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Government 'carefully studying' ruling not to grant citizenship to those who temporarily leave Ireland

The ruling applies to those who have left Ireland in the year before they apply for citizenship.

Image: PA Images

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice and Equality says it is “carefully studying” a High Court ruling that individuals cannot be granted citizenship if they have spent a day outside Ireland in the past year.

The unexpected judgment, which was handed down by Mr Justice Max Barrett earlier today and first reported by TheJournal.ie, has been labelled “absurd” by legal experts who say that Ireland’s citizenship laws have never been interpreted so strictly before.

There have been calls for an emergency amendment to the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as it is feared the ruling may affect thousands of people applying for citizenship.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie this evening, the Department of Justice and Equality confirmed that it was looking at the ruling.

It said:

The Department is studying the decision carefully and will take any necessary action in consultation with the Attorney General. 

Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, those wishing to naturalise as Irish citizens have to be legally resident in the State for at least five years out of the last nine (or three out of the last five if married to an Irish citizen).

This includes one year of “continuous residence” in the 12 months up to the date of application.

The Department of Justice and Equality has been allowing applicants to leave the country for up to six weeks in that final year, and sometimes more in exceptional circumstances.

But today, Mr Justice Barrett ruled that the six-week rule goes “beyond what is legally permissible in this regard, because… the Act of 1956 does not confer any discretionary power on the Minister”.

He also said that while his judgment “may seem unfair”, it was what the letter of the law required.

Over 8,000 people were granted Irish citizenship in 2017 alone, according to European Union data.

The decision does not affect those applying for Irish passports on the basis that they have an Irish parent or grandparent, as there is no residence requirement for citizenship by descent.

Lawyer Cathal Malone told TheJournal.ie that the department may now decide “to suspend or delay decisions in any case where there’s a short absence” pending an “inevitable” appeal.

He added that there may need to be emergency legislation to amend the 1956 Act.

With reporting from CJ McKinney.

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