There are lots of ways to claim Irish citizenship, including through birth, descent, associations, naturalisation and marriage. The best option depends on the applicant's personal circumstances.
Automatic right - born on the island before 1 January 2005
People born in Ireland before 1 January 2005 are automatically Irish citizens, no matter where their parents are originally from. People born in Northern Ireland before 1 January 2005 are allowed to claim Irish citizenship if they want to.
The law changed on 1 January 2005, so that anyone born on or after this date does not automatically qualify for Irish citizenship by birth. Even so, an individual may still be entitled to claim Irish citizenship by other means, such as by descent or associations.
Citizenship by Irish descent
The question of whether someone can claim Irish citizenship by descent depends on a number of factors, especially:
- Where they were born; and
- Where their parents were born
Born in Ireland after 1 January 2005
People born in Ireland to an Irish or UK citizen are automatically Irish citizens - even if they were born after 1 January 2005. Those born in Northern Ireland to an Irish or UK citizen can choose to become an Irish citizen.
People born in Ireland after 1 January 2005 to non-Irish or non-UK nationals may be eligible to Irish citizenship, depending on the residency history of their parents. The rule is that their parents must have been legally residing in Ireland for three out of the four years before the birth. There must not have been any kind of restriction on their parents' residence status.
Born outside of Ireland
The rules for those born outside of Ireland hinge upon whether they have an Irish-born parent.
An individual is automatically an Irish citizen if at least one of their parents was born in Ireland, and was an Irish citizen at the time of their birth. This also applies to children who are adopted by at least one Irish citizen.
However, if the parent was not born in Ireland, then Irish citizenship is not an automatic right. Even so, it may still be possible to claim Irish citizenship by descent. This applies to those who have an Irish parent, grandparent or, in exceptional circumstances, a great-grandparent.
Irish citizenship by descent - Irish parent
As outlined above, an Irish parent can pass citizenship to their children, if they were born in Ireland and were Irish citizens at the time of their child's birth. In this instance, their children are automatically Irish citizens.
If a parent is born outside of Ireland, but was an Irish citizen at the time of their child's birth, then that child can claim Irish citizenship by descent. This involves registering with the Irish Foreign Births Register. Once approved, the applicant becomes an Irish citizen, effective from the date of registration.
Irish citizenship by descent - Irish grandparent
If someone has an Irish grandparent, then they can claim Irish citizenship by descent - but only if that grandparent was born in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The process is the same as applying for citizenship through a parent. Namely, it is necessary to register with the Irish Foreign Births Register. Once approved, the applicant becomes an Irish citizen, effective from the date of registration.
Irish citizenship by descent - Irish great-grandparent
It is theoretically possible to claim Irish citizenship through a great-grandparent. However, these applications will only succeed if:
- The applicant's great-grandparent was born in Ireland; and
- The applicant's parent obtained Irish citizenship based on the fact that their grandparent (the applicant's great-grandparent) was an Irish citizen; and
- The applicant's parent had obtained Irish citizenship by the time he/she was born (if born after 1986) or between 1956 and 1986
If this can be established, then the applicant can obtain Irish citizenship through a great-grandparent by registering with the Irish Foreign Births Register.
Irish citizenship by associations
If someone does not meet the eligibility criteria for citizenship by descent, but they have Irish ancestors, then they may choose to apply for citizenship based on Irish associations. These applications are approved at the Minister's discretion. The Minister will usually want to see that the applicant:
- Has an Irish parent, grandparent or great-grandparent. Applications going back further than three generations generally fail, as do applications based on Irish siblings, aunties, uncles and cousins.
- Has a genuine connection to Ireland, having lived in Ireland for at least three years.
Irish citizenship by naturalisation
People who have lived in Ireland for five out of the previous nine years are entitled to apply for Irish citizenship by naturalisation. This is reduced for three years reckonable residence for those living in Ireland on refugee status.
The conditions are also more favourable to applicants who:
- Are of Irish descent/associations
- Were born in Ireland
- Have been living abroad due to public service
- Are a naturalised parent applying on behalf of a minor
- Are a parent or guardian applying on behalf of a minor of Irish descent/associations
Irish citizenship by marriage
Irish citizenship can be obtained through marriage or civil partnership to an Irish citizen. Applicants must have been married or in a civil partnership for three years before they become eligible to apply. They must have been living in Ireland for three out of the previous five years, including one year prior to the application.
The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service will want proof that:
- The marriage or civil partnership is legally valid and recognised in Ireland
- The marriage or civil partnership at lasted for at least three years
- The applicant has been living in Ireland for one continuous year prior to the application
- The applicant has been living in Ireland for a total of three years during the previous five years
- The applicant and their Irish spouse/civil partner live together
- The applicant intends to remain living in Ireland and is of good character
Are people from Northern Ireland entitled to Irish citizenship?
People from Northern Ireland are entitled to Irish citizenship if they were born on the island of Ireland before 1 January 2005. Anyone born after this date can choose to become an Irish citizen if they were born on the island of Ireland and at least one of their parents was an Irish or UK citizen. It may also possible to claim Irish citizenship by descent, if the applicant has a grandparent or great-grandparent who was born in Northern Ireland.
Rights of Irish citizens
Now that Ireland is the only English-speaking nation in the European Union (EU), as Irish passport has become a highly prized possession. It opens the door to unrestricted residency in Ireland, as well as the ability to live, work, study and travel in the United Kingdom and the EU.
Some of the rights enjoyed by Irish citizens include:
- To be protected by the fundamental rights as set out in the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights
- To live, work, study and travel in Ireland and the UK
- To live, work, study and travel in the EU/EAA
- To access to free education
- To vote in Irish and European elections
- To be elected to government
- To access diplomatic support outside of Ireland
- To pass Irish citizenship onto children
Ireland permits dual citizenship. This means it is possible to hold an Irish passport and another passport at the same time, depending on the rules in the other country of citizenship.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.