Citizenship referendum – Government must halt flawed poll

IT WOULD make eminently good sense for the Government to take stock of its intentions in relation to holding the referendum on citizenship on the same day as the local and European elections.

Their determination to hold it on the same day is ominous and it is difficult to ascribe any motive to the decision other than a cynical political one to do so.

Hitherto, Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte had called on the Government to go back to the drawing board with the proposed referendum because it is flawed and dangerous.

Yesterday, in an RTÉ radio interview, he appeared to go further when he said he would attack both the content and timing of the proposed referendum.

Next week the legislation allowing the citizenship referendum to be held in tandem with the local and European elections will be debated in the Dáil, and the issue will be voted on the following week.

The opposition parties comprising Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens will table an amendment which would have the referendum legislation referred to the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

That would allow far more debate take place, in a more reasoned atmosphere about the merits, or demerits, of the legislation. In any case, the referendum should be deferred and should definitely not be held on election day in eight weeks’ time.

If the Government decides to go ahead it will be for no other reason than one of political expediency, to exploit a populist issue.

The opposition parties are correct to describe this measure as a flawed and ill-conceived one, an opinion supported by a concerned SDLP.

Expression of that “profound concern” has been voiced by leader Mark Durkan who has urged Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to convene a meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, because of the clear implications of the referendum for the Good Friday Agreement.

Inexplicably, the Government consulted with the British Government on the controversial referendum, but has ignored the political parties in Northern Ireland.

As Mr Durkan points out, such an approach raises serious concerns and damages confidence on a number of levels, and not just for people and parties in the North.

The Good Friday Agreement offered clear promises on citizenship and if one party to it, the Irish Government, feels it can interfere with them, then it could be seen by Ian Paisley that his demand for a renegotiation of the Agreement on other grounds is legitimate.

The question of rights, citizenship or residency, for non-nationals here is mired in too many vague areas which need to be clarified and articulated in law.

The consequences and implications of failing to do so will be enormous for Irish society, and the Government will aid and abet such a dire outlook if it does not halt this disastrous referendum.

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