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Court of Appeal

Fast-track hearing for appeal of landmark citizenship case which created legal limbo for thousands

Citizenship ceremonies previously scheduled for September and December 2019 have been “postponed pending further notice”

LAST UPDATE | 8 Oct 2019

THE COURT OF Appeal is considering whether or not to overturn a landmark case on Irish citizenship that has thrown thousands of would-be citizens into legal limbo.

In a fast-tracked hearing at the Four Courts today, appeal judges were urged to reverse a High Court decision that nobody can be granted Irish citizenship if they have spent a single day outside the country in the past year.

Court of Appeal president George Birmingham, sitting with two other senior judges, reserved judgment to a date to be announced after hearing legal arguments.

Roderick Jones, an Australian citizen, launched the appeal after Mr Justice Max Barrett found that foreign nationals applying to become Irish on the basis of their residence “must show a one- year period of residence in Ireland that is ‘unbroken, uninterrupted, connected throughout in space or time’”.

The decision has thrown the citizenship system into confusion, with few people with pending or intended citizenship applications likely to pass the High Court’s test of not having left the State for 12 uninterrupted months.

Previously, they had been allowed up to eight weeks.

Carol Sinnott of Sinnott Solicitors, whose firm represents Jones, said that “since the
judgment was delivered in July, the processing of citizenship applications has come to a

She added that citizenship ceremonies previously scheduled for September and December 2019 have been “postponed pending further notice”.

Unusually, neither party to the appeal is defending the original decision. Jones took the case in the first place to argue that the policy of only allowing six weeks’ absence was too strict, while the Department of Justice stood over its policy.

But Mr Justice Barrett decided that the government was not entitled to allow any flexibility at all, as the citizenship legislation requires “continuous residence” for 12 months.

Sinnott said that “the core issue to be decided in the appeal is whether the High Court erred in law in considering that continuity of residence in the State is affected by any type of absence at all from the State, and that any such absence meant that residence has been broken”.

Last month, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan announced emergency legislation to address the issue created by the High Court decision. This may not be needed if the Court of Appeal holds that the case was wrongly decided.

A department spokesperson said today that the recent judgment has “given cause for concern”.

They added: “The outcome of the appeal will have a bearing on whether or not legislation is required. Should it be necessary, the Minister intends to introduce a Bill in the Oireachtas as soon as possible this term. 

“The Department is doing everything possible to put a solution in place on an urgent basis. At the end of July, the Minister obtained Cabinet approval for a proposed Bill to address the matter and intensive work is taking place in the Department where officials are working with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in the Attorney General’s Office to finalise the draft Bill.”

The Explainer / SoundCloud

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