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Campaigners defending Irish citizenship take case to Brussels

Home Office minister Caroline Nokes
Colin Gannon

Northern Ireland residents who wish to assert their Irish nationality and EU citizenship rights after Brexit are inadequately protected by Theresa May’s current Withdrawal Agreement, a delegation told the EU’s Brexit task force last week.

Prime Minister Theresa May last month instructed the Home Office, “working closely with the Secretary of Northern Ireland”, to “urgently” look into how Brexit is affecting Irish citizens rights in Northern Ireland.

Since last November, the Irish World has been reporting on the case of Emma de Souza, currently embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with the Home Office as they argue that she – and others who have yet to go public – cannot exclusively identify as Irish, seemingly contravening birthright provisions resulting from the Good Friday Agreement.

Theresa May in Belfast

The Northern Ireland human rights delegation – comprised of Professor Colin Harvey of Queen’s University Belfast, Daniel Holder of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, solicitor Niall Murphy, as well as Emma DeSouza herself – held “productive” meetings with EU officials, including European Parliament Vice President Mairead McGuinness.

Emma de Souza

De Souza’s case, specifically the requirement on her to renounce her UK citizenship in order to claim her EU rights, was part of the delegation submission.

They also said Northern Ireland Irish citizens in a ruling by the Home Office would not be allowed to apply to register for the post-Brexit EU Settlement Scheme which helps EU migrants in the UK get their right to reside after Brexit.

The delegation raised human rights and inequalities concerns in Northern Ireland, specifically in relation to Irish citizens there.

Emma De Souza and her husband Jake

“Going into discussions about the future relationship [of the UK and EU], these matters around human rights and equality of Irish citizens – EU citizens – need to be addressed more explicitly,” Colin Harvey, a professor of human rights at Queen’s University Belfast, said.

“We were very impressed by Task Force 50. They clearly had an excellent grasp of the issues in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“The main thing we took away from the various meetings is how committed [EU officials] are to upholding the backstop and in not altering the backstop. That was clearly articulated in our meetings.”

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Home Office Minister Caroline Nokes told the Commons last month: “British citizens, including those with dual British/Irish or British/EU citizenship, are not eligible to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. This is because, under Section 1(1) of the Immigration Act 1971, those with a right of abode in the UK (including all British citizens) cannot be granted immigration status.”


The group argues that the ruling is in breach of the commitment to allowing equal respect to those claiming Irish citizenship under both the Belfast Agreement and the proposed Withdrawal Agreement.

It would, they said, create a distinct class of citizens in the North with fewer rights than others and forces those who wish to continue exercising their EU rights after Brexit formally to resign their UK citizenship.

“Our view is that strong support for human rights and equality is at the core of the shared objective of protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. For the avoidance of any doubt we believe that this should be specifically addressed in the Political Declaration,” the delegation told the EU officials.

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