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'Bureaucracy and ineptitude' leaves Irish-speaking family facing deportation

Zoe Ware is an “exemplary student” at a Gaelscoil in Kerry, and a competitive sean nós singer. But that probably won’t save her…

Updated: 9.13 pm

A CANADIAN-AMERICAN family of five has appealed to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to intervene, as their five-year fight to live in their adopted home of Co Kerry appears to be ending.

The family – Kate and Shannon Ware and their three daughters, who are fluent Irish speakers – have been told they must leave the country by the end of school year, or face deportation orders.

“Is breá liom Éireann agus Ciarraí,” 11-year-old Zoe said, in a hand-written letter to Fitzgerald on 17 May. (“I love Ireland and Kerry.”)

Kate, 36, a Canadian citizen from Toronto, and Shannon, 42, an American citizen from California, currently live in Waterville, with their daughters Zoe (11), Grace (Gráinne, 8) and Abigael (Gobnait, 7).

The family first arrived in Ireland during the summer of 2010, on a three-month tourist visa, but quickly fell in love with South Kerry, where they settled.

Local politicians, including Senator Mark Daly, and TDs Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Griffin and Martin Ferris, have lobbied the Minister to intervene.

At the heart of the matter appears to be an extraordinary case of crossed wires between the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB).

“This is a case of bureaucracy and ineptitude that will seriously harm a young family that has made a home in Ireland,” Sinn Féin’s Ferris said in a statement.

They have complied with every requirement of their visas and immigration process but now the Department of Justice says they must go.

A nine-hour wait for nothing, and a bureaucratic mix-up

zoeletter Source: Zoe Ware's letter to Minister Frances Fitzgerald

The Ware family were permitted to remain in Ireland beyond the expiration of their tourist visa in 2010.

Local Garda immigration officials granted them a “Stamp 3″ authorisation to stay, which they renewed every three months until May 2012.

At that point, they were informed by a GNIB official that they needed to apply for a change of status (a visa), which they did.

Three months after their final Stamp 3 renewal, GNIB told the Wares they no longer needed reauthorisation stamps, since they had an application in with INIS for change of status.

In an effort to clarify the situation at GNIB headquarters, Kate and Shannon drove from the Iveragh Peninsula to Dublin one day in late 2012.

By their account, they waited for nine hours for an INIS official to show up, only to be told they couldn’t be seen that night, but to come back the next morning.

They did, but the INIS official didn’t. They couldn’t be helped, and were forced to return home to Kerry with no further information.

And this is where the problems began. INIS finally responded to the family 15 months later, in August 2013, refusing them a visa, in a letter seen by TheJournal.ie.

Why? Because they had gone through the Gardaí to renew their Stamp 3 authorisations, “without reference to” the INIS.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Kate emphasises that officials from GNIB have always been “polite, courteous and helpful” towards the family.

The Department of Justice also claimed the family didn’t have the means to support themselves, but this appears to have been based on a wilfully narrow snapshot of their finances.

Shannon, who provides technical and medical Japanese translation services to major clients around the world, said he gave INIS 18 months’ worth of bank statements, showing income well above the cut-off point.

The Ware family. Source: Tustin Rose Photography

It’s all foreign money that I’m bringing in through consultancy, and spending locally.

But the INIS, in its correspondence with the family, cited their joint bank balance on just one date in April 2013, and concluded they weren’t self-sufficient.

Shannon says they weren’t told what the minimum balance required was, and that he had paid significant bills just before that date:

If I knew there was a magic number, I would have had that money in my account.

For her part, Kate is a trained midwife, and hopes to become registered with An Bord Altranais if the family is allowed to settle permanently.

The confusion over their Stamp 3 authorisations, however, meant the Wares had lost their “permission to remain in the State” on 12 December 2012.

Without their knowledge and despite their scrupulous efforts to follow every instruction, the family had been “undocumented” for the previous 10 months.

They were given four weeks to leave the country, which they did, before returning to Ireland at the end of 2013.

They filed a fresh application for a visa in early 2014, making sure to show ample financial means this time, but the second application was rejected on the grounds of their previous refusal.

Shortly afterwards, the family applied for Humanitarian Leave to Remain, with particular emphasis on the well-being of their daughters.

‘She knows all the sean nós songs, dating back to the 17th century.’

Source: Shannon Ware/YouTube

Local support for Shannon and Kate Ware, and the girls, has been overwhelming. Many neighbours and schoolmates have written to the INIS, and local TDs have raised their plight in the Dáil.

Laoise Nic Aogáin, principal of Scoil Mhicíl Naofa in Ballinskelligs, wrote directly to the Department of Justice, conveying how much of an “asset” to the community they are.

Ours is a Gaeltacht school and these three little girls have fitted in so well to our school. They are extremely interested in the Irish language and make every effort to speak it.
They are exemplary students and are a joy to teach. Zoe, the eldest child, has an avid interest in Irish music and singing, particularly in the sean nós style and knows by heart all the old songs of this area even those dating back to the seventeenth century.
In my almost thirty years of teaching I have never witnessed such a profound and genuine interest.

In fact, Zoe is a competitive sean-nós singer, taking part in the Under-12 category at last October’s Oireachtas na Samhna in Killarney, as shown in this video.

She recently passed the entrance exam for the Irish immersion program at Coláiste na Sceilge’s Aonad Lán Ghaeilge in Caherciveen.

Kate points to an example of the girls’ love and devotion not just to the Irish language, but to the regional dialect:

A couple of years ago, Zoe told me, ‘Anything other than Munster Irish just doesn’t sound right to me, Mom.’

“They were born in Canada, but their worldview is completely Irish”, adds Shannon.

‘Ba bhreá liom iad a fheiceál arís’

kateshannon Kate and Shannon Ware. Source: Roseanna Tustin

Kate and Shannon aren’t sure what to do next. They’re appealing directly to Frances Fitzgerald to use her discretion and grant them leave to remain – something she has the power to do.

They’d like to see their immigration status regularised, especially since their undocumented status was purely the result of an administrative lapse beyond their control.

If these appeals, and the testimony of local representatives, their neighbours and friends, all fall on deaf ears, they’d be faced with the possibility of challenging deportation orders in the courts.

But there’s another problem. Kate’s father in Canada and Shannon’s mother in America, are both very sick with cancer.

If they leave voluntarily, they risk losing their “window of opportunity”, wrenching the girls from their friends, losing their home, and having to start the entire process from scratch when they return to Ireland.

That scenario is even more fraught – since Kate and the children are Canadian citizens, and Shannon is American, they would most likely have to be separated for a significant period of time.

If they’re deported, the same problems apply, but the Ware family would be barred for years from obtaining visas in Ireland.

If they challenge eventual deportation orders in the courts, they risk losing, of course – time, energy and legal fees, with the same devastating outcome.

But they’d be gambling with more than that, as Kate points out.

We just can’t afford to risk that our parents might pass away while we’re waiting for judicial review.

90381841 Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at an event celebrating Ireland's resettlement of refugees. Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Earlier this year, Kate and Shannon applied on compassionate grounds to INIS, for permission to leave Ireland, visit their sick parents, and return again.

They were denied, and two weeks later came a firmly-worded letter from INIS, offering them “one final opportunity” to leave Ireland of their own accord, and threatening deportation within four weeks.

We would strongly recommend that you would take immediate steps to leave the State…

INIS originally gave the Wares until 12 June to make that decision, but TheJournal.ie has learned that Minister Fitzgerald has since extended the deadline “until your three daughters have finished the current academic school year.”

However, no new date of departure has been given, despite the fact that, according to the family, they have been forced to present their travel arrangements to INIS by Wednesday, 3 June.

This is significant, since the family has been warned that staying beyond the date of departure would leave them open to deportation orders.

TheJournal.ie has requested clarification on this matter from the Department of Justice.

Martin Ferris outlines what he sees as the politics behind the plight of the Ware family:

Enda Kenny travels the world on taxpayers’ money to attract business to Ireland, and when people come from abroad to facilitate that business, they’re told they’re not welcome.
In starker contrast still is the government’s work toward amnesty for undocumented Irish in America…
We cannot demand such compassion while refusing to show it ourselves.

In simpler terms, Zoe Ware poignantly describes the horrible dilemma of an 11-year-old girl who loves and misses her grandparents, but has a unique passion for her new home, and fears losing both.

In her letter to Frances Fitzgerald, she wrote:

Ba bhreá liom iad a fheiceál arís, ach, is breá liom Éireann agus Ciarraí…
Má ‘s é do thoil é, cabhraigh linn bheith feidir teacht ar ais go hÉireann.
I’d love to see them again, but I love Ireland and Kerry…
Please, help us be able to come back to Ireland.

TheJournal.ie sent a list of detailed questions to the Department of Justice. A spokesperson said:

The cases raised are currently under consideration by the Department but as a long-standing matter of policy, we will not be commenting on the specifics of individual cases.

Originally published: 6am

Read: Ireland isn’t as welcoming as it used to be>

Read: ‘My experience in Ireland has been quite simply incredible’>

Read: Gilmore in Washington to ‘highlight plight’ of undocumented Irish>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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