3 January 2018
Putting our stamp on the North - Niall Ó Donnghaile
"Opening a passport office here in the North would be an important political and symbolic move by government, but it also makes sense." - Niall Ó Donnghaile
Since entering the Seanad in 2016 I have undertaken a a campaign to champion a number of key issues important to Irish citizens living in the North.
Promoting Presidential Voting Rights for all citizens, challenging the negative & unwanted impact of Britain’s Brexit on Ireland, promoting Irish Unity and calling on the government to open an Irish Passport Office within the Six Counties.
My call for an office isn’t simply a call for the sake of it, or even just a request for, albeit and important one, a symbolic move by the Government, but rather it is about meeting a clear, identifiable demand that exists and given the negative rollout of Brexit, a demand which is growing year on year.
In 2017 alone over 80,000 people in the Six Counties applied for an Irish passport.
These steady increases indicate also a increase from our Unionist and Loyalist neighbours. That is a welcome, positive and encouraging aspect to all of this.
I have raised this issue on the floor of the Senate, via the media and also in directly questioning Ministers.
Opening an office here in the North would be an important political and symbolic move by government, but it also makes sense.
An office located here would service not just the growing demand within the Six Counties but would service people in Donegal, Sligo, Cavan and the broader border region as well.
The Department of Foreign Affairs currently have Passport offices in Dublin & Cork, which service those parts of the country and there is no doubting the fantastic job that staff do, given the huge volume of applications they are currently dealing with. Why wouldn’t the Department then locate an office, create additional jobs and ease some of the burden on existing staff by opening a third office in a geographical area currently under provided for, thereby improving the existing infrastructure and service delivery.
There is no escaping the symbolism of such a move either. We are after all Irish citizens too.
At the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement I put all of this directly to Minister Coveney.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed clearly that the government will never again “abandon” Northern citizens. In the midst of the chaos forced upon us by a vote taken in England, dragging this part of Ireland out of the EU against our expressed democratic will, such a practical and physical investment in the North by government will show citizens here that they mean that; that they are invested in us as people and that in terms of our Irish & EU citizenship rights, they will improve our ability to access them.
Yesterday’s editorial in the Irish News reflects they growing consensus for this move. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and now Fianna Fáil all see the merit in the opening of an such an office. The Alliance Party have indicated that the consideration is worth exploring. It certainly is.
During the recent visit by EU Brexit Negotiator Guy Verhofstadt he said that Irish citizens are EU citizens and our rights as both must be upheld. Coupled with this the binding legal protections contained within the Good Friday Agreement, it all adds up as, dare I say it, a relatively easy decision for the government.
I have consistently inquired of the government what it means for those of us who are Irish citizens resident in the North. What are our legal entitlements beyond the holding of a passport? This has of course drawn in aspects of the other issues I listed at the very beginning of this blog.
At this stage the very modest holding of an Irish passport should at the very least be made an easier and more accessible experience.
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