Donegal-born politician who campaigned for wider access to UK citizenship to receive British passport

‘Good Friday Agreement talks about parity of esteem, you can be British, Irish or other,’ says former DUP MP

The Donegal-born politician who campaigned to give Irish citizens born in the Republic but living in Northern Ireland the right to easily claim UK citizenship is to receive a British passport for the first time.

The British government agreed on Friday to a change in the law which had previously required Irish citizens born outside of Northern Ireland since 1949 who wanted to apply for British citizenship to take a test and pay a naturalisation fee of more than £1,500 (€1,700).

Willie Hay, a former DUP MP and Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly who now sits in the House of Lords as Lord Hay of Ballyore, said he would “certainly go and get my British passport when all this becomes law, and I will certainly still hold on to my Irish passport because we have people in Northern Ireland who can have both.”

“I was born in Milford, Kilmacrennan, east Donegal, and came to live in Northern Ireland when I was about three years of age,” he said.


“I have spent my lifetime almost here in Northern Ireland, I was elected to council, I was mayor, I was Speaker of the House, member of the House of Lords, and somebody tells me I’m not entitled to British citizenship? I don’t know what more you would have to prove.

“I’m not saying anybody shouldn’t have an Irish passport, anybody who wants to apply for one should certainly do so, but the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement talks about parity of esteem, you can be British, Irish or other.

“It was unfair, and I’m glad at long last the [British] government has seen sense. It’s a victory for common sense,” he said.

The change in the law was announced during the second reading of a private members’ Bill introduced by DUP MP Gavin Robinson.

Speaking in the House of Commons during the debate on Friday, Mr Robinson said census figures showed more than 40,000 people born in the Republic of Ireland live in Northern Ireland, with about 32,000 potentially eligible.

“Our history and relationship is inter-twined and this Bill seeks to provide the final piece of that relational jigsaw,” he said. “Anyone born in the Republic of Ireland but who lives within the United Kingdom and satisfies the residency test should be able to avail of UK citizenship. Those who say, ‘sure, just apply for naturalisation in the normal way’, fail to recognise or respond to the special relationship that our nations have.”

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said the British government would support the British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill provided its scope was widened.

“It will firstly be available to Irish nationals regardless of how they became Irish and not just those born in Ireland,” he said.

“Secondly, it will not have a requirement that an Irish national must have been born after a certain date. Thirdly, qualifying residents can be from any parts of the United Kingdom and not just Northern Ireland,” said the minister.

Mr Robinson said he was “totally content” with the changes the government had proposed.

Additional reporting — PA.

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times