Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 October 2005

5:00 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for permitting me to raise this issue. This case concerns a woman who is seeking Irish citizenship. She was born in England in December 1934, had no Irish parents or grandparents and, therefore, did not have an automatic entitlement to citizenship. She married in June 1967. Her husband was born in February 1916 and was entitled to become, and became, an Irish citizen. Unfortunately, he is now seriously ill.

At the time of their marriage the legislation governing nationality and citizenship was the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 which stated "a woman who is an alien at the date of her marriage to a person who is an Irish citizen (otherwise than by naturalisation) shall not become an Irish citizen merely by virtue of her marriage, but may do so by lodging a declaration in the prescribed manner with the Minister or with any Irish diplomatic mission or consular office, either before the marriage, or if lodged thereafter, then from the date of the lodgement."

This means that although the woman concerned had an entitlement to acquire Irish citizenship on the basis of her marriage, it would have been necessary for her to take the formal step of making a declaration to exercise that entitlement. As part of this process, her husband would have had to swear an affidavit to support the declaration. Unfortunately, her husband suffers from Alzheimer's and is not in a position to swear the affidavit.

The woman has been informed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the only option open to her is to apply for a certificate of naturalisation for which there is a fee of €634.87. The woman's means are limited and it would cause financial difficulty for her to pay this sum. She asked the Minister to waive the fee but he stated he did not have discretion in the matter. This is one of the problems which occasionally arise in the administration of our affairs and where a degree of common sense needs to be applied. There seems to be no doubt but that the woman is entitled to citizenship. If the declaration could be made, she would get it automatically. I understand the Department's position is that if she pays the fee for a certificate of naturalisation, her case will be processed quite quickly.

We should look at this case in context. This is a country where in recent years people have arrived with lots of money and have, in effect, been able to buy citizenship. If one had a few million euro which one could put into a company or in an investment scheme, one could, effectively, buy citizenship. As we know, some of the citizenships and passports were purchased in rather doubtful circumstances.

However, this case involves a woman who is married to an Irish citizen, who has lived here most of her life, has contributed to Irish life and community and whose husband, who is now ill, contributed over his working life to the State. She is effectively being denied citizenship by a particularly rigid interpretation of the rules. I understand the difficulties civil servants have in administering the rules made and the legislation passed by this House. Will the Minister exercise some discretion in this area?

I suggest either of two ways to deal with this. One is to waive the fee for the certificate of naturalisation, which the Minister said he cannot do. The other is to accept medical certification in respect of the woman's husband explaining that he is not in a position to swear the affidavit required to make the declaration and on that basis to admit the application. There is no dispute about the facts of this particular case. On the basis of pure morality, the woman is entitled to, and should get, citizenship. It is unfair to her and, indeed, to her husband who is not in a position to deal with it to have it blocked on this technicality.

I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to respond positively. I appreciate he has a script from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which may well tell me what I already know but I ask him to ask the Minister and the Department to exercise a little common sense and to give this woman what she is perfectly entitled to, namely, an Irish passport and citizenship based on her marriage.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will convey the suggestions and thoughts of Deputy Gilmore to the Minister, Deputy McDowell. Let me say at the outset on behalf of the Minister, who cannot be here this evening, that he is sympathetic to the situation of the person concerned and has, with his officials, examined all possible avenues to assist her in obtaining Irish citizenship.

Section 8 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, provides that a non-national who is married to an Irish citizen, who is Irish other than by naturalisation, post-nuptial citizenship or honorary citizenship, for a period of at least three years, may lodge a declaration with the Minister accepting Irish citizenship as post-nuptial citizenship. The marriage must be subsisting at the date of lodgement of the declaration. Furthermore, the couple must be living together as husband and wife and the Irish spouse has to submit an affidavit to that effect when the declaration is being lodged.

The person concerned has been married to an Irish citizen for almost 40 years and in the normal course would be entitled to make such a declaration. However, the medical condition of the person's Irish husband appears to rule out the possibility of him being able to make the affidavit that he and his wife are living together as husband and wife. The Deputy has confirmed this in correspondence to the Department. As a result, the person concerned cannot lodge her declaration of Irish citizenship. The Minister has asked me to emphasise that the requirement for the affidavit is set down in law and he does not have any discretionary powers to waive this requirement.

It appears, therefore, that the only option for the person concerned to obtain Irish citizenship is through the process of naturalisation. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts specify a number of requirements with which an applicant for naturalisation has to comply, including having a period of residency in the State prior to applying, being of good character and having an intention to reside in the State once naturalised. The Minister is empowered to waive some or all of these statutory conditions in certain circumstances. One of these circumstances is where the applicant is of Irish descent or, as in the case concerned, Irish associations.

It is clear to the Minister that this is a case where he should exercise his discretionary powers to the fullest extent possible, notwithstanding the fact that the person concerned may, of course, qualify for naturalisation in her own right. He has already indicated to the Deputy that he is favourably disposed to grant an application for naturalisation and he will also ensure that any such application, because of the unusual circumstances in this case, will be prioritised.

However, the person concerned would have to apply in the normal way and her application would be assessed against the statutory provisions in place. Following formal approval of her application, she would be required to swear, in open court, an oath of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State. She would also be required to pay a statutory fee of €634.87. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Fees) Regulations 1993, as amended, set out the fees for citizenship and the fee appropriate to the situation of the person concerned is €634.87. These regulations do not allow the Minister to waive the statutory fees under any circumstances.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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He could amend the regulations.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister appreciates that the person concerned has indicated that she is not in a financial position to pay this fee but he regrets he is unable to help in this regard. If the person concerned wishes to proceed with an application for naturalisation, she or the Deputy can contact the Minister's departmental office. The person concerned can then be put in touch with one of the Minister's officials from the citizenship section of the Department who will guide her through the application process. I have dealt before with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on matters of this kind.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Will he consider amending the regulation?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will urge the Minister to deal directly with Deputy Gilmore on this matter and I will convey to him the Deputy's view that the regulations must be changed. It is somewhat unreasonable that some resolution cannot be reached if the lady concerned does not have the means to submit the fee. I agree with the Deputy that it would be terrible if she could not get her citizenship because she could not pay the fee. I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform sees it exactly as the Deputy does.