Citizenship and Racism: The Case against McDowell’s Referendum
Date:April 2004
Organisation:Socialist Workers' Party (see Socialist Workers' Network)
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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