‘We’? ‘The Citizens’?

horizon‘Horizon’ – El Roto

I left this comment on the article by Michael D. Higgins in today’s Irish Times, which is titledTime for citizens to forge a better future for our country‘.

Who is this ‘we’ Michael D. Higgins is talking about?

He speaks of the disempowerment of ‘our citizens’, and extends an invitation to ‘all of the citizens of Ireland’ to reimagine Ireland. As he is writing as the Head of State, there is no room for ambiguity when it comes to the matter of who comes under this category of citizen. He is extending the invitation to people who hold the status of citizen as conferred by the Irish State. He is not extending the invitation to people in Ireland who fall outside that category.

This means that the more inclusive discourse he seeks to launch has an exclusive dimension in its foundation. It means that many people who live in Ireland and who are subjected to the State’s mechanisms of racial discrimination and violence are not called upon to take part; they are left out. The starting point of this discourse, then, guarantees their status as unpeople and the normalised violation of their human dignity.

Michael D. Higgins says ‘friendship, care, trust, justice and equality’ are moral-ethical principles that matter greatly to the people he is addressing. If they are, then that is a good thing, without doubt. But if that is what really matters to them, perhaps they ought to be thinking about what it means to be part of a political community and a State that systematically discriminates and excludes on the basis of racial-biological criteria.

Is the official category of ‘citizen’, as deployed by the Irish State, really the basis for friendship, care, trust, justice and equality? Perhaps the best person to answer this question would be someone living under Direct Provision, or in fear of deportation.

There is nothing wrong with reimagining Ireland. But first of all, perhaps we should account for how Ireland and its ‘citizens’ are already being reimagined, through events such as the Citizenship Referendum of 2004, or the fashioning of a ‘diaspora’, along racist and exclusionary contours that form a bulwark against the moral-ethical principles Michael D. Higgins enumerates here.


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