All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually under the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. Section 15 of the Act provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. In particular, these conditions require that an applicant is of good character, has had a period of one year's continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, has had a total residence in the State amounting to four years, intends in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation; and has made a declaration in the prescribed manner of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.
I should also point out for the information of the Deputy that, in the context of naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State are excluded. These include periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State, periods granted for the purposes of study and periods granted for the purposes of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act 1996.
In respect of the person referred to by the Deputy, my position is as follows. An application for a certificate of naturalisation was received in the citizenship division of my Department in March 2005. My predecessor decided in his absolute discretion not to grant the application and a letter informing the applicant of that decision was issued in February 2007.
A new application from the person concerned was lodged in May 2007 and after evaluating the entirety of the information available to me, I decided not to grant the application. The person in question was informed of this decision in a letter issued to him on 23 May 2011.
As referred to by the Deputy in his question, certificates of naturalisation were granted to the spouse and children of the person concerned. A certificate of naturalisation issued to his spouse in April 2007, who then lodged applications for naturalisation on behalf of her children under section 16 of the 1956 Act, which provides for applications from naturalised Irish citizens on behalf of their minor children. These applications were granted and certificates of naturalisation issued in February 2009.
On the processing of the naturalisation applications in respect of each of these persons and the decisions made, I make it clear that all applications are considered individually and each application is assessed with reference to the statutory criteria laid down. It is only when these conditions are met that I, as Minister, in my absolute discretion, can grant an application. I do not propose to go into any further details on the specifics of this case.
I can additionally inform the Deputy that I am reforming the way in which my Department processes naturalisation applications to provide for speedier processing of applications bringing about a substantial reduction in the processing timescale.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The new arrangements include improved application forms that will be operational from tomorrow Friday, 24 June 2011. The forms are currently available online. In addition there is an online residence checker, streamlined and accelerated procedures for certain types of application and plans to recruit interns under the new internship programme in order to ensure more efficient processing of applications.
The aim of these measures is to eliminate the current backlog of cases and, save in exceptional circumstances, that persons applying for citizenship will be given a decision on their application within six months.
I am also introducing a formal citizenship ceremony to address the existing deficit in current arrangements which give no sense of occasion or proper recognition to the importance of a person being granted Irish citizenship. I can tell the House that the first ceremony will take place tomorrow in Dublin Castle where Bryan McMahon, retired judge of the High Court, has agreed to assume the role of presiding officer.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.