By David Hennessy
Citizenship campaigner Emma De Souza has asked the Irish government to offer some sort of assistance after she and her husband were hit with a £45,000 legal bill last week.
They have since been flooded with £24,000 of donations to their online appeal while Billy Kelleher, the Fianna Fáil MEP, has publicly called on the Irish government to help the couple pay the cost of their landmark case.
The couple fought a five year legal battle before the Home Office conceded the case earlier this year.
Emma applied for a residence card for her American husband Jake to live and work in Northern Ireland in 2015.
She had been told that in order for her husband to be granted residency she would have to renounce British citizenship and reapply as an Irish citizen.
The Derry woman had always identified as Irish, a right granted to everyone in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement.
Earlier this year the Home Office conceded their case with the couple, leading to a change in immigration legislation that means that every person in Northern Ireland is deemed an EU citizen. However, the couple have now been hit with a bill for court proceedings that didn’t happen.
Although the Irish government has supported them with their fight, they have offered no financial help.
Emma told The Irish World she believes the Irish government should help with the cost of a case that they probably should have taken on themselves: “At the end of the day, the Irish government is co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. Should the responsibility to protect that agreement and citizens’ rights be falling on the shoulders of private citizens? There is a duty here on the government to intervene in some shape or form and I’m hoping because the case has been resolved and the British government has conceded, (it now will).
“The case should never have been taken through the courts in the first place. I don’t think it’s as hot a potato as they might have perceived it to be before. Intervening now to try and alleviate some of the cost would actually be welcomed across Northern Ireland. I know Irish citizens here have been nonstop calling on the Irish government to take more of a stand to protect Irish citizens in the North. I think if they were to do this as a gesture of good will and good faith it would be very well received politically.
“We did raise the financial problems with (then Tánaiste) Coveney when we met him in December last year and he said that the Irish government couldn’t fund the case. I think they were concerned about how it might look politically if the Irish government was involved in a case against the British government.
“Obviously they could fund the case but I think politically they decided it wasn’t what they wanted to do at that time. However, I know there are renewed calls for the Irish government to intervene now. I know that the MEP Billy Kelleher has written a letter to the Minister for Expenditure that he shared on his Twitter page at the weekend asking for the Irish government to intervene and pay at least a contribution towards our legal costs as a gesture considering how much work we did for the people of Ireland and for the Good Friday Agreement.
“He did actually raise the point that it could be argued that the Irish government should have taken this case in the first place and it shouldn’t have been left to private citizens in the first instance. That’s a pretty powerful statement coming from him and it renews our hope that maybe the Irish government will intervene and help us with this remaining amount because we still have to raise another twenty odd thousand and that’s not a small amount of money to try and pull in and that’s just to get us to the point where we can pay off our bills.
“The reality is that we’ll never truly recover the cost of this case. This is just to pay our legal bills. That’s just the financial cost. The real cost of this, the true cost, is the emotional and personal cost which will always be the highest price that we paid. But to get the financial burden lifted would be a huge relief and we hope that these renewed calls will help the Irish government to come forward to support us, an Irish citizen who has been defending fellow Irish citizens and the Good Friday Agreement and really defending the Irish government’s interpretation of the Good Friday Agreement. It would be nice to have their support in more than just words.
“The Irish government has been very vocal in their support of us but in terms of finances we’ve always been on our own. We never received financial assistance from any party or government body or organisation. Nobody stepped forward to assist with the finances.
“We always knew that we were taking a huge financial risk but we also knew that our case was the one that was going to bring about change so we took the chance and we went forward anyway.
“We’ve been able to proceed over the last two years with the help of donations through our GoFundMe page. We’ve been fundraising for two whole years but getting this kind of a bill is just such an enormous amount of money for people like ourselves that we can’t even fathom how we’re going to get that across the line.”
Emma and her husband have been so grateful for the level of support that saw £24,000 flood in in just three days.
“It’s incredible because it took us two years to raise the first £30,000. We can’t even believe it because when we got that bill on Friday we thought to ourselves, ‘This is impossible’. We have had so many people rally around us and we’ve had such an outpouring of support from the community that it really has reaffirmed our faith in life. We’re actually not in this alone and we never were in it alone.”