Derry woman considers UN complaint over UK citizenship ruling

Taoiseach backs Emma DeSouza’s case: British law ‘out of step’ with NI peace treaty

Emma DeSouza and her US born husband Jake.Ms DeSouza is considering further legal action. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Emma DeSouza and her US born husband Jake.Ms DeSouza is considering further legal action. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

An Irish woman who lost a ruling identifying her as British by birth under UK law is exploring whether she can lodge a complaint to the UN over a breach of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Co Derry woman Emma DeSouza, an Irish citizen, won a case against the UK Home Office in 2017 after it deemed her British through her birth in Northern Ireland following an application from her US-born husband for a residence card.

She argued that the 1998 peace agreement had allowed her to identify as British, Irish or both.

On Monday an immigration tribunal sided with the UK Home Office in an appeal on the earlier ruling. She plans to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeal and, if required, to the Supreme Court.

Ms DeSouza has accused the British government of failing to comply with the Belfast Agreement by failing to legislate for the peace treaty in domestic UK law over the past two decades and to protect the birthright of people in Northern Ireland to be Irish.

She lost her case on the basis of a 1981 UK nationality law.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar backed her case. He told the Dáil that he believed British citizenship laws are “out of step” with the 1998 accord “making a distinction between how people identify as to their citizenship”.

Mr Varadkar said the agreement was “eloquent” on the right of people in Northern Ireland to be British, Irish or both and to be accepted as such.

“That is the spirit and letter of the Good Friday agreement,” he said.

The Derry woman said she was examining whether she could lodge a complaint to the UN over her fundamental rights to self-determination and to be free from discrimination.

“I am starting to look into whether I can as an Irish citizen lodge a complaint to the UN and I believe I can as an Irish citizen,” she said.

She referred to the complaints made by two Irish women who took cases to the UN Human Rights Committee claiming their rights had been infringed by Ireland’s ban, since lifted, on abortion.

Ms DeSouza believes that her case “could go all the way” to the European Court of Justice given that the UK government could be denying her access to EU rights as an Irish citizen after Brexit.

Bilateral meeting

Mr Varadkar said he would raise the case with UK prime minister Boris Johnson later this week and that Tánaiste Simon Coveney would speak to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith about it.

The Taoiseach said the British government had agreed to “review and resolve the issue” in line with the letter and spirt of the Belfast Agreement. London has yet to publish its review of the issue.

“This judgment appears to make a distinction between identifying as British or Irish as opposed to being a citizen and that is a misreading, in our view, of the Good Friday agreement,” he said.

Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, urged the UK government to publish its “promised review” and to implement a Bill of rights for Northern Irish people or “to effectively incorporate the intentions of the Good Friday agreement into UK law”.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for the judges to decide this in the Court of Appeal or possibly even in the Supreme Court eventually, which will take a very long period of time,” he said.