Court to hear case of man denied citizenship based on ‘secret’ evidence

Government says it cannot disclose evidence for ‘national security’ reasons

In 2014 the man’s  most recent application was refused by then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald on the basis of “national security”. Photograph: Eric Luke

In 2014 the man’s most recent application was refused by then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald on the basis of “national security”. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Supreme Court is to hear the case of an Iranian man living in Ireland for nearly 30 years, who has been denied citizenship based on “secret evidence”.

The man, who was granted refugee status in 1991, has applied on several occasions to become a naturalised citizen. In 2014 his most recent application was refused by then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald on the basis of “national security” concerns.

The Department of Justice has refused to tell the man why he was judged a security risk on the basis that it could harm “national security and international relations”.

The man was told the decision was based in part on a secret report, known as Document C, which was compiled using information obtained in the “strictest confidence”.

Explaining the decision, a department official told a previous court hearing it regularly uses information from foreign intelligence agencies when conducting checks on people applying for naturalised citizenship.

Minister’s decision

The man, a father of two who cannot be named by court order, has taken multiple unsuccessful legal challenges against the minister’s decision and the manner it was reached. He argues that the Government is relying on “secret” evidence to deny his citizenship request which he cannot examine or challenge.

As part of the citizenship process, applicants must make a declaration of “fidelity and loyalty to the State”.

The department told one court hearing that in the man’s case, it could not be sure how genuine this declaration would be. It also said it was not satisfied he fulfilled the “good character” requirement.

The man responded he has no idea what information this view was based on and that any such information must be incorrect. He also argued his constitutional right to a good name is being violated as he cannot defend the accusations.

In one High Court hearing in 2016 the judge noted there is no independent body in Ireland which can examine sensitive documents, such as those relating to national security, and judge whether they can be disclosed to an applicant for citizenship.

National security

To date the High Court and the Court of Appeal have sided with the Government in ruling that the right to protect national security outweighs the man’s right to have sight of all the evidence against his application.

The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case on the basis that it involves issues of “general public importance.” It is expected to hear arguments sometime this year.

In agreeing to hear the case, the court said one of the central issues is if the State must disclose national security issues when denying citizenship to an applicant.

It will also examine whether the decision to grant citizenship should rest solely with the Minister for Justice.

That question will also be at issue in a case before the High Court taken by Ali Charaf Damache, a naturalised Irish citizen serving 15 years in the US on terrorism related offences.

On Saturday The Irish Times reported that Damache, who was born in Algeria, is fighting attempts by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to revoke his citizenship, arguing that only the courts should have that power.