HK can learn from Irish who voted in referendum to end 'citizenship tourism'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2012, 12:00am


I refer to reports on the influx of mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong's private and public hospitals, and the resulting pressure on the health-care and education system.

Although thousands of miles away, the Irish experience might shed a light on what can be done. Up to 2004, under the Irish constitution, any baby born in the state was automatically given Irish citizenship. This was exploited by many non-Irish nationals, as parents of an Irish-born baby were also allowed to stay and work in the country.

Many asylum seekers or illegal immigrants, including those from China, took advantage of the loophole and used their Irish-born babies as 'visas'. This rule also attracted women in late stages of pregnancy to give birth in Ireland to secure an Irish (European Union) passport for the baby, as Ireland was the only EU country to give an automatic right to citizenship by birth. There was a well-known case of a Chinese illegal immigrant who was due to be deported from Wales but was advised to go and give birth in Ireland. As a result, as a mother of an Irish citizen, she was then allowed to live in any EU state, including Britain where her child was living.

In 2004, almost 80 per cent of Irish voters who took part in the referendum voted 'yes' to amend the constitution and close this loophole of 'citizenship tourism'.

With effect from 2005, a baby born in Ireland is only entitled to citizenship if at least one of his parents is Irish or has lived in Ireland legally for three years. Unfortunately, Hong Kong people are not given the choice to change what is an extremely unfair and dangerous situation.

It is unfair to mothers in the SAR who are unable to access what should be regarded as a public health service within their rights and have to endure labour pain on a trolley in a hospital corridor. And it is unfair for their children to have to compete for school places with children from north of the border and for teachers to have to meet additional demands.

Also, it is most unfair to the staff of hospitals to have to work under unprecedented pressure, and put up with verbal abuse by some mainlanders who show little respect. Despite pledges by the chief executive, the government is obviously not tackling the root of the problem.

The people of Hong Kong must speak up and fight for universal suffrage.

Patricia Craven, Dublin, Ireland