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FactCheck: Has the British government removed the right to Irish citizenship from those in the North?

The claim was made by Sinn Féin following a UK Tribunal ruling this week.

Factcheck

EARLIER THIS WEEK, a UK Tribunal ruled that people born in Northern Ireland cannot self-identify as Irish citizens only – without revoking their British citizenship first.

It was the latest finding in a case involving the Home Office and Derry woman Emma DeSouza, who is seeking a residence card for her US-born husband.

DeSouza, who identifies as Irish and is an Irish citizen, made her application on those grounds. She brought a case against the Home Office after it rejected her application because it considered her a British citizen.

However, she believes that the Home Office’s position is against the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which gives anyone from the North the right to identify as British, Irish, or both.

The ruling led to a claim by Sinn Féin that the British government are taking away citizenship rights from those in the North. But is that accurate?

The Claim

On Tuesday morning, Sinn Féin’s official Twitter account – which has almost 100,000 followers – posted a tweet and accompanying video referring to the DeSouza ruling.

It said:

The British Government are removing YOUR right to Irish citizenship. Don’t let them get away with it.

Sinn Fein tweet 2 Source: Twitter/Sinn Féin

The 36-second video repeated the claim, alongside images of British Home Secretary Priti Patel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and excerpts from the Good Friday Agreement. 

It said: “The British Govt [sic] are removing your right to Irish citizenship, ruling that everyone in the North is British, directly attacking the 1998 [Good Friday] Agreement.”

The video also called on viewers to “defend your right to be Irish”.

By the time of writing, the post had more than 1,400 retweets and 2,000 ‘likes’ and the accompanying video had been watched more than 120,000 times.

The Evidence

On Monday, the UK’S Upper Tribunal ruled that people born in Northern Ireland cannot self-identify as Irish citizens only, without revoking their British citizenship first.

The ruling essentially means that those born in Northern Ireland are automatically seen as British citizens in the eyes of the law when they are born.

It does not change citizenship rights for those born in the North; rather, it clarifies that citizens of Northern Ireland are born British and can only become Irish after renouncing their British citizenship.

The judges stated that to do so, citizens can undergo a formal process which costs £200. 

The ruling overturned a previous decision made by the First-Tier Tribunal in DeSouza’s favour, which found that immigration laws laid out in the British Nationality Act 1981 were superseded by the Good Friday Agreement.

Under Article 1 (iv)/(vi) of the Good Friday Agreement, “the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship” is recognised by both the Irish and British governments.

But appealing the First-Tier Tribunal ruling, lawyers for the Home Office claimed that provisions on citizenship outlined in the Agreement had not been incorporated into the UK’s corresponding domestic legislation linked to it, the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

As a result, they were successfully able to argue that an international treaty doesn’t overpower British immigration law.

The Tribunal ruled that it would infringe parliamentary sovereignty if the British government could enter into a treaty with a foreign state – in this case, Ireland – and change the domestic law of the UK without consulting parliament first.

It therefore found that immigration laws set out under the British Nationality Act do not supersede those in the Good Friday Agreement.

Substantive question Source: Upper Tribunal

However, during the case, the Home Office accepted that citizens in the North could identify as British or Irish, or both during the Tribunal hearing.

It was only their legal argument that this right does right not make individuals who are born in the North legal citizens of their own choosing.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie after the ruling, the Home Office reiterated its commitment to upholding the Good Friday Agreement, as well as its acceptance of the right of those in the North to identify as Irish citizens.

“We respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to choose to identify as British or Irish or both and their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship,” it said.

TheJournal.ie made multiple attempts to contact Sinn Féin to clarify the claim in the party’s tweet, but no response was received by the time of publication.

Verdict

The British government has not removed the right to Irish citizenship from those in the North.

The Upper Tribunal ruling found that citizens in the North are automatically British citizens, but its ruling did not take away their right to become Irish citizens.

Both the Home Office and the Upper Tribunal still accept that citizens in the North can become Irish citizens under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is simply untrue to suggest the British government is removing this right or defying the Good Friday Agreement.

We rate this claim as FALSE.

As per our verdict guide, this means that the claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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