Reform of citizenship urged to remove many from legal uncertainty

Solidarity Bill aims to help generation that may lose rights to education and work at 18

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and Silbaziso Ndlovu: The Solidarity Bill, if passed, would restore automatic citizenship rights to all children born in the State. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and Silbaziso Ndlovu: The Solidarity Bill, if passed, would restore automatic citizenship rights to all children born in the State. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

Thousands of children living in the State are facing legal limbo as they enter adulthood unless laws governing citizenship are reformed, migrant rights activists have warned.

Following a 2004 referendum backed by 79 per cent of those who voted, the automatic right to citizenship for children born in the State was removed, unless one of the parents was, or was entitled to be, an Irish citizen.

Speaking at the launch of a Bill put forward by Solidarity that would restore such rights, the Irish Migrant Rights Centre said a generation was coming of age without rights to education or work.

“It’s deeply uncertain. At the moment, there is no pathway, there is no queue, there is no line that they can join to secure residency,” said Maireád McDevitt, a youth worker with the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).

Silibaziso Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean national living in direct provision who arrived in the State seeking asylum three years ago. Her two-year-old son was born in Ireland.

“In the long run, it’s his future in this country,” she said. “If we get to the point where we are going back home, how is he going to adjust with the situation in Zimbabwe right now? How is he going to be included in the society?” she asked.

Up to 5,000

No official figures exist for the numbers of children affected, but the MRCI estimates that between two and five thousand children are currently “undocumented”, meaning they are without a visa, as are their parents.

Just over 16,000 children of non-EU nationality up to age 14 were resident here for the CSO census in 2016, though not all of them would have been born here.

The Solidarity Bill, if passed, would restore automatic citizenship rights to all children born in the State. The party also intends to introduce an amendment to the Bill at committee stage granting citizenship to children resident in the State, but not born in Ireland.

Solidarity TD for Dublin North West Paul Murphy said a generation born after the 2004 referendum are approaching 18. “You will see [them] not having automatic access to free fees for third-level education, the right to work is affected, and the right to vote is affected,” he said.

The private members’ Bill will be debated in the Dáil on Thursday and voted on a week later. However, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan has already said that FF will not support it.

Speaking to The Irish Times, former tánaiste and minister for justice Michael McDowell said that returning to the pre-2004 situation would leave Ireland as the only country in western Europe without such a law, and was “not manageable in modern circumstances”.

‘European passport’

“Especially in the context of Brexit, it would mean any non-national in the UK who had a child in Northern Ireland would become an Irish citizen and get a European passport,” he said.

Mr McDowell, who is seen as the architect of the 2004 referendum, said he was confident that if the vote were rerun today, it would pass by a margin similar to the 79 per cent majority who voted for it in 2004.

However, he said that he would support legislation that would enable children who had been resident in Ireland to apply for citizenship. “The real thing is if you are in Ireland for a considerable period of time there should be some independent right to apply for citizenship,” he said. “There is a middle way in all of this.”

Fianna Fáil will support immigration reform for children born in the State who are not citizens, said Mr O’Callaghan, the party’s justice spokesman.

“Currently, children are facing the possibility of being made stateless by the only country which they have known their entire lives. This is unacceptable and must be addressed in legislation. However, we do not believe that the wholesale restoration of birthright citizenship is the correct approach.”

Fianna Fáil is supporting a Labour Bill that would grant citizenship to children living here for more than three years.