Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Before I discuss my Commencement matter, I would like to support Senator Mullen in his matter. I am aware of the Hyde family who have connections in north County Dublin. The mother of the little boy is from north County Dublin. I have been in contact with the family and it is an outrageous situation. I know that when applying for a visa or asylum in Ireland, weight is given to the fact that children born here in Ireland should not be-----
I also want to talk about immigration matters. I refer to the naturalisation fees charged. There is a €175 application fee and a fee of €950 for certification of naturalisation, a total of €1,125. I have come across many UK citizens living in my area and across the country who are very fearful about their situation with Brexit looming. Approximately 300,000 British citizens live in Ireland and approximately one third of them do not qualify for citizenship through lineage by way of having either an Irish parent or grandparent. Therefore they would need to go through the naturalisation process to obtain an Irish passport.
In 2016, a total of 98 British citizens applied for naturalisation. That jumped up to 529 in 2017 and in 2018, a total of 665 British citizens were naturalised. That is obviously because of Brexit. I have spoken to people on doorsteps in my area and they are very fearful of what might happen. They cannot afford the naturalisation fees. These are people who may be married to an Irish citizen and may have been living here for many years. I spoke to one lady who has lived here for 40 years and has adult children who are Irish citizens but she cannot afford this outrageous fee of €1,125. That fee of €950 for certification of naturalisation is waived in the case of a recognised refugee or stateless person. I am asking for the fee to be waived for a defined period for our friends and neighbours from the UK who have been living here for a defined period of time. These people have contributed so much to this country and deserve a bit of a break at this point.
I am happy to discuss the matter of naturalisation fees with the Senator on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who sends his apologies.
Citizenship is a unique privilege bestowed on an individual that confers, among other rights, the protection of the State. The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with the provisions of the Act. A determination on whether an applicant satisfies the statutory criteria for naturalisation can only be made after an application is received.
The fees to be paid by an applicant for a certificate of naturalisation are governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulations 2011, SI 569 of 2011.The application fee is stipulated at €175, payable on application for a certificate of naturalisation, and a certification fee is payable on the issue of a certificate of naturalisation. The standard certification fee is set at €950, while a reduced fee of €200 applies in the case of an application made on behalf of a minor or, in certain cases, where the application is made by a widow, widower or surviving civil partner of an Irish citizen. In the case of recognised refugees and stateless persons, the certification fee is nil, as the Senator pointed out.
While the fee is reduced in the cases outlined above, the fee is waived in its entirety only in respect of refugees and stateless persons. Any review of fees would have to consider other categories of applicants, such as EU nationals, and the impact any changes would have on the level of fees for all other applicants. It is important to bear in mind that, under the terms of the common travel area, British citizens resident in the State enjoy unrestricted residence rights within the State, as well as associated rights and entitlements, including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits and the right to vote in certain elections. Indeed, for the first time, these rights have been placed on a more solid basis with the newly-signed agreement between the Irish and British Governments signed by the Tánaiste last Wednesday.
I also remind the Senator that Ireland already operates a less onerous regime in regard to citizenship by naturalisation compared with many other countries. There are no formal language or civic knowledge tests and a straightforward residence requirement applies to non-nationals. The naturalisation fee, as it stands, is comparable to other jurisdictions and is less than that applied by the British authorities, which currently stands at over €1,200.
I thank the Minister of State but the reply is less than satisfactory from my point of view. I understand there is a fee structure but, for a defined period, we should allow for those who have been here for a significant amount of time and have contributed so much to Ireland, their own communities and their families. There are practical considerations, for example, in the case of a British mother and her Irish children travelling through passport control and having to separate families as they are having their passports checked. These people feel Irish and European, and they want to remain so. If the €950 fee can be waived in respect of certain individuals, in this once-off instance it would create a great deal of goodwill, which is what we need to foster in the future. I would like the Minister of State to give more consideration to this suggestion.
I remind the Senator that Ireland is a welcoming country and has granted citizenship to more than 100,000 individuals since citizenship ceremonies were introduced in 2011. In total, nationals of 181 different countries have become Irish citizens since that time. The fee is a part of the process and is common practice internationally. The standard fees payable by an applicant are designed to reflect the effort and cost involved in processing applications for a certificate of naturalisation. The Senator will be aware that formal citizenship ceremonies have been introduced at no extra cost to applicants. These have been universally well received by participants as the ceremonies provide a sense of dignity and occasion that serves to underscore the importance to both the State and the applicant of the granting of Irish citizenship.
Any further changes to the naturalisation fee regime would have to be carefully considered given there are many non-nationals of various nationalities in the State who may be eligible for citizenship and to single out one nationality could be considered preferential treatment. For this and the other reasons already outlined, granting a waiver of the naturalisation fee in respect of British citizens who are long-term residents of Ireland is not something the Minister is currently considering.