To Ourselves, Article Nine

Article Nine

1.    1° On the coming into operation of this Constitution any person who was a citizen of Saorstát Éireann immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution shall become and be a citizen of Ireland.

2° The future acquisition and loss of Irish nationality and citizenship shall be determined in accordance with law.

3° No person may be excluded from Irish nationality and citizenship by reason of the sex of such person.

     2. 1° 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.

2. 2° This section shall not apply to persons born before the date of the enactment of this section.

2. 3° Fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens.

So, here’s one of the more divisive articles of recent times, the focus of a referendum in 2004. Before that, 2.1 and 2.2 were not part of the text.

Coupled with Article Two, these nationality inclined portions of the constitution outlined a very vague and general process for determining who was and who wasn’t entitled to Irish citizenship. Before 2004, the most important thing was that you were born on the island.

That changed in ’04. Now, being born here is only one half of the equation with the parents nationality also coming into play. It was, in effect, a referendum on closing a very vulnerable loophole.

Part one sets out the general definition that we’re looking for. Everyone who was a citizen since 1922 is a citizen still. We leave it open for future laws and statutes to alter our citizenship laws. We will not discriminate when giving out citizenship. Clear and simple. Too simple.

As was pointed out in ’04 (correctly, let’s be honest about this), this article was being abused wholesale. The status of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers is an important question for modern Irish society. We have systems and laws in place to determine just how a non-national can go about claiming Irish citizenship. They’re not totalitarian or extreme, they are completely normal and follow EU directives.

The pre-amended version of this article allowed asylum seekers to bypass this system. It’s not a question of race or previous nationality, but a question of law. It was being bypassed, and the new article prevents that. And anyone in the state who had given birth to a child was protected, with the article not applying retroactively.

The ’04 referendum was an odd affair. The opposition to the amendment (Labour, Sinn Fein) seemed limited to complaints about the way it was introduced. The opposition wasn’t helped by Fine Gael who decided to stay out of the fight. In the end, it was hard to argue against the change. It was common sense. It wasn’t racist or discriminatory. It was just fixing the document to adjust to modern times. A great example of constitutional reform in action.

The changed article stand’s in direct contrast to Article Two which continues to promise “every person born in the island of Ireland” can be “part of the Irish nation.” This article changes this so that citizenship is no longer a constitutional right of those born here. They can still get it, but they are not automatically entitled to it.

Anyway, so much attention tends to be given to the first parts, that many ignore 2.3. It is our duty to be loyal to the state. If a constitution can be described as a contract between state and citizen, this section is essentially the “what you do for us” separated from the vastly more numerous “what we do for you” sections. As citizens we must show fidelity to the state, no wriggle room.

What this means is, of course, open for interpretation. I won’t get into a debate about the merits (and demerits) of national pride but ultimately, a feel this section of the Article is just seeking a commitment that we, the people, will respect and honour the state which the constitution has outlined. From the moment most of us are born, we are citizens of Ireland, entitled to vote upon reaching a certain age, to grow and live free from prejudice, terror, or tyranny. This is the other side of the coin.

It should be more than cheering the football team. We have a responsibility, on behalf of all the things that the constitution gives us, to reward the state with our fidelity. Not mindless subservience mind, but our hearts. It’s our nation. Our country. Our government. We elect it. We follow the laws. We share the rewards and the failures.

That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. Easy to write. Difficult to practice.

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