Many of you will be familiar with the recent High Court case where Judge Barrett ruled that applicants for Irish citizenship by naturalisation requires “a period of one year’s continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of the application”. One year continuous residence. No exceptions.
WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY?
The relevant law is set out in section 15(1)(c) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 (as amended), which provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant the application, if satisfied that the applicant (amongst other things):
“has had a period of one year’s continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of the application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, has had a total residence in the State amounting to four years”.
WHAT DID THE MINISTER SAY?
That seems fairly clear to me and I am sure it is clear to you. You have to be resident in Ireland for the full year prior to making the application for citizenship. The Minister however decided to ignore that very clear legislative provision and instead introduced his own rule that an applicant could be out of the country for 6 weeks, and sometimes more, during the 12 months before making his application, and still be granted citizenship. The applicant in the case before Judge Barrett is an Australian man – Roderick Jones – and he had been out of the country for 100 days in the year immediately preceding his application.
Judge Barrett held that this section of the legislation “does not confer any discretionary power on the Minister”. It’s one continuous year. Full stop.
WHAT IS THE MINISTER NOW DOING?
The Minister has acted quickly. On 29 July 2019, his Department stated that:
- the Minister had obtained cabinet approval for a proposed Bill which would resolve the issue and that it is his intention to have the Bill drafted and before the Houses of the Oireachtas for consideration in mid-September 2019, as soon at the parliamentary Summer recess ends;
- INIS’s advice for people who are planning to apply for citizenship is to continue to collect the necessary supporting proofs and to submit a comprehensive application form;
- once a solution is in place, if any additional information is required, applicants will be contacted as part of the processing of their application; and
- INIS does not believe that the High Court ruling has consequences for anyone who has already obtained citizenship by naturalization.
WHAT IS MR. JONES DOING?
In the meantime, Mr Jones has appealed the High Court ruling but he has two big problems in our opinion. First, the Act is crystal clear in our view, but perhaps Mr. Jones has money to burn. Second, the new legislation is likely to be in place long before Mr. Jones’ appeal is heard. But maybe he has other concerns compelling him to appeal.
This isn’t the only case where the Minister acted in a very strange way (see our immigration blog from last week for instance). It makes our job all the harder because we have to see what the law is, but also see what the Minister does because what he does and what the law says do not always coincide.
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