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Barriers to citizenship for NI residents scrutinised

18 December 2020

A new inquiry by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will examine naturalisation and citizenship processes and consider whether they fairly reflect the rights enshrined in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

The Agreement guarantees the right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify as British, Irish or both and to hold passports accordingly. However, a recent decision by the UK Upper Immigration Tribunal on a case in October 2019 confirmed that most people in Northern Ireland are automatically British citizens by birth under UK law, unless they renounce that status legally. The UK Government has since changed the rules relating to its EU settlement scheme which were at the heart of the case. The inquiry will probe further whether UK nationality law incorporates adequately the birthright provisions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

People born in the Republic of Ireland, who have lived most of their lives in Northern Ireland, have to undertake a naturalisation process to become a British citizen, even if they identify as British. This is both complex and, at £1,330, costly. Meanwhile, most people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to claim Irish citizenship and can apply for an Irish passport relatively easily. The Committee will consider whether the UK Government should ease barriers to Republic of Ireland-born applicants in Northern Ireland for British citizenship.

Chair's comments

Commenting on the new inquiry, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Simon Hoare MP said:

“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is the cornerstone of peace in Northern Ireland following decades of conflict. Commitments by the UK and Irish Governments to reciprocal recognition of identity and citizenship rights for the people of Northern Ireland was a core element in the Agreement. More than 20 years on, it’s right that we take stock and examine what issues have arisen on issues of identity and citizenship and how they can be remedied.

Our inquiry will also examine whether the process for Northern Ireland residents born in the Republic of Ireland to gain British citizenship should be simplified, given the ease with which people of Northern Ireland can apply for Irish citizenship. Given the island’s invisible border, it would be a shame if, through the chance of birthplace, people are denied the British citizenship with which they identify."

Terms of reference

The Committee are particularly keen to hear from individuals with any experience of the issues outlined by the inquiry’s terms of reference. For those wishing to contribute to the inquiry, the Committee is open to submissions of views and experiences that cover any of the following issues:

  • the interaction between UK nationality law and Articles 1 (v) and (vi) of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and any engagement with the ECHR;
  • whether the Government should consider implementing changes to citizenship rules and requirements to better incorporate the birthright commitments of the Agreement into UK law; and
  • whether the Government should allow Northern Ireland residents born in the Republic of Ireland to apply for a British passport given that Northern Ireland residents can currently apply for an Irish passport.

Contributors can submit their evidence through the Committee’s website until 31 January 2021.

Further information

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