It seems appropriate on St. Patrick's Day to celebrate one's Irish ancestry. If you had one parent or grandparent who was Irish, it is possible that you could obtain an Irish Passport. In fact, there is a proposal to grant Irish citizenship to anyone descended from at least one great-grandparent who was a native of Ireland.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and probably many others can legally obtain Irish passports because of their ancestry. Why would you want to do that?
Ask any of the Irish passport holders who were safely evacuated from war-torn Lebanon a couple of years ago. They were able to get out safely when Americans and others could not, thanks to their passports and the prominent placement of the Irish Tricolours on the front of the two buses carrying them across the Syrian border.
One’s Irishness, and in particular the carrying of an Irish passport, has helped many Irish citizens avoid potentially life-endangering situations. The Irish are known worldwide for being politically neutral. Irish humanitarian workers have often reported that they are able to win the confidence of needy groups in distressed situations.
In fact, the Irish passport has helped many get through places where they would have been killed or incarcerated had they been carrying an American or British passport. For instance, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins was born in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. He was the commanding officer of the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army at the start of the Iraq war. He is now retired and works as a military consultant. He travels in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. He would never be able to travel in those areas if he used his British passport. However, Colonel Collins’ Irish ancestry entitles him to legally carry an Irish passport, which, in turn, opens doors.
All natives of Northern Ireland can carry a British passport or an Irish passport. As another former British soldier with Irish ancestry reports, “It’s not a political statement. It’s just that Irish documents carry very little baggage abroad. Ireland is a neutral country, and it has never invaded anywhere else or even fought in a war.”
An Irish passport is one of the most prized travel documents for business and security experts, as well as for journalists and aid workers in the world’s trouble spots.
Another use for Irish passports is to obtain employment in European Union countries. Anyone with an Irish passport may obtain employment in many European countries without the formalities of work permits.
To obtain an Irish passport, you must become an Irish citizen. However, Americans may hold dual citizenship. That is, Americans do not need to give up their American citizenship in order to claim Irish citizenship.
So, who is eligible for an Irish passport? For starters, Irish citizenship is automatic for people who meet these definitions:
- Anyone born in Ireland prior to 1 January 2005 is an Irish citizen, except children of parents holding diplomatic immunity in Ireland. The subject becomes a bit more complex for anyone born in Ireland after 1 January 2005 as the citizenship and residency history of both parents becomes relevant.
- Anyone born outside Ireland whose father or mother was was an Irish citizen at the time of the child's birth, is an Irish citizen.
- If you have at least one grandparent who was an Irish citizen, the law infers that your parent was an Irish citizen due to his or her parent's citizenship and therefore you have a right to become an Irish citizen based on your parent's citizenship. At this time, only a grandparent's citizenship is recognized; you cannot apply for Irish citizenship based upon earlier generations. However, that may change soon.
If one of the above does not apply, citizenship is not automatic and must be acquired through application. Irish citizenship and a passport are possible for anyone with at least one grandparent who was an Irish citizen. However, an application must be made and documentation submitted. In normal circumstances, three documents concerning the grandparent are required:
- The full, long form (i.e. showing the names of the parents of the child) Irish birth certificate. Birth records have been maintained centrally in Ireland since 1864, and you can obtain certified copies by applying to the Registrar of Births, Block 7 Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey St, Dublin 1, Ireland or by applying to the Superintendent Registrar of the district where your grandparent was born. Requests to the Registrar should detail the grandparent's full name, along with their date and place of birth. If not already known, this information is often obtainable from death/marriage certificates.
- The marriage license or certificate.
- If the grandparent is deceased, the death certificate; if living, a current official photo I.D. (such as a driving license, passport).
Similar documentation is also required for the parent, and even more information is required of the applicant (passport-size photographs, long-form birth certificate, notarized copies of proof of identity, etc.).
You can find more information at the Embassy of Ireland’s web site at: http://www.irelandemb.org/fbr.html.
While today's law grants citizenship only to the children and grandchildren of Irish nationals, Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland delivered a speech last Friday night at the American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. In a move to woo Irish-Americans, Mr. Cowen proposed measures to make it easier for Americans to claim Irish citizenship, reversing a restrictive course the Irish government took in 2005.
“The connections between Ireland and America remain strong,” Mr. Cowen said, “but we cannot take them for granted.”
Mr. Cowen, who took office last May, has been grappling with a slate of problems that will seem familiar to Americans. Ireland is suffering through the worst housing bust in Europe. The unemployment rate now exceeds 10 percent. The government has grabbed billions from pension funds to prop up failing banks. Public servants have seen their paychecks slashed. Bankers and architects are applying for jobs at McDonald’s. As a result, popular support for his government has plummeted.
But Mr. Cowen was cheered Sunday, at least in some quarters, for his proposal to ease naturalization by allowing Americans whose nearest Irish ancestor is a great-grandparent to qualify for citizenship, provided that they have spent considerable time studying or working in Ireland. Under current law, the most distant forebear an American could claim and still qualify for Irish citizenship is a grandparent.
“There’s an awful lot of Irish-Americans who feel very cut off by the ‘grandfather rule,’ ” said Niall O’Dowd, the former chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and a founder of the Irish Voice newspaper in New York. “This would open up Irish citizenship to a whole new generation of Irish-Americans.”