Overturning of citizenship ruling hailed as ‘very important’
Migrant organisations react as Court of Appeal finds ‘unbroken’ residency rule ‘unduly rigid’
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: ‘Today the court has provided legal clarity and upheld the lawfulness of our residency rules governing citizenship through naturalisation.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
People seeking to become Irish citizens will be relieved by the Court of Appeal overturning a ruling which stated that they could not leave the State at all in the year preceding their application, organisations working with migrants have said.
The three-judge court described the ruling in July by High Court judge Mr Justice Max Barrett, which caused major uncertainty among applicants, as “unworkable”, “unduly rigid” and an “interpretative absurdity”. He had found that a person must have “unbroken” residence in the State in the year before they apply to be a citizen.
The Court of Appeal described the approach adopted by the Minister for Justice in such cases, which allows citizenship applicants to be out of the country for up to six weeks while still meeting a one-year continuous residence requirement, as reasonable and not unlawful. This approach assisted applicants in establishing clarity over the continuous residence requirement set out under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2015, the judges said.
The court found that having followed such a policy, the Minister was entitled to refuse the citizenship application by the appellant, Roderick Jones, from Australia. However, it said there was no limit to the number of such applications Mr Jones could bring in an attempt to gain citizenship.
Mr Jones, who works in the university sector, was refused citizenship by the Minister last year due to being out of the country for 100 days – 97 on holiday and three for work reasons – in the year before he applied.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said the judgment was welcome and provided a clear opportunity for the Government to reform Ireland’s discretionary immigration laws.
However, the council’s managing solicitor, Catherine Cosgrave, said the ruling did not address the root problem. “The immigrant council has long called for greater guidance to applicants on what it means to be legally resident and the type and length of absences allowed,” she said.
The council said it had received more than 350 calls to its helpline since the original judgment four months ago, with 150 specifically referring to the ruling.
Nasc, a Cork-based migrant rights group, said the ruling would come as a huge relief for its clients, many of whom had been waiting several years for a decision on their naturalisation.
“The grant of citizenship is particularly meaningful for refugees who have had to flee their countries and give up their national passports. It provides reassurance, a sense of belonging and cements the fact that Ireland is now their home,” a spokeswoman said.
Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, described Thursday’s ruling as a “very important and positive decision”.
More than 16,000 foreign nationals who were due to become Irish citizens had their applications put on hold following Mr Justice Barrett’s unexpected ruling, after which the Department of Justice took the decision to postpone several planned citizenship ceremonies.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he had asked his officials to do everything possible to try and organise a citizenship ceremony in December and that further ceremonies were also planned for early in 2020.
Mr Flanagan said he understood how the past few months had been quite stressful for citizenship applicants and their families and friends.
“Today the court has provided legal clarity and upheld the lawfulness of our residency rules governing citizenship through naturalisation,” he said, adding that the processing of citizenship applications had continued since the ruling in July.
Almost 19,200 applications for citizenship submitted between 2016 and this year were still pending at the start of October, the latest figures show.