New ESRI/European Migration Network research finds that Ireland has more favourable conditions for acquiring citizenship by naturalisation than many EU Member States. However, processing delays and lack of clarity on some eligibility conditions have been highlighted by NGOs and in parliamentary debate. There are three main “pathways” to Irish citizenship: at birth by descent, by birth on the island of Ireland, and naturalisation. This study is part of EU-wide research on naturalisation, which is the main way by which migrants may access citizenship and its associated rights.
Over 145,800 people were granted Irish citizenship through naturalisation between 2006 and 2018. Ireland does not require applicants to prove language skills or civic knowledge, unlike most EU States, or renounce their former nationality, as in 11 EU States.
Delays in processing naturalisation applications have arisen partly due to the outcome of a High Court judgment in 2019 on the definition of “reckonable residence”, and COVID-19- related restrictions. In October 2020, the Department reported that a straightforward application takes a year to be processed, with more complex applications taking longer.
Applicants for naturalisation must generally have five years’ residence in Ireland. They must be of ‘good character’, intend to reside in Ireland, and make a declaration of loyalty to the State. Spouses and civil partners of Irish citizens and certain other groups may apply after three years. The Department of Justice reported that failure to satisfy the ‘good character’ requirement and inability to meet the residence criteria are among the top reasons for refusal.
Good character assessment
‘Good character’ is not defined and no guidelines on its interpretation currently exist. Applicants must supply relevant information on convictions, civil judgments and any Garda investigations. The Department of Justice also obtains reports on applicants from An Garda Síochána and potentially from other government departments and agencies. Research conducted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland highlighted that the application of this requirement gives rise to uncertainty for applicants.
All applicants pay €175 and a further certification fee of €950 applies for successful adult applicants; €200 for children and certain other cases. Refugees and stateless persons are exempt from the certification fee. Out of 24 EU Member States examined in the EU-wide European Migration Network study on naturalisation, Ireland is among the four EU countries that reported the highest naturalisation fees, along with the UK, Austria and the Netherlands.
The vast majority of Irish citizens acquire their citizenship automatically at birth. The number of people granted Irish citizenship through naturalisation increased rapidly from 2010, peaking in 2012, and has declined steadily since, broadly in line with EU-wide trends. Just over 8,200 people were granted Irish citizenship through naturalisation in 2018, and almost 5,800 in 2019.
The share of EU nationals among new Irish citizens has increased from 4 per cent in 2011, to 49 per cent in 2018. Among EU nationals granted Irish citizenship through naturalisation, the top three nationalities since 2005 are Poland, Romania and the UK. The latter saw a seven-fold increase between 2016, when Brexit was confirmed, and 2018. The most common nationalities among non-EU nationals acquiring Irish citizenship through naturalisation since 2005 are, Nigeria, India, and the Philippines.
Emma Quinn, Head of EMN Ireland commented that, “In Ireland, citizenship is recognised as a key measure to support the integration of migrants. Substantial progress has been made in the last decade in facilitating access to Irish citizenship by naturalisation. It is important that people who are willing to make this commitment are able to do so in as timely and transparent a way as possible.”
Pathways to citizenship through naturalisation in Ireland by Sarah Groarke and Róisín Dunbar is available here. The EU level study is available here.
Findings from this study will be presented at an online conference “Supporting Integration: Access to Citizenship in Ireland and the EU” on Tuesday, 8 December 2020. Presentations and Youtube link will be available here after the conference.