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
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?