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Road to Irish citizenship for non-national and non-citizen children long and complex according to new report

The findings of a new research paper entitled Pathways to Irish Citizenship has highlighted the lengthy and complex road to citizenship for non-national and non-citizen children in Ireland. The paper, which was commissioned by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office and written by Dr Samantha Arnold, outlines the citizenship process in Ireland for separated, stateless, asylum seeking and undocumented children.

All children have the right to acquire a nationality under Article 7 of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Ireland, as in many other countries, acquiring citizenship, is a process that is extremely complex, including for children who do not otherwise have a nationality. Without citizenship, globally, individuals are excluded from getting social security numbers and may be unable to open bank accounts, register a marriage or birth and can ultimately lead to the denial of access to employment, third level education, housing, health care and pensions.

Some children are at an increased risk of delays in securing access to citizenship because they cannot apply for international protection independently and they cannot register with Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) before they turn 16. Upon turning 16, they may be unaware that they need to register.

The right to a nationality and the relationship between this and citizenship is an issue that has arisen in the context of the OCO’s work. In the context of this research, the OCO was specifically interested in access to citizenship, and to rights linked to citizenship, in Ireland for non-EEA children whose parents are seeking international protection, whose parents are undocumented, who are separated from parents or primary carers and in the care of the State, and stateless children.

Speaking about the research paper, Dr Carmel Corrigan, Head of Participation and Rights Education in the Ombudsman for Children’s Office said, “The number of non-national and non-citizen children in Ireland has grown considerably over the past number of years due to increasing diversity in Irish society. While many of the children and their parents don’t wish to become Irish citizens, there are many that do and for them the process involved in acquiring citizenship is far from straightforward. Dr Samantha Arnold’s paper outlines the citizenship process in Ireland with a focus on these vulnerable groups of children and highlights the pathways to Irish citizenship open to them subject to their individual circumstances. For children who are not eligible for Irish citizenship at the time of birth, naturalisation is the only way to secure Irish citizenship. However, children cannot apply for Irish citizenship by naturalisation, an adult parent or legal guardian must apply on behalf of children and applicants must establish their identity by providing documentation such as passports and birth certificates. These documents can be difficult to obtain. Where they are impossible to obtain, establishing identity can be costly in terms of legal assistance.

For separated children seeking asylum, stateless children, children who have come through the asylum process and undocumented children, the path to Irish citizenship and the rights and entitlements this gives them is therefore long, complex and sometimes expensive.”

Also speaking about the research, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said, “We commissioned this research into the avenues available for accessing citizenship in Ireland for non-EEA children and in doing so we hoped to learn of the current position and to explore some ways forward in the best interest of children. Dr Samantha Arnold took on the considerable challenge of distilling what are complex and legalistic procedures and issues into this research paper. I am very grateful to her for doing so and for sharing here some of the changes that she believes would help improve non-national children’s access to Irish citizenship. This paper will be an important resource for my office in understanding these issues. It will also guide our engagement with the children affected by these issues and inform our contribution to policy and legislative debates.

Citizenship brings with it intangible benefits such as a sense of belonging, stability and security that many of the children with whom this paper is concerned have not had for long periods of time. While allowing for proper checks to be undertaken by the national authorities, affording children this security is sufficient reason to consider how we make pathways to citizenship for them as accessible and transparent as possible.”

Pathways to Irish Citizenship