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DeSouza case raises important issue of citizenship

Co Derry woman Emma DeSouza's legitimate efforts to assert her Irish citizenship under the Good Friday Agreement has raised an important issue which has reached the highest political levels in both Dublin and London.

This case began in 2015 when Mrs DeSouza's US-born husband Jake attempted to secure a UK residence card under European law, with his wife sponsoring his application as a European Economic Area (EEA) national.

However, immigration regulations say a sponsoring EEA national must be a citizen of an EEA state who is 'not also a British citizen.'

As the Home Office considered Mrs DeSouza a British citizen it rejected the application.

She then had the option to assert British citizenship to secure residency for her husband under UK domestic rules rather than EU law, or she could renounce her British citizenship and reapply as an EEA national.

Mrs DeSouza, from Magherafelt, argued that she never considered herself British, so how could she renounce citizenship she never had.

She initially won a legal challenge against the Home Office with an immigration tribunal judge ruling she was an 'Irish national who has only ever been such.'

On Monday the Home Office won its appeal, with the British government arguing that the British Nationality Act 1981 - which ruled that anyone born in Northern Ireland was automatically British - was the relevant legislation and not the Good Friday Agreement which allows people to identify as British, Irish or both.

Mrs DeSouza and her husband, who have shown great determination over the past four years, are ready to pursue their case to the Court of Appeal.

It was encouraging this week to see the couple receive cross-community political support from the SDLP, Sinn Féin, Alliance and Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt who was acting in a personal capacity.

Yesterday, Leo Varadkar, who has pledged to raise the matter with Boris Johnson, said British citizenship laws 'are out of step with the letter and spirit' of the Good Friday Agreement.

He had previously raised concerns with Theresa May and it is fair to conclude there is little sense of urgency on the British side to review this issue.

Nevertheless, as a result of this case, a significant issue has been identified in relation to citizenship which needs to be resolved.

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