Born Here, Belong Here; why the campaign?

Image Credit: Sinéad Mohan

“Born Here, Belong Here” is the new Labour Youth campaign that is making a bid for birthright citizenship to be re-introduced to Ireland. Andrea Andres reaches out to organisers to learn more about this new initiative

The first sentence of Article Two in the Constitution of Ireland states that: “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation”. 

But on June 11th 2004, the majority of people in Ireland approved of the 27th Amendment to the constitution through a referendum. This amendment meant that those born in Ireland, unless one of their parents was an Irish citizen or was eligible to be an Irish citizen, would no longer automatically become an Irish citizen themselves. More Precisely, it states that “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of the birth of that person, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless provided for by law”.

Sixteen years later, “we are in this disgraceful situation where children who were born in this country and have lived their whole lives in this country don't have any pathway to citizenship. They don't even have the option of citizenship. They have lifelong ramifications and the risk of the scenario where they can even face deportation,” says Cian Kelly-Lyth, the Labour Youth Campaigns Officer. “We're now in sort of a bizarre situation where someone who has never even stepped foot in Ireland, but has grandparents that are Irish, they can get citizenship. But someone who was born in this country and has lived their entire life in this country whose parents happened to be immigrants, they don't have the option”.

Children born here shouldn’t have to rely on high profile campaigns, and the intervention of local Ministers to avoid deportation

Kelly-Lyth cites the case of Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue, a young student from Bray who was born in Ireland to a Chinese mother but is not a citizen despite never having left Ireland at all. He faced the threat of deportation until a large campaign by his school garnered the support of 67,000 signatures and caused the intervention of  Ministers Simon Harris and Stephen Donnelly. In a statement by the Labour Youth Chair, Adrian McCarthy said of Eric’s case: “Children born here shouldn’t have to rely on high profile campaigns, and the intervention of local Ministers to avoid deportation”.

There are other cases, like a family in Raphoe, Donegal with three children, two of whom have special needs, who are also facing the threat of deportation to China. Kelly-Lyth adds that these cases did “raise awareness among people and a lot of people who were familiar with the issue said these children are Irish. They're obviously Irish. Why are they being deported  to a country they’re almost kind of alien to?”

Deportation isn’t the only consequence of the amendment. As non-citizens, these Irish-born individuals cannot have an Irish passport and they cannot access tertiary education in Ireland. But there’s also what Kelly-Lyth describes as “the feeling of belonging as well. Can you imagine being a teenager and being in Ireland your whole life and essentially still not be given a pathway to citizenship when all your classmates and all your friends are born in this country? Irish people automatically have no problem accessing that. So, it's this feeling of unfairness.” Kelly-Lyth recalls the words of Labour Senator Ivana Bacik in her letter to the editor of the Irish Times: “If the amendment is passed, two children born side by side in an Irish hospital are no longer to be cherished equally.”

The Labour Party campaigned against the amendment in 2004.

 “What you saw in the 2004 referendum when it was first introduced with all of these just racist arguments being made that were in large part imported from America. Like the idea of terrorism or the derogatory term “anchor baby”. There was actually no evidence of that at all. There's never been a single piece of empirical research to show that terrorism was an actual problem that existed in Ireland before we had the 27th Amendment.” 

Kelly-Lyth adds: “I also think that when the 27th [Amendment] was introduced; it wasn't a campaign that people really knew was going on. A lot of the polls when they asked if people know a lot about the issue to make an informed decision, a tiny number of people replied because there wasn't really any consultation around the referendum process. The government kept on saying that people were coming here, pregnant women were coming here just to give birth and exploit the laws, but they never published any green paper on it. They never published any white paper on it. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission asked them to commission a study into whether or not there was an actual problem that existed. They refused to research it. The evidence we do have shows that it's a totally made-up problem. And I think that now people the vast majority of people recognize that.” 

Now, Labour Youth has taken up the mantle by launching the “Born Here Belong Here” campaign to reintroduce birthright citizenship in Ireland. Kelly-Lyth says that: “The campaign is about advocating for the reintroduction of citizenship. So, that takes the form of raising awareness among people who may not be familiar with the issue and trying to convince people who may know about the issue, but think that it shouldn’t be reintroduced. And it’s about lobbying politicians to try [and get] this legislation to pass.” 

The plans for the campaign were conceived in May. But when the Black Lives Matter movement occurred there was “an increase in the urgency to launch”. The movement didn’t prompt the start of the campaign, but it gave the campaign a “sense of purpose and urgency.”

“If we want to talk about standing up for one ethnic minority, one of the number-one best things that we can do is extending citizenship rights, increasing rights in terms of, like, ability to stay in the country and be able to live a normal life (. . .) so many people, including a lot of migrants, were coming forward with their stories of facing injustice in Ireland. One of the best pieces of small changes that we can make is just to reintroduce birth-right citizenship” Kelly-Lyth adds. 

Kelly-Lyth feels that this is a “good time” to launch the campaign. “I think that people have changed their minds about a whole load of social issues now. And this is definitely one of them. I think it's been a sufficient amount of time since we had that referendum for people to make an assessment and decide that they actually don't want it to be the case anymore.”