You came to our country and chose to live among us; we welcome you and we hope that you will continue to contribute to our communities, to our neighbourhood and to our society. As a people, we have been enriched by your presence and in making you citizens of our ancient and proud land, we are acknowledging that contribution. (Alan Shatter, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, 16 June 2011)
If granted, I will feel a sense of acceptance and ability to get more involved. I have an Irish child whose future is bright here. I want to feel a part of that. I want to make a commitment here. All the activities I’ve done – my work, studies in a course where skills are needed – were all motivated by a desire to contribute. (Sarah, CS12,‘Living in Limbo: Migrants’ Experiences of Applying for Naturalisation in Ireland’, p.73)
The Irish citizenship application process continues to be a major source of concern for Nasc and our clients. As it stands, citizenship remains a matter of ministerial discretion, with no clear guidelines on what is likely to constitute a successful application.
We believe that citizenship needs to become a right, enshrined in and protected by legislation rather than a privilege granted on an ad-hoc basis by the Minister designated by the government of the day.
With a view to providing an introduction to the current process and its implications for those to whom it applies, as well as producing a cohesive set of recommendations for reform, Nasc was pleased to work with the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) in jointly researching and producing a policy paper, ‘Living in Limbo: Migrants’ Experiences of Applying for Naturalisation in Ireland’.
This report, written by solicitor and barrister Catherine Cosgrave, and published in May 2011, was based on a survey of 293 Irish residents and prospective citizens. It highlighted practices which we at Nasc have been drawing attention to for years, including the rejection of citizenship applications on trivial grounds such as having penalty points on a driving licence or parking offences as well as the personal hardship caused to those caught up in this uncertain and unpredictable process.
It’s all discretion. There is no clarity if you are eligible. The criteria should be clear and fair, apply equally and transparently. Evidence of long-term commitments and contribution. I think you should have good standing with the law; clearly violent crime should not be allowed. But there is no clarity. What about misdemeanours. Should you be stressed for years about a parking ticket? (Paul, CS16, ‘Living in Limbo: Migrants’ Experiences of Applying for Naturalisation in Ireland‘, p. 74)
Since the publication of this report, some noteworthy progress has been made. In the aftermath of Minister Alan Shatter’s June 2011 announcement that he had already initiated steps to deal with the backlog of citizenship applications and his commitment to attempt to reduce the application processing time to six months, we saw an unprecedented number of positive citizenship decisions.
Nonetheless, while we have seen a number of citizenship applications processed in one year, other clients have been waiting for more than two years for a decision. It is safe to say that at this point, the six-month processing time remains a promise, not yet a reality.
Additionally, it remains our position that – such welcome developments notwithstanding – the continued discretionary and arbitrary nature of that process still condemns many of Ireland’s long-term residents to “life in limbo.” What is needed to remedy the situation is a complete overhaul of the current system.
As evidenced by the United Kingdom’s advance question at Ireland’s human rights peer-review or ‘Universal Periodic Review’ (UPR) before the United Nations General Assembly (“Do you have any plans to introduce new guidelines on the streamlining of the naturalisation process of foreign nationals and establish a new appeals system?”), we are not alone in believing that reform is needed.
The submission we made to the Irish government as part of the same UPR process included the following outline recommendation which serves to summarise our position regarding the naturalisation process:
Commence consultation with civil society with a view to introducing legislation providing a fair and efficient system for the assessment of applications for citizenship by naturalisation.
Non-nationals who have been legally resident in Ireland for four years can apply for citizenship. Valid applications are granted or refused on the basis of ministerial discretion, and there are no clear guidelines as to what factors influence the exercise of that discretion. Applications take on average 2 years to process. In 2009, only 18% of the 27,000 applications made were successful. We recommend that the government holds open consultations with civil society organisations, with a view to developing a human rights-based approach to citizenship and integration, and to fostering an inclusive society in which all of our long-term residents can access their right to participate in public and political life.
In order to assist those applying for naturalisation in Ireland and those advising them, Nasc will soon be producing a guide to the process. Watch this space for updates!
Citizenship gave us the recognition that we are not just first-class taxpayers and second-class people, but that we have a vote and voice now on deciding who will govern us and how our taxes will be spent. It allows us to travel and work in Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU, possibly expand our business sometime in the future, while allowing us to build on our foundations in Ireland. Citizenship allows us to be full members of society again. (Chris, CS17, ‘Living in Limbo: Migrants’ Experiences of Applying for Naturalisation in Ireland’, p. 67)
Related Links and Resources
- Read Justice, Equality and Defence Minister Alan Shatter’s full statement on the much needed reform of the naturalisation process, including a promise to reduce the application waiting time to six months from the current average of more than two years (16 June 2011)
- Migrants “suffer” over citizenship, The Belfast Telegraph, 10 May 2011
- Foreign nationals ‘refused citizenship over parking offences’, The Irish Examiner, 17 January 2011