Court Ruling which led to an “unworkable,” interpretation of “Continuous Residence” in Citizenship Applications Overturned
15 November 2019
The Irish Court of Appeal delivered a welcomed decision yesterday in finding that the High Court erred in its interpretation of a provision of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2015 bringing an end to months of uncertainty surrounding applications for Irish Citizenship via naturalisation. The ruling means that the literal interpretation of the requirement for one year’s “continuous residence” within the State before an applicant can apply for citizenship is not valid. A return to the more flexible interpretation of “continuous residence” meaning present within the State with a permissible absence of up to six weeks in one year was upheld.
The appeal was brought by Mr Jones, an Australian university sector worker resident in Ireland since October 11. He was refused citizenship due to being out of the State for 100 days in the year before he applied, the Court noting that 97 of which were for holidays and only 3 could be attributed to work.
The High Court upheld the Minister’s refusal to grant citizenship but, in its decision, said that the Minister’s discretionary practice to allow applicants up to six weeks out of the State is not permitted under the Act. The High Court decision given in May held that applicants for Irish citizenship must have “unbroken” residence in the year before they apply without any absence from the State.
The Court of Appeal however, held that the High Court construction of “continuous residence” was “unworkable, overly literal and unduly rigid”, and if applied would give rise to an interpretative absurdity. Such an approach would introduce a significant obstacle most applicants would find “impossible to meet”.
The Court held that the words “continuous residence” should be interpreted harmoniously and should not prevent an applicant leaving the jurisdiction at any time during the preceding year. However, it was stressed that physical presence in the State is an integral part of the naturalisation application process and significant absences may result in applications being rejected.
The Minister’s approach to construction of “one year’s continuous residence” was to operate a clearly communicated practice or policy of allowing applicants six weeks absence from the State, and more in exceptional circumstances, for work and other reasons.
It should also be noted that other requirements such as five years reckonable residence within the State out of the previous nine remains unaffected by either judgment.
The High Court’s decision led to calls for the introduction of emergency legislation to clarify the position. Those sentiments where echoed by the Irish Government which had confirmed plans to introduce legislation to “resolve the issue” back in August. Thankfully, the decision of the Court of Appeal may have resolved the matter without the need for further legislation, returning the application process back to the status quo without disruption to the significant number of applications received yearly for Irish Citizenship.
For more information on the above please contact David Cantrell, Partner and Head of the Immigration Group or another member of the Immigration team at Eugene F Collins.