Naturalised immigrants facing revocation of citizenship are not entitled to legal aid under a new system established by the Department of Justice.
A Committee of Inquiry was established last year by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to investigate cases where the Minister seeks to revoke citizenship from a naturalised resident.
It operates as a type of appeal court, similar to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) which allows those denied refugee status to challenge the decision.
Under both systems applicants can call evidence and examine witnesses. However, unlike the IPAT, those before the citizenship committee are not entitled to free legal aid.
The three-person committee was established as part of a push by the Department of Justice to start revoking citizenship from naturalised residents who obtained it through fraud or by providing incorrect information, either mistakenly or on purpose.
The Government also intends to target naturalised citizens who have joined terrorist organisations abroad, such as Islamic State, thereby breaking their declaration of “fidelity” to the State.
Mr Flanagan has already moved to revoke the citizenship of Ali Charaf Damache who was convicted last year in the US for supporting Islamic terrorism. He is currently challenging the decision before the High Court.
The Committee of Inquiry comprises retired judge Paddy McMahon (who serves as its chairman), former cabinet minister Olivia Mitchell and solicitor Philip O'Leary.
It heard its first two cases in December while sitting in Tipperary and will hear another 38 over the coming months.
The first case it heard involves a woman from the developing world who was granted citizenship after coming to Ireland as a refugee some years ago.
According to sources familiar with the case, the Department of Justice said, when applying for citizenship, she said she was from one country when she was in fact from another.
Lawyers for the woman told the committee it was an honest mistake. The person was born in a hospital in one country but had grown up in the country she put on her application form.
They also argued the country a person was born in is not a factor which is considered when deciding on the granting of citizenship and therefore a mistake about that country is not a basis for revoking citizenship.
Once the committee rules on the matter, it will make a recommendation to Mr Flanagan either confirming or disputing his decision to revoke citizenship.
The applicant, who is in employment, paid for her own legal representation. It is understood they intend to challenge the decision in the High Court if it goes against them.
Legal aid decision
The Department of Justice told The Irish Times the decision not to make legal aid available to those facing loss of citizenship is based on the fact that "it is a matter for each person concerned whether they consider they require legal representation in the committee process".
Anyone who faces loss of citizenship can appeal to the committee.
However, since 2015, five people have opted not to and have accepted the revocation of their citizenship. They became the first people in the history of the State to have their citizenship stripped.
The department said the increase in applications to revoke citizenship is a result of increasing numbers being granted citizenship since 2010.
“In light of the increasing numbers of people acquiring Irish citizenship and a number of occasions when revocations were deemed necessary, it was considered appropriate to establish a Revocation Committee as set out in the 1956 Act (as amended),” a spokesman said.
The issue of whether the Minister and committee have the power to strip citizenship is likely to be argued before the courts.
The law states a committee consisting of a chairman with “judicial experience” should consider such matters.
However Court of Appeal Judge Gerard Hogan, writing with other legal experts in his influential book on the Constitution, said, because of the “drastic nature of revocation of citizenship”, it must be questioned whether such a decision such reside with the Government and not the courts.
*This article was amended on January 28th as an earlier version had incorrectly attributed a quote from a book on the Constitution to a Judge Gerard Keane. This has now been amended.