Citizenship and Racism: The Case against McDowell’s Referendum
Date:April 2004
Organisation: Socialist Workers' Party
Author:Kieran Allen
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Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Citizenship Referendum, 2004

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

24th September 2012

Many thanks to Liam Cullinane for donating this to the Archive.

This document was written by Kieran Allen as a response to the Twenty-seventh Amendment  of the Irish Constitution. This was a measure introduced by Michael McDowell, Progressive Democrat Minister of Justice in the Fianna Fáil led coalition in 2004 to remove the constitutional right of citizenship to the children of non-nationals living in Ireland. The referendum was passed with just under 80 per cent of the vote.

Although not explicitly an SWP document it has a membership form and a subscription form for Socialist Worker as well as noting that in addition to being a lecturer in the Department of Sociology in UCD he is ‘a leading member of the SWP’.

It’s a well produced document with a punchy style from the Introduction ‘McDowell discovers too many black babies’ through Chapters which engage with maternity services, the nature of citizenship in the Republic in constitutional terms, ‘Racist myths and spongers’ and so on. Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Why right-wing parties are racist’ and Chapter 6 asks ‘Where does racism come from?’

There are some interesting points. For example Allen writes:

Jackie Healy Rae TD for South Kerry has little time for asylum seekers. He defended comments by his son that the vast majority were ‘freeloaders, blackguards and hoodlums’ and claimed that there were 80,000 of them in the country, most of whom had arrived on the back of a lorry. Bizarre nonsense you might think. But two months earlier, the same Jackie Healy Rae wrote a letter on behalf of a constituent wishing to accommodate asylum seekers.

And there is some interesting analysis as to why Michael McDowell and the Progressive Democrats would invest so much time in the referendum when ‘the Pds are close to the employers organisation, IBEC… [which] has repeatedly said it wants more immigrants in Ireland to deal with labour shortages’.

The Irish government did not invent racism. They drew on ideas that have long been around in Western society.

And later when discussing Marx’s thoughts on Irish workers in Britain:

Marx’s point that the rulers had a continuing interest in creating division between workers. Racist ideas strengthened the power of the big corporations. Through fostering divisions, it made it impossible to organise properly against the employers - and thus all suffered. The solution came when Irish migrant workers were organised into unions and joined the fight for better conditions. Their expression of oppression often meant that they became the best fighters and local leaders of many British unions. This did not mean that racism was completely eradicated - it would still require a political fight within the labour movement to challenge support for imperialism. Nevertheless the point is still relevant today.Modern capitalism has the same interest in stoking up racism as it had in the nineteenth century. And workers have a common interest in fighting it.

The conclusion argues that:

We can live in a society where there is an exciting flowering of different dresses, foods and cultures. We can abolish passports, work permits, border check points. But we can only do this by uprooting the system of capitalism which has created all these relics. A socialist society will not only tackle extremes of poverty and wealth - it will also vastly increase the scope of human liberty. Not only will it abolish extremes of wealth and poverty, it will give people the right to move around this planet freely. And that is an eminently good reason to get active and to organise.

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  • By: Jay B. Wed, 26 Sep 2012 23:18:38

    The article is a pretty interesting take on the citizenship rights and racism. And also comparison to Karl Marx’s theory is pretty accurate. The Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Irish Constitution basically works in every country. But maybe sometimes, exceptions should be made, regardless of the race . It feels like nowadays it’s really hard to get a citizenship, even if you have every right to have it. Even thought I understand they do want to be select-able about whom they let in and they want to keep the traditional way of their country. I do believe that people should have right to earn their citizenship. I remember that there was a problem when people thought that Canada citizenship test too hard. And there was also that God save the queen affair in UK. But maybe it´s not about what´s hard and what is supposed to select people, but maybe it´s about want.

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  • By: The Weekly Archive Worker – Outrage: An Anarchist Memoir of the Penal Colony « Entdinglichung Thu, 27 Sep 2012 08:43:40

    […] Kieran Allen: Citizenship and Racism: The Case against McDowell’s Referendum […]

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  • By: Raising an Akward but obvious point Sun, 14 Apr 2013 08:56:37

    McDowell’s racist referendum.
    79% voted yes because they saw a loop hole being abused.

    According to the Kieran Allen the referendum was racist.

    So apparently 79% of the Irish are racist. Even today when the fraction of non-nationals hit about 1 in 6 there is no anti-foreigner sentiment worth speaking of. The genuinely horrible PD party were the people who were arguing for labour to come to Ireland in large numbers.

    Where is the racism shown by the 79% Yes vote?

    Did hyperbole like the above K.Allen piece really add to the debate? Was Ireland by this vote exposed as one of the most racists states in Europe?

    Or does the lack of any anti-immigrant drive in Ireland instead reflect that the voters believed closing a loophole had nothing to do with racism and that K.Allen was simply wrong and regulating immigration, and voting to regulate immigration, does not equal fascism.

    It seems so obvious but isn’t that what the 79% yes vote told us?

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  • By: sin Fri, 19 Jul 2019 22:00:22

    What euro countries have birthright citizenship? None.

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  • By: Daniel Rayner O'Connor Sat, 20 Jul 2019 12:12:05

    It is good that this matter is being raised again, courtesy, I think, of Fintan O’Toole. Since he published his article (IT, 16/07), a number of the usual suspects have crawled out of the woodwork on to the paper’s correspondence page in support of McDowell’s dirty work. (K.Martin, P.Williams, Aine ni Connaill). Nobody has defended O’Toole’s line, so I suppose that one thing these people have argued is correct: there would still be a majority for the amendment if the referendum were run again. It is all the better that the opposing case be argued.
    Yes the referendum was racist. it was supported (again, as usual) by the majority of the media on precisely those lines. Many people were panicked into voting yes by this. As O’Toole remarked, there was little more than circumstantial evidence to back the case, and there was little time for adequate discussion on it. It did not make Ireland one of the most racist states in Europe; it did show a majority of its citizens as gullible as so many tabloid readers elsewhere.
    ‘Just closing a loophole,’ Awkward but Obvious? A loophole in which direction? For greater civilisation or back into an atavistic quagmire?
    Compared to the juggernauts that Orban, Babis, Kacinsky are driving through their country’s constitutions, Ireland would be raising a barrier against the abuses of these men.
    ‘What Euro countries have have birthright citizenship?’ Yes, none of them do. Does this mean that it is wrong, or that we should not have it?
    Two last points. Yes the PD leader, Harney did call for immigrants to come into Ireland. Nonetheless she sat in the Government that supported the Amendment introduced by her fellow Regressive Autocrat, McDowell. I go by what people do over what they say.
    As to Kieran Allen, his pamphlet makes a number of good points, however some months after its publication I sat with other campaigners against the racist amendment and heard him demanding that we do not describe the proposal as racist. I never gathered what caused him to change his mind.

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  • By: kestrel Sat, 20 Jul 2019 15:05:34

    don’t remember this in 2004!, so if i had voted, it would most probably have been ‘against’.
    that said, might the 1999 ‘entitlement’ word, have struck some cord with the, us, Irish, in that entitlement follows then to everything; and if the comment of Jackie Healy Rae’s son ‘freeloaders, blackguards and hoodlums’ is anything to go by, does this indicate what we perceive that we are?, – but if stated, would lose votes for politicians.
    and, are our poverty indigenous free state people, (males?), in regard to housing using ‘Democracy’ as an erroneous word for what is actually a ‘Sexocracy’?

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