Seanad backs giving citizenship rights to all Irish-born children

Minister warns of influx to North from Britain but Government loses vote 23-16

Labour Party  Senators Ivana Bacik and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin speak to the media ahead of the debate of Labour’s Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2018. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times

Labour Party Senators Ivana Bacik and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin speak to the media ahead of the debate of Labour’s Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2018. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times

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The Government has been defeated by 23 votes to 16 on a Labour Party Bill to give citizenship rights to children of non-national parents if they are born in Ireland and have lived in the State for more than three years.

The Seanad accepted the Bill introduced by Senators Ivana Bacik and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin which would allow children to be considered for citizenship as an independent applicant, irrespective of the status of their parents.

Minister of State for Justice David Stanton warned however that if the legislation was passed “Ireland would be out of step with the entirety of the European Union”.

He also said it would significantly change the rules for citizenship in Northern Ireland and could result in the UK introducing measures that would have an impact on the Common Travel Area.

It could also affect the Belfast Agreement and the Brexit withdrawal agreement, he said.

He said residents of the UK could potentially get Irish citizenship for their child without them ever having entered the State.

The Bill could be seen to “encourage persons whether legally or illegally resident in the UK, to travel to Northern Ireland to have a child and then remain there for three years to gain Irish citizenship for that child and consequently EU citizenship and attendant rights without having entered the Republic of Ireland”.

No other EU member state “currently offers birth-right citizenship on the terms proposed in this Bill”.

He said it could also potentially have an impact on the State’s relationship with the EU “on how Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland access benefits as EU citizens”.

Ms Bacik has said that the Bill would regularise the position of Irish-born children who currently faced deportation based on the status of their parents.

“We have seen some recent cases where children have been treated in this unjust way despite the fact that they have been born in Ireland, they know no other home and they are effectively stateless if we do not give them permission to remain here.”

The proposal followed the recent case of a Co Wicklow schoolboy Eric Zhi Ying Xue (9), who although born in Ireland, is not a citizen and had been facing deportation.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan on Tuesday said the proposals amounted to “bad law” and described it as “a knee-jerk reaction”.

The Bill is now set to go to committee stage in the Seanad.

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