I thank the Senator for raising this issue. In spite of the unprecedented times in which we live, it is a remarkably important matter. The citizenship and identity provisions are central to the Good Friday Agreement and it is vital that they are upheld. The Government has consistently engaged with the British Government in support of these provisions and will continue to do so. The DeSouzas will want time to consider yesterday's decision in full but have indicated that they intend to appeal. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is keeping in regular contact with Emma and Jake DeSouza on behalf of the Government. It is important to say that Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and that this is provided for and protected under the Good Friday Agreement, as the Senator has outlined.
The Taoiseach raised the DeSouza case with the former UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, and he confirmed in the Dáil yesterday that he will also raise it with current Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson. The Tánaiste raised the case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland again at their meeting last night. This underlines the seriousness with which the Government views the DeSouza case and the wider obligation on the British Government to uphold the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, in all relevant areas in Northern Ireland.
The Tánaiste wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last year and has had a number of discussions with the Secretary of State on the case of Emma DeSouza to raise concerns over the citizenship and identity provisions of the agreement, and to seek a review of the issues.
In February, following this engagement by the Government, the then British Prime Minister, Theresa May, acknowledged that there are serious concerns in this area and pledged to review the issues relating to citizenship urgently to deliver a long-term solution consistent with the letter and spirit of the agreement. These were welcome and necessary acknowledgments and commitments by the then Prime Minister.
In this context, the decision of the tribunal in the DeSouza case yesterday does not define the extent of the British Government's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. In the 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, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland."
It is clearly imperative that people in Northern Ireland have confidence in these provisions of the agreement, in letter and in spirit. To provide for that, a positive outcome to the review mandated by the British Government is now urgently needed. The Government is actively engaged to seek that review in our bilateral contacts at the highest levels and through the framework of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, where the two Governments are also discussing citizenship and identity issues under the agreement issues more broadly.
While the DeSouza case is not specifically Brexit related, the concerns it raises over insufficient provision for people's citizenship and identity rights in Northern Ireland, also arise in respect of the UK's decision to exit from the European Union.
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, the Government has been clear that they should be addressed in a way that avoids any difference in entitlements-based citizenship. In particular, people in Northern Ireland should not be required to renounce Irish or British citizenship in order to access any entitlement.
Sensitive and generous approaches by the British Government are needed to ensure that the right of people in Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, or British, or both is meaningfully provided for in all relevant policy areas. The British Government needs to listen and urgently respond to the genuine and legitimate concerns that have been raised by Emma DeSouza and many others in Northern Ireland. The Government will continue to strongly pursue this with the British Government, as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
I understand the Tánaiste is in the North today and I know that this is an issue of the utmost concern to him. He will use his offices insofar as he can to ensure that British Government act on this case and more importantly on the wider issue it has thrown up of identity and citizenship in the North.