Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Goldsmith's snub to the Irish in Britain

When Ireland decided to leave the Commonwealth in 1949, admittedly a rather silly act of gesturism by an inter-party government, Clement Attlee's government wisely decided to place Irish citizens in the UK on the same basis as British citizens. This included a right to vote in all elections in the constituencies where they were resident. At a time when the Irish were literally rebuilding Britain after the war and Irish nurses were vital to the new NHS, this was an act of enlightened pragmatism. Even though some concessions had to be moderated following the entry of the UK into the EEC to avoid having to afford similar rights to all European nations, these voting rights were maintained - to the credit of the Heath, Wilson, Callaghan and Thatcher governments - through the worst of the IRA's campaigns. British citizens enjoy reciprocal rights in Dail elections. Now, at a time when Anglo-Irish relations have never been stronger, Peter Goldsmith is proposing to phase out those rights in the name of legal tidiness rather than any pressing requirement to do so. His impractical proposals for youthful pledges of allegiance are (one hopes) unlikely to see the light of day; but Gordon Brown should make clear that he has no intention of taking the vote from Irish citizens who live in Britain, those whom Lord Goldsmith regards as 'residuals'. Indeed, if Lord Goldsmith accepts that Northern Ireland will still need a different regime, his arguments for the change are even less justified: is he saying that a Belfast Catholic with an Irish passport who decides to move to London must change nationality to keep his Westminster vote? The ex-Attorney General may have a fine legal mind; he has no sense of history.

UPDATE: There are lively blog debates on the subject here, here and here.

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