The Irish Times view on Northern Ireland’s citizenship rights: Parity of esteem?

The guarantee to both Northern Ireland’s communities, enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, includes the right to identify legally as British, Irish or both

To claim her Irish-citizenship-based EU right of residence for her US husband, Derry-born Emma DeSouza has been told she must renounce her British citizenship first – citizenship acquired at birth automatically but never desired, sought or claimed. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

To claim her Irish-citizenship-based EU right of residence for her US husband, Derry-born Emma DeSouza has been told she must renounce her British citizenship first – citizenship acquired at birth automatically but never desired, sought or claimed. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

So, what does “parity of esteem” mean?

This guarantee to both Northern Ireland’s communities, enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, has a number of components, including a right to identify legally as British, Irish or both. British and EU negotiators have also sought to incorporate it in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to protect the right of Northern residents to keep their Irish and, hence, European citizenship.

But, as Derry-born Emma DeSouza has discovered, in the process of implementation that treaty obligation and “parity of esteem” part company.

To claim her Irish-citizenship-based EU right of residence for her US husband, DeSouza has been told she must first renounce her British citizenship – which was acquired at birth automatically but never desired, sought or claimed. A default citizenship that trumps her second-class Irish citizenship.

Her husband was told by the British Home Office that “your spouse is entitled to renounce her status as a British citizen and rely on her Irish citizenship, but until that status is renounced she is, as a matter of fact, a British citizen”.

To renounce it she must first prove it, assert it with the legal declaration that “I am a British citizen”, remain for six months in the UK, and then, having paid a £373 charge, repudiate it.

For over three years DeSouza has successfully fought a legal case against the Home Office ruling, which is now being appealed. During a recent visit to Belfast, British Prime Minister Theresa May promised an internal inquiry. To date, however, there has been no sign of any review or even publication of its mandate.

DeSouza is not alone. The UK has also made clear that “British citizens, including those with dual British/Irish or British/EU citizenship, are not eligible to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme”, which is to safeguard EU citizens’ rights in the UK post-Brexit, and which should allow them to claim, for example, EU travel health cards.

Parity of esteem? Or bad faith?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.