Entering the Committee stage in an ongoing process to become law, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill was debated in the Seanad yesterday afternoon. Debated being perhaps too potent a word, as the Bill’s contents were agreed upon by the entire chamber regardless of political affiliation, with no opposition in sight to what is arguably the most radical change to nationality laws since the foundation of the State.

Aiming to in effect nullify the 4:1 decision made by the electorate in the 2004 Citizenship referendum which gave us the 27th Amendment, it is the legislative lovechild of Labour’s Ivana Bacik, as well as the youth wing of the erstwhile party and various pro-migration lobbyists pressing for the changes.

The Bill proposes the granting of citizenship to all those born on the island of Ireland regardless of the national origin of their parents, ie. birthright citizenship to the legal layman.

Far outside the European norm, the Bill aims to make amendments to the 1956 Nationality and Citizenship Act. The intent will be to allow all those born in Ireland to claim citizenship under a jus soli (right of soil) citizenship regime, as opposed to that of a jus sanguinis (right of blood). 

If passed, the Republic would be the only nation in the EU to have birthright citizenship.Concerns are being vocalised by some in the political centre, intoning that this would imperil our relationship with the wider bloc if the provisions of the Bill are abused, as was the case prior to 2004, nevermind the Common Travel Area agreement with the UK. 

Long the bridesmaid but never the bride in terms of winning a Dáil seat, Bacik who sponsored the Bill has stalked the Irish political scene for years operating from her ivory tower in the Upper House and is arguably the Oireachtas’s most sonorous voice on hate speech legislation and other progressive causes. Periodically she has referenced her Eastern European heritage as one of her motivations for pursuing the changes with her grandfather fleeing from what is now the Czech Republic in the 1940s.

Proponents for the Bill cite the right for the Oireachtas to legislate for citizenship as well as apparent cases where the risk for a child born in Ireland faces deportation. Additionally they bring up a rather questionable poll on the matter showing an approximate 60% swing in public opinion, but which goes against every other attitudes survey on immigration into Ireland conducted in recent years. What is additionally striking is that there is zero desire to hold a referendum on the matter by Bacik and others, apparently so confident of their sudden yet untested supermajority on the issue. 

Moves to overthrow Irish nationality laws picked up steam in 2018 following a media engineered story with regards to an alleged risk of deportation for a Wicklow child whose parents originated in China. With the chances of deportation were initially quashed by a ministerial decision, it nevertheless was used and referenced as illustrating a need to remove the allegedly restrictionist policy of the State.

What some outlets were less forthright in mentioning with regards to the Bray case was the fact that the mother of the child had obtained a passport under false pretenses, regardless the case has been cited repeatedly as the only solid reason that changes are made. A similar deportation order regarding a Tullamore-based teenager born in the country was also quashed followed by a brief outrage.

It is unclear if any child born in the state has been deported with no evidence given by supporters of birthright citizenship of such cases. 

Unlike the 8th amendment it has been a fruitless struggle to conjure up sob stories against the 27th Amendment, with Irish nationality laws already being lenient to the extreme and deportations minimal.

Speaking in favour of the Bill during an hour long Seanad debate, which found itself unusually domiciled in the Dáil chambers due to Covid-19 restrictions, were speakers from most major political parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour Party, Sinn Féin, Greens and Independents.

Rather unusually all who spoke in favour of Bill or spoke at all were female. 

Also present in the chamber for the debate was Minister for Justice Helen McEntee of Fine Gael taking question who while having certain reservations lended her general support for the Bill. 

While perturbed about the potential of the legislation to impact wider EU relations due to freedom of movement as well as hinting at the chances of it incentivising a culture of potential abuse. She said she would follow the Bill as it moves through the Committee stage where it may be amended. 

Other interesting contributions to the debate were Sinn Féin‘s Lynn Boylan who stated that the original 2004 referendum was in effect a pandering to the far right at the time, as well as Independent Senator Lynn Ruane who referenced her tattoo collection while highlighting the plight of potential deportees.

The 27th Amendment, also known as the Citizenship Amendment, was born out of a well-documented crisis arising in Irish maternity wards in the early years of the 2000s. Following the passing of the Good Friday Agreement, a legal loophole emerged giving those born in Ireland automatic right to citizenship.

This precipitated the media documented phenomenon of ‘anchor babies’, involving heavily pregnant women arriving into Ireland to give birth and claim citizenship, challenging the integrity of the state’s citizenship laws and presenting a worrisome concern for overburdened hospitals. By 2003 an astonishing 60% of all female asylum applicants for the year were arriving pregnant, with various heads of maternity wards documenting their concern. The period before the repealing of the loophole in 2004 resulted in the effective crashing of the state’s asylum system, peaking with just under 12,000 asylum applications the years before the referendum occurred.

While the deportation of children is not entirely unheard of, generally the Department of Justice opts for not enforcing orders, especially for children born in Ireland. While 134 children have been deported between the years 2013-2018, it is unclear if any at all were born in Ireland, with even the most strident proponents of birthright citizenship never naming an actual case where deportation was enforced.

The Bill proposed by Bacik is similar if not identical to one being moved forward by Solidarity TD Mick Barry with Trinity College Dublin Students Union and Union of Students of Ireland recently endorsing campaigning for birthright citizenship. In short, it has become a feeding frenzy for virtue signalling, meaning a variety of organisations want to be the first out of the gates on advocating it.

Also a subject of discussion, while not entirely unrelated were plans to implement the Day Report on abolishing Direct Provision controversial because of the claim made by the Department of Housing that it would jeopardise the housing market, while prioritising asylum seekers over native citizens. Combined with liberalising citizenship laws, in effect allowing for abuses by less than genuine asylum seekers, our open border lobby simultaneously wishes to grant housing rights on par to Irish citizens to all who arrive on our shores. It is no wonder they are so worried about the rise of populism and regulating hate speech with such egregious ideas coming down the pipeline. 

A rhetorical motif in the hour long debate and discussions around liberalising citizenship laws is that the Ireland of 2004 is vastly different to that of 2020. It is in the extent to which our political caste have forsaken even the most meagre of lip service to the concept of nationality outside the progressive fold.

If Bertie Ahern from the year 2004 was transported into the chamber yesterday he would have been cast as a far right figure for his basic defence of Irish citizenship as something that shouldn’t be handed out easily to all who arrive.

In the year 2020 even centrism from the year 2000s is essentially off the cards for most of our political class, with small open borders lobby groups able to set the tone on immigration policy by stealth and Oireachtas discretion.

Hard cases make bad laws but in this instance those in favour of the Bill can cite literally no cases where a child born here has been deported on account of the present legislation. What they instead base their case on is sensational and partisan media reports, potentially flawed polling and the denial of a basic reality of the problem that the birthright loophole presented to state services during the early 2000s.

The Bill will be further discussed in the Committee stage come January after the Christmas recess, however there appears to be no parliamentary breaks on this train.

Posted by Ciaran Brennan

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