Government rethinks case of mother denied citizenship over family holidays

Trips to France made Stephanie McCorkell ineligible under ‘six week rule’

Irish at last: Stephanie McCorkell has lived in Ireland for almost 50 years, raising five children here with her husband, Charles. Photograph: Alan Betson

Irish at last: Stephanie McCorkell has lived in Ireland for almost 50 years, raising five children here with her husband, Charles. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A woman who has lived in Ireland for almost 50 years and raised five children here has finally been granted citizenship, more than a year after an extended foreign holiday prompted the Government to refuse her initial application.

Stephanie McCorkell, who is originally from the UK, applied for citizenship in January 2017 but was rejected when she told the Department of Justice she had been out of the country for seven weeks in the year before her application. Family holidays in France had caused her to fall foul of a controversial rule that caps at six weeks the amount of time people can spend outside the country in the run-up to applying for naturalisation.

When I applied I never expected after all these years [in Ireland] that I would be turned down. It will mean security and it will mean, I suppose, pride

The rejection had come as a major blow to Ms McCorkell, who has lived in Ireland for 45 years and raised her family with her Irish husband, Charles, whom she met in Liverpool. Like others who have found their applications declined, Ms McCorkell thought it would be a straightforward process given her strong links to the country. Even an analysis of her DNA revealed she was 50 per cent Irish, she said.

“The uncertainty is the worst part”

Now, well over a year after her initial application, and after her story was reported in The Irish Times, Ms McCorkell has finally received good news after the department agreed to re-examine her case. “They don’t understand how stressed people are,” she said of the process, which immigration solicitors have criticised for unfairly rejecting applications on the basis of periods of travel. “It is the uncertainty that is the worst part.”

On Wednesday she received a brown Government-issued envelope containing an invitation to take part in a citizenship ceremony in Co Kerry next month.“The relief to have it in your hand is marvellous,” she said. “When I applied I never expected after all these years [in Ireland] that I would be turned down. It will mean security and it will mean, I suppose, pride.”

Like other UK citizens, Ms McCorkell decided to apply for citizenship after her native country voted to leave the European Union.

“No legal basis”

Lawyers believe the relatively new six-week rule, increasingly identified as the reason for citizenship refusal, has no basis in law. It has yet to be challenged in court, however. Karen Berkeley of Berkeley Solicitors says people are still being refused on this basis but there is no information on the policy or guidelines on how it is applied. “There is a complete lack of clarity on what is involved,” she said, adding that efforts to engage with officials had been unsuccessful.

The rule is problematic for people who have lived in Ireland for a number of years but have to travel regularly for work or to deal with personal issues in their home countries.

Citizenship applications are made under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1956, which stipulates that an applicant must have a year’s continuous residency immediately before the date of application and total residence of four years during the eight years before that.

In August 2016 the department decided to apply “a reasonable and generous period of up to six weeks . . . for absences from the State for normal holidays and other short-term and temporary absences, such as for a business meeting, family bereavement or a medical emergency while abroad” when calculating residency terms. Applications are decided on individual merits, it said.