Irish Citizen

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Irish nationality law is contained in the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts 1956 to 2004 and in the relevant provisions of the Irish Constitution. A person may be an Irish citizen[1] through birth, descent, marriage to an Irish citizen or through naturalisation. The law grants citizenship to individuals born in Northern Ireland under the same conditions as those born in the Republic of Ireland.

Acquisition of citizenship

At birth

A person born on the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005:[2]

  • is automatically an Irish citizen if he or she is not entitled to the citizenship of any other country;[3] or
  • is entitled to be an Irish citizen if at least one of his or her parents is:
    • an Irish citizen (or someone entitled to be an Irish citizen);[4]
    • a British citizen;[5]
    • a resident of the island of Ireland who is entitled to reside in either the Republic or in Northern Ireland without any time limit on that residence;[6] or
    • a legal resident of the island of Ireland for three out of the 4 years preceding the child's birth (although time spent as a student or as an asylum seeker does not count for this purpose).[7]

A person who is entitled to become an Irish citizen becomes an Irish citizen if:

  • he or she does any act that only Irish citizens are entitled to do; or
  • any act that only Irish citizens are entitled to do is done on his of her behalf by a person entitled to do so.[8]

Dual citizenship is permitted under Irish nationality law.

Prior to 2005

Ireland previously had a much less diluted application of jus soli (the right to citizenship of the country of birth) which still applies to anyone born on or before 31 December 2004. Although passed in 2001, the applicable law was deemed enacted on 2 December 1999[9] and provided that anyone born on the island of Ireland is:

  • entitled to be an Irish citizen and
  • automatically an Irish citizen if he or she was not entitled to the citizenship of any other country.
Historical provisions

The previous legislation was largely replaced by the 1999 changes, which were retroactive in effect. Before 2 December 1999, the distinction between Irish citizenship and entitlement to Irish citizenship rested on the place of birth. Under this regime, any person born on the island of Ireland was:

  • automatically an Irish citizen if born:
  • entitled to be an Irish citizen if born in Northern Ireland and not automatically an Irish citizen.[10]

The provisions of the 1956 Act were, in terms of citizenship by birth, retroactive and replaced the provisions of the previous legislation, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1935. Under that legislation, those born in Northern Ireland on or after 6 December 1922 did not have an entitlement to Irish citizenship by birth.

Children of diplomats

Like most countries, Ireland does not normally grant citizenship to the children of diplomats. This does not apply, however, when a diplomat parents a child with an Irish citizen, a British citizen or a permanent resident.[11] In 2001, Ireland enacted a measure which allowed the children of diplomats to register as Irish citizens if they chose to do so; however this was repealed three years later.[12] The option to register remains for those born to diplomats before 2005.

By descent

A person is an Irish citizen by descent if, at the time of his or her birth, at least one of his or her parents was an Irish citizen.[13] In cases where at least one parent was an Irish citizen born in the island of Ireland[13] or an Irish citizen resident abroad in the public service,[14] citizenship is automatic and dates from birth. In all other cases citizenship is subject to registration in the Foreign Births Register.[15]

Due to legislative changes introduced in 1986, the Irish citizenship of those individuals requiring registration, dates from registration and not from birth, for births registered on or after 1 January 1987.[16] Citizenship by registration had previously been back-dated to birth.

In practice, anyone with an Irish citizen grandparent born in the island of Ireland, can easily claim Irish citizenship. His or her parent would have automatically been an Irish citizen and their own citizenship can be secured by registering themselves as in the Foreign Births Register. In contrast, those wishing to claim citizenship through an Irish citizen great-grandparent may be easily frustrated if their parents were not registered in the Foreign Births Register. Their parents can transmit Irish citizenship to only those children born after they themselves were registered and not to any children born before registration.

Citizenship acquired through descent may be maintained indefinitely so long as each generation ensures its registration before the birth of the next.

By adoption

All adoptions performed or recognised under Irish law confer Irish citizenship on the adopted child (if not already an Irish citizen) if at least one of the adopters was an Irish citizen at the time of the adoption.[17]

By marriage

As of 30 November 2005,[18] citizenship must be acquired through the normal naturalisation process.[19] The residence requirement is reduced from 5 to 3 years for the spouse of an Irish citizen.[20]

Previously, the law allowed for the spouses of most Irish citizens to acquire citizenship post-nuptially by registration without residence in the island of Ireland, or by naturalisation.[21]

  • From 17 July 1956 to 31 December 1986,[22] the wife (but not the husband) of an Irish citizen (other than by naturalisation) could apply for post-nuptial Citizenship. A woman who applied for this before marriage would become an Irish citizen upon marriage. This was a retrospective provision which could be applied to marriages made before 1956. However the citizenship granted was prospective only.[23]
  • Between 1 July 1986[22] and 29 November 2005,[18] the spouse of an Irish citizen (other than by naturalisation, honorary citizenship or a previous marriage) could obtain post-nuptial Citizenship after 3 years of subsisting marriage, provided the Irish spouse had held that status for at least 3 years. Like the provisions it replaced, the application of this regime was also retrospective.[24]

By civil partnership

As of 2 August 2011, same-sex civil partners are treated in the same way as married individuals and may apply for naturalisation after the same abridged period of residence of three years.[25] The definition of civil partners include legal unions in other countries which offer similar (or greater) legal rights and responsibilities,[26] and accordingly the required year of co-habitation can have accrued before the Civil Partnership Act.

By naturalisation

The naturalisation of a foreigner as an Irish citizen is a discretionary power held by the Irish Minister for Justice. Naturalisation is granted on a number of criteria including good character, residence in the state and intention to continue residing in the state.

In principle the residence requirement is three years if married to or in a civil partnership with an Irish citizen, and five years otherwise. For the latter category, residence must be in the Republic of Ireland, while for the former, residence in Northern Ireland can also count. However, not all time spent in the Republic or in Northern Ireland will count for the purposes of naturalisation. Time spent seeking asylum will not be counted. Nor will time spent as an illegal immigrant. Time spent studying in the state by a national of a non-EEA state (i.e. a state other than European Union Member States, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) will not count.

The Minister for Justice may waive the residency requirement for:

  • the children of naturalised citizens;
  • recognised refugees;
  • stateless children;
  • those resident abroad in the service of the Irish state; and
  • people of "Irish descent or Irish associations".

By grant of honorary citizenship

Section 12 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 allows the President, on advice of the Government, to:

" ... grant Irish citizenship as a token of honour to a person, or the child or grandchild of a person who, in the opinion of the Government, has done signal honour or rendered distinguished service to the nation."[27]

Although known as "honorary Irish citizenship," this is in fact legally a full form of citizenship, with entitlement to an Irish passport and the other rights of Irish citizenship on the same basis as a naturalised Irish citizen. This has been awarded only a few times.[28] The first eleven people to have had honorary Irish citizenship conferred on them are:[29][30]

Plans were made to grant honorary Irish citizenship to U.S. president John F. Kennedy during his visit to Ireland in 1963, but this was abandoned owing to legal difficulties in granting citizenship to a foreign head of state.[31]

Template:Honorary Citizenship

Loss of citizenship

By renunciation

An Irish citizen may renounce his or her citizenship if she or he is:

  • eighteen years or older,
  • ordinarily resident abroad, and
  • is, or is about to become, a citizen of another country.

Renunciation is done by lodging a declaration with the Minister for Justice. If the person is not already a citizen of another country it is only effective when he or she becomes such. Irish citizenship cannot be lost by the operation of the law of another country.[32]

An Irish citizen born on the island of Ireland who renounces Irish citizenship remains entitled to be an Irish citizen and may resume it upon declaration.[33]

While not positively stated in the Act, the possibility of renouncing Irish citizenship is provided to allow Irish citizens to be naturalised as citizens of foreign countries whose laws do not allow for multiple citizenship. The Minister of Justice may revoke the citizenship of a naturalised citizen if she or he voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country (other than by marriage) after naturalisation but there is no provision requiring them to renounce any citizenship they previously held. Similarly, there no provision of Irish law requiring citizens to renounce their Irish citizenship before becoming citizens of other countries.

By revocation of a certificate of naturalisation

A certificate of naturalisation may be revoked by the Minister for Justice. Once revoked the person to whom the certificate applies ceases to be an Irish citizen. Revocation is not automatic and is a discretionary power of the Minister. A certificate may be revoked if it was obtained by fraud or when the naturalised citizen to whom it applies:

  • resides outside the Republic of Ireland (or outside the island of Ireland in respect to naturalised spouses of Irish citizens) for a period exceeding seven years, otherwise than in the public service, without registering annually his or her intention to retain Irish citizenship, (this provision does not apply to those who were naturalised owing to their "Irish descent or Irish associations");
  • voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country (other than by marriage); or
  • "has, by any overt act, shown himself to have failed in his duty of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State".[34]

A notice of the revocation of a certificate of naturalisation must be published in Iris Oifigiúil (the official gazette of the Republic) and in the period from January 2002 to April 2005 no such notices were published.[35]


Main article: Irish passport

Irish passports use the standard EU design, with a machine-readable identity page and 32, 48 or 64 visa pages. The identity page on older Irish passports was on the back cover of the booklet. Newly issued passports have been redesigned with additional security features. The identity page is now a plastic card attached between the front cover and the first visa page. The cover bears the harp, the national symbol of Ireland, along with the words "European Union" and "Ireland" in English and Irish.

Citizenship of the European Union

Irish citizens are also citizens of the European Union and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament.


The Irish Free State Constitution

Irish citizenship originates from Article 3 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State which came into force on 6 December 1922, however Irish citizenship applied only domestically until the enactment of the Twenty-sixth Amendment on 5 April 1935 which applied it internationally. Any person domiciled in the island of Ireland on 6 December 1922 was an Irish citizen if:

  • he or she was in the island of Ireland;
  • at least one of his or her parents was born in the island of Ireland; or
  • he or she had been ordinarily resident in the island of Ireland for at least seven years;

except that "any such person being a citizen of another State" could "[choose] not to accept" Irish citizenship. (The Article also stated that "the conditions governing the future acquisition and termination of citizenship in the Irish Free State [...] shall be determined by law".)

While the Constitution referred to those domiciled "in the area of the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State" was interpreted as meaning the entire island. This was because the Constitution was formally governed by the terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which stated that "the powers of the Parliament and government of the Irish Free State shall not be exercisable as respects Northern Ireland" before 6 January 1923, unless in that time both the two Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland had exercised a right to present an address to the King that "the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland". The two Houses exercised that right within two days of the Constitution coming into force on 6 December 1922.[36] As a result of this background, it was held by the Irish Free State's courts that Northern Ireland had been "within the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State" on 6 December 1922.[37]

The status of the Irish Free State as a dominion within the British Commonwealth was seen by the British authorities as meaning that a "citizen of the Irish Free State" was merely a member of the wider category of "British subject"; this interpretation could be supported by the wording of Article 3 of the Constitution, which stated that the privileges and obligations of Irish citizenship applied "within the limits of the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State". However, the Irish authorities repeatedly rejected the idea that its citizens had the additional status of "British subject".[38] Also, while the Oath of Allegiance for members of the Oireachtas, as set out in Article 17 of the Constitution, and as required by Art. 4 of the Treaty, referred to "the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain", a 1929 memorandum on nationality and citizenship prepared by the Department of Justice at the request of the Department of External Affairs for the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation stated:

"The reference to 'common citizenship' in the Oath means little or nothing. 'Citizenship' is not a term of English law at all. There is not, in fact, 'common citizenship' throughout the British Commonwealth: the Indian 'citizen' is treated by the Australian 'citizen' as an undesirable alien."[39]

Irish passports were issued from 1923, and to the general public from 1924, but the British government objected to them, and their wording for many years. Using an Irish Free State passport abroad, if consular assistance from a British Embassy was required, could lead to administrative difficulties.

Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1935

The 1922 Constitution provided for citizenship for only those alive on 6 December 1922. No provision was made for those born after this date. As such it was a temporary provision which required the enactment of a fully-fledged citizenship law which was done by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1935. This Act provided for, among other things:

  • Irish citizenship by birth for anyone born within the Irish Free State on or after 6 December 1922;
  • Irish citizenship by descent for anyone whose father was an Irish citizen at the time of his or her birth, provided such birth was registered in register of Northern-Ireland- or foreign births;
  • a naturalisation procedure; and
  • automatic denaturalisation for anyone who became a citizen of another country on or after reaching 21 years of age.

The provision of citizenship by descent had the effect, given the interpretation noted above, of providing citizenship for those in Northern Ireland born after 6 December 1922 so long as their father had been resident anywhere in Ireland on said date. However, this automatic entitlement was limited to the first generation, with the citizenship of subsequent generations requiring registration and the surrendering of any other citizenship held at the age of 21. The combination of the principles of birth and descent in the Act respected the state’s territorial boundary, with residents of Northern Ireland treated "in an identical manner to persons of Irish birth or descent who resided in Britain or a foreign country".[40] According to Brian Ó Caoindealbháin, the 1935 Act was, therefore, compatible with the state’s existing borders, respecting and, in effect, reinforcing them.[41]

The Act also provided for the establishment of the Foreign Births Register.

Further, the 1935 Act was an attempt to assert the sovereignty of the Free State and the distinct nature of Irish citizenship, and to end the ambiguity over the relations between Irish citizenship and British subject status. Nonetheless, London continued to recognise Irish citizens as British subjects until the passing of the Ireland Act 1949, which recognised, as a distinct class of persons, "citizens of the Republic of Ireland"[38][42]

Beginning in 1923, some new economic rights were created for Irish citizens. The 1923 Land Act allowed the Irish Land Commission to refuse to allow a purchase of farmland by a non-Irish citizen; during the Anglo-Irish Trade War the Control of Manufactures Act 1932 required that at least 50% of the ownership of Irish-registered companies had to be held by Irish citizens.

The 1937 Constitution

The 1937 Constitution of Ireland simply maintained the previous citizenship body, also providing, as the previous constitution had done, that the further acquisition and loss of Irish citizenship was to be regulated by law.

With regard to Northern Ireland, despite the irredentist nature and rhetorical claims of articles 2 and 3 of the new constitution, the compatibility of Irish citizenship law with the state’s boundaries remained unaltered.[43]

Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956

In 1956, the Irish parliament enacted the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956. This Act repealed the 1935 Act and remains, although heavily amended, the basis of Irish citizenship law. This act, according to Ó Caoindealbháin, altered radically the treatment of Northern Ireland residents in Irish citizenship law. With the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948, and the subsequent passage of the Ireland Act by the British government in 1949, the state’s constitutional independence was assured, facilitating the resolution of the unsatisfactory position from an Irish nationalist perspective whereby births in Northern Ireland were assimilated to "foreign" births. The Irish government was explicit in its aim to amend this situation, seeking to extend citizenship as widely as possible to Northern Ireland, as well as to Irish emigrants and their descendents abroad.[44]

The Act therefore provided for Irish citizenship for anyone born in the island of Ireland whether before or after independence. The only limitations to which were that anyone born in Northern Ireland was not automatically an Irish citizen but entitled to be an Irish citizen and, that a child of someone entitled to diplomatic immunity in the state would not become an Irish citizen. The Act also provided for open-ended citizenship by descent and for citizenship by registration for the wives (but not husbands) of Irish citizens.

The treatment of Northern Ireland residents in these sections had considerable significance for the state’s territorial boundaries, given that their "sensational effect … was to confer, in the eyes of Irish law, citizenship on the vast majority of the Northern Ireland population".[45] The compatibility of this innovation with international law, according to Ó Caoindealbháin was dubious, "given its attempt to regulate the citizenship of an external territory ... In seeking to extend jus soli citizenship beyond the state’s jurisdiction, the 1956 Act openly sought to subvert the territorial boundary between North and South". The implications of the Act were readily recognised in Northern Ireland, with Lord Brookeborough tabling a motion in the Parliament of Northern Ireland repudiating “the gratuitous attempt … to inflict unwanted Irish Republican nationality upon the people of Northern Ireland”.[46]

Nevertheless, Irish citizenship continued to be extended to the inhabitants of Northern Ireland for over 40 years, representing, according to Ó Caoindealbháin, "one of the few practical expressions of the Irish state’s irredentism." Ó Caoindealbháin concludes, however, that the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 altered significantly the territorial implications of Irish citizenship law, if somewhat ambiguously, via two key provisions: the renunciation of the constitutional territorial claim over Northern Ireland, and the recognition of "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 that "their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments".

In regard to international law, Ó Caoindealbháin states that, although it is the attempt to confer citizenship extra-territorially without the agreement of the state affected that represents a breach of international law (not the actual extension), the 1956 Act "co-exists uneasily with the terms of the Agreement, and, by extension, the official acceptance by the Irish state of the current border. While the Agreement recognises that Irish citizenship is the birthright of those born in Northern Ireland, it makes clear that its acceptance is a matter of individual choice. In contrast, the 1956 Act continues to extend citizenship automatically in the majority of cases, thereby, in legal effect, conflicting with the agreed status of the border and the principle of consent".[43]

Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts 1986 and 1994

In 1986, the 1956 Act was amended by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1986. This Act was primarily concerned with removing various gender discriminatory provisions from the 1956 legislation and thus provided for citizenship by registration for the wives and husbands of Irish citizens.

The Act also restricted the open-ended citizenship by descent granted by the 1956 Act by dating the citizenship of third, fourth and subsequent generations of Irish emigrants born abroad, from registration and not from birth. This ended the rights of fourth and subsequent generations to citizenship to those whose parents had been registered before their birth. The Act provided for a six-month transitional period during which the old rules would still apply. Such was the increase in volume of applications for registration from third, fourth and further generation Irish emigrants, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1994 was enacted to deal with those individuals who applied for registration within the six-month period but who could not be registered in time.

Jus soli and the Irish Constitution

Up until the late 1990s, jus soli, in the Republic, was maintained as a matter of statute law, the only people being constitutionally entitled to citizenship of the Irish state post-1937 were those who had been citizens of the Irish Free State before its dissolution. However, in 1998 as part of the new constitutional settlement brought about by the Belfast Agreement, the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland provided (among other things) that:

"It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland."

The introduction of this guarantee resulted in the enshrinement of jus soli as a constitutional right for the first time.[47] In contrast the only people entitled to British citizenship as a result of the Belfast Agreement are people born in Northern Ireland to Irish citizens, British citizens and permanent residents.

If immigration was not on the political agenda in 1998, it did not take long to become so afterwards. Indeed soon after the agreement, the already rising strength of the Irish economy reversed the historic pattern of emigration to one of immigration, a reversal which in turn resulted in a large number of foreign nationals claiming a right to remain in the state based on their Irish-born citizen children.[48] They did so on the basis of a 1989 Supreme Court ruling Fajujonu v. Minister for Justice where the court prohibited the deportation of the foreign parents of an Irish citizen. In January 2003, the Supreme Court distinguished the earlier decision and ruled that it was constitutional for the Government to deport the parents of children who were Irish citizens.[49] This latter decision would have been thought to put the matter to rest but concerns remained about the propriety of the (albeit indirect) deportation of Irish citizens and what was perceived as the overly generous provisions of Irish nationality law.

In March 2004, the government introduced the draft Bill for the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland to remedy what the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, described as an "abuse of citizenship" whereby citizenship was "conferred on persons with no tangible link to the nation or the State whether of parentage, upbringing or of long-term residence in the State".[50] The Amendment did not propose to change the wording of Articles 2 and 3 as introduced by the Nineteenth Amendment, but instead to insert a clause clawing back the power to determine the future acquisition and loss of Irish citizenship by statute, as previously exercised by parliament before the Nineteenth amendment. The government also cited concerns about the Chen case, then before the European Court of Justice, in which a Chinese woman who had been living in Wales had gone to give birth in Northern Ireland on legal advice. Mrs. Chen then pursued a case against the British Home Secretary to prevent her deportation from the United Kingdom on the basis of her child's right as a citizen of the European Union (derived from the child's Irish citizenship) to reside in a member state of the Union. (Ultimately Mrs. Chen won her case, but this was not clear until after the result of the referendum.) Both the proposed amendment and the timing of the referendum were contentious but the result was decisively in favour of the proposal; 79% of those voting voted yes, on a turnout of 59%.[51]

The effect of the amendment was to prospectively restrict the constitutional right to citizenship by birth to those who are born on the island of Ireland to at least one parent who is (or is someone entitled to be) an Irish citizen. Those born on the island of Ireland before the coming into force of the amendment continue to have a constitutional right to citizenship. Moreover jus soli primarily existed in legislation and it remained, after the referendum, for parliament to pass ordinary legislation that would modify it. This was in fact done by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004 (the effects of which are detailed above). It remains, however, a matter for the legislature and unrestricted jus soli could be re-established by ordinary legislation without a referendum.

See also


  • J.M. Kelly, The Irish Constitution 4th edn. by Gerard Hogan and Gerard Whyte (2002) ISBN 1-85475-895-0
  • Brian Ó Caoindealbháin (2006) Citizenship and Borders: Irish Nationality Law and Northern Ireland. Centre for International Borders Research, Queen's University of Belfast and Institute for British-Irish Studies, University College Dublin


External links

  • Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service: Citizenship government website
  • Repealed Acts of the Irish Free State:
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1935
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1937
  • Acts in force:
    • Irish Nationality & Citizenship Acts 1956-2004 (unofficial consolidated version) - pdf format
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1994
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 2001
    • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004
  • Information on Irish citizenship from the Citizens Information Board
  • Wives, mothers and citizens - the treatment of women in the 1935 Nationality & Citizenship Act
  • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill, 1985: Second Stage
  • Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill, 1994: Second Stage
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