Tuesday, 26 June 2018
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor. I assume she is taking this on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. I know she cannot comment on specific cases, which is a given. However, I would like her to clarify, as best she can, what people should do when they find themselves in a situation such as the one I am about to outline.
A constituent of mine had his application for naturalisation rejected in April of this year. His application, which he made in October 2016, was refused as a result of a motoring offence conviction. In the letter of rejection sent to him, it was stated, and this is the important part, "The onus is on each applicant to disclose in their application all appropriate information and evidence to help demonstrate that he or she satisfies the conditions for a certificate of naturalisation, including being of good character." This individual applied for naturalisation on 27 October 2016. His motoring conviction occurred on 23 March 2017.Therefore, he could not have notified the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, of his conviction at the time of application, as it did not exist. How can the INIS expect a person to inform it of a conviction that has not yet happened?
This person, having lived in Cavan town for many years, was hoping to purchase a home and settle down with his family permanently. Naturally, he was awaiting the outcome of his application prior to purchasing a home. It has taken more than a year and a half for him to get this decision on his application. As the Minister of State can imagine, he is most disappointed.
I do not want to make light of any conviction, no matter how minor it may be. This individual is known to me personally. He is a responsible and valued doctor in Cavan town, a man of integrity and, most certainly, good character. I am only too happy to provide references in that respect if necessary. I understand that he has submitted another application, in which he has outlined his motoring conviction and that he paid the €300 fine that accompanied it without delay. Will the Minister of State advise me and any person who finds himself or herself in this situation as to the next steps? Currently, there is no appeal process.
I have taken notes on the person's position. I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.
I cannot comment on individual cases. However, I am happy to set out the position generally in respect of the processing of applications for citizenship. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, sets out the law governing Irish citizenship and distinguishes between the entitlement to Irish citizenship by birth and descent and the acquisition of Irish citizenship through the naturalisation process. Should a non-national apply for Irish citizenship through naturalisation, the applicant must fulfil certain statutory requirements, for example, residency and good character. The Minister has absolute discretion and may dispense with the statutory conditions in whole or in part in certain circumstances.
It should be noted that it is incumbent on any applicant to disclose the fact and circumstances of any ongoing matter that the Minister should be made aware of in the context of a naturalisation application. Moreover, applicants are advised that reports are obtained from An Garda Síochána and other agencies relating to applications for naturalisation, and that any failure to disclose any matter at any stage of the process will adversely affect the application. The guidelines for the application form advise that, should adverse information come to light in the processing of that application, it will be taken into consideration. In the particular section of the application dealing with background, this notification is repeated, stressing that applicants should disclose information even if they do not consider it material to the application.
It is a matter reserved exclusively for the Minister to determine what factors are to be taken into account in assessing whether an applicant for naturalisation is of good character. During the course of the processing of an application, information can come to attention from the various background checks that the applicant could reasonably have foreseen could be taken into consideration in the decision-making process. The Minister is not obliged to give advance notice of this information of which the applicant was already aware.Decisions on naturalisation are taken having considered all of the available information. It is expected that applicants will comply fully with that process. It would not be appropriate to discuss the details of an individual's applications on the floor of this House and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has asked me to inform Senator Wilson that his officials will speak with him on the matter.
I thank the Minister of State for the response. However, it does not rectify the situation regarding the rejection of an application on the basis that the individual had not included in the application information regarding convictions. The offence had not been committed at the time the application was submitted. It did not occur until some months after and the court case did not take place for some time after the event. To reject an application on the basis that a person did not provide information at the time of application is unjust, in my opinion.
I welcome that the Minister's officials are willing to speak with me on the matter because I have been in communication with the Department and the Minister on this matter for a number of months and, to date, I had not received any response. That said, there should be an opportunity within the application process to allow individuals to notify the Department of issues arising, minor or major, subsequent to the submission of an application. I look forward to meeting the Minister's officials and to hopefully progressing the naturalisation application of this respected doctor and member of the community in Cavan.
It must be remembered that Irish citizenship is a great privilege and naturalisation is a privilege and not a right. The Minister is under no obligation to grant a certificate of naturalisation. As already stated, the onus is on the applicant to disclose in his or her application all appropriate information and evidence to demonstrate that he or she satisfies the conditions for a certificate of naturalisation, including character. It is incumbent on all applicants to reveal any information pertinent to the application, particularly where a case of dangerous driving is pending and a conviction for careless driving arises subsequently, prior to a decision on the application being made by the Minister. There is no appeals process under the legislation. However, applicants should be aware that they may reapply for the grant of a certificate of naturalisation at any time. When considering making such reapplication, the applicant should have due regard to the reasons for refusal given in the first instance and ensure that all relevant information is provided to the Minister for his consideration. All applications are examined individually and assessed on their own merits. The decision was arrived at following an individualised assessment of the application, having taken into consideration all relevant matters and information. This is particularly the case in this instance, where the adverse consideration is one of which the applicant was already aware.
As I said, the Minister's officials are willing to meet the Senator on this issue.