The Government was under pressure to curb citizenship rights for Irish-born children because of concerns over international terrorism, newly released cabinet records have revealed.
In 2004, the Government held a referendum to end automatic citizenship rights to anyone born in Ireland, a decision that came under the spotlight in recent months.
Cabinet records from the time now explain the precise thinking behind the referendum with the Department of Justice saying it would ease “strains” on hospitals and improve availability of services for “legal residents”.
A secret nine-page memorandum for Government said granting citizenship to anybody born in Ireland irrespective of where their parents came from was “unique in the European Union, and unusual world-wide”.
It said it made Ireland an “attractive target destination” for anybody looking for residency in the EU.
The memorandum — released following an FOI request — also said that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Ireland’s law on citizenship for children born here was a major risk.
It said: “There are serious concerns that Ireland’s unique situation among EU member states in regard to citizenship could have serious implications for the integrity of our own immigration controls and for national and international security.
“[This] could make Ireland a target destination for those wishing, for whatever reason, to secure residence within the EU.”
In one section, the memo said the department wanted to “eliminate” the attractiveness of Ireland for migrants.
It said that becoming a parent of an Irish-born child attracts “greater entitlements” than anywhere else in the European Union.
“This will inevitably remain an attraction for non-nationals to come to Ireland to give birth, placing strains on our hospital services, attracting illegal immigration and creating long-term commitments for the State,” it said.
“The minister [it was then Michael McDowell] is of the view that this attraction must now be eliminated.”
The secret memorandum said that the issue would be better dealt with by a referendum and that any costs involved in holding a national vote were dwarfed by the money being spent on the asylum system. The documents said it cost more than €340m to process and maintain asylum seekers.
The referendum has come into renewed focus over recent months as some of the children born in Ireland around the time have faced deportation.
In one case, Eric Zhi Ying Xue — a nine-year-old boy from Bray, Co Wicklow — faced removal from the State despite having been here for his entire life.
His case was taken on by Health Minister Simon Harris who said: “The idea that a nine-year-old boy who is as much from Wicklow as I am … would be told that he is ‘going back’ to China, a country he had never been to, was simply ludicrous.”