The revelation that all Irish citizens from the North could suffer the fate of Co. Derry woman, Emma De Souza, and be asked to pay £400 to renounce a UK citizenship they never asked for, met with an angry response this week.
The UK Home Office declared last month Irish citizens from Derry won’t be able to claim their rights as European Economic Area (EEA) citizens after Brexit.
That’s because, despite identifying as Irish, they will be deemed UK nationals by dint of their being born in the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.’
The move heaped further doubt on the status of Irish citizens here that had already been highlighted by the case of Ms. De Souza, a Magherafelt woman who was told she had to renounce her unsolicited UK citizenship in order to try to secure her rights as an Irish and EU citizen.
Brendan Howlin, the leader of the Labour Party, speaking in the Dáil this week, said: “Under the Good Friday Agreement, citizens born in Northern Ireland are guaranteed the right to identify as Irish, British or both.
“However, in the case of Emma DeSouza, a Derry-born Irish citizen, which was highlighted last week, it appears that the goalposts have been moved by the British Government, with new immigration rules introduced on March 7.
“Under those rules it is stated in future dual British nationals, who are British by birth, will not be considered an EEA national in the UK.
“Ms. DeSouza and other Irish citizens have been told that in order to access an EU right of residence for her US husband she must renounce her British citizenship which she acquired automatically at birth, but never sought.
“Has the Taoiseach raised this matter either with the British authorities or with Mr. Barnier [Michel, Europe chief Brexit negotiator]?”
The Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said: “The DeSouza case represents a real breach of faith by the British Home Office which, as has been pointed out, now insists that persons are British citizens even when they clearly are not.
“Not only that, people now have to pay the princely sum of £400 in order to renounce a Britishness that does not pertain to them.
“This case has caused very considerable anger right across the North of Ireland and beyond.
“The astonishing thing is that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, may have told the Taoiseach that this is an anomaly, that the Home Office is aware of it and that it needs to sort it out, yet the British state is pursuing Ms. DeSouza through the courts.”
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, replied: “The government is following the DeSouza case very closely. I have not raised it personally with the Prime Minister, but I believe the Tánaiste has raised it with his counterparts in discussions.
“As far as the government is concerned, the Good Friday Agreement is explicit on this matter.
“People have the right to be British or Irish or both and to be accepted as such.
“That applies, and should apply, to both governments, in our view.”