The Government is committed to ensuring that the vital citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are respected and upheld in all relevant policy areas.
In the Good Friday Agreement, the Governments “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both” and “confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments” .
The Good Friday Agreement therefore includes an explicit right to both Irish and British citizenship, and an explicit right of people to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both. These rights must be fully respected and taken account of in all relevant areas.
This question has specifically arisen in relation to immigration rules. In December 2018, I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to raise the case of Ms. Emma De Souza, the concerns in relation to the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, and to ask for a review of the issues.
In February, the then British Prime Minister acknowledged the serious concerns in this area, and pledged to “review the issues around citizenship urgently to deliver a long term solution consistent with the letter and spirit” of the Agreement.
The Government is continuing to actively seek the outcome of that review with the new UK Government. I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, to affirm the Government’s expectation of an an expeditious and satisfactory outcome to the UK Government review, which is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Agreement.
My Department is remaining in regular contact with the De Souzas on behalf of the Government. The long-running case in the UK is having a considerable impact for the De Souza’s family life, and they face bearing the costs of continuing proceedings on appeal by the UK Government. I will be emphasising my concerns in this respect to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Rights and Citizenship matters under the Good Friday Agreement were also discussed at the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference held in London in May. At the Conference, both the Irish and UK Governments reaffirmed their commitment to working together, along with EU partners, to put in place arrangements that will allow Irish citizens in Northern Ireland to continue to have access to rights, opportunities and benefits that come with EU citizenship.
The Good Friday Agreement was agreed at a time when both Irish and British citizenships also entailed EU citizenship. After the UK exits the EU, this will no longer be the case. In order to fully uphold the spirit of the Agreement, where issues arise, they should be addressed in a way that avoids any difference in entitlements based on citizenship. In particular, people in Northern Ireland should not be required to renounce Irish or British citizenship in order to access an entitlement.
The Government will continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that the vital citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are upheld in all relevant policy areas.