What does being an Irish citizen even mean anymore?

This week the Irish Minister for Housing and Local Government, Darragh O’Brien, defended the fact that asylum seekers and refugees are being encouraged to vote in Ireland’s upcoming local elections next year.

Responding to a question I asked about the matter, O’Brien replied that asylum seekers should “have a say in relation to local democracy” so that they can “set down their roots” in the areas they come to live in.

Now, as I mentioned in an article earlier this week, this is not a new policy by any means – refugees were given the right to vote in Irish local elections as far back as 2004. This has been going on for years already.

However, this upcoming election will be very different to previous ones due to a matter of sheer scale and volume.

For example, in 2004 when the policy was first introduced, Ireland granted asylum to just 6,530 refugees, spread out across the entire country. This clearly isn’t hugely significant, all things considered – a few thousand people nationwide are not likely to sway the course of an election one way or another. It’s negligible.

Today, by contrast, the Irish government’s own departments are now anticipating 180,000 asylum seekers to be present in the State be the end of the year, tens of thousands of which have voting rights.

One only has to look at this graph below to see the kind of overnight refugee population explosion we’re talking about here.

Source: MacroTrends.net

Perhaps most shockingly, we’re now in a situation where in towns like Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan, locals are literally outnumbered by asylum seekers. As reported by The Times last April:

“The population of Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare — best known for its annual matchmaking festival — has doubled in size from 800 residents to almost 1,600 in four weeks. The population of Ballyvaughan, a small harbour village also in Co Clare has increased from 250 residents to 510.”

Earlier this month the Times later reported:

“Lisdoonvarna: the home of matchmaking where refugees now outnumber locals”

And so if asylum seekers can vote in local elections, are some people not at risk of actually being outvoted in their own area?

Some might argue “But sure, it’s only the Council elections – they’re not even that important.” But first of all, even if that was true, there is such a thing as the principle of a thing. On principle, it’s not right that locals should have less of a say in any election than non-citizens who just arrived. And second of all, the Council elections very much do matter.

Councillors decide everything from local housing issues, to planning permission, to roads, certain climate policies and culture. We all know as well that a Council seat is often successfully used to get a candidate’s foot in the door politically, so they can use it as a springboard to one day reach the Dáil at a later election. In many cases, Councillors are just baby TDs.

Moreover, the Councils nominate presidential candidates, and decide who can run for the highest office in the land and who can’t. So clearly these positions matter – and now we are allowing anyone, from anywhere in the world to vote on these vital offices.

In fact, if the only criterion for voting and running in these elections is that you ordinarily live in the country, then that would even apply to false asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected. As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted to me earlier in the year, some migrants are allowed to stay in Ireland even after their asylum claim is rejected, and even if “they’re not genuine refugees.”

He added that “sometimes people have their application for refugee status refused, but they will be granted leave to remain.”

So even if you’re a false claimant, who may even have come into the country illegally, your vote apparently should count the same as an actual Irish citizen.

At a certain point, you have to ask what’s the point in even being a citizen of this country anymore.

Unbeknownst to many people, asylum seekers can even run for certain positions within public office – you just have to live in this country, and you can run to be a councillor. As seen on the official Citizens Information website:

“You are eligible to be elected to a local authority if you are ordinarily resident in Ireland and you are at least 18 years old. You do not have to be an Irish citizen.”

Non-citizen refugees, and even their family members can even become Gardaí – as the Garda website says under the heading “Can a citizen from any country join?”:

“To join applicants must be a national of a European Union Member State; or…under the International Protection Act, 2015 and in compliance with the Admissions and Appointments Regulations 2013, as amended, be (i) a refugee or a family member of such a person in relation to whom a refugee declaration is in force and continues to be in force for the entire duration of the Garda Recruit selection and admissions process.”

Non-citizen refugees can also serve in the military. The Defence Forces website reads:

“Who can apply for enlistment into the Defence Forces?

– Irish Citizens
– A Refugee under the Refugee Act 1996
– Nationals of EEA States, i.e. The European Economic Area consists of the member states of the European Union along with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway”

So in effect, you don’t have to be an Irish citizen to vote. You don’t have to be an Irish citizen to run for public office. You don’t have to be an Irish citizen to serve in the army or the police. You don’t have to be a citizen to enter and leave the State at will, or live and work here, or claim benefits.

At a certain point, we need to ask: what is the point in being a citizen of this country? Aside from a small handful of benefits, what can an actual Irish citizen do here that any random person from Canada or Mongolia couldn’t?

The government has completely degraded what it means to be a citizen of this country, and we are currently hurtling down an extremely dangerous path.

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