less, depending on how they present this issue on 11 June. The Labour Party will get whatever share of votes it will get in the Dublin City Council election, and will not be affected by whether it says "yes" or "no" on this issue. The same holds for Senator Terry's party and for my own, I hope, as well as for Fianna Fáil. People will vote based on what they want to say about those parties' policies and their own local authority areas.
For all those reasons, I reiterate my point that now is the time to face up to this issue. There are certain urgencies involved, such as the Chen case. If that is decided against us in June, July, August, September, or whenever it happens, we would have a crisis on our hands. Everyone would be called on. Because of the publicity the Chen case would give rise to if the court decision went against the arguments of the Irish State and those of the United Kingdom, we would have to run through a referendum very rapidly so Ireland would not be allowed to become a place where every migrant in Europe who is worried about his or her status could come to avail of European Union citizenship,
Now is the time to face up to this simple issue. In one respect Fine Gael is right in saying this should be supported. To revert to Senator Terry's proposed series of amendments, and those of Senator Tuffy, the alternative approach, to re-open Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, though intellectually interesting to canvass would be so politically disastrous and so irresponsible in the present circumstances that it would be a wanton act of reckless vandalism with regard to the structure of the Good Friday Agreement. To go down that road would have catastrophic effects. I know that Senator Terry is not saying this should be done, merely that we might have considered it. It was considered. The Government took exactly the same view as Deputy Quinn in his celebrated letter and legal memorandum of 1998, that the intelligent way to approach this was to deal with a collateral amendment which qualifies the meaning of Article 2, but does so without doing it structural damage. That is what we are doing.
In those circumstances the people will understand that very clearly and will appreciate that this is the appropriate way to deal with the issue. It is a moderate proposal, and as Senator Walsh said, the important point is that it leaves many issues to be determined, not simply in the first piece of implementing legislation, but in legislation designed to tweak or vary that, by these Houses over the years to ensure it is always fair, and is not subject to abuse or unforeseen consequences. We will restore to these Houses what they should always have had, and had until 1999, namely the right to legislate like most European democracies to deal with this sensitive issue.
We will do one more thing. We will bring Irish law on this issue, and European citizenship which derives from Irish citizenship, closer in line with the laws of other member states of the European Union. While doing so, if at the end of all of this the Government proposals are put into law in the Bill in the form we suggest, we will still have one of the most liberal nationality and citizenship regimes in Europe, and for immigrants one of the most accessible citizenships in Europe and one of the most generous systems not merely anywhere in Europe but anywhere in the world in terms of offering to people the right to become citizens.
The United States has a jus soli right to citizenship, and a migrant can go there and attempt to gain American citizenship. One can compare what is required there for citizenship status to what is required of a migrant coming to Ireland and seeking citizenship. Members might compare all the impediments to becoming a citizen of the United State to those cast in front of someone seeking Irish citizenship. Ireland compares very favourably in that area. If one talks of liberalism, generosity, inclusiveness, and of acknowledging that this society will have inward migration for a considerable period, just as in the past it had emigration, then if one looks to the likely character of Irish society after this referendum, if it is carried, we will still be one of the most generous nations in the world, and one of the countries in Europe where racism is least politically potent. We will also remain one of the European countries where some party of the far right has not emerged to exploit this issue, because the Government will be seen to have taken a sensible middle of the road course.