Irish nationals should be allowed to become British citizens without paying a fee or taking a test, a cross-party committee of MPs at Westminster has said.
In a report published on Wednesday, the committee said it was especially inappropriate that people who have lived in Northern Ireland for most of their lives but were born on the other side of the Border should have to pay so much to become British citizens.
The Belfast Agreement asserts the right to identify as British or Irish or both for the people of Northern Ireland, defined as “all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence”.
People born in the Republic and living in the North or the rest of the UK are not therefore deemed to be “people of Northern Ireland” as defined in the agreement, and they do not benefit from its birthright provisions on identity and citizenship.
‘Out of step’
Committee chairman Simon Hoare said it was “absurd and unfair” that people born in the Republic and living in the North or UK for decades who “feel themselves to be British” have to pay to obtain British citizenship.
“These people are not covered by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement’s birthright provisions, so they have to take the naturalisation route. However, the policy is out of step with what the public needs, and with life on the island of Ireland today. Frankly, the fee must be scrapped.”
The MPs also called on the British government to simplify the process for renunciation of British citizenship for people in the North who want to assert their Irish-only identity. Currently, they first have to declare their British citizenship before being able to renounce it.
Among those the committee heard from was Emma DeSouza, from Magherafelt, Co Derry, who went to court after the British government told her that her legal status was that of a British citizen, although she had never held a British passport and identified as Irish only.
The committee said the issue highlighted a difference in the Irish and British governments’ interpretation of whether the Belfast Agreement’s right to identify as Irish or British implied the right to citizenship.
“The UK and Irish governments should agree to a shared approach towards an interpretation of the birthright provisions to remove any remaining ambiguity,” the report says.