Some Northern Ireland residents will be affected by a High Court decision that applicants for citizenship must have "unbroken" residence here for a year before they apply, it has been warned.
Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, Irish citizenship is granted to anyone who was born on the island of Ireland. However, those born in Northern Ireland must also qualify for British citizenship or be born to Irish or British citizens.
Immigrant Council of Ireland chief executive Brian Killoran said people in the North who apply for an Irish passport will not be affected by Mr Justice Barrett's decision in the High Court in Dublin this week.
However, it will impact the non-Irish spouses of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland. For instance, a Russian woman looking for Irish citizenship and who is married to an Irish citizen will be covered by Mr Barrett’s ruling and will not be able to leave the island of Ireland for 365 consecutive days.
Mr Justice Barrett said the Minister for Justice's discretionary practice of allowing applicants six weeks out of the country, for holiday or other reasons, and more time in exceptional circumstances, is not permitted by law.
‘Huge amount of worry’
Mr Killoran told RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland that the High Court decision has been greeted by "a huge amount of worry and shock and dismay by those that have applied and those that are just about to apply because citizenship is a massively important thing for people not only for the situation of integration, it just brings so many new rights in terms of voting rights and things like that.
“I think it’s fair to say that this decision doesn’t reflect the kind of reality of people’s lives - they have to travel for work and they have to travel for family purposes, marriages, funerals, normal family human things.
“Our phones yesterday were hopping about this, people are really worried about the situation. I think it’s fair to say that the department are treating it in a manner in which they’re looking to fix it rather than simply have this be the approach from here on out because I don’t feel that anyone thinks that’s practical.
“We would say it is an opportunity to look at how continuous residency is judged and there are good examples at European level, like European directives on things like citizenship and long term residency that can give good direction on this.
“We hope it will be resolved as quickly as possible,” he said. “All eyes are on the department in terms of their response to this.”
Mr Killoran said citizenship is one of the most important processes that that anyone from a migrant background will go through in the State.
“It’s something that we’ve seen since 2011 and the introduction of the Citizenship ceremonies. Well over 100,000 people have gone through the citizenship process, including of late an increasing attractiveness of Irish citizenship to people from the UK - so this throws up a can of worms in that regard.
“There are numerous different facets that need to be resolved. That is why the department are treating it as a matter or urgency and we hope that a solution comes out. I know they are in talks with the Attorney General’s office at the moment about what’s possible. We’re watching this space.”