A conversation with close friends turned to new Irish citizens. My friends said the people recently conferred with Irish citizenship in the mass ceremonies organised by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter (some 16,000 to date) should be, and were, grateful. Shatter is to be congratulated for dealing with the backlog and, according to Metro Eireann, the majority of the new citizens were pleased with the process. Being granted citizenship is no doubt a bonus for people hitherto unable to travel freely. However, citizenship is entirely at the discretion of the Minister, there are no clear qualification criteria and no obligation to provide reasons for refusals. When I argued against the high cost of citizenship in Ireland – of which more later – I failed to persuade them, because citizenship, my friends insisted, is something valuable ‘we’ bestow upon ‘them’.
The conversation led me to reflect upon citizenship as a technology of government, bestowed and refused in equal measures by states intent on protecting ‘the body of the nation’ from foreign and indigenous others. Beyond its normative meaning, citizenship is also, as T. H. Marshall said already in the 1950s, ‘full membership in the community’, which takes it beyond simply holding a passport and being able, in this instance, to travel freely through the EU. Full membership of the community has several components: civil (freedom of speech, freedom to negotiate contracts), political (freedom to vote and be voted) and social (freedom to enjoy state welfare, education, culture and heritage services). Marshall’s approach to citizenship was novel in his time, but he was criticised primarily in relation to positing ‘the community’ as homogeneous, while in effect the community is always multi-layered, made up of ethnic majorities and ethnic minorities, who do not necessarily have the same access to citizenship.
I decided to look at the requirements new citizens in Ireland must fulfil and compare the cost of citizenship with other Western states. In Ireland you can obtain citizenship by naturalisation if you have resided in the state for a total of 5 years during the past 9 years, prove you are of ‘good character’ (through a Garda report), intend in good faith to remain in the state, and make a ‘declaration of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State, and undertake to observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values’.
You can also qualify for citizenship by descent. However, it is worth remembering once again the changes that were made to Irish citizenship by descent entitlements after the 2004 Citizenship Referendum according to which children born of ‘certain foreign national parents’ (read non EEA parents) on or after 1 January 2005 are no longer automatically entitled to Irish citizenship (a right that existed since 1922). A child born in the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 is entitled to Irish citizenship if they have a British parent or a parent who is entitled to live in Northern Ireland or the Irish State without restriction on their residency. By contrast you can also obtain citizenship by descent if one of your grandparents is an Irish citizen but none of your parents was born in Ireland, even if they, or you, never set foot in Ireland – one of the paradoxes of Irish citizenship.
And what about the costs? At €175 application fee and €950 citizenship fee per adult (€200 per child and no fee for refugees), a total of €1,125 – Ireland’s citizenship fee is the highest by comparison with other western states. According to www.migrationinformation.org, the UK charges €850, the Netherlands €567, the US €552, Norway €316, Germany €255, Australia €198, Canada €148, Sweden €146, and France €0 (though a small administrative fee is charged).