The Court of Appeal in its judgment in joined cases MAM v the Minister for Justice and Equality and KN & Ors v the Minister for Justice and Equality [2019] IECA 116, held that a declared refugee who becomes a naturalised Irish citizen cannot use Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996 (“the 1996 Act”), as amended, to apply for family reunification, but rather must use Irish domestic provisions.

The applicants in both cases had applied for family reunification pursuant to Section 18 of the 1996 Act post naturalisation. The Minister refused the applications and both applicants brought judicial review proceedings challenging the refusals. Humphreys J. in the High Court determined that they were not entitled to avail of Section 18 for family reunification and both applicants appealed this decision.

Baker J. delivering the judgment for the Court agreed with the approach of and analysis by Humphreys J. The basic question was whether or not naturalisation resulted in the revocation of a declaration of refugee status or, whether the Minister had to explicitly revoke such a declaration.

Both Courts considered the 1996 Act, Directive 2004/83/EC on the minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted (“the Qualification Directive”), the Geneva Convention 1951 and, Section 47(9) of the International Protection Act 2015 which specifically provides that a declaration of refugee status or subsidiary protection ceases to be in force once the person in question becomes an Irish citizen.

Both Courts were of the opinion that once a person becomes an Irish citizen, they are afforded the protection of the State and therefore no longer meet the requirement for refugee status that they be outside their country of nationality and are in need of protection. Baker J. at paragraph 55 stated “ … In my view, a person who has acquired citizenship in the State can no longer be considered a refugee within the meaning of S.2 of the 1996 Act. That interpretation is consistent with international instruments, caselaw and commentary”.

Section 21 of the 1996 Act provides the Minister with the discretionary power to revoke a declaration of refugee status, however Section 21(c) excludes cases where the refugee has acquired Irish citizenship as opposed to the citizenship of any other State. Both Courts held that as the power to revoke was discretionary the Minister was not obliged to do so and, that the wording of Section 21(c) intended that revocation would be by operation of law upon acquiring Irish citizenship and not through the process of revocation.

The declaration ceases to have meaning and effect by operation of law once a refugee becomes a citizen of Ireland, and therefore, the 1996 Act must, in its plain terms, be read to exclude the right to revoke in those circumstances. There is no legal or logical reason why the Minister requires a power to expressly revoke or why express revocation is necessary. This is because, as matter of logic and on an analysis of its statutory purpose and effect, the declaration is not operative once the essence of the declaration has ceased to subsist.” Baker J. at paragraph 80.

The declaration ceases to have meaning and effect by operation of law once a refugee becomes a citizen of Ireland, and therefore, the 1996 Act must, in its plain terms, be read to exclude the right to revoke in those circumstances. There is no legal or logical reason why the Minister requires a power to expressly revoke or why express revocation is necessary. This is because, as matter of logic and on an analysis of its statutory purpose and effect, the declaration is not operative once the essence of the declaration has ceased to subsist.” Baker J. at paragraph 81.

If you have any concerns regarding the consequences of this judgment contact Orla Martyn on (01)8401780 or email orla@shannons.ie.