THOUSANDS of asylum seekers are using a loophole in Irish nationality laws to stay in the country.
The Department of Justice now believes that it has fallen victim to an international "baby scam" operating out of Nigeria.
Ireland is the only country in the EU, and one of only a few worldwide, where a child born in the state has an automatic right of citizenship.
And a Supreme Court decision in 1990 says the child is entitled to the "company" of its non-national parents and siblings.
The number of asylum seekers seeking to remain here claiming parentage of an Irish child has soared in recent months.
By the end of October this year 8,461 asylum seekers had applied for refugee status here. A further 4,500 have made claims under the parentage rule.
Justice Minister John O'Donoghue has admitted that the system is open to abuse but warned that a constitutional referendum would be required to change the provisions.
Officials in the Department are convinced that the parentage rule has become an asylum seekers "magnet" for Ireland with criminals in Lagos organising transport to Ireland for pregnant women. Some are making the journey close to their full term.
The majority of births to asylum seekers in Dublin's hospitals are to women of Nigerian origin - guaranteeing them the right to stay in Ireland. That is despite the fact that more than 90pc of Nigerian asylum applications are turned down after their cases are examined. A recent repatriation agreement signed by the Justice Minister with the Nigerian government is powerless to stop the scam.
And because asylum applications are taking up to 18 months to process, more and more aspirant female refugees are becoming pregnant and giving birth.
However, despite this, any effort to change the law would be fraught with difficulty.
The right of citizenship for people born on the island of Ireland is enshrined in Article Two of the Constitution - which was endorsed by way of a national referendum as recently as 1998.
In all other EU member states, the citizenship of a child born in that state is dependent on the nationality of its parents and how long they have been resident in that particular country. Ireland's law is designed to recognise the right of people born in Northern Ireland to be citizens of the Republic.
Fine Gael's Denis Naughten TD says the Dail must now urgently debate all aspects of immigration law.
"The public perception at the moment is that the parentage rule is being abused and this only breeds racism and bigotry," said the Longford-Roscommon TD.
"Many people don't appreciate that the reason our law is different is tied into Northern Ireland," he said.
"The issue must be addressed and debated all the way up to the possibility of a referendum and at the same time we must deal with why it is taking 18 months to process some applications.