Where do we put Ulster’s Irish passport office?

Holding an Irish passport has become quite the statement. Since the Brexit vote applications have surged for a number of reasons including re-asserting an Irish identity in Britain and the north respectively. Also by Britons that want to hold on to their European Union citizenship.

Dagmar Schiek, Professor of Law at Queen’s University Belfast said that

“The British in Northern Ireland who do not also opt for Irish citizenship would be worse off after Brexit,” 

Bearers of these little red books in the north will have extended rights including freedom to travel, work and settle in the rest of the EU. The Dublin Government also expects that they will be able to continue to apply for the Erasmus university exchange programme.

Last year 80,000 applications were submitted from the north to secure a Harp emblazoned red book in a record year.

 

Passport Applications received from the North:

2014: 48,475

2015: 53,715

2016: 67,582

2017: 81,752

The number of Irish passports issued in the North:

2014: 46,944

2015: 52,861

2016: 65,716

2017: 77,160

There is a clear nationalist consensus that this increasing demand needs to be serviced by a new northern passport office in addition to the two already operating in Cork and Dublin. Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said

“The soaring demand for Irish passports in the north, and amongst the Irish diaspora in Britain, points to a clear and identifiable need for an Irish passport office in the north of Ireland,”

The SDLP’s Claire Hanna has written to the Irish government to request that “all efforts are now made to bring Irish passport offices here to the north” to both Derry and Belfast.

On Evening Extra Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien seemed to be cooler about the suggestion about having an office based in Belfast (if the ‘authorities’ were not open to it) and sounded more intent on having a new facility in the ‘province of Ulster’  and ‘along the border’.

However it would clearly make more sense to base the Ulster passport office in Belfast given that it is the second biggest city in Ireland and would ensure higher footfall. It shouldn’t be kept on the other side of the border for political reasons.

The Good Friday Agreement stated that both governments would

“recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments.”

So if the right to hold Irish citizenship was agreed then the Irish Government – and any future Irish Government should not even consider undermining Irish passport / citizenship provision because of potential sectarian opposition.

We are long past the point where these decisions have to be over-sensitised.

Last month the Taoiseach told us that

“You will never again be left behind by an Irish government.”

It will be decisions on issues such as this that will demonstrate how serious northern nationalists should take those words.