New route for Irish nationals to get British citizenship close to becoming law

An easier route for people from the Republic of Ireland to get British citizenship has moved a step closer to becoming law.

The British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill, which has passed the House of Commons, received its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday with cross-party support.

The private member’s bill will allow Irish nationals to register for British citizenship after five years of living in the UK without the need for an English language or Life in the UK test.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, people born in Northern Ireland were given the right to choose to be Irish citizens, British citizens or both.

The Irish Government introduced a simple process whereby anyone born on the island of Ireland, anyone whose partner was born on the island of Ireland, or whose grandparents or great-grandparents were are entitled to an Irish passport.

This will cost them £80.

Those born in the Republic of Ireland living in Northern Ireland, or anywhere else in the UK, have the right to work, study and vote in the UK, but they have to follow the same process towards citizenship as any other foreign national.

This means they have to pass an English language and Life in the UK test, as well as pay a £1,630 naturalisation fee.

DUP peer Lord Hay of Ballyore, who was born in the Republic of Ireland but moved to Londonderry at the age of six, branded this “an anomaly” that was “missed or overlooked when the Belfast or St Andrews agreements were being negotiated”.

He told peers the process is “lengthy and costly”, and said it is “unjust” for Irish nationals who have spent years in Northern Ireland to pay the fee.

Lord Hay said: “We have an opportunity in this Bill to right a great wrong.

“The House knows our history, our relationship in these isles and how they have intertwined, and this Bill gives us the opportunity to provide the finished piece of that relationship jigsaw.

“For anyone who was born in the Republic of Ireland, but has made their home in the UK and who satisfy the residency test, should be able to avail of UK citizenship.”

William Hay appointed to House of Lords
Lord Hay of Ballyore, Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland Assembly/ PA credit)

UUP peer Lord Rogan branded it an “abomination” that this easier route to citizenship is not already available for Irish nationals.

He said: “As chairman of the UUP on Good Friday 1999, I accept my share of the responsibility that people born in the Republic of Ireland were not included in the Belfast Agreement’s definition of ‘people of Northern Ireland’ and did therefore not benefit from its birthright provisions on identity and citizenship.

“It should have been corrected long before now.”

DUP peer Lord Browne of Belmont branded the current route to citizenship a “costly, over-bureaucratic and uniquely discriminatory process”, and said it was simply “wrong” for Irish people to have to pay a naturalisation fee.

He said: “This is contrary to the spirit of reciprocation offered through the Belfast and St Andrews agreements.

“I am pleased that this Bill now provides the opportunity to address this imbalance and to provide parity of treatment to allow Irish-born citizens resident within the United Kingdom to identify with their Britishness.”

As of the 2021 census, there were 324,670 Irish-born people living in the UK.

To be eligible for British citizenship, they must have lived in the UK for five years, not have been absent for more than 450 days in the last five-year period or 90 days in the last year, and not be in breach of any immigration laws during that time.

It will apply to those living in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and British overseas territories.

Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom reiterated the Government’s “full support” for the Bill.

He said: “Many of the immigration-related requirements for naturalisation are designed for those who require formal permission to enter and live in the UK and those are not applicable to Irish nationals.

“Equally, the UK has a unique relationship with Ireland and the close historical links, geographical proximity and shared institutions between the two countries mean that those who could make use of this Bill would, in our view, already have sufficient knowledge of language and life in the UK, and be further reinforced, of course, by five years qualifying residence.

“So, as such, being expected to pass the Life in the UK test or demonstrate competence in English is inconsistent with the reality.”

He added that the issue of the fee is being considered.