Citizenship and Northern Ireland

 

Sir, – As a young second-generation Indian immigrant who grew up in Belfast, I welcomed Fintan O’Toole’s questioning of the term “Irish citizens” (“We must end our hypocrisy on the Belfast Agreement”, Opinion & Analysis, July 16th).

The Belfast Agreement declares “the people of Northern Ireland” to be those with a birthright to British or Irish citizenship.

According to this definition, I do not belong to this group, although I take myself to be Northern Irish in every way, having lived there since childhood, been educated there, participated in local elections, and with parents whose work in the university and community sectors continues to contribute to Northern Irish society.

I believe that the national identities of both Ireland and Northern Ireland should be transformed to reflect such new realities of immigration, and that this should find expression in the law.

Your columnist rightly points out the inconsistencies and problematics of “birthright”, and the somewhat cynical use of this right by British citizens of Irish descent who have only a tenuous link with Ireland, North or South, and who now seek an advantageous EU passport.

The Irish government’s unilateral amendment in 2004 shows that it chips away at the Belfast Agreement in a manner which is more subtle than the current UK government’s contempt for this accord, but which is perhaps just as damaging.

As the autumn referendum on the voting rights of emigrant citizens approaches, and as its co-signatory of the Belfast Agreement prepares to leave the EU, Ireland would do well to remember that it is not only a country of emigration, but also of immigration. – Yours, etc,

SYAMALA ROBERTS,

Belfast.