By David Hennessy
Citizenship campaigner Emma de Souza and her husband have withdrawn their case following their legal win last week but say they will continue to campaign for the ‘bigger issues’ the case has brought up to be looked at.
Although Emma’s husband can now get the residency card that they wanted before they embarked on their legal battle three years ago, she says it is ‘bittersweet’ that what she calls conflicting interpretations of the Good Friday Agreement to be examined.
Emma told The Irish World: “If we could have proceeded with the case, we would have.
“We think there would have been a benefit to the public hearing the argument being made by the government but legally we had no way to proceed because whilst our case now is much more to do with bigger issues around identity under the Good Friday Agreement, the case began as an immigration case. It began on the grounds of trying to get an EEA residence card for my husband. The concession from the government concedes this point and actually grants him the orginal application so legally, our case is resolved.
“But it’s bittersweet because on one hand we have technically won the case in terms of them now conceding our argument and changing the law so that our original application and subsequent appeal would have been granted. It means that nobody else will go through what we went through in terms of trying to access these rights.
“But it’s bittersweet because through the years these bigger issues have been thrown up over the government’s appliance of the Good Friday Agreement and we had hoped our case might have been able to address some of those bigger issues as well but legally now it’s resolved, that’s not the route to do that anymore.”
Following a legal battle that lasted for thee years, the British government announced recentlt that British and Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland will be be treated as EU citizens for immigration purposes.
Emma, from Magherafelt in Derry, married American Jake in 2015 but when she applied for an EEA residence card for her husband, she was told by the Home Office she could not identify as exclusively Irish which raised questions around the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr DeSouza now will be permitted to remain in the UK indefinitely if he applies for residency under the EU settlement scheme in a major victory for the couple ending a three-year battle to be recognised by the Home Office as Irish, a right enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.
Emma says the case has brought up other important issues around the understanding of the Good Friday Agreement with two both sides seeming to interpret it differently.
“We’re intending to campaign the bigger issues and certainly there is room for litigation on a case based purely on that issue but I don’t see us being the people who would take that case forward.
“In many ways it is a little freeing to know that I can continue my campaign work without the burden of a very costly court case hanging over our heads. Essentially my work wil continue as it is. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty heavy group of people that I can turn to for help with this so we’re going to continue with that path.
“It is a relief because it has been very difficult as a family being just two normal working people to take on such a seismic case and to do it without any financial assistance and just as two people trying to take on a whole government. We can still do exactly what we were doing before only now we can do it without that burden.
“I think there was some disappointment that the bigger issues weren’t going to be addressed by the court and not everyone understood that the reason we withdrew.
“Whilst we have a concession from the British government which is really not that common and that in itself is a huge achievement that we’re very proud of. Families are going to benefit across Northern Ireland now that the bigger issues will have to continue to be talked about and the pressure will have to continue to be brought to the British government to address them.”