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Challenge to automatic British citizenship for Northern Irish people thrown out


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In Re Ní Chuinneagain [2021] NIQB 79 the High Court in Northern Ireland has thrown out a challenge to automatic British citizenship for people who reject it.

The claimant is from Belfast and regards herself as 100% Irish, from passport to first language. Section 1(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 says that she is also a British citizen. Ms Ní Chuinneagain objects, and refuses to renounce her unwanted second nationality, saying that “doing so would represent an acceptance that she was born a British citizen, in addition to having to pay the administrative cost involved”.

Mr Justice Scoffield found that being legally British “takes nothing away” from Ms Ní Chuinneagain’s rights as an Irish (and EU) citizen: “she is effectively free to ignore it”. Unlike in De Souza [2019] UKUT 355 (IAC), there was no “concrete detriment” to dual nationality. It could not “seriously be suggested” that filling in the renunciation paperwork would be a breach of her human rights.

Nor was the Good Friday Agreement any help: 

it is a matter of well-established law that the Belfast Agreement (or the British-Irish Agreement), as an international agreement, is not enforceable as a matter of domestic law, unless and until (and only insofar as) it is incorporated into domestic law.

The Northern Ireland Protocol didn’t change this, as it “does not seek to give independent legal effect” to the Agreement.

Scoffield J added that, even if the Good Friday Agreement were enforceable in court, it’s not clear that it actually forbids automatic British citizenship for Irish people.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.