Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland man Doole allowed to marry Japanese fiancee after U-turn over Irish passport

Couple's wedding is back on following Tele's intervention

By Suzanne Breen

The Government has done a U-turn over its decision to refuse a visa to a Japanese woman to fly to Belfast and marry her Northern Ireland fiance - because he holds an Irish passport.

The Home Office yesterday announced it had reversed its ruling after the Belfast Telegraph reported on the plight of Ciaran Doole and Makiko Takeoka.

The couple were planning to mount a legal challenge to overturn the decision, so they could marry in 11 days' time. They have already spent over £7,000 on the wedding and were distraught that they would have to cancel it.

Mr Doole said last night: "The Home Office's change of heart is great news. We breathed a big sigh of relief when we found out. We are so delighted that our wedding can now go ahead. Otherwise, we would have lost everything.

"The lead-up to our wedding should have been enjoyable, but it turned into the most stressful time of our lives. The pressure of not knowing whether or not it would even happen was unbearable. Makiko now hopes to get her visa over the next few days and to fly out of Tokyo at the end of the week."

Mr Doole said that while he welcomed the U-turn, "the decision should never have been made in the first place".

He added: "I consider myself both Irish and British. I hold an Irish passport, as do many other people in Northern Ireland. We shouldn't be treated as immigrants in our own country because of it."

The couple's legal team had begun legal proceedings to challenge the decision in Belfast High Court before Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan yesterday.

They were lodging an application for leave to apply for a judicial review, arguing that the Home Office was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

Answering the application form question about her partner's nationality, Ms Takeoka had chosen "Ireland" from a list of countries. When asked his status within the UK, she had written "British citizen". Mr Doole's Irish passport was among the documents the couple forwarded.

Refusing her application, the Home Office stated last Wednesday "your sponsor is an Irish national who is working in the UK, however they have not established that they are settled in the UK".

Mr Doole, who was born and has lived in Northern Ireland all his life, said he was at a loss to know why he wasn't regarded "as present and settled in the country where generations of my family are from".

He said he was being discriminated against for holding an Irish passport and said that he didn't need to hold two passports to assert his right to British citizenship.

In a statement, a Home Office spokesman said the decision had been reversed. "Ms Takeoka has been invited to submit her passport to the same visa application centre where she made her application so that the visa can be printed and issued to her," the spokeswoman said.

She said that the refusal to grant Ms Takeoka a visa had been overturned last Thursday, but declined to comment on the Home Office's reasons for reversing its original decision.

The couple's solicitor, Barbara Muldoon, disputed the chain of events and claimed her client was informed last week only of her right to appeal.

"It is absolutely fantastic that the government has reversed its ruling. A solicitor for the Home Office advised me of that verbally yesterday afternoon but I have yet to receive any written confirmation," she said.

"It's brilliant that my clients' wedding can now go ahead, but the Home Office still must explain how this ridiculous situation arose in the first place.

"There are very few immigration lawyers in Belfast, so I'm concerned that this may have happened a good few times before but people have not had access to the correct legal advice to challenge it."

Mr Doole and Ms Takeoka met in 2013 at L'Arche charity in south Belfast, which helps adults with learning disabilities. He was a staff member and she was a volunteer with the organisation.

They began dating a few months later and got engaged last year.

Ms Takeoka is an artist who has worked in Northern Ireland for over three years, but returned to Tokyo to make the application for a family settlement visa to marry Mr Doole in Belfast and live here.

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