Dear Home Secretary,
The Good Friday Agreement places the people of Northern Ireland in a unique position within the United Kingdom. We have the right to be Irish or British or both, as we so choose. A right that was overwhelming voted for in referendum and a right that your department is denying.
I am an Irish national, born in Northern Ireland, Irish by birthright and Irish under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. For four years now your department has dragged my family through the courts on the argument that I am automatically British, irrespective of my rights under the Good Friday Agreement.
A number of those affected by this erroneous presupposition – including myself – reached out to you last year with the support of organisations and political parties. You did not respond.
For many, the incompatibility of Home Office policies and the UK Government’s commitments under the Good Friday Agreement is clear. After years of campaigning, this incompatibility and the restrictions NI-born Irish citizens encounter when interacting with your department was acknowledged by the Prime Minister herself on recent visit to Belfast.
On 5 February 2019, Theresa May pledged to urgently review these issues and bring policies into line with the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
She said: “There have also been serious concerns raised about how UK immigration rules treat citizens here exercising their rights under the Agreement to be Irish. The birthright to identify and be accepted as British, Irish or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship is absolutely central to the Agreement.
“But I know that in some cases recently, people have encountered difficulties in securing their rights as Irish citizens to bring in family members. I understand the serious concerns that have been raised. So I have asked the Home Secretary, working closely with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to review these issues urgently to deliver a long term solution consistent with the letter and spirit of the Belfast Agreement.”
Within minutes I had hopeful families reach out to me, hoping that their right to be accepted as Irish, not British, was about to be fulfilled. They were hopeful that they wouldn’t have to go to court to defend their rights like I have had to; hopeful that they wouldn’t have to proceed with renunciation of British citizenship, a workaround often offered by your department for those of us wanting to be accepted as Irish.
A week after this announcement I attended a court hearing with another family – a family with young children, children who were there watching as their parents fought to stay together without having to adopt a government-imposed citizenship.
I am gravely concerned that instead of finding a reasonable solution or honouring the commitments made by the Prime Minister your department has further singled out NI-born Irish citizens. According to the Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, we are to be among the only EU citizens within the UK unable to secure our rights under the settlement scheme.
How can your department justify splitting Irish citizens into two categories – those that can access their EU rights under the scheme and those that can’t?
I believe creating two groups of Irish citizens within the UK, with different rights, sets a dangerous precedent.
I ask that you release the terms of reference and timeframe for this urgent review.