Belfast Telegraph

Coveney: Irish citizens in Northern Ireland continue to be EU citizens in all circumstances

Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

The Republic of Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland will continue to be EU citizens in "all circumstances".

Mr Coveney, who also serves as Tanaiste, made the comments in the Dail on Tuesday.

There has been confusion on the status of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

The UK Government is currently conducting a review into the situation after claims that changes proposed by the Home Office could undermine the rights of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland.

It has been claimed that a recent Home Office rule change has rendered Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland as considered British by default.

Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to identify as Irish, British or both.

There was further confusion last month after Secretary of State Karen Bradley suggested that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland would not be entitled to vote in any referendum on Irish unity.

Mr Coveney said that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland must continue to enjoy all the benefits of EU membership.

He told the Dail that if necessary the Irish Government would be willing to cover the cost of European Health Insurance Cards for citizens living in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

The Irish Foreign Minister also pointed to the EU's Erasmus study abroad scheme and said that he wanted citizens living in Northern Ireland to continue to have access to the scheme.

"The Government is fully committed to ensuring that the vital citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are respected and upheld in all relevant policy areas," Mr Coveney said.

"I'm fully aware of the concerns at recent statements that the UK Government has made that raised concerns for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, particularly at present given the uncertainty linked to Brexit.

"It's important to be clear that these statements in no way change the position that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland continue to be EU citizens in all circumstances."

Mr Coveney said that the Good Friday Agreement was explicit in giving people born in Northern Ireland the right to self-identify.

"In the Good Friday Agreement the Governments recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as British, or Irish, or both and confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments," he said.

"These rights must be fully respect and taken into account in all relevant circumstances.

"The Good Friday Agreement was agreed at a time when both British and Irish citizenship also entailed EU citizenship. After the UK exits the EU this will no longer be the case.

"In order to fully uphold the spirit of the agreement, where issues arise, they should be addressed in a way that avoids any difference in entitlements based on citizenship.

"In particular people in Northern Ireland should not be required to renounce Irish or British citizenship in order to access an entitlement."

Mr Coveney said that the Irish Government was "actively seeking" the outcome of the UK Government's review into the situation around the rights of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland.

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