Belfast Telegraph

Citizenship and identity not the same, says DUP after court rules people born in Northern Ireland are British

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

The DUP has welcomed a court ruling that found people born in Northern Ireland are automatically British.

It comes after a court challenge from Magherafelt woman Emma DeSouza who found that the Home Office did not consider her an Irish citizen when she applied for a residence card for her US-born husband Jake.

The Home Office rejected the application on the grounds that it considered Ms DeSouza a British citizen.

The Co Londonderry woman won the first hearing in the case, with a judge at a First Tier Immigration Tribunal ruling that she was an Irish national, however the Home Office appealed against that decision at an Upper Tribunal hearing earlier this year.

Ms DeSouza has now pledged to take her case to the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

Following Monday's verdict DUP MLA Peter Weir said that while he had sympathy for Ms DeSouza seeking residence for her husband he did not support the legal action she had taken.

"The ruling today is to be welcomed. The alternative would have been to leave people in Northern Ireland in a fundamentally detrimental position compared to fellow citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom," he said.

The issues of citizenship and identity should not be conflated. Whilst identity reflects a political and cultural ethos, citizenship is legally based entitlement enshrined in legislation. Peter Weir, DUP

"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 Strangford MLA said Ms DeSouza's legal action undermined the principle of consent and questioned the commitment of those supporting her to "all aspects" of the Good Friday Agreement.

Peter Weir
Peter Weir

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance MLA Stephen Farry appeared alongside nationalist politicians supporting Ms DeSouza at a press conference in Belfast following the verdict.

A UUP spokesperson said that the party welcomed the ruling in the case and that Mike Nesbitt had attended to support Ms DeSouza "in a personal capacity".

Following the ruling Tanaiste Simon Coveney said an outcome to the citizenship and identity issues surrounding the Good Friday Agreement were "urgently needed".

He said he would be raising the issue during a meeting with Secretary of State Julian Smith on Tuesday.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald accused the British Government of "trampling" over the Good Friday Agreement.

"The Good Friday Agreement is crystal clear on this in terms of citizenship", she said.

Emma De Souza is an Irish citizen and it is disgraceful that she should have to go to court to prove it. Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein

The Sinn Fein leader called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to stand up for the rights "of all Irish citizens".

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon echoed Mrs McDonald's comments and said that she too would be raising the issue with Julian Smith.

Emma De Souza and her husband Jake speak to the media at in Belfast on Monday after she lost her case.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Emma De Souza and her husband Jake speak to the media at in Belfast on Monday after she lost her case. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

"The political outworking of the Good Friday Agreement and the principle that people born here can define as Irish must be upheld," she said.

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said a new treaty should be signed between the UK and Irish Governments to end the issue.

“It is clear the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement regarding identity and citizenship has not being fully respected in domestic law. People from Northern Ireland have the right to be solely British, solely Irish or both," he said.

“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.”

Ms DeSouza had insisted the Home Office position ran contrary to the 1998 peace agreement, which gave anyone from Northern Ireland the right to identify as British, Irish or both.

Government lawyers argued that the British Nationality Act 1981 was the relevant legislation, not legislation passed as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

They highlighted that the provisions on citizenship outlined in the agreement, which was struck between the Stormont parties and the UK and Irish Governments, had not been incorporated into the corresponding piece of domestic legislation linked to the peace treaty, the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

The Government said the British Nationality Act ruled that anyone born in Northern Ireland was automatically British, until such time as they renounce that citizenship.

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