Meet The Londoners Applying For Irish Passports

Meet The Londoners Applying For Irish Passports
We know a few Londoners who'd like to get their hands on one of these. Image: Shutterstock

"As an English person, I do have the right to go over to Ireland and I believe that I can ask for a passport. Can't I?" So said Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, in an interview on BBC Radio Ulster about the impact of Brexit. Unfortunately for Andrew, and everyone else who quite fancies an Irish passport in light of Brexit, it's not quite that simple.

Although British applications for an Irish passport have surged since the results of the referendum, from 46,000 in 2015 to 99,000 in 2018,* it's not a case of rocking up and asking for one. Certain criteria needs to be met, and proof is required via a plethora of paperwork.

We met the Londoners whose eligibility for an EU passport is down to the luck of the Irish…

"Some of my ancestors will be spinning in their graves..."

Broadcast journalist Robert Rea compiling his paperwork.  Photo: Samantha Rea

ROBERT REA

When the UK initially voted to leave, it didn't occur to me to get an Irish passport because I didn't realise the implications of not having an EU passport, and I didn't know I could claim Irish citizenship. My grandfather on my dad's side was born in County Down, but I thought I'd be one generation too far to apply.

It was only when I looked online that I realised you have the right to Irish citizenship if you have one grandparent born anywhere on the island of Ireland. Initially, when I saw the difficulty and expense of it, I just thought: "I'm not sure I can be bothered." But as Brexit's progressed, and we're now looking at a situation where we don't even have a deal with the EU, getting my Irish passport has become more urgent.

Brexit's taking... rights away from me and getting an Irish passport is a way of taking those rights back.

It's cost me about £500 for all the birth, death and marriage certificates I needed to provide for the application — and it's been a long, complicated process. But this isn't just about going through the EU arrival gates — I'm thinking about the future, and where I might want to live. Citizenship of an EU country will make it easier for me if I want to buy a house in France or Spain, and work or retire there.

It's also about keeping the rights I've got at the moment. As an EU citizen, I've got the right to live and work in 28 countries — and various other rights as well. I feel that Brexit's taking those rights away from me and getting an Irish passport is a way of taking those rights back.

I've always been proud of my Northern Irish ancestry, and now it's proving to be a godsend. But my family were staunch Presbyterians back in the day, so the idea of me becoming a citizen of the Catholic Irish Republic will probably have a few of my ancestors spinning in their graves!

"My Irish cousins consider me a plastic paddy!"

Sarah Woodcock pictured at the London Irish Centre in Camden. Photo: Samantha Rea

SARAH WOODCOCK

My mum's from Dublin and she's always wanted me to get an Irish passport. She's proud of her nationality, and being half Irish is a part of my identity that I'm really fond of. But as a born and bred Londoner, I've always felt British — my Irish cousins consider me a plastic paddy! So before Brexit, getting an Irish passport wasn't something I'd considered.

I was at Glastonbury on the day of the referendum result, so I wasn't on the Irish passport website straight away — and it wasn’t an immediate decision anyway. I've had the forms since October, and it's something I've been thinking about, not really knowing what Brexit will mean.

We just don't know whether we'll be able to eat next month, or if we'll be able get vaccinations. That's really scary.

It's only as the date's loomed closer and the situation's become more unclear, that it's felt important to me to hold my dual nationality, and become more pressing for me to get my Irish passport.

I run a charity, The Kids Network, so I'm rooted in London, but I want to be able to travel freely — and there's so much uncertainty. There's a lot of fear-mongering, but we just don't know whether we'll be able to eat next month, or if we'll be able get vaccinations. That's really scary. So for me, getting an Irish passport is about having that security for myself, in case England becomes a place where I no longer want to live.

"I need something in my hand that guarantees me right of passage."

Peter Martindill outside drinking den The Golden Lion in Soho. Photo: Samantha Rea

PETER MARTINDILL

My job in IT involves quite a bit of travel, but I didn't immediately jump on the bandwagon to get an Irish passport. I waited to see what would happen as we went through the Brexit process, hoping we'd end up in the same position, travel and work wise. But I feel like time's run out now, and I need something in my hand that guarantees me right of passage.

Implementing software projects, my main EU destinations are France and Germany. But the increasing uncertainty around Brexit meant I reached a point where I felt my options for future work on the EU mainland were being denied.

I feel like time's run out now, and I need something in my hand that guarantees me right of passage.

With an EU passport, I’ll be able to get through all the EU countries with no problems. It also gives me the certainty of knowing which non-EU countries I’ll need a visa for, because it’ll be the same as it's been until now on a British passport. I often travel to Canada, the US, and Israel, which has a big IT industry. Travelling on a British passport post-Brexit, I don't know what visas I might need, because nothing's been agreed.

Getting an Irish passport hasn’t been easy, because although my mum is an Irish citizen, she's not my birth parent, so my name on my birth certificate is my name prior to the adoption. It wasn't clear from the website what to do if you're adopted, so I had to contact the Irish embassy who asked me for some additional paperwork — such as the court order that approved the adoption — so they can cross-reference everything.

If our right to work and travel had been guaranteed, then I probably wouldn't have bothered going down this route — but the date's approaching and we still have no deal.

"I joke to my colleagues that I'm Brexit-proof!"

Erin Davies packing for her second trip abroad since getting her Irish passport. Photo: Erin Davies

ERIN DAVIES

I'd been thinking about getting an Irish passport since I was at university, because I knew from other students that if you want a work visa for America, for example, it's easier with an Irish passport, than a British one. So I'd been debating it since 2009, then Brexit gave me the final push.

I was born in Wales, but I grew up in Northern Ireland, which is where my mum's from. Getting an Irish passport should have been simple, but when my mum re-married, she and her new husband adopted me, so the three of us could have the same surname. It also meant that if anything happened to my mum, her new husband would legally be my adoptive parent.

It made sense — but it's caused confusion, because I have an adoption certificate rather than a birth certificate. If you're adopted in Northern Ireland, your adoption certificate is your birth certificate, which means you have rights to an Irish passport. Unfortunately the woman in the Irish passport office insisted on documentation-that-doesn’t-exist to link the chain of names — which made it particularly awkward.

After getting increasingly pissed off at her "computer says no" attitude, I was finally given an Irish passport...

To this day, I still don’t understand what she wanted — and nor did the guy at the Belfast High Courts where I was adopted. But after getting increasingly pissed off at her "computer says no" attitude, I was finally given an Irish passport three and a half months after applying for it. I think they just did it to shut me up because I was so annoying!

I'm a consultant with a global firm, and while I don't plan to work in America, I want that option. And if I travel anywhere, I want it to be easy for me. We have offices in the Nordics and all over the place, and I've joked to my colleagues that I'm Brexit-proof. I say: "Guys, if you're having issues travelling, I've got my Irish passport — I'll go!"

In theory, this passport should make things easier for me, but technically, by the nature of the laws of this country, my British citizenship could be taken away because I'm dual national — it could happen to anyone who's British dual national. I doubt it will, but who knows? It’s all such a farce.

"Brexit's unleashed an unpleasant streak — I feel more European now."

Dan O'Hagan arriving back in London after commentating on the Bundesliga. Photo: Samantha Rea

DAN O’HAGAN

I travel to Germany every weekend to commentate on the Bundesliga, which is the German football league. I've done it for four years and it's a huge chunk of my income, so getting through airports freely and easily is important to me — that's why I've applied for my Irish passport.

My dad's from Northern Ireland, but it never crossed my mind to apply for an Irish passport before the referendum. I felt British and I was happy with my UK passport, but Brexit has unleashed an unpleasant nationalistic streak which I'm not comfortable with. I feel more European now, and if that means embracing my Irish side, so be it. I'd rather have a passport from a country that's outward looking and welcoming, than one that wants to cut itself off.

I'd rather have a passport from a country that's outward looking and welcoming, than one that wants to cut itself off.

I got the passport application form six months ago, but I've only applied recently, as Brexit's loomed closer. I knew I had to get on with it because although I think my work in Germany is safe, there is a nagging doubt. If, post-Brexit, British passport holders need additional paperwork and visas to work abroad, would the Germans jump through those hoops to get me over there each weekend?

For me, getting an Irish passport is about being part of Europe, because cutting ourselves off is a retrograde step that denies us the free and easy way of life we've had for decades.

*Stats thanks to the Irish Passport Office.

Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.

Last Updated 11 March 2019