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Friday 20 September 2019

Michael McDowell rejects claims 2004 referendum on citizenship rights was 'mean-minded'

Michael McDowell. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Michael McDowell. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

FORMER Justice Minister Michael McDowell has rejected claims that a 2004 referendum on citizenship rights was “mean-minded” and suggested it would pass again by a considerable majority if put to the people.

The 2004 referendum saw the Constitution amended to take away the automatic right to Irish citizenship for children born in Ireland.

The referendum also ensured that the Oireachtas would be in a position to pass legislation which governs how other people born in Ireland may become Irish citizens.

Speaking in the Seanad on a Labour Party law proposed by Senator Ivana Bacik that would see children born in Ireland to foreign parents made eligible for citizenship if they’ve been resident here for three years, Mr McDowell said he supported the bill but defended the 2004 referendum.

He said the bill is well intentioned and addresses an aspect of the law which needs to be addressed by the Oireachtas.

Speaking about the citizenship referendum Mr McDowell said there was consultation with Opposition parties and the intent to deal with the issue of automatic citizen was well signaled in advance.

“It wasn’t accused of being mean-minded at the time. It wasn’t accused of being based on lies or propaganda at the time,” he said.

“It was to bring Irish law into conformity with the laws in the rest of Europe in relation to these matters.”

“It’s been suggested on a number of occasions here in this House that the referendum was mean minded: it wasn’t, 80pc of Irish people voted for it and if the matter was put back to them again I dare say that 80pc of the people would be vote to keep it as it is,” he said.

Legislation due to deal with how asylum applications are dealt with which was expected at the time he left the Department of Justice did not materialise, leading to unconscionable delays, he said.

Mr McDowell said that the consequence of the referendum was to put the power to legislate on matters of citizenship in whatever way it deemed appropriate,adding “that’s not mean minded, that’s democratic” and said he welcomed the Bill but advised  a second reading.

The issue of children being deported despite having never lived outside of Ireland has been highlighted in recent weeks when Eric Zhi Ying Xue (9) – who was born in Ireland - faced deportation to China.

There is a review of his case and the Bray schoolboy faces no imminent threat of deportation.

The former Progressive Democrats leader said that there should be a mechanism in place for children to enter a process where discretion can be applied to their case.

The government will not be accepting the Opposition party's Bill.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan claimed there are issues in the Bill that amount to "bad law" and that it's "something of a knee-jerk reaction to a particular problem".

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