Citizenship Matters


In our Zoom for Thought on March 23rd, 2021, UCD Discovery Director Prof. Patricia Maguire spoke to Iseult Honohan, Associate Professor Emeritus at the UCD School of Politics and International Relations, about “Citizenship Matters”. In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts.



Why Citizenship Matters


Citizenship is important because it gives people security of residence and re-entry to their states, protection when they're abroad, national voting rights, often more secure access to health and education, along with full symbolic membership of a country. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has a right to citizenship, “but they don't say which citizenship everybody has a right to, and States also  have the right to determine their own membership rules”. Therefore justifying how citizenship is allocated is “a really difficult question”. Ccitizenship regimes can make people stateless, or permanent aliens in their own countries. 


Interdisciplinary Issue


Citizenship is a very complex concept, with legal, social and political dimensions. The GLOBALCIT Observatory  that Iseult is involved in includes lawyers, political scientists, political theorists, sociologists, historians and others.” 



A Racist Referendum?


Having made citizenship by birth on the island of Ireland a constitutional entitlement with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, a 2004 referendum restricted this. “The ostensible reason was that people were coming to Ireland to give birth to babies in order to acquire European Union citizenship.” The previous year had seen the high-profile Chen case of a pregnant  woman who came to give birth in Belfast so her child could have Irish citizenship and residence rights in the UK.  “Some people have said, ‘Well that's a racist referendum’. I'm not sure that it was a racist referendum. Certainly some people voted in a way that was hostile to migrants. But others were swayed by the arguments about accidental births and by the EU issues and so forth. It's a complex question; and I'm not sure myself that was the right decision to take.”



Citizenship for Residents


Residence is “a very good proxy for the sorts of things you'd want to base citizenship on”. To the extent that residents and citizens are  interdependent in society and share common difficulties arising from being subject to the same authority. By contrast if a person gets citizenship by birth but moves country shortly afterwards “they may not have significant ties” with the country of their birth. A person who was not born in the country but has come to live there “can become much more closely connected” to it. Therefore they should share in the collective power to control that government through citizenship. 



Fast-tracking Citizenship


A campaign is underway to fast-track the citizenship of healthcare workers. “I think what's being proposed is something really in the realm of administrative procedures,” said Iseult, because of delays, first due to high court judgments and, then, the pandemic preventing the holding of ceremonies. Now citizenship applicants are  signing affidavits of loyalty.  “I think the health care workers are moving through; anybody who's been in the pipeline a long time is moving through.” But whether “particular sorts of people should be given preference in access to citizenship is a different question”. Some countries have genius provisions and others allow national team footballers to fast-track their citizenship, which she describes as “something that isn't necessarily altogether a good thing or a bad thing”.



Diaspora Voting Rights


The government is drafting a bill to allow the diaspora to vote in future presidential elections. A diaspora vote is “a very complex matter for Ireland because of the number of citizens who are living abroad and who may not have as close connections with the country as those who are resident in it”. Furthermore  because of the status of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, and the the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”. 



Citizens’ Assemblies


Iseult is in favour of Citizens’ Assemblies as “really interesting ways in which people can become more active participants in their own government”.  She likes to see “more deliberative democracy and more citizenship participation in contemporary society”.



Cost of Being Irish


While Ireland's naturalisation process is similar to many other countries, “it is expensive”, with fees “up to three times” higher than in other European countries. The initial application costs €175 but once that has been approved, the certificate costs up to €950. But unlike some other European countries, there is no test of language, history or civic knowledge. It also  requires applicants to have lived in Ireland for just five of the previous eight years; some other European countries require up to 15years. The paperwork is  “not that onerous” in comparison to some other countries. “I think the main issue that people have about the Irish process is the cost.” However, the requirement for the naturalising applicant to have “good character” should be “more precisely defined”. 



Losing Citizenship


You can lose your citizenship if you acquired it fraudulently through naturalisation. You can also lose it through disloyalty or terrorism, as with the  Shamima Begum case  in the UK.  This is controversial because it represents an expanding exercise of state power, and fraus it applies only to people who have another citizenship, because the State stops short of making  people stateless. Despite this discrimination, it is still “a growing area” in citizenship matters.


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Iseult Honohan is Associate Professor Emeritus in the UCD School of Politics and International Relations, and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Her research lies in the area of normative political theory, and its practical applications, particularly in relation to citizenship, immigration and diversity.

Since 2008 she has been carrying out  interdisciplinary research on how people acquire and lose citizenship in countries across the world.  This has been in conjunction with partners at the EUI  GLOBALCIT Citizenship Observatory, an online observatory and research network (of political scientists, lawyers, political theorists and others), committed to fact-based and non-partisan analysis of citizenship laws and electoral rights around the globe. 

She is currently focusing on birthright citizenship and its historical evolution in over 180 countries worldwide.