DROMORE’S Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, has called on the UK government to extend the right of British citizenship to people in the Irish Republic.
The well-known Dromore solicitor, speaking at the July 12 demonstration in Tobermore, said the right of British citizens in Northern Ireland to apply for an Irish passport, absent a similar right for Irish citizens “from a British background and heritage” to apply for a British passport, amounted to unequal treatment of minority communities in the two jurisdictions.
It was during a visit to County Donegal Orangemen’s Centenary Exhibition on Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant, he said, that he was reminded Brethren in the border counties felt abandoned upon partition,
“When the people of Ulster signed the Covenant in 1912,” he said, “the Unionist population in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan played their full part and entered into the full spirit of that Covenant.
“They understood that it was a binding Covenant between all of the Unionist people of Ulster – that we would all stick together and either stand or fall together.
“The first display board on their exhibition was entitled ‘The Broken Covenant’; that heading reminded me forcefully that our Brethren in the border counties felt abandoned when, on the creation of the state of Northern Ireland, they were left out.”
Mr. Nelson said there had since existed an “inequality of treatment” in respect of the minority communities in the two jurisdictions.
“Anyone born in Northern Ireland can apply for and will be granted an Irish passport,” he said. “Indeed, when you call at a main Post Office in Northern Ireland and ask for a passport application you will be asked whether or not you wish to apply for an Irish passport or a British passport.
“People from a British background and heritage who were left on the southern side of the border in 1921, however, do not have the same reciprocal right to a British Passport; there is no automatic right to British citizenship for Irish citizens.
“The facility for Irish Citizens born before 1949 to claim British subject status does not confer British citizenship, although it gives them entitlement to registration as such after five years living in the United Kingdom.
“The British Nationality Act 1981, in force from January 1, 1983, retained the facility for those born in the Republic of Ireland before 1949 to register as British subjects. However, most people from a British heritage and background wishing to obtain British passports are born after 1949 and for them there is no automatic right to either British subject status or to be registered as a British citizen.”
The Grand Secretary insisted that if relationships between the peoples of the UK and Ireland were to be normalised the issue was one which had to be addressed, primarily by the British Government, who had the ability, he said, to make right what he called “this historic anomaly”.
He added, “I therefore call upon our own United Kingdom Government to review this matter in the light of the Good Friday Agreement and in the interests of equality of opportunity and treatment for the minority community in the Republic of Ireland.They are asking for no more that what has already been granted to the minority community in Northern Ireland.”