Helen McEntee claims reforming Ireland’s citizenship laws could have ‘unintended consequences’

A photo of Helen McEntee in the Seanad where she claimed that reforming Ireland's citizenship laws could have "unintended consequences".

Minister for justice Helen McEntee has claimed that reforming Ireland’s citizenship laws could have “unintended consequences” for state services here.  McEntee contended that undue pressure could be put on housing, healthcare, and the social welfare system if birthright citizenship is reintroduced to Ireland.

Her party leader and current tánaiste Leo Varadkar has previously criticised asylum seekers who come to Ireland without valid papers. This is despite the fact that there’s no legal requirement on asylum seekers to do so.

“Unintended consequences”

The Fine Gael TD made the argument during a Seanad debate on Wednesday regarding the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. Passed in 2004, the amendment ended birthright citizenship in Ireland. As result, children of migrants who themselves were not Irish citizens were no longer automatically entitled to Irish citizenship.

But Labour Party members have introduced a new bill that would overturn the 2004 amendment. If passed it will allow children born here to people without Irish citizenship to apply for citizenship via naturalisation after a period of three years.

During the debate about the proposed bill minister McEntee said she was concerned about it. She claimed that the bill would make Ireland “unique in the European Union”. The fact that it would grant EU citizenship as well as Irish citizenship to children of parents without Irish citizenship.

McEntee went on to insist that the bill could also have “unintended consequences”. She argued that the pandemic and Brexit “are already likely to negatively impact on the economy and employment levels in Ireland”. She further suggested that changing the citizenship laws could worsen these problems.

Pointing to Ireland’s social services, she contended that

immigration rules have, potentially, wider implications for State services looking at immigration provision but also housing, education, medical services and welfare. All of these need to be carefully assessed and time needs to be given to look at those possible implications. 

And although she said she “supports its objective”, the bill needs to take into account the issues she mentioned.

Footage of McEntee making her comments in the Seanad

Doing the same for others

Speaking in support of the bill Senator Ivana Bacik, one of its co-sponsors, highlighted that children who have lived in Ireland their whole lives are now “being threatened with deportation along with their families”. And this is done because they don’t have Irish citizenship. 

Going on, the Labour senator argued:

We believe that this modest Bill represents a sensible and compassionate approach to regularising the position of Irish-born children who have spent years of their childhood resident in this country but who currently face an uncertain future and even threat of deportation.

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chamber also voiced her support for the bill. She pointed to the history of “undocumented Irish in other parts of the world” and the regular calls for their status to be regularised. Considering this, she said “the very least that we can do is do as we say and do the same for the people who live in this country”.

Labour Senator Annie Hoey noted that research from 2019 showed that out of more than 100 undocumented parents 68% of their children were born in Ireland. And that many of them have lived in Ireland for five years or more. 

She pointed out that “None of these children and young people has any rights to residency or citizenship despite being born or growing up here”.

The bill is currently at the third stage in the Seanad. 

Featured image via Oireachtas.ie

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