The UK’s impending departure from the EU causes concern to the majority of residents in Northern Ireland who voted against Brexit in the referendum.
Consequently, our office is receiving increased queries from persons resident in Northern Ireland seeking advices on acquiring Irish citizenship.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, persons born in Northern Ireland have the option of taking up British citizen, Irish citizenship, or both as dual citizens.
The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, governs the law in Ireland regarding Irish citizenship. Under this law. Irish citizenship can be acquired by birth, descent, and through the naturalisation process.
The Act stipulates that any person born on the Island of Ireland, is an Irish citizenship by birth subject to the important proviso at Section 6 A of the Act, relating to the children of non nationals.
Section 6 A stipulates that a child born in the island of Ireland to non-nationals parents is only entitled to Irish citizen if one of the parents have been lawfully resident on the island of Ireland for a total of three years during the previous four years preceding that child’s birth. Periods of residence excluded from the reckonable residence are residence for the purposes of study or in the asylum process.
Therefore non EEA nationals lawfully residing in Northern Ireland, who are not residing on the basis of student visa or asylum seekers, can apply for an Irish passport for the child if they have at least 3 years of lawful residence before the child’s birth.
Acquiring Irish citizenship through the naturalization process is governed by Part III of the 1956 Act. The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is based on the individual satisfying the statutory conditions for naturalisation, which includes having acquired five years of reckonable residence in the jurisdiction of the State, as opposed to the Island of Ireland. A three year reckonable residence rule is applied to the spouses of Irish citizens.
Therefore, residency in the North of Ireland is not reckonable for the purposes of naturalization to become an Irish citizen, and a non EEA national lawfully resident in Northern Ireland for a five year period is not eligible for naturalization on the basis of their independent circumstances.
The Act provides for an exception to this rule – where the application is grounded upon being the spouse or civil partner of an Irish citizen, then lawful residence on the Island of Ireland is counted as reckonable. Thus, the non EEA national spouse of an Irish citizen lawfully resident in Northern Ireland for at least a three year period would be eligible to apply for naturalization.
It is of relevance that Senator Niall O’ Donnghaile recently asked the Minister for Justice to reconsider these laws in light of the Brexit negotiations.
“The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline if following the triggering of Article 50 in Britain and the commencement of the Brexit negotiations, the Government has given due consideration, as part of its own negotiating stance, to amending the 2004 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, to allow non-Irish and non-British nationals resident in the North to apply for Irish citizenship?
The terms of the Good Friday Agreement, currently allows for those born anywhere on the island to qualify for Irish citizenship however this has led to much concern amongst the North’s ethnic minority communities.”
In respect of Senator Niall O’ Donnghaile’s question to the Minister, to Minister responded as follows:
From a Brexit perspective, I think it is important to be clear about its scope and indeed what is outside the scope of the Article 50 negotiations as they relate to residency and other rights. In this context, the negotiations are primarily concerned with the impacts on EU nationals in the UK (including Northern Ireland) and the corollary of UK nationals in the EU. This specific strand of the negotiations is being prioritised for early consideration between the negotiating parties.
This does not change the right of persons born under the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. In other words, persons may apply for Irish citizenship in accordance with the legislative changes arising from the Good Friday agreement. The question of citizenship is a national competency. Obviously Ireland is maintaining very close contact with the negotiations.”