Eleven Frequently Asked Questions in Irish Citizenship Applications
Stephen Kirwan the Head of the Immigration Department has provided a quick guide to some of the most frequently asked questions he faces in relation to Irish Citizenship Applications
1. What is citizenship by naturalisation and is it any different to citizenship by birth or descent?
Pursuant ot Section 7(1) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 you are automatically an Irish citizen if one of your parents was an Irish citizen and was born in Ireland. You don’t need to apply to become an Irish citizen in this case but can simply make the relevant passport application.
If you were born outside of Ireland, you can become an Irish citizen ‘by descent’ by lodging an application for Foreign Births Registration if:
One of your grandparents was born on the island of Ireland, or;
One of your parents was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, even though they were not born on the island of Ireland
In these cases, you can become an Irish citizen through Foreign Birth Registration. In all other cases you need to apply for citizenship by way of the naturalisation process. The most common way to apply for naturalisation is based on residence where you are required to prove that you have been resident in the State for at least 5 years (1825 or 1826 days) out of the last 9 years on an appropriate reckonable permission. This includes 1 year (365 or 366 days) of continuous residence immediately before the date you apply.
It is important to bear in mind that pursuant to Section 15(1) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 that the Minister has a very broad discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny a certificate of naturalisation and can dispense with certain requirements as they see fit provided certain statutory conditions (relating to good character and continuous residence) are met. The Minister has the power to dispense with these conditions for certain categories of people covered in in Section 15A and Section 16 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1957. The Minister’s discretion is not unlimited, and the Superior Courts have often clarified that the Minister is still required to follow fair procedures when considering an individual application.
2. Do I need to go to a solicitor to seek advice on my naturalisation application? Does a solicitor have to witness my declaration page?
This is something that is very much up to each individual applicant. A solicitor is not necessarily required to advice on all naturalisation applications or to submit an application on behalf of any individual. To use a (possibly oversimplistic) analogy some people may decide not to go to a doctor when they have a headache and a temperature but others may decide to. A solicitor cannot speed up the processing times of your case but you may have certain remedies before the Superior Courts in cases of undue delay.
Some clients prefer to engage a legal adviser for a variety of reasons. Some clients seek my assistance where they may have previous convictions or had ‘gaps intheir residency status’. Others come because they have had previous issues with their continuous residence or have been unable to obtain sufficient proof of residence or identity.
Others often view the application process as daunting particularly where English may not be their native language or because they find the language of the application form to be unclear. They may wish to employ a solicitor’s office or NGO to organise documentation or filling in the application form where they simply want reassurance/peace of mind on the contents of the application. Sometimes they may simply want the notarisation and witnessing services that the solicitor provides or to use their printer!
It is important to note a completed application for naturalisation can also be witnessed by Notary Public, Commissioner for Oaths or a Peace Commissioner.
If you do decide to engage with a professional to advise on an application I would always make ensure they are:
a practising solicitor with the Law Society of Ireland or are associated with a firm of solicitors regulated by the Law Society of Ireland,
experienced in dealing with citizenship applications
are appropriately covered by Professional Practise Insurance to deal with said applications.
My strongest advice is to avoid any unlicenced agent or consultant without these regardless of their perceived experience in the area.
3. What are the current rules about continuous residence prior to application?
Section 15(c) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 notes that an applicant should have “one year’s continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of the application”. The Minister has the power to waive this requirement for certain categories of Applicant who appear in Sections 15A and 16 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956
Following clarification from the ruling of the Superior Courts in the Roderick Jones decision the Minister can (and does) allow individuals in typical cases to leave the jurisdiction for up to six weeks at a time. The Minster has clarified that there may be some futher discretion where there are “wholly exceptional or unavoidable circumstances”
The Minister has further clarified that the day flying out and the day coming back do not count as days out of the country for the purposes of the 6 week rule.
4. What are the current rules about residing in Ireland after my application is submitted?
There is no express guidance in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 about absences from the State after the lodgement of a naturalisation application. You are still required to remain ‘continuously resident’ in the State pursuant to the conditions of your immigration permissions and we would advise that any exceptional absences over and above 8/12 weeks be notified to the Minister.
5. I have a number of penalty points on my licence and I have paid some fixed penalty notice but have never been to court- Do I need to disclose these?
The advice is to include this information in your application in order to ensure you have fully disclosed on relevant and potentially relevant ‘good character issues’. This disclosure can be mde by way of cover letter or additional page.
6. I have Criminal Convictions- Does this prohibit me from applying?
You are not necessarily prohibited from applying. The Superior Courts have clarified the Minister is obliged to consider the individual circumstances of every case including the offences committed and the passage of time between those offences and the naturalisation application, the nature of those offences and the length of residence in the jurisdiction. Even if it is a minor offence, you must provide as much detail in the section provided for additional information on the form. This will help to ensure that you utilise the opportunity to give your own account of events.
However, you need to ensure that you do not conceal any criminal offence either intentionally or unintentionally. We would always advise obtaining a copy of your file from the Gardai by way of subject access request and seeking professional advice as needed particularly if the information contained is inaccurate.
7. What Stamps are Considered Reckonable for the Purposes of Naturalisation if applying based on residence?
The Minister has a broad discretion pursuant to Section 15 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 to consider a particular permission ‘reckonable’ or not when considering a naturalisation application. Whether or not a particular stamp is ‘reckonable’ or not is not stated in any piece of legislation but is a policy decision made by the Minister. The current policy appears to be that Stamps 1, 1G, 3, 4 and 5 count towards reckonable residency but Stamps 0,1A,2 and 2A do not.
There have been some reported instances of those having their Stamp 0 permissions being treated as reckonable (despite that it isn’t an available option on the reckonable residency calculator) but the Ministerial policy is silent on this and advise should be sought from an appropriate legal adviser before applying based on these circumstances.
8. I cannot find Stamp 1G on the reckonable residency calculator but I have been told it is reckonable
Stamp 1G is considered to be reckonable and the usual advise is to simply put the permission in as a Stamp 1 and clarify this position in the covering letter.
9. I am a refugee- When can I apply for naturalisation?
Pursuant to the power granted under Section 16(g) of the Irish Natinality and Citizenship Act 1956 the current Ministerial policy is to waive the usual five year reckonable residency period to three years for those who are recipients of refugee status.
Pursuant to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees 1951 and also according to Iriish law refugee status is declaratory in nature, meaning that you are deemed to have had refugee status from the date that you applied for international protection. Questions often arise as to when the ‘three years’ start and we would usually advise applicants to take legal advise on the issue. Nevertheless, based on the current policy we have successfully obtain naturalisation for clients based on the date of application for asylum as opposed to the date of the declaration itself.
10. I have not met the 150 point requirement in terms of identity and residency- Am I automatically precluded from obtaining naturalisation?
No you are not. The Minister expressly notes that in circumstances where you are unable to provide documents that equate to a 150 points, you should forward all original documents available to you and a covering letter comprehensively why such evidence is not available. In addition, the Minister can, in their absolute discretion consider other types of proof you have may have that isn’t covered on the list.
11. How long is too long to be waiting for naturalisation and what can I do about a delay which is too long?
We would recommend getting legal advice if you have not received a decision within 24 months of applying particularly if your case isn’t complex as there may be remedies you could be entitled to before the Superior Courts.