Applications from Britons for Irish citizenship soar by almost 1,200% since Brexit

Film-maker David Puttnam, who became an Irish citizen last week, says UK is no longer ‘the country I was born into’

The number of British people being granted Irish citizenship has ballooned by almost 1,200 per cent since the UK voted to leave the European Union, according to official figures.

Days after Oscar-winning film producer David Puttnam was formally naturalised as an Irishman, citing how political agendas meant the UK was no longer “the country I was born into”, fresh data shows a big surge in his fellow Britons also taking up Irish and EU citizenship.

Records released to The Irish Times by the Department of Justice show that in 2015 there were just 54 people from Britain granted Irish citizenship. The following year, when the UK voted to leave the EU, the figure almost doubled to 98. This then increased to 525 in 2017 and 685 in 2018, with a slight dip to 664 in 2019 before rising to 945 in 2020 and 1,191 last year.

In 2015, successful British applications accounted for 0.4 per cent of the 13,543 total applications from about 180 countries across the globe. This increased to 12 per cent of last year’s total of 9,788.

The figures do not include successful applicants from Northern Ireland. There were none between 2015 and last year, but there have been five to date this year. Anyone born in the North before 2005 can claim Irish citizenship. An automatic right to such citizenship — as for anyone born on the island — was removed from the Constitution the same year.

The official figures also show a marked decline in Irish citizenship being granted to people from countries associated with the “new Irish” as immigration soared in response to the country’s rising economic fortunes. Successful applications from Poland dropped from 1,159 in 2015 to 819 last year — down almost 30 per cent. A total of 1,362 Nigerians were granted Irish citizenship in 2015 but this fell to 744 last year (down 45 per cent).

The figures show an overall decline in the numbers granted Irish citizenship during the Covid-19 pandemic, though these have started to rebound towards previous levels.

Citizenship applications are different to passport applications. Last month, The Irish Times disclosed more Irish than UK passports are being issued in the North for the first time on record.

At a ceremony in Co Kerry last week, close to his long-time West Cork home, Mr Puttnam was among more than 900 people who became Irish citizens. He said: “I’ll tell you what — there are no queues like this in England.”

He announced his retirement from the House of Lords in October, citing the “pig-ignorance” of some British legislators about Ireland among his reasons for leaving.

Of Britain, he said: “It has ceased to have the values I really believed it to have, and this is a very painful thing to say.”

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor