DUP veteran Lord Hay welcomes progress on British citizenship Bill for people born in south

Former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay, Lord Hay of Ballyore at the unveiling of his portrait with former DUP leader Edwin Poots at Parliament Buildings in Stormont last month
-Credit: (Image: William Cherry/Presseye)

The progress of a new Bill to give British citizenship to people born in the Republic of Ireland has been welcomed by DUP veteran William Hay.

The former Stormont speaker, now Lord Hay of Ballyore, is one of a number of people born in the Republic of Ireland who identifies as British but is not automatically entitled to British citizenship or a British passport.

Lord Hay was born in Co Donegal but lived most of his life in Derry and, despite decades in unionist politics and even a peerage in the House of Lords, is still expected to pay a naturalisation fee of £1,580 and complete a ‘Life in the UK’ citizenship test to acquire a British passport.

Read more: Former Stormont speaker Lord Hay could finally get British citizenship under new DUP Bill

But a new Bill introduced by his party colleague Gavin Robinson, who has led the DUP since Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigned, will extend British citizenship to those holding Irish citizenship and satisfying UK residency.

Speaking as the British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill progressed through its Second Reading in the House of Lords, Lord Hay said the Bill "provides a wonderful opportunity for us as a nation to recognise our nearest neighbours and bring them closer".

“I commend my Party leader Gavin Robinson for introducing this Bill. It has a long and frustrating past," he said. "Whilst the Irish Government offered people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to obtain Irish citizenship, unfortunately, there was no reciprocal arrangement in the other direction. Perhaps this was an anomaly that was missed or overlooked when the Belfast and St Andrews agreements were being negotiated, but we have an opportunity with this Bill to right a great wrong."

He continued: "My colleague Gregory Campbell first introduced a Private Member’s Bill along similar lines as far back as 2005, which unfortunately ran out of time. He has continually argued, through debates with and Questions to various Ministers, for long-standing residents of Northern Ireland born in the Republic of Ireland after 1948 to be recognised as citizens of this United Kingdom without the need to undertake a lengthy and costly process of applying to the Home Office for British citizenship.

"Before 1922 Ireland was part of this United Kingdom, and between 1922 and 1949 the Irish Free State had dominion status and people born there were British subjects. The Republic of Ireland passed its own citizenship law in 1935. However, until 1948 people born anywhere in Ireland continued to be regarded as British subjects. Under the British Nationality Act 1948, which came into force on 1 January 1949, people born in the Republic of Ireland ceased to be British subjects.

"Unfortunately, people born in the Republic of Ireland after 1948 cannot designate themselves as British in Northern Ireland. Surely this goes against the Belfast agreement, which recognises the birthright of all people born in Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as British, Irish or both, as they so choose."

The former Foyle MLA added: "This is a very short Bill will amend the British Nationality Act 1981 to enable citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK to register as British subjects. The Bill would establish a separate, stand-alone route to British citizenship for people born after 1948 who have made Northern Ireland their home for a significant period.

"The Bill unites people from all backgrounds and traditions in Northern Ireland, whether they describe their nationality as British, Irish or other. This is a non-controversial issue. The Bill in its current form provides a wonderful opportunity for us as a nation to recognise our nearest neighbours and bring them closer. There have been many false dawns over the last 40 years on this. I hope and trust that today is an important moment to address this imbalance.”

For all the latest news, visit the Belfast Live homepage here and sign up to our daily newsletter here.