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NI appeals court to hear case today of Derry woman who was ruled to be a British citizen

Emma De Souza has always identified as Irish, a right that is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Emma de Souza and her husband Jake.
Emma de Souza and her husband Jake.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

THE COURT OF Appeal of Northern Ireland will today hear the case of a Derry woman who was ruled to be a British citizen, despite her identifying as Irish since being born in Northern Ireland. 

Emma De Souza has lodged a challenge in the Court of Appeal in Belfast to a ruling that those born in Northern Ireland are automatically British citizens.

Her case is supported by the government here, with Simon Coveney saying earlier this week that De Souza shouldn’t have to go to court to assert her right to identify as Irish under the Good Friday Agreement.

Emma De Souza had originally won a case against the UK’s Home Office in 2017 after it deemed she was British when her US-born husband Jake applied for a residence card.

The judge in that tribunal argued that the Good Friday Agreement “supersedes” British domestic law: “Nationality cannot therefore be imposed upon them at birth.”

Both the UK and Irish governments pledged in the Good Friday Agreement 1998 to “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both” and “confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments”.

But on 14 October, an immigration tribunal upheld an appeal brought by the Home Office, and argued in its decision that “a person’s nationality cannot depend in law on an undisclosed state of mind”.

This ruling could mean that the UK views “identify” in an unofficial capacity – meaning you can identify personally, but officially and legally, citizens in Northern Ireland are British.

The De Souzas were granted leave by the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland to appeal this ruling and the case is due to be heard in court today.

Emma De Souza told PA in November that she and her husband were fundraising to pay for the challenge, estimated to cost up to £100,000 (€117,200). 

Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have spoken out over the issue. 

When asked by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil about the matter, Varadkar said British laws are “out of step” with the Good Friday Agreement.

“Ms DeSouza is an Irish citizen, and holds an Irish passport,” he said, adding that he would raise the matter with Boris Johnson.

After meeting the De Souzas earlier this week, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that they’d agreed that “more needs to be done to support confidence in the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement for all of the people of Northern Ireland”.

“People in Northern Ireland have a right to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both as they may so choose and to hold both British and Irish citizenship, as guaranteed by the agreement,” he said.

“No-one should have to go to court to be able to assert that right effectively.”

In a statement following the meeting, Emma De Souza said: “The Home Office, after years of appeals, has now successfully argued that Northern Ireland citizens have no right to choose their nationality, regardless of the birthright provisions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement.

We believe that the Irish Government must put its full weight into bringing pressure to bear on the British Government.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Sean Murray

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