Government ‘loath’ to strip citizenship, Varadkar says

Right to same-sex marriage and abortion universal, Taoiseach tells Arab League

Ali Charaf Damache is serving a 15-year sentence in a maximum security facility in the United States. Photograph: Collins Courts

Ali Charaf Damache is serving a 15-year sentence in a maximum security facility in the United States. Photograph: Collins Courts


Taking citizenship away from people is bad practice and something the Government would be “loath” to do, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan last year decided to strip Ali Charaf Damache, an Algerian-born man convicted of providing support to Islamist terrorists, of his citizenship on the grounds that he had broken his oath of “fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State”.

The UK government last week decided to revoke the British citizenship of Islamic State schoolgirl Shamima Begum.

Ms Begum (19) fled her east London home in 2015 to travel to Syria to support the terror group, but wishes to return to the UK for the sake of her newly-born child as the so-called caliphate crumbles.

Mr Varadkar said any consideration of revoking citizenship depends on “the individual circumstances”.

“We think we may only have one Irish citizen,” the Taoiseach said. “It may be as few as one. We’ll have to consider whether those people legitimately acquired their citizenship.

“We’re going to have to decide that on a case-by-case basis but I would be very loath to revoke anyone’s citizenship provided they are a citizen by right or acquired their citizenship appropriately. I think it’s bad practice to revoke somebody’s citizenship and render them stateless and leave them to be somebody’s else’s problem.”

Social changes

In his address to the plenary session of the EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, Mr Varadkar spoke about social changes in Ireland – same-sex marriage and the liberalisation of abortion law – in the past 10 years.

“We have legalised both same-sex marriage – the right to love – and abortion – the right to choose,” he said. “I respect that every country has its own culture, traditions and religious beliefs. However, we believe these rights are universal.”

He cited his speech when asked by reporters afterwards if any hard questions had been asked by EU states of their Arab counterparts.

“Ireland might be a small country but we’re not a country that’s afraid to use our voice on these issues even though it mightn’t always be welcome. It has also featured in my bilateral discussions.”

On the death penalty, which is still legal in Egypt, Mr Varadkar said: “Ireland is opposed to the death penalty and we’ve amended our Constitution to introduce a constitutional ban on the death penalty. Our view is that states shouldn’t engage in executions. That’s very much our position.”