Applicants for Irish citizenship by naturalization will be able to leave and re-enter Ireland without harming their application, under a new law to be introduced by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
The law will go a long way to reassuring applicants who were suddenly, and unexpectedly, affected by a significant decision made in the High Court earlier this summer whereby a judge ruled that an applicant for Irish citizenship must have “unbroken” residence in the Republic of Ireland for an entire year before the date of their application. In that decision, Mr Justice Max Barrett ruled that the Minister’s discretionary practice of allowing applicants six weeks out of the country, for holiday or other reasons, and more time in exceptional circumstances, was not permitted by law.
This literal interpretation of “unbroken” was met with a mixture of anger and anguish by applicants, their families and employers, and lawyers practicing in the field, as well as by senior government officials, who noted that trips abroad for professional or personal reasons are part and parcel of living in a modern country.
Mr Flanagan has since said that the urgent draft legislation will address that High Court decision.
“The court took a very narrow and literal view. I’m going to deal with this by legislation. I have a first draft and I would expect to publish that legislation over the next few weeks. I’ve been talking to the Opposition spokespersons and I would be very keen to deal with this issue and provide clarity in the first few weeks of the Dáil term,” he said.
“What I propose doing is to allow for a period of time for an applicant to be out of the jurisdiction. I think that’s necessary for a number of reasons.”
“We have applicants who may be working in Northern Ireland, people who go overseas for work for a period of time, people who might even go abroad for their wedding. The literal interpretation of the law requires change on my part and I intend doing that shortly.”
Mr Flanagan identified three broad groups of people who are concerned: those who have had their citizenship granted, those who are in the process, and those who wish to apply but haven’t yet done so.
“All three groups, comprising tens of thousands of people, require clarity.”
The exact length of time that applicants may be absent from Ireland during the application process has not yet been decided. The Minister is expected to involve Opposition lawmakers in deciding those parameters.
Applicants in the process and those planning the process of becoming Irish citizens will doubtless by hopeful of a quick resolution to the matter.