The DUP veteran Willie Hay has described the current United Kingdom citizenship regime, which denies Donegal unionists born after 1949 automatic entitlement to a British Passport, as ‘horrendous’ and in breach of the spirit of the Belfast Agreement.
The senior DUP figure who was born in Milford, but who has spent most of his life in Derry, said it was absurd that a sitting member of the British House of Lords, and others like him, were denied what he and many others consider an important badge of their unionist identity.
“It’s a serious anomaly that needs to be resolved,” he blasted.
“It’s horrendous. It can cost you almost £1,500 to do what needs to be done and with all of that money there is still no guarrantee that you will get a British Passport.
“All you will get at the start is British citizenship and then after that you may be able to get a full British Passport but that isn’t guaranteed with all the money you spend. It’s a serious, serious issue for many hundreds of people that live in Northern Ireland.”
The DUP grandee was speaking after the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) wrote to the British Minister of State for Immigration, Caroline Nokes, urging her to waive the prohibitive naturalisation process for Irish unionists. It’s a matter on which his party colleague, the East Derry DUP MP, Gregory Campbell, a long-standing member of the committee, has been vocal on for some time.
Dr. Andrew Morrison the NIAC chair wrote that it was unfair that many Irish unionists had been disenfranchised by the Irish Free State’s departure from the British Commonwealth in 1949.
Although people born in the 26 counties before 1949, continue to be entitled to British citizenship no such provision has been made for those born outside UK territory after that date.
Dr. Murrison wrote: “Currently, any person born outside the UK must apply for naturalisation to become a British citizen. The requirement to apply for naturalisation includes those born in the Republic of Ireland, irrespective of their length of residence in Northern Ireland.
“The total fee for naturalisation comes to £1,330 and includes a citizenship ceremony, which all applicants are required to attend.
“Conversely, any person born on the island of Ireland before December 31, 2004, including Northern Ireland, is entitled to Irish citizenship.
“The ordinary requirement to apply for naturalisation - along with associated fees of €1,125 - are waived in these cases.”
Mr. Hay, who sits in the House of Lords as Lord Hay of Ballyore but still has to travel on an Irish Passport, said the situation as it currently stands is ridiculous.
“For myself, a member of the House of Lords; Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly for almost 10 years; a member of the assembly for many years from 1998, and I have to prove to them my British citizenship? That I am sincere in my whole British culture and British way of life? I still use my Irish Passport but, for me, I’d like to hold a British Passport,” he said.
Mr. Hay agreed with the NIAC’s view that the denial of passports and the naturalisation requirement are in breach of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
“I think people who are living in the Republic of Ireland, who want a British Passport, should have an easier route to get a British Passport.
“I know a lot of Protestant friends living in Milford and Kilmacrenan and in Donegal who want to live in the Republic but want a British Passport.
“I know people who still want that unionist British identity recognised, although they are quite happy living in the Republic.”