Seanad Éireann - Volume 142 - 04 April, 1995

Adjournment Matters. - Registration of Foreign Births.

Mr. Enright: My purpose in raising this matter on the Adjournment is to seek to obtain citizenship through foreign births registration for three brothers, all of whom were born in South Africa. These three people are being unfairly denied Irish citizenship.

Their father, who lives in South Africa, has a current Irish passport. He commenced inquires in 1984 to obtain the necessary information which would enable him to apply for Irish passports for his three sons. He contacted the Registrar of Births and the parish priest of the parish where he believed his grandmother was born.

His grandmother was born in 1860. However, as the Minister is probably aware, civil registration of births did not commence in Ireland until 1 January 1864. As a result, there was no civil record of her birth. The father also received a negative reply from the parish [1729] priest, who said the birth could not be traced. This occurred during the period 1984-86.

As the Minister is aware, the law on Irish citizenship is governed by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 and 1986. The 1986 Act restricted the eligibility to registered great-grand-children of a person born in Ireland. There was also a six months transitional period, which ended on 31 December 1986. This six months period gave people who would qualify time to prepare the necessary documentation. However, we were unable to trace the birth certificate at that time.

The father of the three applicants continued his search and his grandmother's birth was eventually traced. However, this happened after 1986. In 1990, the father, who has an Irish passport, lodged an appeal to have his three sons granted Irish citizenship but the Department of Foreign Affairs rejected his application. Despite a number of appeals since to many Ministers of different views the application has continued to be refused.

The people from my constituency who approached me about this matter feel aggrieved that their relations are being deprived of their passports. We are talking about three men who are descendants of Irish people. They have Irish blood in their veins. They have an attachment to and an affinity with this country and they want Irish citizenship. They are people of modest means and do not have the funds which would enable them to come in under the rules governing the granting of citizenship through investment in Ireland. They do not want citizenship on the basis of a cheque book, rather as of right. This is a genuine case, which does not require a red tape response but one which is based on understanding, common sense and, above all, fair play.

[1730] Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): I have every sympathy with the person in question. His grandmother was born in Ireland. He has acquired Irish citizenship on that basis in accordance with the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, and he is anxious that his children also have that option. Under the 1956 Act it was possible for great-grand-children of persons born in Ireland to be registered as Irish citizens in the foreign births register at the Department of Foreign Affairs provided one of their parents was already registered and the great-grandchildren were born on or after 17 July 1956.

The 1956 Act was amended by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986. One of the main provisions of the new Act was the fixing of a date — 31 December 1986 — after which the birth abroad of a great-grandchild could be registered in the foreign births register only if the birth of a father or mother was registered before the great-grand-child's birth. A period of grace of six months from 1 July to 31 December 1986 was allowed during which the foreign births registration provisions of the 1956 Act continued to apply. This transition period was widely publicised, particularly in South Africa, where thousands of people of Irish descent applied to the consulate in Johannesburg for registration.

As Senator Enright has stated, the person in question had great difficulty in getting evidence of his grandmother's birth in Ireland. The relevant baptismal registration was not finally located in Kilcock until sometime in 1987. On the basis of his grandmother's baptismal certificate his birth was registered in the foreign births register on 16 August 1989, and his Irish citizenship dates from then.

Since 1 January 1987 births abroad of great-grandchildren can be registered only where the birth of the relevant parent [1731] was registered before the grand-child's birth. Unfortunately for the children of the person in question the law does not allow us to register their births. The Act leaves no discretion to any Minister. We are very sorry, therefore, not to be able to accede to the request [1732] and I hope the Senator understands why the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has no flexibility in the matter.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.5 p.m. until 12 noon on Wednesday, 5 April 1995.