Derry academic Colin Harvey has reiterated his call for the British Government to urgently implement outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement.
He joined rights campaigners Emma DeSouza, from Magherafelt, and Una Boyd, of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, to brief the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice & Equality.
Mrs. DeSouza has been fighting a long battle with the British Home Office to try to secure her rights as an Irish and EU citizen.
The Co. Derry woman argues she has a right to identify as Irish rather than British under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, however, a British court recently ruled that she, and all other Irish citizens from the North, are automatically UK citizens under the 1981 British Nationality Act.
Professor Harvey told T.D.s and Senators that British law needed to urgently catch up with the peace settlement of 1998.
“We are talking about a foundational constitutional commitment flowing from the Good Friday Agreement. We know, as a matter of fact, that it is not properly implemented in British domestic law, policy and practice but it is even more disturbing than that, as we have already heard. There is no genuine grasp evident in the British system of the significance of this birthright guarantee.
“In fact, I would press that a bit further with the committee today. There does not seem to be any genuine grasp of the significance of the Good Friday Agreement itself for all the people of this island, and there does not seem to be any genuine grasp of the impact of the failure to comply with the birthright guarantee on respect for human rights and human dignity of all those affected,” he said.
Mrs. DeSouza said: “On October 14 the Upper Tribunal ruled that the people of Northern Ireland remain British citizens even if they identify as Irish.
“The Home Office, after years of appeals, has now successfully argued that Northern Ireland citizens have no right to choose their nationality, regardless of the birthright provisions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement.
“Rather, they are permitted to identify on a personal level as Irish, yet are in fact British at birth. This sets a dangerous precedent, reducing an integral right to choose one’s own national identity - in this case, to identify as and be accepted as Irish - into a right to merely feel Irish.”
Ms. Boyd said: “Take the example of neighbours born in Donegal and Derry, respectively, living in the UK. Both are Irish citizens, but both will have totally different rights protections post-Brexit.
“The policy makes a mockery of the citizenship provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, undermining trust in the peace agreement and causing tension among communities.”
Professor Colin Harvey.