The most significant event in the politics of immigration in the Republic of Ireland has been the 2004 Referendum that removed ‘jus soli’ constitutional rights to citizenship from Irish born children of immigrants. Constitutional definitions of Irishness narrowed at a time when the composition of Irish society had broadened significantly through immigration. The Referendum coincided with restrictions on welfare rights and entitlements upon migrants from the new EU member states. Irish citizens voted overwhelmingly in favour of government proposals for ‘commonsense citizenship’ aimed at removing ‘loopholes’ in the Constitution and the Good Friday Agreement which defined all those born on the island of Ireland as Irish. An asylum ‘crisis’ had become politicised in the late 1990s but by 2004 asylum seekers had become a very small proportion of overall immigration. The Referendum institutionalized a populist distinction repeatedly drawn by Irish politicians and media between nationals and non-nationals. At the same time racialised hostility towards asylum seekers and their Irish born children was mobilised in support of the Referendum. A government campaign in support of the Referendum emerged alongside ones by immigrant organizations aimed at promoting political responsiveness to immigrant voters and the inclusion of immigrants in Irish political parties. The Referendum coincided with the 2004 local government elections and campaigns by immigrant organisations to promote political responsiveness to immigrant non-citizens (including asylum seekers) entitled to vote in local government elections. This article draws upon a study of Irish political parties which identified an institutional inability among these to engage with immigrant communities.
Source: Ethnic and Racial Studies Volume 30, Issue 3, 2007