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Abolish UK citizenship fees for Irish nationals, say MPs

7 July 2021

The cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has called for the UK Government to abolish British naturalisation fees for Irish citizens, branding the charges ‘indefensible’ in their latest report.

MPs on the Committee believe the Home Office fails to understand and reflect the historical nuances of the issue when it treats Irish citizens as people from any other third country when applying to become British citizens.

Naturalisation is a lengthy process, costing £1,330. Applicants must also take a ‘Life in the UK’ test costing an extra £50 and attend a mandatory citizenship ceremony. The Committee heard that these were inappropriate for people who were born in Ireland but might have lived for most of their lives in Northern Ireland. As a result, the report also urges the Government to drop the requirement for Irish citizens to sit the test, and to make attendance at the ceremony optional.

People on the island of Ireland have for decades been able to live and work freely on each side of the open border under the Common Travel Area, which long predates the UK’s EU membership.

Belfast/Good Friday Agreement interpretation

The Committee also took evidence on the birthright provisions in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which guarantee the right of the people of Northern Ireland to be able to ‘identify themselves and be accepted as British or Irish, or both’, as well as the right to hold both British and Irish citizenship.

As a result, the Committee urge the British and Irish governments to agree to a joint interpretation of what the terms to “identify” and to “be accepted as” actually mean in practice. The lack of a joint approach in terms of interpretation leads to confusion and sense of imbalance.

Renunciation of British citizenship

MPs have also called on the Government to simplify the processes for the renunciation of British citizenship for people who wish to assert their Irish-only identity.

Currently, people born in NI wanting to do so, first have to declare their British citizenship before they can renounce it, a step that some may take exception to.

The report concluded that the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland call for a bespoke approach from the Home Office when considering citizenship applications, renunciations and resumptions, adding that its ‘one size fits all approach’ fails to recognise the historic ties and issues between the two countries. It said that this must be addressed jointly with the Irish Government, recognising the island’s history and the sensitivity of these issues.

Chair's comment

Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Simon Hoare, said,

“Respect for, and acceptance of, people’s identities in Northern Ireland is a cornerstone of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It’s clear that the current approach towards citizenship issues from the Home Office has failed to consider the history, personal ties and movement of people between the two countries. As a consequence, the Government’s universal approach to citizenship leaves some feeling unable to assert properly and simply their identity as either Irish or British or both.

It is absurd and unfair that people born in the Republic of Ireland, but who have lived for decades in Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK, and feel themselves to be British, have to pay to obtain British citizenship. These people are not covered by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement’s birthright provisions, so they have to take the naturalisation route. However, the policy is out of step with what the public needs, and with life on the island of Ireland today. Frankly, the fee must be scrapped.

Even amongst those who are covered by the Agreement, there remain inconsistencies in the approaches taken by the co-guarantors in London and Dublin, principally on what the terms “to identify” and “be accepted as” actually mean in practice. A joint UK-Irish approach on this front will help smooth inconsistencies and prevent further grievances. This task needs facing into sooner rather than later.”

Further information

Image: PA