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Justice Minister aims to reduce waiting time for children born in Ireland to gain citizenship

Currently, children born in Ireland whose parents are not Irish citizens – and haven’t met residency requirements – must live here for at least five years before they can gain citizenship.

Image: Shutterstock/Sharomka

Updated Mar 23rd 2021, 7:02 PM

THE MINISTER FOR Justice has announced that she will aim to reduce the length of time that children born in Ireland whose parents aren’t citizens must wait before gaining citizenship.

Currently, children born in Ireland to parents who are not Irish citizens – and haven’t met residency requirements of living in the country for three years prior to the birth – must live here for at least five years before they can become citizens themselves.

(People born to non-Irish parents who had legally lived in Ireland or Northern Ireland for three of the four years before their birth are entitled to citizenship.)

Helen McEntee sought Cabinet approval today to make it easier for children in the former category to gain citizenship through naturalisation.

Children born here to non-Irish citizens must have lived in Ireland for four of the previous eight years and additionally have one year of continuous residence prior to the date of their application, which puts the total length of the residency requirement at five years.

Under the new proposal, the number of years would be reduced from five years to three.

Children who are currently looking for citizenship would be able to gain the status at an earlier stage.

The amendment would only apply to children of parents who are legal residents in Ireland and would not broaden the categories of children entitled to apply for citizenship.

In a statement this evening, the minister said that her department was aiming to deliver a “fair immigration system for a digital age”.

“It is my hope that reducing the amount of time children of non-Irish nationals born in Ireland have to wait before being eligible for citizenship will provide comfort and reassurance to many families across the country,” McEntee said.

But she added that it would not broaden the categories of children entitled to citizenship and would only apply to children of parents who are legally resident in the State.

The proposal followed discussions between McEntee and Labour senator Ivana Bacik, who put forward a private member’s bill on the naturalisation of children born here in the Seanad.

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Naturalisation of Minors Born in Ireland) Bill 2018 was debated in the Seanad in December.

At the time, Senator Bacik said that “one of the initial motivations for bringing the Bill forward in 2018 was the case of Eric Xue, the nine-year-old boy from Bray in County Wicklow who, colleagues will recall was born and had lived all his life in Ireland but whose family were then threatened with deportation in 2018″.

“We have seen that the children who have been born in Ireland, have grown up here and have known no other home but here are effectively stateless if they do not have Irish citizenship,” Bacik said.

“They are being threatened with deportation along with their families. We have seen that deportations can and have taken place at the end of lengthy immigration or asylum application processes that could take years to determine, years in which a child is born, raised and educated here.”

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During the debate, McEntee said that she wanted to “work with Senator Bacik and others in trying to progress the concerns that have been outlined”.

Speaking to The Journal this morning, Senator Bacik said: “I’m delighted that after such positive engagement [with Minister McEntee] we will see this very important change in the law for those born in Ireland.”

In 2004, the constitution was amended by referendum to make significant changes to the right to Irish citizenship for people born in Ireland.

The amendment meant that a child born in Ireland would no longer be automatically entitled to citizenship unless they had at least one parent who was an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen.

Contains reporting by Stephen McDermott.

This article was amended on 14 April to make clear the distinctions between people born to parents who had met residency requirements and those who didn’t. 

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