15/10/2019

Parties Split Over Citizenship Rights Case

A tribunal ruling deeming people born in Northern Ireland as British citizens, even if they identify as Irish, has sparked discourse throughout the political community.

The high-profile case of Emma DeSouza was taken to an immigration tribunal after the NI woman won a case against the Home Office in 2017. Mrs DeSouza had objected to the fact that she was deemed British when her US-born husband applied for a residence card.

The Good Friday Agreement allows people in Northern Ireland to identify as either British, Irish or both, however an immigration tribunal upheld an appeal of the case taken by the Home Office.

The question of citizenship has sparked opposing calls from local political leaders, with some demanding the UK and Irish Governments sign a new treaty on identity and rights.

DUP MLA Peter Weir, however, welcomed the Home Office appeal and said the issues of citizenship and identity are not equal.

The Strangford MLA said: "Whilst identity reflects a political and cultural ethos, citizenship is legally based entitlement enshrined in legislation. Anyone in Northern Ireland can of course choose to take up Irish citizenship but this ruling clarifies that British citizenship is the automatic default.

"The principle of consent is a vital part of the progress we have made in Northern Ireland and the legal challenge taken by Mrs DeSouza would have undermined that key principle."

Meanwhile, the SDLP said the tribunal decision is incompatible with the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon expressed intentions to raise the issue with the Secretary of State Julian Smith.
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"Emma is an Irish citizen, she is guaranteed that right under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement," Ms Mallon commented. "It is disgraceful that the British Government has sought to undermine the principles of the Agreement and they have to be brought to task.

"Emma and Jake have been fighting for four years to defend the Agreement and citizen's rights in Northern Ireland. She has been up against the might and resource of a government that has become obsessed with identity and suppressing the rights of people to move freely across these islands.

"I will be raising this with the Secretary of State as a matter of urgency. The political outworking of the Good Friday Agreement and the principle that people born here can define as Irish must be upheld."

Calls have also been issued for a new treaty, created by the UK and Irish governments, to encapsulate the freedom of identity and protections of rights of those born in Northern Ireland.

Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MLA said the tribunal ruling shows the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is not being respected in domestic law.

"People from Northern Ireland have the right to be solely British, solely Irish or both," Dr Farry commented.

"This case has exposed some of the anomalies and discrepancies that have not really been exposed until now due to the hitherto joint EU membership of the UK and Ireland.

"Alliance will be making political representations that the UK Government updates the 1981 Nationality Act, and the UK and Irish Governments make a new treaty going beyond the Common Travel Area, fully encapsulates the free choice of identity and protection of rights."



(JG/MH)

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