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The British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill 2023-24 would make it easier for people from the Republic of Ireland to become British citizens. It would allow Irish people to acquire British citizenship by registration after five years’ residence without having to sit a citizenship test, which is required for the standard process of becoming British by naturalisation.

The measure originated as a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Gavin Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party. The Government announced during second reading that it supports the bill, with some proposed modifications.

In particular, the bill would be amended to open the new registration route to all Irish citizens (not just those born in the Republic of Ireland) who live anywhere in the UK (not just Northern Ireland). It would be renamed accordingly, becoming law as the British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act.

DUP parliamentarians have long campaigned for more relaxed citizenship rules for people born in the Republic of Ireland. Lord Hay of Ballyore, a former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, was born in Donegal and moved to Northern Ireland as a child. The Government’s support for the bill forms part of the Safeguarding the Union deal to restore the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. Labour also supports the bill.

Around 270,000 people born in the Republic of Ireland had lived in the UK (excluding Scotland) for at least five years and do not have a British passport, according to the 2021 Census. It is not clear how many of those eligible in principle would be interested in British citizenship even on the improved terms offered by the bill. Dual citizenship is allowed, but many Irish residents are likely to identify as Irish only and already have rights similar to British citizenship under UK law.

The bill was granted a second reading on 26 January 2024. Committee stage is scheduled for 17 April.

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