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Good Friday Agreement

'The right to merely feel Irish is reduced': Tánaiste meets with Emma DeSouza

“No one should have to go to court to be able to assert their right to be Irish,” Tánaiste Simon Coveney said in Belfast.

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has met with Emma DeSouza to discuss a British ruling that found DeSouza was a British citizen, despite her identifying as Irish since being born in Northern Ireland.

“Our view is that this decision is wrong and goes completely against the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,” DeSouza said in a statement this evening. “This view was echoed by the Tánaiste who is actively seeking a resolution with his counterpart [Secretary of State for Northern Ireland] Julian Smith.”

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.

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 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”.

Both the UK and Irish governments pledged in the Good Friday Agreement 1998 to “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”.

This ruling could mean that the UK views “identify” in an unofficial capacity – meaning you can identify personally, but officially and legally, citizens in Northern Ireland are British.

Today, DeSouza said that she was “deeply grateful for the opportunity to discuss the negative impact of the British Government’s position”.

The Home Office, after years of appeals, has now successfully argued that Northern Ireland citizens have no right to choose their nationality, regardless of the birthright provisions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement. Rather, they are permitted to identify on a personal level as Irish, yet are in fact British at birth.
This sets a dangerous precedent, reducing an integral right to choose one’s own national identity – in this case, to identify as and be accepted as Irish – into a right to merely “feel” Irish. We believe that the Irish Government must put it’s full weight into bringing pressure to bear on the British Government.

DeSouza said that she and her husband “were encouraged by the strong show of support from the Irish Government and by the Tánaiste’s remarks”, and said that Coveney committed to ongoing discussions with his counterparts in the British Government as the case proceeds. 

The Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland has granted the DeSouzas application to appeal; they are due to appear before court on Friday this week.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney met with Emma DeSouza and her husband Jake this evening in Belfast: “We agreed that more needs to be done to support confidence in the Citizenship and Identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement for all of the people of Northern Ireland.

People in Northern Ireland have a right to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both as they may so choose and to hold both British and Irish citizenship, as guaranteed by the Agreement. No one should have to go to court to be able to assert that right effectively.

“The Government will keep engaging with the British Government to seek that this key provision of the Good Friday Agreement is meaningfully provided for in respect of the concerns raised by the De Souza’s case, and in other areas, as a matter of urgency.

“We will also be remaining in ongoing contact with Emma and Jake DeSouza and as their case continues.”

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