Equal Citizenship Rights for the southern Minority

Nationalists in the south got a nation. Ulster Unionists got a country. Nationalists in Northern Ireland have had their identity legitimized by both governments by being given access to Irish citizenship. But what about us? You’d think that the natural progression from St Andrews and the Good Friday Agreement, with all it’s talking about healing old divisions, would have ended up with the choice between British and Irish citizenship for the entire island, not which of least to accommodate us in the Republic with a strong British identity who just happened to be born on the “wrong” side of the border. David Trimble said it was “a simple case of justice and equality” that Equal Citizenship Rights should be extended to  us in the south. Extending those rights to us gives our identity and our culture the very same legitimacy that was extended to Northern Irish nationalists and their identity. Not doing it sends out the message that we’re an irrelevance. The British Government has never been known for helping it’s friends in the past, but the situation in Ireland needs to be re-examined. We believe that the fundamental right to choose between Irish citizenship, British citizenship or both should be extended to everyone born on the island of Ireland. This would be an equitable and logical outcome of the current process of reconciliation between Ireland’s two political traditions and a cornerstone of our future as equals.

I’ve yet to hear a sensible argument against the idea. Extending Citizenship Rights to the republic does not open a door for Commonwealth or former Colonial nations. Ireland was a member of the United Kingdom. It wasn’t a colony. The distinction is clear.  Any other details could well be ironed out. All the arguments against granting is citizenship are irrational. I’d like to see  Grand Lodge, the Irish Government as well as all the main political parties in Northern Ireland put this to the British Government on our behalf. Credit must be given to the few friends across the border and across the water who have brought this up time and time again. Gregory Campbell, Jeffery Donaldson, Sammy Wilson and Andrew MacKinlay in particular. But this needs constant pushing. Whats interesting is that we contacted all the main political parties in the republic, including Sinn Fein to gage their opinion on the issue and with the exception of one party, the rest ignored our emails. Whilst this is a matter for the British Government, they’re not likely to act on it without any contact from parties here and in Northern Ireland. Writing to Gregory Campbell in 2008 Shaun Woodward stated that:

“ The apparent small scale of the problem makes it difficult to justify a change in policy at the current time. Should there be any evidence that the problem is more wide-spread I would be happy to ask the Home Secretary to look at the issue again.”

Jeffery Cox, Conservative MP for West Devon, speaking in the House of Commons on 14th July 2009 said on the subject:

The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case on an issue I was not aware of before he brought it to the attention of the House, and I am by no means unsympathetic to it.

Andrew MacKinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, said:

…just think that people born in Ireland are a one-off case. The Irish Republic citizenship laws allow people to claim citizenship if they have one grandparent who was born in Ireland-in the 32 counties-before 1949. Its citizenship laws are generous, therefore; all I am seeking is parity of treatment for folk born in the Republic after 1949 who want to claim United Kingdom citizenship.

And even more, John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk, said at the same debate on Citzenship:

I wish merely to support the new clause presented by Andrew Mackinlay. I believe that it proposes a necessary change to support a fair system with respect to Ireland. I am sorry that our Front Benchers did not support it. We in the Conservative party have a great deal to live down in our treatment of Ireland, and the new clause provides one way we could do so.

This is clearly a winnable battle. It’s sheer common sense. If the process of respecting traditions that we hear so much about from our politicians contains any grain of truth then this is something that warrants serious investigation as a natural step in that process. You can’t hope to have healing by ignoring one element of the society. Both British and Irish Governments have pledged that in the event of a united Ireland they would ensure the citizenship of Ulster Unionists. SAA guaranteed the rights of people in Ulster to whatever citizenship they identified with. What I can’t understand is why isn’t anyone ensuring that our rights get the very same attention and protection.