People born in Republic after 1948 but living in North pay £1,300 for British passports

Westminster committee told ‘anomaly’ is a ‘gaping hole’ in human rights legislation

Westminster committee told ‘anomaly’ is an ‘absurdity’ and a ‘gaping hole’ in human rights legislation. Photograph: PA Wire

Westminster committee told ‘anomaly’ is an ‘absurdity’ and a ‘gaping hole’ in human rights legislation. Photograph: PA Wire

 

An “anomaly” whereby people born in the Republic after 1948, but who have lived most of their lives in Northern Ireland and must pay substantially over the odds for a British passport has been described by a Westminster committee as a “gaping hole” in human rights legislation.

The issue was raised by DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell at the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs committee on Wednesday who said there were “tens of thousands of people” who were denied “parity of esteem” in accessing British passports.

Under the Belfast Agreement people in Northern Ireland have the right to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British or both and hold both British and Irish citizenship.

Mr Campbell explained however that people born in the Republic after 1948 but who lived most of their lives in Northern Ireland must pay £1,300 for a British passport while the normal cost of a passport was £75.50 if applied for online and £85 if applied for on paper.

‘Princely sum’

He said such people regarded themselves as British residents and paid British taxes. “They have to pay the princely sum of £1,300 to become what they already are,” said Mr Campbell.

He said clearly there was an “equity” issue in that people in Northern Ireland, some who had “never sat foot” in the Republic, could apply for and receive Irish passports for a standard fee of €80 under the Belfast Agreement while those born perhaps two miles the other side of the Border and lived virtually all of their lives in the North must pay £1,300 for a British passport.

Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, told the committee that such people were not covered by the Belfast Agreement and could not therefore declare as British, Irish or both “because he or she is not part of the people of Northern Ireland”.

“That is the de facto position of the agreement,” he said.

“It will come as a massive surprise that those thousands of people are not part of the people of Northern Ireland. It is an absurdity,” said Mr Cambpell.

Mr Allamby said that no resolution could be found within the Belfast Agreement but that the commission would have no issue if the British government were to devise a solution so only the normal passport fee would have to be paid.

“If the UK government wanted to find a way of allowing somebody in those circumstances to be able to acquire British citizenship seamlessly and relatively easily there is no reason that we can see why the UK government shouldn’t do that,” he said.

Mr Allamby said he recognised Mr Campbell’s point that there was an anomaly in that “people on one side of the Border can access either a British or Irish passport and somebody on the other side can’t even if they identify very strongly as British because of their particular background and circumstances”.

Said Mr Campbell, “There are tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland who have lived here virtually all their lives... and are not part of the people of Northern Ireland? I think they will find that amazing. That is something that has to be resolved.”

‘Disgraceful’

The committee’s Conservative chairman Simon Hoare said it was “disgraceful”. He urged people to raise the matter with the North’s human rights commission because the anomaly was a “gaping hole” in human rights legislation that required a solution.

Mr Campbell told the Irish Times that from the 2011 census this “anomaly” affected about 40,000 people born in the Republic after 1948 but living in Northern Ireland.

Prior to the1948 British Nationality Act people born in the South after independence in 1922 could apply for passports as “British subjects”, as had been the case before the creation of the Free State.

But under the act, which came into effect in advance of the South quitting the Commonwealth and becoming a Republic in April 1949, there was no provision after 1948 for the retention of British nationality by Irish citizens who wished to take up the British subject option.