– Release date: 08 June 2004
VOICES FOR A NO VOTE: PROTECT EQUALITY AND CITIZENSHIP AT BIRTH FOR ALL CHILDREN
More than 45 groups, some representing scores of other organisations, came together today as Voices for a NO Vote to remind people what the real issues are in the Citizenship Referendum.
They noted that in the weeks of this brief referendum campaign, there has been one consistent factor – the repeated emergence of voices of civil society calling for a NO vote. There have been voices from children's organisations, voices from women, voices from migrants – Irish and non-Irish, voices from churches, lawyers, doctors, communities, human rights groups and more. Those voices united today to remind people what the real issues around this referendum are:
- Should there be equal citizenship at birth for all children, or should we withdraw that right from some children for the first time in Irish history?
- What will be the impact of this referendum on the rights and welfare of future children born in Ireland?
- Do we know what the implications for Northern Ireland will be of over turning, in this way, the vote of almost 95% of the Irish people in 1998, to protect equal citizenship rights in our Constitution and bring into force the Good Friday Agreement?
- Have we thought what it means to the migrant community, who come here to work and live in Ireland, to tell them that we are withdrawing rights from their children as a means to discourage them having children here?
Speaking out for the first time today, the League of Filipino Nurses joined the many other voices for a NO vote. Dale Belino, a spokesperson for the League said:
"This proposed referendum would take away the rights of children born to families such as those of the many Filipino nurses, who have come to Ireland in good faith to work, live and bring up their families here. Last year 235 children were born to Filipino women in Ireland, many of whom are providing nursing and childcare services.
If the citizenship referendum is passed, any children they have in the future will be denied equal status at birth and the benefits that come with citizenship. It seems to us, that our children have done nothing to deserve this, and yet it is they who are being deprived of their rights. This referendum is about a blanket denial of rights to children of families like us nurses. It is not about the rights of adults to citizenship, or our residency rights. It is about whether our children in future should be equal citizens, as the children of our Irish colleagues."
"This is a referendum on the rights of children," said Owen Keenan, Chief Executive of Barnardos and a member of the Children's Rights Alliance.
"We are deeply concerned about the referendum's implications for children.
We are not satisfied with the explanations offered by Government spokespersons and believe that it is fundamentally unsound to hold the referendum at this time.
Mr. Keenan continued
"The government does not seem to have carried out any impact assessment on whether this referendum is in the best interest of children in Ireland, despite the fact that Government policy obliges the Government to do so before taking any major decision or action with significant consequences for children."
The referendum will also change the future rights of children born in Northern Ireland. Speaking at the Voices for a NO press conference, Inez McCormack, the first woman President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and a former-member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, spoke of the message that this referendum and the way in which it was called sent to the people of Northern Ireland and those parties that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement.
"When the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated, one aim was to set out a framework that would set behind us aspects of division, discrimination and denial of identity. The right of all born in Ireland to be citizens – without discrimination – was a key part of that agreement. Ireland had always given equal citizenship to all born on the Island of Ireland, but in the spirit of a new vision for Ireland it was agreed by all the parties to the Agreement, that the Irish Constitution would provide for all persons born in Ireland "to be part of the Nation". Without that being agreed by people North and South, there would be no Good Friday Agreement.
"The government now wants to remove that right from children without even the voices of those who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, and the voices of those in Northern Ireland who voted for it, being heard. This was a vote to guarantee to all children of our Island in future, a minimal constitutional protection of their right to an identity and belonging. To remove that right now and say all are not equal and all are not entitled to belong, not only destroys the one thing we can give to children at birth – an equal right to an identity – but also makes a mockery of the people who worked so hard for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the years leading up to it."
The Press Conference – Voices for a No Vote was backed by over 45 organisations including:
Akidwa – African Women's Network
African Refugee Network
Alliance Centre for Sexual Health
Artists for a NO vote
Campaign Against the Racist Referendum
Children's Rights Alliance – 78 organisations concerned with the rights and
welfare of children
Communities Against Racism
Community Workers Co-operative
Doctors Against the Amendment
Dublin Congress of Trade Unions – 26 Affiliated organisations
European Anti Poverty Network
Family Diversity Initiative
Free Legal Advice Centres
Gay and Lesbian Equality Network
ICON – Inner City Organisations Network
Immigrant Council of Ireland
Integration of African Children in Ireland
Irish Council of Civil Liberties
Irish Family Planning Association
Irish Penal Reform Trust
Irish Refugee Council
Irish Traveller Movement
Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
Jesuit Refugee Service – Ireland
Lawyers Against the Referendum
The League of Filipino Nurses in Ireland
Le Cheile Artists in Ireland Against Racism
Longford Women's Link
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland
National Lesbian and Gay Federation
National Youth Council of Ireland
National Women's Council
NASC – Irish Immigrant Support Centre
New Horizons Athlone
Pavee Point Travellers Centre
Refugee Information Service
Residents Against Racism
Roma Support Group
Socialist Workers Party
Union of Students of Ireland
Vincentian Refugee Centre
Waterford Congress of Trade Unions