Public Affairs

Citizenship recommendations response overdue

The UK Government has failed to respond to a report by MPs which called for better and easier processes for people on the island of Ireland to both renounce and attain British citizenship.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published its report on Citizenship and Passport Processes in Northern Ireland in July 2021 and response to the report by the UK Government was five months overdue.

The UK Government has undertaken, where possible, to reply to reports by House of Commons select committees within two months of publication, however, the Government missed the 7 September target and had still not responded at the end of January 2022.

The report followed a short inquiry in 2021 which looked at the costs and process required for Irish citizens to naturalise as British; and the rights relating to identity and citizenship under Article 1(vi) of the Good Friday Agreement.

It recommended that the Government amend its citizenship renunciation process for people in Northern Ireland, recognising that some people wish to “align their choice of an Irish-only identity with their citizenship”.

The MPs called on the Government to simplify the process for the renunciation of British citizenship for people who wish to assert their Irish-only identity, recognising that people born in Northern Ireland wanting to do so, first have to declare their British citizenship, before they can renounce it.

The Good Friday Agreement enshrines the right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both. However, discrepancies in how the Home Office applies this to policy have been questioned including a high-profile case taken by Emma DeSouza, where she challenged the Government’s position that she was a British citizen through automatic conferral as she always identified as Irish-only and held a passport accordingly.

The NIAC report also called for the removal of an “unfair” element of the UK naturalisation policy for Irish citizens, which requires the payment of a fee of £1,330 to become a British citizen.

Currently, naturalisation to become a British citizen is a lengthy process which costs £1,330 and also requires applicants to take a ‘Life in the UK’ test and attend a mandatory citizenship test. The issue was raised by former speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly William Hay, who having been born in the Republic of Ireland spent the majority of his life in Northern Ireland and applied for British citizenship.

The report also recommends the Government drop the requirement for Irish citizens to sit the test, and to make attendance at the ceremony optional.

Calling for a “more considered and bespoke” understanding of the unique relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland needed in the Home Office, the report concludes that the Home Office’s “one- size-fits-all approach” fails to recognise the historic ties and issues between the two countries but added that the issue is one that must be addressed jointly with the Irish Government.

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