NCP Statement on the Ruling Relating to the Six-Week Discretionary Period Applied to Citizenship Applications in Ireland

19 July 2019

New Communities Partnership has welcomed the announcement by Minister of Justice Charlie Flanagan that the government will take “urgent” and “necessary action” on the finding by Mr. Justice Max Barrett that those who are applying for citizenship must maintain “unbroken” residence in the state for an entire year immediately before date of application.

Prior to this ruling, the Department of Justice and Equality had been using their discretion to apply the one-year continuous residence stipulation, allowing citizenship applicants to be out of the country for up to six weeks in that final year before application (and occasionally more in exceptional circumstances.) New Communities Partnership praises the use and application of that discretionary period; it reflects a recognition that in the modern world people must sometimes travel abroad for unavoidable circumstances.

That compassionate and pragmatic stance has been challenged by the recent ruling of Judge Barrett: Earlier this week, Judge Barrett ruled that that discretionary six-week period was not actually permitted under the existing legislation. According to his ruling, the one-year period of residence in Ireland must be “unbroken, uninterrupted, connected throughout in space or time.”

While NCP recognises that Judge Barrett, who made the ruling in his capacity as a High Court judge, ruled based on what he saw as the only interpretation allowed by the wording of the legislation, the revocation of the six-week discretionary period that had been applied will place undue pressure on migrants who are applying for citizenship.

Many people have to travel regularly for work; some wish to travel to their countries of origin to celebrate loved ones’ occasions and to mourn deaths in the family and their community; others may need to travel for health needs. 

The six-week discretionary period allowed for human circumstance. It recognised that people might want to visit elderly parents who were ill, that their employment might require them to be available to travel for conferences and meetings, or even that they might wish to take a trip to Northern Ireland to visit a museum or do some shopping. With that discretionary period removed, normal human behaviour will have to be curtailed to an unreasonable level.

Additionally, the ruling throws many people whose citizenship applications have been submitted into a quagmire. It may prompt refusals of current applications and add unnecessary waiting times to what is a lengthy process to begin with. We appreciate Minister Flanagan’s acknowledgement of the concerns this ruling raises and that it “may have been unsettling for people in the citizenship process.” Additionally, we appreciate this his “officials are carefully studying the ruling in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office” and are treating this issue as “an urgent priority.”

NCP hopes that this matter will be resolved in a timely manner. We trust that the pragmatism shown by the previous application of the six-week discretionary period will be permitted to continue. It is of the utmost importance to valuing Ireland’s migrant people and to the positive integration of communities who have come to call this country “home.” Ireland cannot be seen to roll back what has been a compassionate and appropriate mechanism for assessing citizenship claims.