29 April 2004 Edition
Scrap racist referendum says Derry Council
Derry City Council passed a Sinn Féin motion on Tuesday, proposed by Cllr Gerry Mac Lochlainn, calling for abandonment of the proposed referendum on citizenship changes in the 26 Counties.
Mac Lochlainn told the council the party had proposed this motion "because we feel it is essential that Derry City Council, as the civic leadership and capital of the Northwest, demonstrate that people here will not tolerate a unilateral restriction of our citizenship rights".
"The Irish Government entered into a binding international agreement, endorsed by the vast majority of people throughout this island, in which it was agreed to amend the 1937 Constitution to enshrine the right to citizenship by birthright for all people born throughout this island.
"By the very manner the Irish Government has proceeded so far, it has damaged and undermined the Good Friday Agreement. They undertook no prior consultation with the parties who negotiated the Agreement, including Sinn Féin, which is the largest pro-Agreement party in the Six Counties. The SDLP has also expressed its opposition. Thus we have the two parties representing virtually all nationalists in the Six Counties speaking out against the Government's proposed course of action.
"Not for the first time, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell has handed Dr Ian Paisley and the DUP a priceless political gift. They were told solemnly by both Governments that the Agreement would not be re-negotiated but now the DUP asserts almost daily that the Agreement can be changed at the whim of the governments, acting either together or unilaterally.
"If this constitutional amendment is passed then we, here in the Six Counties, will have no input into how our citizenship is determined by law for others in the future. That is an affront to our right to equality of treatment and Sinn Féin will not accept the two Governments' Joint Declaration of 19 April attempt to reinterpret Article 2, as endorsed by the people and as contained in the Good Friday Agreement. It is nothing more than a political figleaf.
The British and Irish Governments are unpicking and undermining the Good Friday Agreement. Coming on top of the British Government's repeated assaults on the integrity of the Agreement, this is totally unacceptable and an indictment of the Irish Government's current handling of the Peace Process overall.
"The Dublin Government has no right to amend or withdraw our citizenship rights without consulting all Irish citizens throughout the island. To do anything else is an abrogation of the Good Friday Agreement and a breach of faith with some 1.75 million Irish citizens in the Six Counties.
"It is also a move which is probably illegal and certainly will be tested in court including the European Court of Human Rights. President McAleese, an Irish citizen born in this part of the country, might well see this as an appropriate matter to refer to the Supreme Court and I would call on her to do so.
"Furthermore in promoting this rushed referendum the Government is stirring the pot of ignorance, fear and bigotry which produces outright racism. In holding the referendum in conjunction with local and EU elections, Government members may hope to benefit their parties electorally. However, they will only do so at the expense of civil rights, community relations and the Good Friday Agreement. This is the work of an irresponsible Government.
"The Government has no statistical basis for its claim of a crisis number of births and a widespread abuse of citizenship law. It has yet to produce any evidence to support such claims. The question has been put to the Minister again and again: of the numbers he bandies about of non-national mothers giving birth, how many are to those legally living and working in the country? In answer to probing from Deputy Ó Caoláin, McDowell again failed to answer claiming weakly "the figures are not within my remit to gather".
"But even if it is accepted that there is such a problem, it is wrong to assert that it can only be rectified by a referendum which will fundamentally alter our citizenship laws."