The UK and Ireland: another threat to the common home

It may be dawning on the Irish north and south that one unexpected result of making Good Friday Agreement stick is the end of the British regarding the Irish as a special case. Unhindered travel without a passport under the CTA, may not be the only link that’s about to be broken.

A recent report by former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, “ Citizenship: our Common Bond” has been a big influence on the draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill. An amendment to the Bill, we’re reliably informed, as in Mick’s post, will bring in new ID requirements that will erode unhindered travel within our archipelago. In his report Goldsmith makes the case for ending the right to vote in Westminster elections by Irish citizens from the Republic who would go to live in GB after his plan became law. Existing Irish voters would be spared. The plan depends on being able to distinguish between the Irish coming from the Republic to Great Britain and northerners living in GB who opt for Irish citizenship under the GFA and who of course retain the fundamental right to vote in Westminster elections.

It’s hard to think of a more futile exercise.

But bracket the new CTA rules with any halt in the trend towards citizenship interchangeability that has typified the British-Irish relationship for decades, and we suddenly find that we have more barriers not fewer between us. A very unwelcome set of outcomes that is being tamely accepted with scarcely a squeak of protest.
Says Goldsmith: I do propose that government gives consideration to making a clear connection between citizenship and the right to vote by limiting in principle the right to vote in Westminster elections to UK citizens. This would recognise that the right to vote is one of the hallmarks of the political status of citizens; it is not a means of expressing closeness between countries. Ultimately, it is right in principle not to give the right to vote to citizens of other countries living in the UK until they become UK citizens

The aim of the Goldsmith report is to rationalise the legacy of the old open door policy of Empire and reinforce modern British citizenship as a common bond. The right of abode and citizenship are linked but not the same. The Irish are ok there. But the right to vote is part of the common bond of citizenship. Goldsmith recognises the fact of the 1949 Act under which the Irish are not regarded as foreigners under English law. But this Act was the result of Ireland finally severing the Commonwealth link and becoming an anomaly that somehow had to be regularised . Nowadays special rights for Commonwealth citizens in the UK have all but disappeared. Much the same, implies Goldsmith, should apply to the Republic’s Irish. But he wants to assure Northerners who are Irish citizens that their voting rights would remain unaffected:

Anyone who exercises their right under the Agreement to identify themselves as Irish and to take up Irish citizenship should not lose their right to vote in Westminster elections as a result of any change made to restrict voting rights to UK citizens. Hence it would be necessary to distinguish this group of Irish citizens from others.

Here’s where it occurs to him there might be a problem.

I have not been able to examine the different practical means of doing this but this would have to be part of further consideration of the issue. My proposal is dependent on finding a satisfactory means of distinguishing the two categories in a way that did not affect the position of those exercising rights under the Good Friday Agreement

“No satisfactory means of distinguishing between Irish citizens in the Republic and Irish citizens indigenous to the North, Peter? You can say that again.

When I put the point to Peter Goldsmith he looked at me blankly. There may be practical difficulties in the way of depriving Republic Irish citizens of the Westminster vote. But he had no doubt at all that it’s right and proper to do so.

He is gracious enough to concede:

Ireland is of course a member state of the EU as well. This means that Irish citizens would retain the voting rights that other citizens of EU member states have in the UK. Hence the extent of the change that I am proposing as it relates to Irish citizens is to restrict their right to vote in Westminster elections, while retaining their right to vote in European, local and devolved elections. Also, as I have said, the restriction of the right to vote in Westminster elections should be phased, so that no person who is already resident or registered to vote in the UK loses the right to vote.

To me, this piece of lawyerly tidying up completely fails to understand the enmeshed nature of the British-Irish relationship.

But who’s around to defend it?

  • I’m not sure there’s any real reason to retain voting rights for Irish citizens who are not born in Westminster jurisdiction. The simplest answer is to allow Irish citizens to vote on production of proof of citizenship AND a UK birth certificate.

    This may disappoint those born in the Republic who have been resident in the UK for years but they have the option be naturalised if they care more for their vote than being a subject of Her Majesty.

    There is the question of whether it would be simpler to let EU citizens vote for Westminster but Westminster “controls” the Constitution and the Head of State while the Republic excludes EU citizens from ballots on both of those issues.

    Of course where I live at the moment I have no vote because you have to be a Canadian citizen to vote or stand for any level of government from local dogcatcher up.

  • joeCanuck

    Has something changed, Mark? I was definitely able to vote in Municipal elections and maybe even Provincial elections before I became a citizen.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “The UK and Ireland”

    Brian Walker, when was the Republic classified as Ireland?

  • The ’26 counties’ has been known as Ireland for quite a long time, UMH.

    BUNREACHT NA hÉIREANN – CONSTITUTION OF IRELAND

  • I would guess that the means of distinguishing Irish citizens from the North, will be a national identity card. I suspect this is also the point of the whole exercise.

    From 2009 all foreign nationals will be required to have identity cards. From 2011 all British citizens will effectively get identity cards, and be entered on the National Identity Register, when they get a passport.

    Somewhat inconveniently Irish citizens in the North do not fit into either category. I think Goldsmith’s proposals are designed to shoehorn them into one or another category and hence onto the database.

    The fact this directly contradicts the right, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, of the people of Northern Ireland to define themselves as British or Irish or both is neither here nor there.

    It seems that the British Government is quite happy to tear the agreement up for the sake of a wretched scheme that everyone knows is doomed anyway.

  • Brian Walker

    Tom Griffin,

    I’m pretty sure that Goldsmith gave little thought to Irish citizens on merit. He saw them as an anomaly to iron out and fit into a neat formula he devised about the rights and duties of citizenship for a multicultural Britain under some strain.
    His definitions may be relevant for an ID policy but they were not about that.
    Northerners whether British or Irish citizens will be covered by one sort of ID card or other as you rightly imply, if the policy survives.

    Your point is spot on with Mick’s post about IDs in the CTA. There’s a great deal left to disclose on ID cards policy in both States. Meanwhile it will keep Slugger commentators in enough conspiracy theories to last a lifetime.

  • willowfield

    There is quite some misunderstanding on the part of the Attorney General.

    “Anyone who exercises their [sic] right under the Agreement to identify themselves [sic] as Irish and to take up Irish [sic] citizenship should not lose their [sic] right to vote in Westminster elections as a result of any change made to restrict voting rights to UK citizens. Hence it would be necessary to distinguish this group of Irish [sic] citizens from others”.

    This is nonsense. Someone from NI who exercises his or her right to take up ROI citizenship does not cease to be a UK citizen. Such people, as of right, would retain their right to vote on the same basis as any other UK citizen from anywhere else in the UK, and regardless of his or her possession of an additional nationality.

    “I have not been able to examine the different practical means of doing this but this would have to be part of further consideration of the issue. My proposal is dependent on finding a satisfactory means of distinguishing the two categories in a way that did not affect the position of those exercising rights under the Good Friday Agreement.”

    Why is there even any need to distinguish? If you’re a UK citizen, you get a vote: if you’re not, you don’t. UK citizens from NI will have the vote on the same basis as UK citizens from anywhere else in the UK.

  • steve

    Joecanuck

    so you’re the fecker who voted Mulroney into office!!!

  • “Irish citizens from the Republic who would go to live in GB”

    The Goldsmith report, on this theme, refers to the UK not to GB.

  • Oilifear

    A very sad and sorry report on many counts.

    “The right of abode and citizenship are linked but not the same. The Irish are ok there. But the right to vote is part of the common bond of citizenship.”

    Which places the common bond between Ireland and Britain on the same level as between the UK and any other EU state? If all this comes amid the worries over “Britishness”, what does this say for “Britishness” itself, if it can be reduced to a simple convenience of law? I would have hoped that the bonds between our nations (coming on to 840 years now – of which the oldest is between Ireland and England) would have been stronger than that. Why does it appear that the so-called “disloyal” Irish seem to have more interest in those bonds than those members of our archipelago family that talk most about them?

    “… but Westminster ‘controls’ the Constitution and the Head of State while the Republic excludes [British] citizens from ballots on both of those issues.”

    Hmmm … and so to bring it all back down to our religious mud slinging, Catholics are excluded from becoming head of state in the UK – or even being the consort of head of state! And while not constitutionally barred, a non-Anglican prime-minister would be legally awkward, so I think that make us equal, no?

    “Why is there even any need to distinguish? If you’re a UK citizen, you get a vote: if you’re not, you don’t. UK citizens from NI will have the vote on the same basis as UK citizens from anywhere else in the UK.”

    So, if under the GFA, someone from Northern Ireland renounced their British [sic] citizenship, becoming only and Irish citizen, you would argue that they (OED: “[singular] used to refer to a person of unspecified sex”) should be treated as a foreign – albeit EU – national in Northern Ireland? And you come from the “unionist” tradition?

  • willowfield

    OILIFEAR

    And while not constitutionally barred, a non-Anglican prime-minister would be legally awkward

    ?????

    Mr Brown is “legally awkward”? Mrs Thatcher was “legally awkward”? Harold Wilson? Disraeli? Lloyd George? [insert names of several others]

  • willowfield

    OILIFEAR

    So, if under the GFA, someone from Northern Ireland renounced their [sic] British … citizenship, becoming only and Irish citizen, you would argue that they [sic] … should be treated as a foreign – albeit EU – national in Northern Ireland? And you come from the “unionist” tradition?

    First, the GFA does not provide for someone from NI to renounce his or her British citizenship.

    Second, if someone renounced his or her British citizenship then, by definition, he or she becomes a foreign national in the UK. That is a simple fact.

    As regards the proposals re. voting, they are not my proposals – they are the AG’s. I do not support them.

  • Oilifear

    Willowfield,

    You are correct, it is specifically Catholics and Jews that are disbarred from advising the British head of state on ecclesiastical matters relating to the Church of England. My bad. Specifically it is that “a Catholic or Jewish prime-minister would be legally awkward”. (Disraeli was CoI, while in office, by the way.)

    “First, the GFA does not provide for someone from NI to renounce his or her British citizenship.”

    Not “under the GFA” per se, but you get my drift.

    “… if someone renounced his or her British citizenship then, by definition, he or she becomes a foreign national in the UK. That is a simple fact.”

    My question was whether you would argue that they “should be treated as a foreign – albeit EU – national”.

    “I do not support them.”

    Thanks.

  • Oilifear

    CoE, I mean, of course, not CoI 😀

  • joeCanuck

    Not me, Steve. I’ve never voted Tory in my life. Mulroney was the fecker.

  • Steve

    Too true joe, too true

  • Briso

    “This is nonsense. Someone from NI who exercises his or her right to take up ROI citizenship does not cease to be a UK citizen. Such people, as of right, would retain their right to vote on the same basis as any other UK citizen from anywhere else in the UK, and regardless of his or her possession of an additional nationality.”

    Practically, how would one prove one’s entitlement to vote? Do all those born in NI automatically end up on the Electoral register? Sorry for my ignorance…

  • willowfield

    Practically, how would one prove one’s entitlement to vote?

    How does one currently prove one’s entitlement to vote?

    Do all those born in NI automatically end up on the Electoral register?

    You have to complete the registration form.

  • DK

    What about British living in RoI – can they vote?

    Surely this is just a matter of filling in the electoral register & saying where you were born. National Insurance number can be used as proof of ID.

  • hotdogx

    Personally i dont care what they do in the uk so long as it doesn’t interfere with Ireland and that i can get on my bike and drive the circle of the entire coast of Ireland without being stopped for customs etc.

    As far as im concerned those born north of the border have a right to vote in all UK elections as it directly concerns them. However voting in EU elections only for Irish citizens living in the UK seem perfectly normal to me. An exception should be made for those who have already registered to vote.