The Applicant was a Palestinian national born in Libya who has been granted refugee status. He applied to the Minister for naturalisation as an Irish citizen. His application was refused and no reason for the refusal was furnished to him. He sought judicial review of the decision of the Minister refusing him a certificate of naturalisation on the basis that the Minister’s failure to give reasons for his refusal was unlawful, in that it made it impossible to determine whether the Minister had accorded with his obligation to act fairly and in accordance with natural or Constitutional justice.
The Court found that the Irish Naturalisation and Citizenship Act, 1956 gave the Minister absolute discretion, and if the legislature had intended that the Minister should provide reasons, it is highly unlikely that the words absolute discretion would have been used. However, the Court recognised that the Minister’s absolute discretion is fettered by the obligation to act fairly and in accordance with the principles of natural justice.
The Court found that there was an important distinction between reviewing the refusal by the Minister because an applicant was not in compliance with the statutory conditions for naturalisation, where a refusal by the Minister does not depend on his discretion, and the quite different proposition of reviewing a decision taken by the Minister in his absolute discretion, which operates only when statutory pre-conditions are met. In the Court’s view, the first is subject to judicial review while the latter decision where no reasons are provided is only reviewable when it can be demonstrated that the Minister acted unfairly, capriciously or mala fides.
The Court rejected the Applicant’s primary contention that the Minister must provide reasons for his decisions to an otherwise qualified applicant, finding that, as a general proposition, the courts do not review policy decisions in relation to the issue of Irish passport to applicants of any particular nationality or political adherence because such decisions are a feature of government policy over which the Court has a limited review function. The Court further held that Article 34 of the Geneva Convention 1951 had not been incorporated into Irish law and could not be relied upon by the Applicant and that, in any event, Article 34 did not mandate Contracting States to naturalise refugees, only to facilitate assimilation and naturalisation as far as possible. The Court finally found that section 18 of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 could not be taken as amending in a far reaching way the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 to 2004 and could not require the Minister to give reasons for a refusal of naturalisation.