The limits of being Irish

PT       2004-06-08 
In a week that will climax with important elections in this country, keep an eye on a significant vote taking place in Ireland on Friday. Irish voters do not merely face local and European elections, as we do. They also face a referendum on a change to their constitution which has triggered intense debate about what it means to be Irish in the modern world, a debate full of implications for Britain.

The ostensible reason for the referendum is that Irish citizenship law is historically generous. This owes much to the nationalist tradition, which not only embraces the worldwide Irish diaspora but offers Irishness on a plate to all inhabitants of the whole island - including the six counties of the north - even if not all of them want it. Irish citizenship law is based on the so-called "ius soli" - if you are born in Ireland, including in the north, you are entitled to be Irish. These long-standing principles were confirmed in the Good Friday agreement in 1998.