Irish Examiner


17 April 2004
--By Michael O'Farrell, Political Reporter

OPPOSITION parties are to table a joint Dáil motion next week in a bid to force the Government to postpone the controversial citizenship referendum until after June's local and European elections.

The Fine Gael, Labour and Green Party motion the fifth joint opposition motion this year will call on the Government to refer its proposed constitutional amendment on citizenship to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

Supporting legislation to the referendum is due to be debated next Wednesday and Thursday as the Dáil reconvenes two days early after the Easter recess.

However, if carried, the joint opposition motion would result in the Bill being delayed until after local elections on June 11 while the committee studied its implications.

In a statement yesterday, the parties referred to a 2001 report by the All-Party Committee, which envisaged referendums be referred to the Committee.

"In recent days, serious concerns about the implications of the constitutional referendum on the Good Friday Agreement have been raised by political parties in Northern Ireland. This further adds to the need for the issues to be teased out with great care in an all-party setting," the statement said.

Addressing members of the Labour parliamentary party and national executive at a pre-Árd Fheis meeting in the RDS last night, Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said the Bill, as it currently stood, created a new loophole which would allow a child born in Ireland to claim Irish citizenship if the mother claimed the father was British.

"This is one example of the danger of haste. It is the kind of thing that happens when a government determined to grab hold of a populist issue, no matter how dangerous, indulges itself in sloppy, slip-shod drafting and shabby and disingenuous argument.

"They say they want to close off loopholes. In fact, they are creating the danger of new ones ... in pursuit of a policy which is mean-spirited, dangerous and wrong," he said.

Mr Rabbitte criticised the Government's approach, saying it deliberately introduced the race card into June's local election instead of taking the calm and measured approach necessary.

"Fianna Fáil candidates have already begun to use the issue in their literature and on the doorsteps. Fianna Fáil, in particular, believe that in raising the issue of race, they can, in the words of Bruce Morrison, encourage people 'to exercise their worst instincts about newcomers rather than their best'. The PDs, and Michael McDowell in particular, are willing parties in this exercise," he said.

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