11 June – Remember the Citizenship Referendum?

Remember ‘citizenship tourism’? Remember ‘pregnant on arrival’? Remember when Dublin’s maternity hospitals were allegedly packed to the brim with ‘non national’ women arriving at the last minute to have citizen children? Remember the 1990 Fajujonu Supreme Court case, giving migrant parents a legal right to remain in Ireland to provide ‘care and company‘ to their citizen child? Remember the 2003 Lobe and Osayande Supreme Court appeal, ruling that ‘non-national‘ parents were no longer allowed to remain in Ireland to bring up their citizen child, privileging the State‘s right to deport and the ‘integrity of the asylum process‘ over citizen children‘s rights?

On June 11 a group of activists is marking the 2004 Citizenship Referendum in which the government of Ireland asked the electorate to put an end to birth right citizenship entitlement granted to all people born in Ireland since 1922 in favour of blood-based citizenship rights granted only to children born in Ireland one of whose parents is a citizen, or entitled to citizenship.  Why are we doing this? Our main aim is to remind people of the Referendum and its effects: it was a sloppy piece of legislation, rushed through and using moral panic in relation to migrants ‘taking over’ and usurping Irish citizenship, the result of which was a two-tier citizenship and the creation of people with fewer rights than Irish citizens.

In summer 2003 letters began being issued by the Department of Justice to migrant parents with pending residency applications. In September 2003 the DJELR hired 150 extra staff to its new ‘IBC (Irish Born Child) unit‘  to process pending residency claims made by migrant parents of citizen children. The abolition of the process resulted in 11,500 migrant parents of Irish citizen children becoming candidates for deportation as of July 2003. Resulting from an initiative by AkiDwA, the Coalition Against Deportation of Irish Children (CADIC) was established to campaign against the deportations. For almost two years, the Minister for Justice was unwilling to reverse his decision or recognise en masse migrant parents of Irish children who had lawfully applied for residency. Among the 341 people deported between 2002 and February 2005 there were at least 20 citizen children who, the Minister for Justice argued, were voluntarily taken out of the country by their deported parents – so much for ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’.

Throughout the pre-Referendum discussions migrant women, allegedly arriving at the late stages of pregnancy (although no figures were produced by the government before the Referendum), were highlighted as intentionally mothering the next generation of Irish citizens so as to gain residency rights for themselves, and were thus rendered ‘illegal’. Although the Minister claimed that the Dublin maternity hospitals ‘begged’ him to do something about the spiralling numbers of ‘non-national’ births, a 2004 report by Dervla King for The Children’s Rights Alliance found it was not possible to demonstrate that the increase in births to ‘non national’ women could be attributed to the fact that their children were entitled to Irish citizenship.

After the Referendum was passed with a large majority – 79.14% of the electorate voted in favour believing it was ‘rational’ for Ireland to control immigration – some 18,000 migrant parents were able to re-apply for residency though without rights to family reunification. And the impact on migrant m/others was huge: according to Ebun Akpoveta, ‘many women, particularly of African descent, who didn’t use contraceptives, all began to use the three year implant or the five year coil. This enforced sterilisation worked, as it accomplished the state’s purpose to reduce births from non EEA families even if only temporarily. The long term effect is that many African women who were forced to delay giving birth ended up having children close to and in their 40s increasing the risk to the health of the child and the mother’.

The Citizenship Referendum was a crucial turning point in the recent history of state racism in Ireland, in which citizens are differentiated from non-citizens and in which children born in Ireland are differentiated from ‘Irish-born children’ born to migrants. Although it signalled Ireland moving from institutional to constitutional racism, it did not succeed in reducing the number of ‘non-nationals’ living in Ireland, which almost trebled in the last ten years, rising from 224,261 in 2002 to 544,357 in 2011, a rise of 143%. Despite the attempt to curb the birthing of non-Irish citizens, Ireland still has the highest birth rate in the EU, rising from 14.4 per 1,000 people in 2000 to 17 per 1,000 in 2009; and 24% of births in 2009 were to mothers born outside of Ireland.

The Referendum also signalled a racist differentiation between ‘useful’ labour migrants and ‘undeserving’ asylum seekers: the number of asylum applications went down from 7,438 in 2003, to 1,939 in 2010 and 946 in 2013. And asylum seekers living in Ireland are still festering in direct provision holding camps, existing on €19.10 per week, unable to cook their own food and look after their own children, hidden away from public view.

To sum up, marking the Citizenship Referendum on 11 June aims to highlight the move from birth-right to blood-based Irish citizenship rights, and remind people that this racial tracing of the ‘Irish nation’ took place in a climate of moral panic about increased migration, and should be revisited.