On 11 July 2019, the High Court in Jones v Minister for Justice and Equality IEHC 519 ruled that those applying for citizenship must have one year’s uninterrupted residence immediately prior to making their application.
Section 15(1) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (the “1956 Act”) provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality (the “Minister”) may grant an application for naturalisation if satisfied, amongst other criteria, that the applicant has one year’s continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of application.
The practice prior to the High Court decision had been that the Minister could use their discretion to grant an application where an applicant had been absent from the State for six weeks in the year prior to the application (and possibly more in exceptional or unavoidable circumstances).
No Discretion to Discount Periods of Absence
Jones v Minister for Justice and Equality concerned an application by Mr Jones for citizenship in circumstances where he was out of Ireland for 100 days during the year immediately prior to making his application. The Minister refused his application on this basis and Mr Jones appealed the decision to the High Court.
Although the Court affirmed the Minister’s refusal, it found that the clear meaning of the residence requirement was that it must be for an unbroken, uninterrupted period of one year. The Minister’s discretionary practice went beyond what was permissible under the 1956 Act. The Minister therefore had no power to disregard periods of absence.
Although the Court recognised the difficulties that such a strict residence requirement could have, it considered that the matter could only be addressed by a change in the legislation.
The decision has been appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Commentary from the Department of Justice and Equality
On 18 July 2019, the Minister stated that the decision was being reviewed by the Department of Justice and Equality in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office and that it would be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Meanwhile on 19 July 2019, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (“INIS”), which processes citizenship applications, stated that its Citizenship Division is continuing to receive and process applications. Planning for the next citizenship ceremony is also underway.
The INIS does not advise applicants to cancel any travel plans. Applicants will be advised of any solution which may be put in place.
The INIS believes that the High Court ruling does not impact anyone who has already obtained citizenship under the 1956 Act.
Considerations for Applicants
Changes to legislation take time to implement even where given priority. As such, the law in respect of the residence requirement is as stated by the Court in Jones v Minister for Justice and Equality. Applicants should therefore be slow to consider travelling outside Ireland at all during the year prior to their application as it will impact their chances of being granted citizenship.