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People have been asking the Irish government what the DeSouza ruling means for them

“This is unacceptable. I don’t want to be a British citizen,” one person who wrote to the Taoiseach argued.

desouza-court-case Emma DeSouza and her husband Jake arrive for a press conference after the Home Office won its appeal. Source: Niall Carson

Does my Irish passport (and citizenship) still give me the same rights as Irish citizens born in the Republic of Ireland?
My question to you is do we need to move south so we can be proper citizens of our own land?

SEVERAL QUERIES WERE sent to the Irish government from people concerned about the implications of the DeSouza ruling on their citizenship status.

Derry woman Emma DeSouza 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, with the judge in that tribunal arguing that the Good Friday Agreement “supersedes” British domestic law: “Nationality cannot therefore be imposed upon them at birth.”

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 decision is now being appealed by DeSouza; the Irish government also supports the DeSouzas’ argument, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stating in the Dáil that Emma DeSouza “is an Irish citizen”. 

In a number of records released to TheJournal.ie under a Freedom of Information request, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials are seen writing to one another about the calls.

“A mentioned on the phone,” one official wrote to another on 17 October, “we are getting a few calls/emails from the public who are concerned about the implications of the DeSouza verdict on their Irish citizenship.”

Emailed queries

Highlighted Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Among the emailed queries sent to the Department between 14-29 October is one from a person who hopes that their “anxiety” in relation to the DeSouza verdict “is misplaced”:

“I am an Irish citizen… A reading of a summary of the DeSouza case suggests to me that in UK law I am considered a British citizen, and that the UK does not recognise my Irishness until if/when I relinquish/disown it.”

In other correspondence, an official says that they “got a call with a similar query from a Northern Ireland born Irish citizen asking a similar question”, this being ‘what effect does the DeSouza case have on Irish citizenship’. 

On 15 October, a citizen wrote a lengthy email addressed to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the verdict: “I am writing to you because I am really upset about the ruling of the immigration tribunal court in the UK about Irish citizens living in the north of Ireland”.

This is unacceptable. I don’t want to be a British citizen. I am Irish and I travel on an Irish passport, as did my mother and grandmother before me.
How many others in the north of Ireland identify as Irish citizens? I’m sure they don’t all want to be British! Is there anything you can do to help with this? 

The writer said that they were concerned about “the uncertainty of Brexit” and now the DeSouza ruling. “These problems are causing tensions in my community which has been relatively peaceful since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.”

“I don’t know what to do to protect my sons. They have never seen The Troubles here… I don’t ever want them to go [through] anything like the suffering of The Troubles.”

So my question to you is do we need to move south so we can be proper citizens of our own land?

On 15 October, a person sent a query into the Irish embassy in Rome:

“I have just become aware of the British High Court ruling that all people born in Northern Ireland are British citizens by default. I have come here on my Irish passport. Do we need residency asap?”

When the reply said that all Irish citizens travelling or living in Italy have to register with the embassy on the DFA website, the person replied on 17 October:

I’m basically looking to clarify that this British High Court ruling hasn’t affected the requirements or rights for me as an Irish citizen. 

“Does my Irish passport (and citizenship) still give me the same rights as Irish citizens born in the Republic of Ireland?”

DeSouza has accused the UK Government of failing to implement the provisions of Good Friday Agreement into UK domestic law. She said her case will have implications for EU citizens post-Brexit.

Response from the Irish Government

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a spokesperson said that it had received a number of representations from members of the public.

“Irish citizenship is a matter of Irish law and applies regardless of residency. Irish citizenship is unaffected by the ongoing DeSouza case in the UK courts,” it said.

The Citizenship and Identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are central to the Good Friday Agreement and it is vital that they are upheld. The Government has consistently engaged with the British Government in support of this, and continues to do so.

“The Taoiseach has raised the De Souza case with the British Prime Minister and has confirmed that he will do so again following the UK general election. The Tánaiste has discussed the matter with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, most recently on 14 November. The Tánaiste has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the British Home Secretary to formally ask that the review that was mandated be urgently concluded to provide an outcome that is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

In February, then Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged the serious concerns in this area and pledged to ‘review the issues around citizenship urgently to deliver a long term solution consistent with the letter and spirit’ of the Agreement.
In this context, the decision of the Tribunal in the De Souza case on 14 October does not define the extent of the British Government’s obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

In the Good Friday Agreement, both the UK and Irish governments “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”.

“The Good Friday Agreement therefore,” the Department statement continues, “includes an explicit right to both Irish and British citizenship, and an explicit right of people to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both.

It is imperative that people in Northern Ireland have confidence in these provisions of the Agreement, in letter and in spirit. To provide for that, a positive outcome to the review mandated by the British Government is now urgently needed.

“A sensitive and generous approaches by the British Government are needed to ensure that the right of people in Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, or British, or both is meaningfully provided for in all relevant policy areas. The Government will continue to strongly pursue this with the British Government, as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.”

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