Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
506. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of applications for naturalisation being processed; the number that are over 24 months in process since the application was first submitted; the way in which the statutory requirement that the applicant be of good character differs in substance from the vetting process carried out by An Garda Síochána here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6986/20]
I can inform the Deputy that the number of citizenship applications currently being processed is 17,954 of which 3,629 are 24 months or more in the process i.e. 20% approx.
Any person may apply for Irish citizenship through the naturalisation process, providing they satisfy the statutory conditions for naturalisation. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation if satisfied the applicant satisfies the statutory conditions which are that the applicant must –
- Be of full age or be a minor born in the State;
- Be of good character;
- Have had a period of 1 year's continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of application and, during the 8 years immediately preceding that period, have had a further total residence in the State amounting to 4 years (5 years in total);
- Intend in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation; and
- Have made a declaration of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State and undertaken to faithfully observe the laws of the State and to respect its democratic values.
All applicants for a certificate of naturalisation aged 16 years and older are subject to a criminal records check carried out by the National Vetting Bureau of An Garda Síochána. This is an essential step in the process.
An applicant's good character is assessed in a number of ways; including but not limited to:
- An Garda Síochána vetting;
- Home Country Police clearance; and
- Adherence to the laws and regulations of the State, including regarding revenue matters. social welfare matters and in relation to driving offences.
It should also be noted that everyone’s case is different, for example, many applicants provide dog licences as an indication as to their adherence to the laws of the land, whereas others provide fishing licences and permits. An increasing number of applicants provide tax clearance certificates. In fact, my Department officials and the Revenue Commissioners have collaborated on making this process easier by the provision of a Citizenship e-tax clearance selection within the drop down list on the Revenue website. Accordingly, the good character assessment cannot be captured in a prescriptive list, rather the entirety of the case will be assessed on its own merits.
Other applicants, in addition to providing evidence of their adherence to the rules of the State, go further and provide evidence as to their active contribution to their communities. This can take many forms including letters from members of their communities relating to their involvement in their communities, e.g. volunteering on schools committees, local development committees, fund raising, volunteering in charities, faith communities, sports and social organisations, etc. These acts of active Citizenship are to be commended. However, my officials fully understand that everyone’s circumstances are different and applicants may not be in a position to be active in their communities for various reasons.
I’m sure the Deputy would agree that the rich tapestry of a person's interactions with the State and their involvement in community life is unique to the individual and is not something that lends itself to a rigidly prescriptive list.
As the Deputy may be aware, the next scheduled citizenship ceremony due to take place in the INEC in Killarney in July 2020 has unfortunately been postponed due to the current restrictions. I have instructed my officials to examine feasible mechanisms and processes whereby procedures such as citizenship ceremonies can take place while fully complying with the criteria outlined in the Government Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.
Furthermore, the Deputy may be aware of a challenge taken in the High Court last year by an applicant who was refused a certificate of naturalisation due to his absences from the State during the last year continuous prior to the date of his application. The outcome of this ruling – which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal – resulted in significant delays to the processing of naturalisation applications last year.
The restrictions attendant to the current COVID-19 pandemic have regrettably resulted in significant challenges to the delivery of normal services. As a result of these restrictions, the Citizenship Division of Immigration Service Delivery, along with many other public and private sector organisations is experiencing significant disruption in delivering its core functions. Working within these restrictions, public safety and the wellbeing of staff are of course both urgent priorities.
I can assure the Deputy that the matter is receiving ongoing attention and as soon as a practical plan is in place for the re-commencement of normal service delivery, notifications will be placed on our website (www.inis.gov.ie).