Irish Government Wants to Stop ‘Citizenship Tourism’
cnews.com, Apr. 21
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) — Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said he is determined to deter pregnant women from travelling to Ireland specifically to give birth — an act that gives the newborn automatic European Union citizenship.
“This is not a phenomenon we are obliged to tolerate any longer,” Ahern told an often-angry debate Wednesday inside Ireland’s parliament on a proposed constitutional amendment to tighten nationality laws and deter what the government calls “citizenship tourism.”
A public referendum has been set for June 11, the same day as elections for local councils and European Parliament seats. Opposition leaders accused the government of seeking to exploit racist impulses among voters.
“Faced with the prospect of a drubbing at the voting booth, the government has decided to say cynically to the people: ‘We’re the only ones dealing with the immigrants — the others want to open the door wide and let them all in,”’ charged Pat Rabbitte, leader of the left-wing Labour party, which opposes the amendment.
Legislators accused each other of stoking racism in Ireland, which in the last decade has enjoyed its first economic boom — and experienced its first wave of immigration from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell presented statistics that indicated abuse by illegal immigrants of Ireland’s nationality laws, which grant Irish — and therefore EU — citizenship rights to anybody born in the Republic of Ireland or neighbouring Northern Ireland, a British territory.
“This is an extraordinary situation,” McDowell said during a speech frequently interrupted by opposition insults and catcalls.
“No other country in the world, it is safe to say, has a situation where citizenship can be acquired through this most tenuous of links.”
McDowell said the government’s proposed amendment would allow children of non-Irish parents to receive citizenship after just three years’ residence, a short period compared to other EU states.
This time requirement, he said, “will ensure that Irish citizenship is not regarded simply as a passport to a wider Europe but means something important to those who hold it — a sense of fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the Irish state.”
He cited statistics from Dublin’s maternity hospitals that nearly one-quarter of all newborns in 2002 and 2003 had non-Irish mothers, most prominently from Nigeria. He said 58 per cent of all female asylum-seekers aged 16 or older in Ireland were pregnant at the time they filed applications.
McDowell said groups of Eastern European women had “come here on holiday visas, given birth, collected the birth certificate and the Irish passport for the child and returned home.”
“I have been criticized for using the expression ‘citizenship tourism’ but that is precisely what we are faced with,” he said.
But several legislators accused McDowell of racist motives. They noted another long-standing plank of Ireland’s citizenship rules — granting passports to anybody with an Irish-born grandparent — isn’t controversial because its beneficiaries are mostly white, English-speaking and living overseas.
Rabbitte said Ireland’s determination to deter immigration from poor, low-skilled countries smacks of hypocrisy, considering Ireland chronically exported much of its job-hunting youth overseas.
Irish emigrants from the 19th century until the “Celtic Tiger” boom of the mid-1990s enjoyed “destinations at the other end that were willing to make Irish people welcome,” Rabbitte said.
“Are we now to send a coded signal to the rest of the world that none of their huddled masses are to be made welcome here?”