In 2004, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment of the Constitution Act 2004, amended the Irish Constitution so that children born in Ireland to parents who were both foreign nationals would no longer have an automatic right to Irish citizenship.
The issues that arise with such a law came to light recently with the prominent cases of Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue and Nonso Muojeke.
Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue is an Irish born 9-year-old born to a mother of Chinese nationality who does not have legal status in Ireland. Eric, who has never been outside of the island of Ireland, faced deportation to China. After much lobbying from Eric’s school in Bray, County Wicklow, and a petition which gained over 50,000 signatures, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan agreed to review the case. Minister for Health and Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, wrote to Minister Flanagan asking if Eric would be allowed to stay in the country based on humanitarian grounds. Eric is legally stateless as he has neither Irish or Chinese citizenship. Upon review, Minister Flanagan granted leave for Eric and his mother to stay in Ireland.
Nonso Muojeke, a 14-year-old, born in Nigeria but living in County Offaly since the age of two, also faced deportation but was told he could reside in Ireland based on humanitarian grounds by Minister Flanagan following a vigorous campaign from his classmates in Tullamore College.
In late November, the Labour Party proposed a change to the 27th Amendment which would grant citizenship to children born in Ireland to foreign national parents after residing here for three years. However, the proposed Bill was rejected by the government with Minister Flanagan stating that the Bill did not comply with European Union best practice and amounted to “bad law”.
In response, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik stated how she took “strong issue with that” as “the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland points out that 24 of 27 EU member States have regularisation programmes to enable remediation of the situation of children who are undocumented”. Senator Bacik also described how Ireland is “out of line with other EU countries for many years in failing to provide asylum seekers with the right to work”. Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys also discussed how “in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child criticised Ireland’s immigration system for failing to protect the needs of undocumented children and failing to adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
The 2004 referendum on the 27th Amendment was proposed by the then Fianna Fáil – Progressive Democrat coalition government and was voted in by 79% of the electorate. At the time, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties opposed the amendment, along with the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and the Green Party. Senator Ivana Bacik described how prior to 2004, the Irish government “already had the power to deport the non-national parents of Irish-born children even where those children were Irish citizens” and that the change in law “simply meant that in the future the children could also be deported”. With Minister Flanagan stating that the discretionary humanitarian basis system is adequate to deal with such issues as have been seen recently, Senator Bacik responded that it is not good enough that “individual Ministers are seeking to get around or ameliorate the effects of the 2004 referendum for children living in their constituencies in respect of whom a campaign is being waged by their school, community or family”.
Senator Bacik has also spoken about how the problem with Ireland’s immigration system, where it takes many years for asylum applications to be processed, results in a “situation where we have a small number of children born here, who’ve lived here all through their childhood, and whose parental status has still not been determined”.
Colin Lenihan of the Immigrant Council of Ireland believes there is hundreds of children in the same situation as Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue and Nonso Muojeke. In recent years, 130 minors have been deported from Ireland. Nevertheless, Minister Flanagan has stated that there are no plans to revisit the amendment. Colin Lenihan reiterated statements made by Ivana Bacik when he discussed how; “we don’t need to repeal the amendment to give children born here in the State citizenship rights, we just need legislative changes”.
It is evident that the law as it stands is not adequate to meet human rights standards and needs further consideration. If you would like to help lobby for change you can contact your local TD and express your concerns or alternatively visit www.imigrantcouncilofireland.ie or www.nascireland.org and find out how you can take action.