The Irish Supreme Court has overturned High Court and Court of Appeal decisions which held that naturalised refugees were not entitled to family reunification rights under section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996 (the 1996 Act).
The two plaintiffs had been granted refugee status under the 1996 Act and subsequently became Irish citizens. Their applications for family reunification were refused. The basis for the Minister’s refusal, which was upheld by the High Court and Court of Appeal, was that they were no longer refugees because they were no longer outside their countries of nationality. As a result, they were not entitled to family reunification rights as refugees. The courts accepted the argument that in order to be entitled to family reunification rights, the plaintiffs would have to obtain a declaration of refugee status under section 17 of the 1996 Act and come within the definition of a refugee provided in section 2 which states that a refugee is someone who is outside their country of nationality.
The Supreme Court in overturning these decisions held that the plaintiffs’ naturalisation did not prevent them from applying for family reunification. The Court highlighted the “absurdity” that would follow from this interpretation of the 1996 Act. In order to come within the definition of a refugee the plaintiffs would have to fear persecution in Ireland and would be applying to bring their family members into a country in which they feared persecution. The Court also stated that the plaintiffs’ countries of nationality had not changed to Ireland, as their fear of persecution remained in their countries of origin not Ireland.
The Court held that the Minister’s interpretation would lead to “substantial legislative uncertainty when the purpose of the 1996 Act was to achieve clarity”. It was held that the aim of the Act was “to identify one definitive “mark” of recognition to persons who were entitled to refugee status in this State which, in turn, would grant them benefits and entitlements”, this mark being a declaration of refugee status under section 17. The Minister’s interpretation would require section 18 to be interpreted restrictively when the legislative intention was to be generous.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission made submissions to the effect that depriving the plaintiffs of their family reunification rights breached their family rights as guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Articles 40 and 41 of the Constitution. The Court stated that its interpretation is consistent with Article 8 ECHR and Article 41 of the Constitution.
The Court noted that its judgment would have important implications not only for the plaintiffs but for some 50 applicants in similar circumstances. The decision also renders unlawful those who were denied family reunification in 2017 and 2018 based on the fact that they had obtained citizenship, and provides certainty for those naturalised citizens who were granted family reunification from 2010 to 2017.
Click here for the judgment in MAM -v- The Minister for Justice and Equality, KN and Ors -v- The Minister for Justice and Equality.