McDowell 'regret' over racist tag on citizenship referendum
JUSTICE Minister Michael McDowell has rejected suggestions that the Government might gain electoral advantage by holding the citizenship referendum on the same day as the local and European elections on June 11.
Publishing the wording for the Constitutional amendment last night, Mr McDowell said he regretted some people were already describing it as a "racist" referendum.
The minister said he believed it was "highly unlikely" anybody standing for election would "gain any advantage from the discerning Irish voter" by supporting either the 'yes' or 'no' side.
A furious row has erupted over the issue, with Opposition parties strongly attacking the Government for "rushing" the bill through the Dail which will be recalled a week early to begin discussing the measure on Wednesday week, April 21.
But the minister said 16 hours of debate will be given to the bill and added he knows nothing whatsoever about Labour leader Pat Rabbitte's claims that Fianna Fail has been advised by an American political consultant that it could benefit at the June polls by putting this issue to the people.
Mr McDowell said he had never heard of such suggestions and it was "wholly untrue" that this was the motivation for the timing of the referendum.
The arguments for not having the referendum with the local and European elections were "misconceived". And he added it was important that there be a high turnout, so it was appropriate to have it held with the other polls.
The amendment proposed by the Government to Article 9 of the Constitution would return to the Oireachtas the power to decide the citizenship entitlements of people born on the island and neither of whose parents is an Irish citizen.
The minister has published the proposed draft of an Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2004 which will be put before the Oireachtas for debate if the Referendum is passed.
The bill will provide that in the case of a child born to non-national parents, at least one of the parents will have to have been resident here for three of the four years preceding the child's birth before the child can become entitled to Irish citizenship.
Where either parent of a child born anywhere in Ireland is a UK national or a UK long-term resident, the child will be entitled to Irish citizenship regardless of the length of residence of the person in this country.
Mr McDowell said the law, "as with the old law", will compare favourably with that of most EU member states. "In addition, the entitlement to Irish citizenship for children born in Ireland will compare favourably to most comparable countries outside the EU," he added.
The minister made it clear the position of children who have already acquired Irish citizenship through birth is not affected by the new measures. "The great majority of Irish people of all parties realise this is a sensible amendment and I believe they will pass it," he added.