Irish Senate Considers Birthright Citizenship

The Irish Seanad is currently considering a bill to reinstate birthright citizenship in Ireland. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland)

The Irish Seanad is currently considering a bill to reinstate birthright citizenship in Ireland. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland)

The Seanad, the senate of the Republic of Ireland, voted on November 21 to advance a bill that restores birthright citizenship in Ireland. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill of 2018 would consider children born in Ireland as independent applicants for citizenship, regardless of their parents’ residency status, granting citizenship to any child born in Ireland who resides in the country for three years.

According to Citizens Information, current Irish law require an Irish-born child to have at least one Irish parent, a British parent, a parent with refugee status, a parent with no residency restrictions in Ireland, or a parent that has legally resided in Ireland for three years to qualify for citizenship. The requirements have existed since a 2004 referendum removed the constitutional provision granting citizenship to anyone born in Ireland. Since the referendum, public opinion has shifted back in favor of birthright citizenship. The New York Times reports that three days prior to the Seanad vote, a poll demonstrated that 71 percent of respondents supported reinstatement, 19 percent were opposed, and 10 percent were undecided.

Support increased after stories about Irish-born children facing deportation received national media coverage. The Irish Times reports that Irish Labour Party members Ivana Bacik and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin sponsored the legislation. Bacik cited the need to help children who “are effectively stateless if we do not give them permission to remain here.” Bacik echoed criticisms from pro- immigrant groups and told the New York Times that immigration system inefficiencies put Irish-born children in danger of deportation “because their parents’ immigration cases have dragged on for years and years.”

The Irish government, however, opposes birthright citizenship, due to fears that people entering Ireland will exploit the system. Problems also arise from the links between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the U.K., and the EU, as northern Ireland belongs to the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland is an independent EU member, but citizens of Northern Ireland have dual Irish and British citizenship, and Ireland and the U.K. give each other’s citizens residency and travel rights.

As the Irish Times reports, Irish Minister of State for Justice David Stanton predicted the bill would “encourage persons, whether legally or illegally residing in the U.K., to travel to Northern Ireland to have a child and then remain there for three years to gain Irish citizenship for that child and consequently EU citizenship and attendant rights without having entered the Republic of Ireland.” After Brexit takes effect, the desire of U.K. residents to retain EU citizenship benefits could boost the incentive to abuse Irish birthright citizenship. Stanton claimed that birthright citizenship in the Republic would affect “how Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland access benefits as EU citizens.”

The Seanad voted 23-16 to advance the bill, but it still needs to move through the Seanad and then pass in the Dail, the lower chamber. The three main opposition parties in the senate support the bill, but its fate in the Dail remains uncertain.