Is John Egan an ‘inferior Irish Brit’ and will Brexit make him even more so?
Our Irish Dancing correspondent John Egan, like so many settled Irish people of a certain age living in the UK, assumed for years that his status in the UK was settled under the British Nationality Act of 1948, especially as he relied on his hurriedly acquired British Subject passport.
Last week’s Irish World cover story and MP Conor McGinn’s op-ed rang alarm bells for him… again.
In particular, he cautions, many people may not be aware that British Subjects need to apply for a visa for a stay in a country in which British Citizens are allowed to stay for 3 months without a visa: “For a number of years I have been terribly interested in the British Nationality Act 1948 and in related Irish and subsequent UK legislation as it affects the status and rights of Irish people and their rights of residence in the UK.
“I am a British Subject passport holder since 1962 and never felt the necessity to seek a change in my status to that of British Citizen. In more recent years however I became aware of my status of ‘less eligibility’ which caused me grief in travelling abroad on more than one occasion.
“I rectified that by finally obtaining an Irish Citizen passport.
“I feel that most Irish people with British Subject status are unaware of their ‘less eligibility’ status in relation to foreign travel if they are relying on their British passport.
“Incidentally, the reason I hurriedly needed to get a British passport in October 1962 was to facilitate my travel and that of several members of my Vbomber squadron to fly to the Middle East during the tensions of the Cuban missile crisis.”
Born and raised in Limerick of Limerick/Dublin parents I was never in doubt of my nationality. Indeed whenever my Dublin father, who happened to be one of those young teenagers who witnessed the ‘goings on’ of Easter 1916 in his native city, recounted his recollections of the uprising, I couldn’t help but feel a pride in those who created my republican status by unselfishly renting foreign fetters in twain in order to make Ireland (partly anyway) a nation once again.
His experience however, did not stop him from subsequently accepting the King’s shilling and going off to India to seek adventure in British army uniform in 1920. I also succumbed to the notion of free foreign travel and adventure when I too accepted the monarch’s shilling in 1961 when I joined the ‘Brylcreem boys in blue’.
And very soon into my RAF service I became acutely aware that post WWII political and military struggles were all around us on the global stage, involving the decommissioning of empire and the creation of others.
While serving on a Vbomber flight refuelling squadron I had the good fortune to visit many of the pink places on the world atlas before the empire was largely closed down.
However, en route to some of those pink places we had to transit through countries who quite rightly insisted on checking passports. In October 1962, because of the Castro/Kruschev Caribbean conspiracy, our squadron was programmed for detachment to Aden, Yemen, and there was a hurried process to ensure that all personnel had a valid passport.
About 20 young airmen and I needed to acquire passports within 24 hours and I was delegated to present myself at Petty France Street to collect all of these documents before our departure abroad on the following day.
I returned to base with a parcel of newly issued British passports in the knowledge that one of them was mine. I suppose I assumed that this made me as British as Joe Bloggs on the Clapham Omnibus. But time would tell otherwise.
In 1967 while still serving in the RAF I sent my passport for renewal to the appropriate authority.
Surprisingly I received a response asking me if I had any documentary evidence that I was British. I confirmed that I had such a document but that it was currently in their possession i.e. my passport.
It was duly renewed and returned to me with a letter confirming my status as a British Subject, and advising me to keep this letter in my possession.
Once again I assumed that I was another British Joe Bloggs with the same rights of any other Brit. But NO.
It wasn’t until several years later that I became aware that a British Subject is a ‘less eligible’ Brit than a British Citizen when I presented myself at the Heathrow departure desk for a 5-6 week holiday in New Zealand. I was told that their computer info clearly indicated that I was not allowed to travel.
The check-in clerks were equally confounded and queried if a possible criminal record was responsible. I was tempted to ask why a criminal record was still needed in order to travel to the former antipodean colonies.
I was relieved when they decided it was just a computer glitch and allowed me to board the aircraft.
A few more years elapsed before further evidence pointed to the solution. On our most recent visit of many to the former British colony of North Borneo, now Sabah in East Malaysia, the immigration officer on our arrival informed my wife that her British Citizen passport entitled her to stay for three months but that my British Subject passport meant I would have to leave within 30 days.
In a mild but brave exchange of words I informed him of my disappointment that in spite of being a participant in the forces who protected his emerging country from the challenges posed by his confrontational Indonesian neighbours in the 1960s, I was now less welcome than most other tourists.
He apologised for his hamstrung situation. My reaction to the most recent Borneo visit and the knowledge it presented to me about the status of British Subject passports is that I have now acquired a passport bearing a harp on the cover.
I am now in my seventh decade of living in Britain with a desire to remain so. I and my immediate family feel we are as British as Joe Bloggs and are proud of that, but hopefully Brexit will not create any further inequalities in my Brit status.