Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Long Hard Road to Citizenship


On Tuesday last, we attended the launch of an important report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI): ‘Living in Limbo: Migrants’ Experiences of Applying for Naturalisation in Ireland’. The report was prepared in collaboration with NASC, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre based in Cork. 

The report compiles quantitative and qualitative research including interviews and surveys of those applying for citizenship by way of naturalisation. It also includes a comparative study with legislative and administrative procedures in other countries, including the UK and the US. 

The speakers at the launch highlighted some of the key findings of the report. It was noted that, unlike in other European countries, the only true secure status in Ireland that provides for clear rights and obligations is citizenship. Most of those interviewed for the report saw obtaining citizenship as something to aspire to, that would enable them to participate fully in Irish society and to ultimately ‘belong’. 

In order to become an Irish citizen by way of naturalisation, an applicant must satisfy the statutory eligibility criteria: be over 18 years, be of ‘good character’, have resided lawfully in Ireland for at least five of the previous nine years, including one year continuously immediately prior to the application. What the report found that there were serious shortcomings in how these criteria were applied. 

One area of complaint were the in some cases extraordinary delays experienced in having their applications determined. Similar to our own experiences at Brophy Solicitors, some applicants reported excessive and unreasonable delays of over three years. For one lady Sarah who was interviewed for the ICI report no decision has been forthcoming after four years since her initial application. 

Another area the report highlighted was the lack of clarity on what constitutes ‘good character’. Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, founder of ICI, spoke eloquently of the very harsh and subjective application of this criteria. 

The findings of the report reflect our own experience at Brophy Solicitors. The ‘good character’ criteria is often very stringently, arguably unfairly, applied.  One applicant who was interviewed for the report was initially refused on the basis that he had been questioned in relation to an incident and released without charge – yet it was deemed he had come to the ‘adverse attention’ of An Garda Siochana. 

The report also noted refusals on the basis that an applicant had availed of their entitlement to receive social welfare even for a short period of time. We have been assisting a client recently with challenging a similar refusal. Our client fell ill, lost his job, and applied for social welfare. We have requested an urgent review of the refusal, arguing that the applicant claimed by necessity and that this has no bearing on his good character and he fulfils the statutory criteria. 

At the launch of the report, three migrants presented their own experiences and spoke movingly about the challenges they had faced in applying for citizenship and navigating the Irish immigration system. Each were anxious to become part of Irish society, to continue to contribute but felt disillusioned by the arbitrary application of the eligibility criteria for naturalisation, and the extreme delays in processing the applications. 

We welcome the report and congratulate Catherine Cosgrave and ICI on presenting a clear concise appraisal of the problems that the government need to now address to ensure a fair and transparent road to citizenship in Ireland. We whole-heartedly support the recommendations of the report. 

Brophy Solicitors  

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