Citizenship

Would-be Irish citizens cannot leave the country, court rules

Legal experts have described as ‘absurd’ a High Court ruling which says that a person applying for Irish citizenship must not leave the country for an entire year before lodging their application.

The ruling came during a case in which an Australian man, Roderick Jones, challenged the Justice Minister’s refusal to grant his application to become a naturalised Irish citizen.

During the one year period before the date of the application, Mr Jones, who works in the university sector in Dublin, was out of Ireland for 100 days, 97 of them for holidays, RTE reported.

In order to apply for Irish citizenship, a judge has ruled that applicants must not leave the country for twelve months beforehand.

In order to apply for Irish citizenship, a judge has ruled that applicants must not leave the country for twelve months beforehand.

In previous cases, the Minister for Justice had allowed applicants to spend time out of the country for holidays and other reasons but Mr Justice Max Barrett ruled that this discretionary practice was not permitted by law.

The judge said that "might seem unfair" in a world where many people travel abroad for work and take foreign breaks more than once a year, but he said, that is what the relevant law requires.

He said the cure "for any such unfairness" lay in the gift of the legislature.

Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, those wishing to ‘naturalise’ as Irish citizens have to be legally resident in the State for at least five years out of the last nine (or three out of the last five if married to an Irish citizen).

This includes one year of “continuous residence” in the 12 months up to the date of application.

The judge said the word "continuous" bore its ordinary meaning and was defined as "unbroken, uninterrupted, connected throughout in space or time".

Justice Max Barrett has conceded that his judgement ‘may seem unfair’.

Justice Max Barrett has conceded that his judgement ‘may seem unfair’.

The judge said the law did not allow the Minister any discretion in relation to this requirement. 

He said the minister had manifested "very real humanity" in trying to nuance the very clear wording of the legislation by applying a discretionary absence period to allow for the realities of modern life, but he had gone beyond what was legally permissible.

The judge said there was no evidence before him as to why the Oireachtas had imposed this condition in the 1956 Act.

He said it may have been to ensure potential citizens enjoyed a concrete connection with the State or were attuned to the way of life in Ireland or some other reason. 

The cure for any resulting unfairness was not to be found in the courts he said, but lay in the gift of the legislature.

Over 8,000 people were granted Irish citizenship in 2017 alone, according to European Union data.

According to The Journal.ie, Ireland’s Department of Justice said they were examining the ruling and “will take any necessary action in consultation with the Attorney General”.

The plantiff Roderick Jones has been contacted for comment.