3 June 2004 Edition
No to McDowell's referendum. Yes to an Ireland of Equals
In the end it comes down to two small children, newborns, sleeping in the maternity ward of an Irish hospital, who will be treated differently because of an accident of birth. One will be entitled to Irish citizenship and all the rights and responsibilities that go with it. The other, barely old enough to be self-aware, will be denied citizenship in the land of his or her birth. Two-tier citizenship will be enshrined in the Constitution and the children yet unborn will pay the price.
Rarely has an amendment to the 1937 Constitution been proposed by a Government with less evidence, less statistics and above all else, less debate. Doctors, lawyers, Churches, the Human Rights Commission, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Children's Rights Alliance and a whole host of NGOs and community groups have come out against the proposal and have called for a No vote, along with Sinn Féin, Labour and the Greens.
Continuing their so far successful quest for political pointlessness, Fine Gael seem unaware there is a referendum.
The proposal tells us a lot about the people running this country. It tells us that they are prepared to play the race card for electoral gain.
It tells us that they are prepared to turn the notion of citizenship, a cornerstone of democracy, into a privilege, not a right, to be grants or not on the basis of legislation.
It tells us that they are prepared to put party politics before the Good Friday Agreement and send Unionism the message that the Agreement is open to amendment. It tells us that they will scapegoat the children of foreign nationals — who in Dublin make up 0.024% of births entitled to citizenship — for the state of a health service they have crippled with underfunding.
We are historically a nation of emigrants, who have many experiences of discrimination, whether in Britain, the United States or Australia, but it seems some of us have very short memories and very hard hearts.
As Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice Aengus Ó Snodaigh put it, the referendum proposal is more appropriate to a cross-burning than constitutional change.
The vote on June 11 however, will tell us a lot about the kind of people we are and the kind of republic we want to build. On polling day, reject the notion of second class citizenship, protect the Good Friday Agreement and stand by the pledge made by our political ancestors on the steps of the GPO to 'cherish all the children of the nation equally" by voting NO.
Republicans, real republicans Minister McDowell, can do no other.