Northern ‘Irish' could lose rights after UK withdrawal from European Union

Under the Good Friday Agreement people born in Northern Ireland have the right to identify as Irish or British or both 
Michelle Devane

PEOPLE in Northern Ireland who identify as Irish could become “second-class citizens” post-Brexit, human rights groups have claimed.

The chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said the Withdrawal Agreement reached between the UK and the EU left significant gaps in the protection of human rights in areas like citizens’ rights and puts people on both sides of the border at risk.

Emily Logan said: “I don’t think the public understands that the implications... people might find themselves in a situation of being forced to assume an identify they wouldn’t choose.”

Ms Logan said the offer of continued EU citizenship should be extended to all the “people of Northern Ireland” as defined by the Good Friday Agreement, given recognition of the birthright of people in Northern Ireland to identify as Irish or British, or both.

“The last situation we wish to see is one where the people of Northern Ireland feel forced to choose their identity based on what they think their post-Brexit entitlements might be,” she said.

The conference heard that the Good Friday Agreement has been effectively implemented in UK law.

Ms Logan appeared before the Justice and Equality Committee yesterday alongside representatives from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and Queen’s University to discuss the potential implications of Brexit on human rights and equality.

Brian Gormally, director of the NIHRC Committee on the Administration of Justice said that if Brexit goes ahead, it would make the status of Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland “insecure” and they would become “EU citizens living in a non-member state”.

He said the first possibility is that the Home Office would regard Irish citizens as “really” British, the second possibility is that the Common Travel Area would sort the issue out, and thirdly that EU citizens living in the UK could apply for “settled status”.

“None of these options is appealing as they all involve the implication that those who choose Irish identity are in some way second-class citizens,” Mr Gormally said.

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“Their rights as full participants in NI life would depend on either a denial of their Irish nationality, as yet unknown bilateral agreements between the UK and Ireland about the Common Travel Area, or paying to ask the Home Office to graciously allow them leave to live in the land of their birth.

“The reality is that Irish citizens, born and living in Northern Ireland, have no legal connection to the jurisdiction in which they were born.”

Mr Gormally told the committee the Belfast Agreement had not been effectively implemented in UK law.

He said legislation was needed in the UK and Ireland to recognise the “particular status of Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland” and their “unequivocal” right to participate fully in that region and in Irish society.

Committee member Clare Daly, an Independents 4 Change TD, described the comments as “shocking and sobering”, adding that they had highlighted “scarily” a legal deficit regarding citizenship rights that needs to be addressed.

Ms Logan and her Northern Ireland counterpart Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the NIHRC, warned the committee that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU threatened to undermine the human rights enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Ms Logan said that since 1998, there had been substantial progress towards a lasting resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland, but it assumed that the UK and Ireland would continue to be members of the EU.

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