The issue raised in these proceedings was effectively whether a refugee who subsequently acquired Irish citizenship by naturalisation lost the right to family reunification pursuant to section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. The evidence before the court was that between 2010 and 2017 the Minister for Justice accepted applications for family reunification from refugees who had acquired Irish citizenship by naturalisation, but on foot of legal advice in 2017 the Minister reverted to the pre-2010 position that such persons lost their right to refugee family reunification upon naturalisation. The applicants challenged this position in judicial review proceedings. The High Court ( IEHC 113) and the Court of Appeal ( IECA 116) dismissed the applicants’ challenge, and the applicants appealed.
The Supreme Court held that as a matter of statutory interpretation, a refugee who subsequently acquired Irish citizenship by naturalisation did not lose the right to family reunification under section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. The interpretation urged by the Minister would create substantial legislative uncertainty when the purpose of the 1996 Act was to create certainty. The legislative aim of the Oireachtas was to identify a definitive mark of recognition to persons who were entitled to refugee status in the State, by the grant of a declaration of refugee status under section 17 of the 1996 Act. The fact that refugees who received declarations of refugee status were to be entitled to many of the same rights as citizens could not mean that the Act suggested, by virtue of becoming citizens, the declarations which they had received automatically ceased to be in force. Not only would this have required express words, it would have run counter to the legislative intent and purpose of the statute.