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Emma DeSouza and her US-born husband Jake arrive for a press conference in West Belfast, 14 OCtober 2019. Niall Carson
Emma deSouza

Irish government won't be contributing to the DeSouzas' legal bill

The legal case taken by the DeSouzas was “a private case in respect of an immigration application”, the Irish government said.

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT won’t be paying all or part of the legal fees of Emma and Jake DeSouza, who were locked in a legal battle for five years with the British government to challenge a provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

In a response to a PQ from Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said that the Government has “always been clear” that the legal case taken by the DeSouzas was “a private case in respect of an immigration application, and decisions on the litigation have always been a matter for them, in consultation with their solicitor”. 

“Accordingly, and in line with normal practice, the State will not be contributing to the legal fees,” the reply stated, noting that support for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would continue. 

In what was originally an immigration case, but became a test of whether the UK recognises that citizens in Northern Ireland can be either British or Irish or both, Emma DeSouza and her husband Jake have fought against the UK government’s assertion that Emma is legally a British citizen. 

The UK government has spent over £55,000 on legal fees to pursue the immigration case against the Derry activist.

As the change was made two weeks before they were due in court, the DeSouzas were left with a legal bill of over £45,000 to pay, added to £36,000 they had already paid in savings and through crowdfunding.

A crowdfunding page has already reached over £75,000 out of £80,000 however, and is expected to reach its goal this week.

Richmond said that the reply was “understadable but disappointing,” as DeSouza had done a great service doing for all of us”.

“They won, they ‘beat the system’, for want of a better phrase… so shouldn’t the Irish government be paying for this?” he said, adding that the Irish government continues to give them moral and political support.

A timeline of her case

DeSouza had originally won a case against the UK’s Home Office after the first tier tribunal 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.”

But DeSouza lost the Upper Tribunal case, where another judge argued that “a person’s nationality cannot depend in law on an undisclosed state of mind.” 

The DeSouzas had lodged a challenge in the Court of Appeal in Belfast to a ruling that those born in Northern Ireland are automatically British citizens. But during this process, the Home Office temporarily changed its immigration laws, resolving the immigration issue that was at the heart of the Northern Ireland rights test case.

As a result of this, the DeSouzas decided to drop the Court of Appeal case, and were left with a substantial legal bill.

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