Irish citizenship rights campaigner Emma de Souza has said she is “relieved” after being assigned a court date next month in her ongoing wrangle with the Home Office to be considered an Irish citizen from birth.
De Souza and her husband received notice last week that they will have a hearing in the Upper Tribunal in Belfast next month, on June 5th.
Currently embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with the Home Office, the department has repeatedly told de Souza that she cannot identify as exclusively Irish. This position, legal experts say, contravenes the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
She had applied for a residency document in 2015 for her husband, American citizen Jake de Souza, who intended to live in Northern Ireland as the family member of a European Economic Area national living in the UK.
The Home Office initially refused Mr De Souza’s application for a residence card as, they argued, his wife applied for the visa as an Irish national.
De Souza challenged that decision, with a first-tier tribunal judge ruling in their favour. Ms DeSouza, who refused to apply as a British national, won the case last year but the Home Office continued to appeal.
The Home Office then appealed to the first tier tribunal, which rejected the Home Office position and ruled that there was “no arguable error in law” applied.
In response, the UK’s immigration department brought their fight to the Upper Tribunal, the immigration court with equivalent status to the High Court.
De Souza told the Irish World of her “relief” to have a court date secured.
“It has felt like a cloud hanging over us for the last 6 months. We can only hope that the Home Office is now prepared to present their argument for their appeal, which was originally lodged in February last year,” she said. “The department has had 16 months — 16 months of our time — to prepare.”
Last November, the Home Office had adjourned the appeal after a seven-month wait for a hearing. The drawn-out process – which she said has strained her marriage – started in 2015.
Leading lawyers, Northern Ireland politicians and human rights campaigners continue to argue that the Home Office’s position — as well as a recent Home Office rule change to immigration procedure — undermines the rights of Northern Ireland-born Irish citizens under the Good Friday Agreement.
The change, they say, renders Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland — who have the right under the 1998 peace accord to identify as Irish, British or both — British by default.
Ronan McCrea, a professor of Constitutional and European Law at University College London, told the Irish World last month that the wording of the 1998 Agreement’s birthright provisions — specifically the use of the word ‘or’ in British, Irish or both — “strongly suggests” that those born in Northern Ireland have the legal right to not be recognised British by default.
“It does appear that policy automatically treating all Northern Irish people as being British citizens goes against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said last February that she had instructed the Home Office to “urgently” look into how Brexit is affecting Irish citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland.
Human rights groups continue to call for the UK government to provide “urgent transparency” into this promised review. No updates or clarifications on the nature of the review have been provided thus far.
Following pressure, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tanaiste, pledged last month that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland will continue to be EU citizens in “all circumstances”.
By Colin Gannon
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