The Irish Times view on Emma de Souza’s legal battle: the spirit of Good Friday

A dispute over the citizenship rights of people in Northern Ireland is not over yet

Derry woman Emma De Souza fought a hard legal and political battle against a British Home Office requirement that she must renounce British citizenship before being able to rely on her Belfast Agreement-acquired right to Irish, and hence EU, citizenship in seeking residency rights for her US-born husband Jake. Photograph: Justin Kernoghan

Derry woman Emma De Souza fought a hard legal and political battle against a British Home Office requirement that she must renounce British citizenship before being able to rely on her Belfast Agreement-acquired right to Irish, and hence EU, citizenship in seeking residency rights for her US-born husband Jake. Photograph: Justin Kernoghan

 

The British government decision that Northern Ireland citizens will be regarded as EU citizens for immigration/family unification purposes is a significant and welcome climbdown, and a victory for principled and tenacious Derry woman Emma De Souza.

The latter has fought a hard legal and political battle against a Home Office requirement that she must renounce British citizenship before being able to rely on her Belfast Agreement-acquired right to Irish, and hence EU, citizenship in seeking residence rights for her US-born husband Jake. De Souza, who married in Belfast in July 2015, had then applied under her Irish passport for residence for her husband.

She says she has never applied for British citizenship, or regarded herself as British, and contends that, in recognising the right to identify equally as Irish, British, or both, the Belfast Agreement implies clearly she should not be forced to renounce one identity.

Emma De Souza and her husband Jake. 'Arlene Foster has essentially said yes people from NI are British,' said Ms De Souza. File photograph: The Irish Times
Emma De Souza and her husband Jake. File photograph: The Irish Times

The British concession temporarily removes the onus on De Souza, or others in her situation, to do so, and will allow her husband’s application under the Brexit transition arrangements for EU and EEA citizens wanting family reunification, a quasi-automatic process. The Brexit settlement scheme ends six months after the end of transition in June 2021, at which stage the current arrangements will de facto fall back into place.

De Souza must now decide whether to continue her appeals, although she may be advised that the courts will regard her problem as resolved and her argument, therefore, as moot. But the issue must not be allowed to rest. The battle is not yet won. The Government backs her interpretation of the agreement, and she has won support in the European Parliament and Commission, which sees implementation of the 1998 deal as an essential prerequisite of the Withdrawal Agreement.

London’s interpretation of the parity of esteem requirement for British and Irish identities in the Belfast Agreement gives a special place to British citizenship as the default, primary identity of its citizens. That is not the spirit of the agreement.

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