Woman with date of birth from Ethiopian calendar on citizenship certificate fails to get order to change it


A woman who got Irish citizenship after giving a 1975 date of birth in line with the calendar of her native Ethiopia has failed to get court orders aimed at securing a new certificate with a 1982 birth date in line with the western Gregorian calendar.

In a letter accompanying her original application for naturalisation, the woman stated there was a seven-year difference between the two calendars.

In judgments this week, the Court of Appeal found personal identity rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights are engaged in the case.

It held, contrary to what the Minister argued, he has power to cancel an existing certificate of naturalisation over an error and to simultaneously issue a new, corrected one.

However, it also held the Minister was entitled to initiate a certificate revocation inquiry procedure under Section 19 of the Irish Citizenship and Nationality Act 1956 and that procedure was not unconstitutional or unlawful. The Minister must consider any submissions the woman wishes to make during that process, it said.

The case concerned a married mother of two living and working here since 2003 who got a certification of naturalisation in 2015.

She said she initially assumed the Irish system required the birth date on her Ethoipian passport should be used.

In August 2016, when seeking a driving licence and car insurance, she said she became concerned she needed to have the 1982 date of birth on her documents.

Represented by Mark Harty SC and Julie Maher BL, she took legal proceedings after the Minister refused to issue a new certificate of naturalisation with the 1982 birth date, arguing that would effectively render her “stateless”.

The Minister argued, under the 1956 Act, he had no power to amend the certificate and he instead initiated the revocation inquiry procedure under section 19, arguing he must do so when made aware a certificate has incorrect identifying information.

The High Court’s Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, in decisions on two sets of proceedings, found the Minister has power to issue a fresh certificate when a certificate contains a material error of fact but was also entitled to invoke the section 19 procedure.

That was without prejudice to the woman’s right to highlight matters which would presumably be given due weight and consideration, including it was she who drew attention to the certificate error and nothing in her immigration history suggested any abuse of the immigration system, Mr Justice Humphreys held.

The woman and the Minister, represented by Siobhán Stack SC, with Alex Caffrey BL, both appealed aspects of the High Court findings.

In the main Court of Appeal judgment this week, Mr Justice Brian Murray upheld the High Court findings.

He remarked there are “significant unanswered questions” surrounding the date of birth issue.

The reason and context for the admitted misrepresentation of the date of birth are “plainly relevant” to the question of what the Minister would have done had he known all the facts when the certificate was originally applied for.

For those and other reasons, it was “not appropriate” for the court to grant the woman an order declaring her date of birth or quashing the Minister’s refusal to amend the certificate, he held.

In a concurring judgment, Ms Justice Ann Power said the woman herself drew attention to the error in the certificate, it had not been established her naturalisation had been based on deception or material misrepresentation and the matter was for the Minister to determine in line with the relevant statutory processes.

Dismissing the Minister’s appeal over a High Court finding that personal identity rights are engaged, the judge said recognition by the State of a person’s date of birth is engaged both as an unenumerated constitutional right and under the ‘private life’ limb of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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