Citizenship vote – We need time to get this right

If anybody still laboured under the illusion that the citizenship referendum was a straightforward issue, then the specially commissioned report for the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) would dispel that notion.

The CRA represents 76 non-governmental organisations including such august bodies as Barnardos, the ISPCC, UNICEF and ASTI and has already called for a "no" vote in the referendum which, it says, if passed would contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In any case, CRA maintains that the amendment will not satisfactorily address the concerns the Government has raised about pressures on maternity hospitals.

The perception that those hospitals will be over-run with pregnant non-national women is a myth. On the basis of the statistics provided, the report claims that it is not possible to establish how many women have come to Ireland with the sole intent of giving birth and gaining an entitlement to Irish citizenship for their children.

Obviously, from the evidence in the Irish Examiner story yesterday, an increasing number of non-nationals from Eastern European countries and Arab states are attempting to book places in maternity hospitals here before travelling to this country for delivery.

Opponents of the referendum say it would reduce or compromise the rights of some children, while the Government insists the proposed change will not diminish the rights of non-citizens living in Ireland and would bring Ireland in line with other EU states.

Both sides are completely polarised as to what consequences will emanate from a successful outcome, which is why this newspaper has advocated the issue should be allowed more time for considered and informed debate.

The unseemly haste in imposing this question which touches on one of the most fundamental Articles in the Constitution was the main reason for urging caution. It does not deny the need for the poll.

For the majority of the electorate, not attached formally to either side of the argument, this complicated and complex amendment to a large extent will be resolved by which side wins the greater amount of trust.

It is merely a matter of expediency on the part of the Government to hold the referendum on the same day as the European and local elections.

It might appear to some cynical observers that our maternity hospitals are being used as vehicles by some non-nationals to get citizenship for their children.

Nobody can deny that Irish facilities have been abused, but quantifying that abuse is difficult and impossible to project into the future.

Therefore, it makes sense to clarify the whole question of citizenship and it is sensible to allow the Dáil the control to legislate in the future for whatever circumstances might arise.

Depending on the question to be addressed, it is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to draft a referendum amendment which is definitive, in that the future cannot be predicted.

Neither can the country be governed by faltering from one referendum to the next, Nice excepted.

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