Adams urges Irish government to adopt NI woman’s citizenship battle

By Rebecca Black, PA

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has urged the Irish government to adopt a legal case being taken by a Northern Ireland woman challenging a ruling that she is British and not Irish.

The Co Louth TD made the appeal as Emma De Souza from Magherafelt gave evidence to the Committee on Justice and Equality at Leinster House.

Ms De Souza last month lodged a challenge in the Court of Appeal in Belfast to a ruling that those born in the region are automatically British citizens.

Former Sinn Fein president and Louth TD Gerry Adams (Oireachtas/PA)

She won a case against the Home Office in 2017 after it deemed she was British when her US-born husband Jake applied for a residence card.

But in October an immigration tribunal upheld an appeal brought by the Home Office.

Government lawyers argued that people born in Northern Ireland are British citizens according to the 1981 British Nationality Act, even if they identify as Irish.

The Good Friday Agreement allows people to identify as British, Irish or both, but the Home Office says the agreement did not supersede the 1981 British Nationality Act.

Professor Colin Harvey, who described himself as speaking in a personal capacity as an Irish citizen living north of the border, also gave evidence to the committee.

He commended Ms De Souza, saying she “speaks for many people” in the stand she is taking.

Professor Colin Harvey (Oireachtas/PA)

He said he thinks the matter is “very simple” – an “implementation gap in relation to the Good Friday Agreement”, adding it is one of a number of implementation gaps, including a bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

“The implementation gaps harm everyone in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Mr Adams challenged the Irish government to throw its weight behind the case.

Last month Irish Foreign Affairs minister (Tanaiste) Simon Coveney expressed concern over the case and said he intended to raise it with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.

But Mr Adams said the Irish government needed to do more than make statements.

He warned: “No matter how strong a statement there is from an Irish government … they are not read in Downing Street, they are not listened to.

“Ordinary people have to become activists, ordinary people have to become experts, ordinary people have to put themselves out there for rights. But who is funding Emma’s case? Working people have to fund-raise, run little ballots to fund this. That shouldn’t be the case,” he said.

“There was a time when an Irish government took a case for internees who had been tortured and took it to the European Court.

“I think that there should be some exploration of the Irish government using diplomatic and other avenues – but also taking responsibility.

“If the people of the north are not to be left behind ever again by a government, here is a moment to do something about it.

“Adopt this as a case and that in itself would put the British government under pressure, that an Irish government is prepared to support a legal case.

“If she loses, we all lose.”

Ms De Souza welcomed Mr Adams’s contribution, pointing out that she and her husband have not received any financial support throughout their legal battle.

Meanwhile Fianna Fail TD Jim O’Callaghan said there are also potential implications for unionists in Northern Ireland in the De Souza case.

“There’s an obligation on all of us to try to communicate to the unionist population that this is of benefit to everyone living in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Because if there is going to be referendum change we all must recognise that the unionist population in Northern Ireland are entitled to remain identifying as British. That’s a big issue that’s going to have to be dealt with.”

Closing the meeting, committee chairman Caoimhghin O Caolain (Sinn Fein) also expressed concern at the case.

“British taxpayers’ money is being used to crush Irish citizens’ rights, that’s really where we are at,” he said.

“I’d like to suggest we would write to our Tanaiste, I think we should write and say we fully support the efforts of the government to pursue the matter as they have demonstrated they are, but to explore what other avenues if any they can employ in order to significantly, if possible, ratchet up the pressure.

“But added to that is a request for consideration in relation to the cost of Emma’s case because it isn’t just about Emma and her husband, this is something that goes much, much further and much deeper.”