Slugger O'Toole

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The citizenship test: Protestants as well as Catholics in favour of fee waiver?

Wed 2 May 2012, 3:31pm

In Northern Ireland we have the unique situation where we can claim dual nationality. The bulk of the population is split between those who claim Irish citizenship and those who claim British citizenship.

Following the news that sixth form pupils in the UK who hold Irish passports qualify for free university tuition in Scotland, the question arises whether the passport that a person from Northern Ireland holds, is the definitive mark of their nationality.

It was originally believed that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland had to pay the higher fees in Scotland. The decision has now been made that, as Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland count as EU students, those who have Irish passports are exempt.

The possibility of students from both religious backgrounds taking up this tempting opportunity is very likely. Given that they could avoid paying up to £27,000 in fees over a three year period, Protestant students could face a dilemma over how much their citizenship is worth and whether having two passports questions their identity or nationality.

In East Belfast, students of Grosvenor Grammar school have decided to apply for an Irish passport with no apparent concern about what it represents.

The flexible manipulation of dual citizenship is not a new concept. In recent years when people in Northern Ireland wanted to travel back to countries such as Australia, they have applied for a second passport as a way to get another visa.

Speaking about the tuition fee waiver, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he had raised the issue with Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster regarding the treatment of dual citizens in Northern Ireland.
“With such a unique situation, the Scottish executive should take an equally unique approach to Northern Ireland students.

“Rather than only those who are happy to have an Irish passport gaining free university places, the Scottish executive should remove all fees for students from Northern Ireland.

“This would restore fairness in that those who wouldn’t be comfortable being an Irish citizen can still avail of free places at Scottish universities.”

Mr. Campbell’s words have suggested that nationality in Northern Ireland is an option to be chosen. It is a bizarre arrangement that we live in a country where we choose the nationality that we feel most ‘comfortable’ with.

The Scottish government acted in a way that ensures the equal treatment of all EU citizens, but in Northern Ireland it has opened up a loophole that will add to the citizenship debate.

Whilst we remain torn between British and Irish sensibilities, Northern Irish citizens will not have a collective unique identity. For the foreseeable future, it looks like we will continue to have optional nationality. Within this framework, having two passports in the locker will be nothing more than a way to manipulate the system, and with £27,000 at stake, why not?

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Comments (111)

  1. PaulT (profile) says:

    babyface I did come across a question in Hansard that the SDLP asked at around the time on how many UK passports where issued in the UK, the reply was that the figures requested were too specific and not available.

    does your hunch say only nationalists are dual passport holders

    That data is now 4 years old so I presume the number has risen.

    TBH, I think the passport story warrants another airing, I had no idea it was such a large number,

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  2. salgado (profile) says:

    “does your hunch say only nationalists are dual passport holders”

    There are quite a few unionist dual passport holders; I was actually fairly surprised by the number of my friends who have one given their views on the IFA/FAI eligibility row.

    Pragmatism and all that (apparently it’s better for travelling).

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  3. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    PaulT

    “does your hunch say only nationalists are dual passport holders”

    Of course not. I am sure it goes both ways .
    I only mentioned Nationalists in response to tacapall’s assertion that most Nationalists hold Irish passports but not British ones.
    I don’t know why people are being so precious about it.
    A passport is just a tool, it doesn’t define you.

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  4. oneill (profile) says:

    My father and I have both for purely practical travel and work reasons- both of us remain as pro-Union, British (and Irish) as we ever were.

    Incidently I attended the NI v Italy game in Pescara last year, the three lads in front of us (with Belfast accents and NI shirts on) showed Irish passports to the cops at the control check when we were entering the ground.

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  5. Tomas Gorman (profile) says:

    have almost all the comments been removed from this thread?

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  6. I dont wish to divert from the thrust of your thread, Mr. McVey but I believe that restraint should be exercised by bloggers from pigeonholing all Protestants as being Unionists and all Catholics as being Nationalist.

    On the matter of the so-called passport dilemma, I believe money is overwhelmingly the more powerful pull. It is easy to rationalise the passport as a flag of convenience. After all, nobody you know needs to see it and when you go abroad, no official is going to be particularly interested which tribe you come from.

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  7. stephen.mcvey (profile) says:

    Tomas Click on “Older comments” below.

    Seymour, good point. On reflection “Unionists” and “Nationalists” should have been who I referred to.

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  8. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    Tomas
    There appears to be an ongoing problem with older comments disappearing, like stalinist apparatchiks from a photograph.
    I’m sure somebody is doing something about it.

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  9. Bluehammer., The UK has about a decade left and then you’re left clinging on to England purely for the money as you’ve no allegiance to England, have you?

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  10. salgado (profile) says:

    As a conclusion to this: Scottish universities will now require dual nationality applicants from the rest of the UK to prove residency in another EU member state.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-19600241

    All those young students getting new passports for nothing.

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  11. salgado,

    When I was a young lad, you didn’t have to do a test in the Republic to get a driver’s licence. Many people where I lived had relatives in Donegal. Used their address. Simples.

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