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Economic fall-out sees Irish-Argentines apply for citizenship


History has come full circle.

Two hundred years after the first Irish began emigrating to Argentina, many of their descendants are petitioning the Irish government to return to Ireland.

After centuries of haemorrhaging the nation’s youth to foreign lands the trend has been reversed. But there’s a problem.

Whereas this year’s census figures in the north and south of Ireland reveal that the population on the island is at its highest in over 130 years – brought about by the economic boom over the past decade – one reason given for this was the high number of returning emigrants.

However, for those born in Argentina – a country which is in economic freefall – there is no such luxury as just buying a plane ticket to Dublin Airport.

But that hasn’t stopped the demand to work and live in Ireland. Recently 1300 Irish-Argentines petitioned the Irish government to be allowed to return to Ireland.

Yet, since 1986 the situation has changed for those seeking Irish citizenship, and as many of the Irish-Argentines seeking to return to Ireland fall into this category, the problem arises.

The Department of Justice in the Republic has confirmed to the Andersonstown News that there are no plans to change the current legislation, however, people who have moved to the country can apply for naturalisation, a spokesperson confirmed.

In layman’s terms if the parent of a child is descended from an Irish grandfather/mother, and registered for Irish citizenship before the child was born, then that child can now apply for citizenship.

This rules out most Irish-Argentines and is reflected in the desperation of their petition to Minister Michael McDowell which reads:

“During the last decades of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st century, Argentina is undergoing a situation which is above any pessimistic forecast. The current state of the Argentine society is chaotic, and its security, health and education are falling to alarming levels.

“We are descendants of Irish men and women who arrived in Argentina mainly during the 19th century. It is known that at that time the European nations were enduring famines and wars, and the new-born Argentine country, thriving and generous, was offering its lands and opening its doors to all immigrants, without distinction of religion, ethnicity, citizenship, economic situation or skills.

“In 1921, Argentina was the first country of the Americas which recognised Irish independence. And for several years it was the seat of the sole Irish diplomatic representation south of the Caribbean.

"Most importantly, “Argentina is the only non-English speaking country which received an organised Irish emigration. Argentina made possible the arrival of Irish immigrants in Buenos Aires. Emigrants integrated with the local community by getting jobs in the countryside.

"Many of them managed to acquire a working capital, which allowed them access to lands in the rich pampas (almost a desert until the third quarter of the 19th century).

“However, our cherished Argentina is drying up. This country is not even able to give shelter to their citizens. Today, the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of those emigrants need to make the Atlantic journey backwards, and look for new lives in Europe.

“We need help. Now. We Argentines, on grounds of humanitarian reasons, need help from our respective mother countries. A mother is always in suspense, and welcomes their returning children without questions or conditions.

“Today, it is shocking to verify the ill-treatment received by many Argentines seeking refuge in their mother countries. In most cases, there are severe requirements even for visiting or investing in our old country.

“Today, we ask the Irish government for a consideration with Irish-Argentines. According to the acts, grandchildren of Irish nationals are able to request the Irish citizenship. But for great-grandchildren (those youngsters who actually need a possibility in Ireland) the situation changed in 1986.

"If the birth of the father or mother of the great-grandchild is registered before 1 July 1986, and the great-grandchild is born after 17 July 1956, the newborn may be registered. If the birth of the father or mother of the great-grandchild is registered after 1 July 1986 his or her request will be considered only if he or she is born after the date in which the parents registered his or her birth.

“This is a historic opportunity for the Irish people to welcome back their sons and daughters. It is a historical opportunity to give back the generosity of the Argentine Republic with their emigrants who were fleeing insecurity, lack of jobs and hunger.”

The same economic conditions that saw the Irish leave their country is bringing their descendants back home.

The difference this time is that the rules have changed, but as ever desperation has not.

October 22, 2002

This article appeared first on the web site on October 3, 2002.

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