THE government claimed to be under pressure to curb citizenship rights for Irish-born children because of concerns over international terrorism, newly released Cabinet records have revealed.
In 2004, the government held a referendum to end automatic citizenship rights to anyone born in Ireland, a decision that has grown increasingly controversial in recent months.
Cabinet records from the time now explain the precise thinking behind the referendum with the Department of Justice saying it would ease “strains” on hospitals and improve availability of services for “legal residents”.
A secret nine-page memorandum for government said granting citizenship to anybody born in Ireland irrespective of where their parents came from was “unique in the European Union, and unusual world-wide”.
It said it made Ireland an “attractive target destination” for anybody looking for residency in the EU.
The memorandum – released following an FOI request – also said that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Ireland’s law on citizenship for Irish-born kids were a major risk.
It said: “There are serious concerns that Ireland’s unique situation among EU member states in regard to citizenship could have serious implications for the integrity of our own immigration controls and for national and international security.
“[This] could make Ireland a target destination for those wishing, for whatever reason, to secure residence within the EU.”
In one section, the memo said the Department wanted to “eliminate” the attractiveness of Ireland for migrants.
It said that becoming a parent of an Irish-born child attracts “greater entitlements” than anywhere else in the European Union.
“This will inevitably remain an attraction for non-nationals to come to Ireland to give birth, placing strains on our hospital services, attracting illegal immigration and creating long-term commitments for the State,” it said.
“The Minister [it was then Michael McDowell] is of the view that this attraction must now be eliminated.”
The secret memorandum said that the issue would be better dealt with by a referendum and that any costs involved in holding a national vote were dwarfed by the money being spent on the asylum system.
It said: “The Minister is aware of the huge annual expenditure, currently over €340m, committed by the State to processing of asylum claims and the maintenance of asylum seekers in the State.
“He is especially concerned at the ongoing costs across the State system and in particular, the continuing impact on the health sector.”
The document said pressures were particularly acute in maternity hospitals from people arriving late in pregnancy and that there would be savings in the “short, medium and long term”.
As part of the decision making process, the memorandum had to address what impact would be had on women, employment, cross-border relations, and people in poverty.
It said there had been claims that “non-national women” were being pressurised to give birth in Ireland and that the changes could “alleviate that situation”.
The memo said the change would have no impact on employment and that it could actually help people in poverty.
“The effect of these proposals will reduce the attraction for illegal migration and thereby reduce the number of non-nationals benefiting from State services including accommodation and health services,” it said.
“This will release resources and improve the availability of services to legal residents in the State.”
The referendum has come into renewed focus over recent months as some of the children born in Ireland around the time have faced deportation.
In one high-profile case, Eric Zhi Ying Xue – a nine-year-old from Bray, Co Wicklow – faced removal from the state despite having been here for his entire life.
His case was taken on by Health Minister Simon Harris who said: “The idea that a nine-year-old boy who is as much from Wicklow as I am … would be told that he is ‘going back’ to China, a country he had never been to, was simply ludicrous.”
Asked whether they were considering an amnesty for any of those affected by the citizenship referendum, the Department of Justice said that the EU had said cases would be dealt with on a case-by-case approach as opposed to any “mass regularisation”.
They said that after the 2004 referendum, an Irish Born Child Scheme had been established that allowed 17,000 people to regularise their status in Ireland, based on being parent of an Irish-born child.
They said: “Since 2010, approximately 27,000 children have been granted Irish citizenship through the naturalisation process, the vast majority of whom were born to non-EEA nationals.”