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Supreme Court allows convicted terrorist to appeal attempt by government to revoke his Irish citizenship

Ali Damache is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in the US.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE SUPREME COURT has ruled that a procedure which enables the Government to revoke citizenship from those who acquire Irish nationality is unconstitutional.

The finding was made to allow Ali Charaf Damache, an Algerian man who received notice that his citizenship was to be revoked because he pleaded guilty to terrorist offences, to appeal an attempt by the minister to do so.

Damache, who featured in the documentary Jihadi Jane, is currently serving a prison sentence in the US. He was extradited to the US from Spain in 2017, after he left Ireland.

He pleaded guilty in federal court in Philadelphia in July 2018 to a charge that, while resident in Ireland in or about 2010, he assisted an Islamist terrorist conspiracy.

In October 2018, he was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment – with credit for time served in Ireland and Spain – together with furnishing a consent to be deported to either Ireland or Algeria on his release.

The same month, the minister informed Damache that he intended to revoke his Irish citizenship on grounds of disloyalty to the State.

But in a ruling delivered today, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne found that Section 19 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 did not meet the standards of justice required to revoke citizenship.

The judge ruled that because revoking a certificate of naturalisation may have “drastic consequences” for an individual, a high standard of natural justice must apply to any such process.

The case centred on the process around citizenship revocation, questions of procedural safeguards, and the consequences of loss of citizenship and its impact on the requirement of fair procedures.

Under Section 19 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, the Minister for Justice and Equality may revoke a certificate of naturalisation if a number of conditions are deemed satisfied.

These include if a certificate is procured by fraud or misrepresentation, if a person awarded a certificate fails in their duty of loyalty to Ireland, or if the person is resident outside Ireland for a continuous period of seven years without reasonable excuse.

Damache was deemed by the minister to have been disloyal to the State because he had pleaded guilty to a terrorist offence.

The court found that the Minister for Justice and Equality starts the Section 19 process, and then appoints representatives to an investigating Committee of Inquiry, which is sought by the person whose citizenship is to be revoked.

It also found that the Minister’s representatives then present the reasons for the proposed revocation and that at the end of the statutory process, the minister makes a decision on whether to revoke without being bound by the findings of the Committee.

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But in her judgement, Ms Justice Dunne emphasised that an impartial and independent decision-maker was needed in the decision to revoke citizenship.

“Given the importance of the status of citizenship to an individual, I think it is quite clear that the process by which citizenship may be lost must be robust and at the very least… must observe minimum procedural standards in order to comply with the State’s human rights obligations,” the judge said.

She also found that although there was no suggestion that the committee’s members were anything but independent, in necessary procedural safeguards were not in place.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which was a party to the case as an amicus curiae, that is, one which assists a court by offering information or insight on legal issues, welcomed today’s finding.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling has recognised that these safeguards are central to the process of revoking someone’s Irish citizenship in line with our Constitution,” Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said.

“Citizenship is inextricably linked with the right to identity and a range of civil rights, therefore the Commission welcomes today’s Supreme Court ruling.”

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