Huge spike in Irish passport applications could create new Irish in Britain constituency
Irish citizens in this country who want to keep their right to vote in EU elections – set to disappear after Brexit – are being urged to mobilise themselves into a distinct constituency.
The huge number of Brexit-inspired Irish passport applications – even though some may only be ‘flags of convenience’ for people who want to remain EU citizens – is highlighting the true size of the Irish community in this country, itself underestimated for many years.
Last week Fine Gael MEP for Dublin Brian Hayes told an audience at the London Irish Centre in Camden that he would be prepared to defend the continuing right of the 331,000 Irish citizens living in the UK to vote in the next European Parliament Elections in 2019.
Momentum to wider campaign
Such a campaign – and the potentially huge constituency it would create – could only give momentum to the wider campaign to allow Irish people here to vote in Irish elections.
EU Brexit negotiators have already publicly suggested that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland after Brexit should be allowed to continue to vote in European Parliament elections and even suggested increasing the number of MEPs. Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney TD last week revealed figures that show the full extent of the increased demand from this country driven by UK residents after last year’s vote to leave the EU.
The number of applications for Irish passports by people living in Britain or Northern Ireland increased by almost 50 per cent in the first half of 2017. These people accounted for 20 per cent of all those applying for Irish passports between January and June, according to the Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s own figures released last week. If the trend continues, a million Irish passports could be issued this year, compared to 733,000 issued in 2016.
Most new passports are issued to Irish citizens renewing their travel documents or receiving them for the first time, including children BUT DFAT figures show that more than 45,000 people living in Britain and 53,500 in Northern Ireland applied for an Irish passport in the first six months of 2017.
In the first six months of last year 28,500 British residents and 37,500 people living in Northern Ireland applied for Irish passports.
Applications from Northern Ireland, where there are already 500,000 Irish passport holders, increased by between two-thirds and three-quarters during the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
The single busiest day, to date, for the passport office in London was this year on 28 March, the day before UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the EU. Anyone born on the island of Ireland — or whose parents were — is automatically an Irish citizen qualifying for an Irish passport. Anyone whose grandparents were born in Ireland is entitled to apply for an Irish passport. Using these criteria, as many as six million people in the UK are potentially entitled to an Irish passport. The population of Ireland is 2017 is 4,749,153.
In 2016, 1,363 Britons applied for French citizenship, an increase of 264 per cent in that year. The German Federal Statistics office recently said that 2,865 Britons took German citizenship last year, a 361 per cent increase.
That figure is expected to rise. Dublin MEP Mr Hayes made his proposal last week at a panel discussion organised by the long established campaign group Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) at the London Irish Centre. Its chair Mary Hickman expressed the organisation’s support for the long-promised referendum in Ireland to extend voting rights for presidential elections to Irish people living outside of Ireland. Her organisation would also like Irish people here to be able to vote in Irish General Elections.
The last two diaspora ministers and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and opposition party Fianna Fail which keeps Fine Gael’s minority government in power, all said they would give force to Ireland’s Constitutional Convention overwhelming call for extending that franchise. President Michael D Higgins has also supported the campaign. But recently elected Fine Gael Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has yet to confirm if and when the proposed change to Ireland’s Constitution will be put to Irish voters and if it will be put alongside proposed changes to Ireland’s prohibition on abortion.
Ms Hickman, a research Professor at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, said: “Citizenship signifies a bond between a person and the state” that has “always been synonymous with the right of political participation.
“Disenfranchising Irish citizens of their right to vote amounts to stripping them of a fundamental characteristic of citizenship.” Irish citizens abroad “remain stakeholders in Irish society and politics” and should therefore have the right to vote from outside the State, she said. Irish people living here can vote in Westminster elections just as British people living in Ireland can vote in Irish General Elections. But, declared Professor Hickman, British citizens living in Ireland can vote in BOTH Dáil and Westminster elections “so the Irish in Britain do not even have equality of rights with British citizens”.
Professor Hickman was supported by Cara Sanquest, of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, who was in Camden to speak about Taoiseach Varadkar’s promised abortion referendum which is expected next year. She said there were many tens of thousands of Irish people in this country who would love to be able to vote and play an active role in shaping modern, 21st century Ireland.
“To do this, we need a vote in referenda. The #hometovote movement during the marriage equality referendum showed that even those of us who live hundreds of miles away want to have a say in how Ireland treats its citizens.”
The 2011 Census put the Republic of Ireland in fourth for non-UK countries of birth, with a figure 407,000 reflecting both the huge numbers of people from the former Soviet Bloc countries who came to the UK after 2004 EU accession and decreased emigration from Ireland. The actual number of Irish-born people in the UK today is thought to be closer to 600,000 or more.
Between 1951 and 2001 Irish people accounted for the greatest number of non-UK born citizens in this country, many of that first wave are older and dying or have particular needs. But their children and grandchildren are entitled to passports. And after Ireland’s property and banking crashes in 2008 up to 19,000 Irish people came to this country every year and were issued with National Insurance numbers.
Ireland is one of only four EU member states – including Malta, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – who do not permit their citizens living abroad to vote in home EU elections when living in another country.