On June 11th, 2004, sixteen and a half years ago, the Irish people went to the polls to vote on the 27th amendment to the constitution. The proposal in front of them was to strip from the constitution the automatic right to citizenship conferred on every child born on Irish soil. Instead, prior to the referendum, the Government published, in draft form, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act of 2004.
Under the terms of that bill, the voters were told that if they voted “yes”, the right to automatic citizenship would be replaced by a provision in section four, which provided that:
A person born in the island of Ireland shall not be entitled to be an Irish citizen unless a parent of that person has, during the period of 4 years immediately preceding the person’s birth, been resident in the island of Ireland for a period of not less than 3 years or periods the aggregate of which is not less than 3 years.
The referendum was supported by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Progressive Democrats. It was opposed by Labour, Sinn Fein, the smaller left wing parties, and the usual phalanx of NGO’s, with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties leading that formation. It was also opposed, in large part, by the media. The Irish Times, naturally enough, published an editorial on the eve of the vote, in which they pleaded with the voters, who they sensed were going the other way, to postpone the decision:
“Previous experience of rushed referendums, notably where the “pro-life” amendment was inserted into the Constitution, has not been happy, and has led to endless further referendums seeking to clarify the situation.The case has not been proven. There is nothing to be lost by postponing this decision and allowing a thorough discussion to take place. This can only be achieved by a No vote.”
One might guess that had the voters followed their advice to postpone the discussion, it would have gone much in the same way as Seanad Reform has. Postponed indefinitely.
But the voters did not take their advice. The final result was that the proposal was approved by a margin of 1.1million votes, and with a final percentage result of 79.17% to 20.83%. Every constituency in the country voted YES, and the lowest margin was in liberal Dun Laoghaire, where 71% of voters supported the referendum.
There is basically no other law on the statute books which can boast this degree of popular endorsement.
And yet, a coalition of Irish politicians are determined to overturn it, without a referendum, and return to the pre-2004 status quo.
Next week, the Labour Party will introduce a bill that would overturn the referendum and re-introduce birthright citizenship for all born on the island. In this effort, they are supported by a whole armada of politicians on the left, and in the centre. The only party, thus far, to state its opposition, is one that isn’t even represented in the Dáil. Last week, the Irish Freedom Party sent out a press statement saying:
“79% of Irish voters supported the 27th amendment to the Irish constitution in 2004. They firmly rejected place of birth citizenship rights and made it clear that they wanted to bring our laws into line with the rest of Europe with jus sanguinis citizenship rights,” the Irish Freedom Party said in a statement. “The amendment was so popular it was approved by one of the biggest majorities for any referendum in our history.”
“The Irish Nationality and Citizenship bill proposed by the Labour Party is a flagrant attempt to betray the will of the Irish people and bring in the failed system of place of birth citizenship rights. It is wholly unacceptable from a democratic point of view and would leave Ireland as the only country in Europe with such foolish legal arrangements. It would immediately incentivise illegal migration to Ireland,” the party claimed.
The Irish Freedom Party are, of course, regularly, and (in my view at least) inaccurately portrayed by the rest of the media as some kind of far-right outfit.
And yet, they are the only Irish political party on the record as supporting a position held, at last count, by 80% of Irish voters. What does that tell you about who is “far right” in Ireland?
The will of the voters is not, of course, and never can be, permanent. There are lots of us who might wish to overturn the results of various referenda. But this specific act of the Dáil, and this specific constitutional change, received the popular backing of an overwhelming majority of Irish voters. If the voters wish to undo that, fine – but they should be asked that question, and given that chance.
For the Labour Party, or indeed any other politician, to ride in and undo the expressed will of the people is actively anti-democratic.
As this bill is introduced, there is, you’ll notice, no editorial from the Irish Times pleading with politicians to postpone the decision and allow a thorough discussion to take place. One gets the feeling that if it was passed in the morning with no debate at all, the Irish Times would struggle to raise an objection – mainly because they’d be so busy raising their glasses.
But those voters who voted Yes in 2004 should be outraged, and they should be contacting their politicians.
We are constantly told, at every election, and referendum, how much our vote matters. How important it is to have your voice heard. The radio and the television are flooded with ads about the importance of voting.
But when it comes to it, in many cases, there are those who don’t want your vote to matter. This is one such case, and voters should demand that their politicians stand up to the extremists on the left who wish to overturn the outcome of a democratic referendum.