Government should diplomatically and financially support the DeSouza legal challenge - Gerry Adams TD
Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams today addressed a hearing of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality which was taking evidence from Emma DeSouza, Professor Colin Harvey and Solicitor Una Boyd of the Committee on the Administration of Justice.
The three spoke about the practical and legal consequences of Emma DeSouza’s long legal battle with the British government over its interpretation of the Good Friday Agreement and her right to be identified as an Irish citizen.
The Louth TD urged the Irish government to accept responsibility for the Emma DeSouza case;
"In November, the British Upper Tribunal overturned a previous judgement that upheld that people born in the North were entitled to identify solely as Irish citizens. The Upper Tribunal ruled that people born in the North are automatically British citizens. This is contrary to the Good Friday Agreement which under the section Constitutional Issues states:
"‘(vi) 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.'
"In a clear breach of this commitment by the British government in 1998 the British Home Office has insisted that the British Nationality Act is the relevant legislation dealing with this issue and that consequently citizens in the North are British citizens and must renounce their British citizenship if they wish to identify as Irish."
Speaking to the Committee, Gerry Adams said that the behaviour of the British government is “entirely malicious”. He reminded the Committee that there were huge difficulties getting the British government to give legislative effect to the Agreement.
"Consequently there is no Bill of Rights. There is also no Charter of Rights which the Irish government was supposed to provide, and there is no Charter of Rights for the island.
"The onus is on the Irish government because the British government will always act in what it perceives to be its own self-interest. So if there is some immigration issue or some other issue then that will take precedence and priority and the people on the island of Ireland or the northern part of the island will fall victim of that; they will be a secondary consideration. The onus therefore is on the Irish government to act on this issue.
"No matter how strong a statement there is from an Irish government they’re not read in Downing Street; they’re not paid any attention to in the British Home Office – they’re not listened to. It’s important that the government set out its position in robust and strong terms.
"So the government has to reach above itself. We saw how the diplomatic weight of the government was able to secure the least worst Brexit, so far. That approach needs to be taken on this issue also.
"A very important point that the Taoiseach has fudged time out of number - paragraph 52 of the political declaration which declared that the people of the North who had Irish citizenship would have European Citizens rights is not in the Withdrawal Agreement. The declaration was heralded as being bullet proof and armour plated and so on but at the first hurdle on the rights of citizens in the North we fell. The government needs to accept that work honestly on this issue”.
The Louth TD commended Emma and Jake DeSouza for their efforts and asked the Committee to examine what practical measures can be taken to help Emma De Souza and specifically for the government to adopt this as a legal case.
“Ordinary people have to become activists, ordinary people have to become experts, ordinary people have to put themselves out there for rights. But who is funding Emma’s case? Working people have to fundraise, run little ballots to fund this. That shouldn’t be the case.
"There was a time when an Irish government took a case for internees who had been tortured and took it to the European Court.
"I think that there should be some exploration of the Irish government using diplomatic and other avenues - but also taking responsibility.
"If the people of the North are not to be left behind ever again by a government here, this is a déan é na habair é moment to something about it. Adopt this as a case and that in itself would put the British government under pressure that an Irish government is prepared to support a legal case. If she loses we all lose.”
Note to Editor:
The Committee agreed to write to the British Secretary of State seeking an update on the status of the review of these matters announced by former British Prime Minister Theresa May.
It also agreed that it would write to the Tánaiste Simon Coveney encouraging him to diplomatically and financially support the DeSouza legal case.