A row has erupted after DUP MP Gavin Robinson said people born in the north of Ireland have to be British first before they can be Irish.
Robinson, who is MP for East Belfast, made the comments via video link during the second reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons on Monday.
“The reality is that citizens born in Northern Ireland under the Belfast Agreement have the right to both Irish citizenship and British citizenship, but it’s in addition to British citizenship, not instead of it,” said Mr Robinson.
SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood MP, reacted by tweeting: “Sorry Gavin, you don’t get to determine my identity.”
Robinson’s comments were also challenged by citizens’ rights campaigner, Derry woman Emma DeSouza. It was her success in wringing a rare concession from the British Home Office over her right to be considered Irish which provoked Robinson’s statement.
“This statement from Gavin Robinson of the DUP cannot nor should not be allowed to go unchallenged,” she wrote. “Not only because it is wholly inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement but because it seeks to place a British identity above that of an Irish identity.”
Ms DeSouza said the comments flew in the face of the 1998 peace deal and “demonstrates the uphill battle that Irish citizens still face in having our rights under the Good Friday Agreement fully recognised. The birthright provisions are for all of us, not just one community.”
The Good Friday Agreement, an international treaty, recognised that people born in the Six Counties can identify as British, Irish or both, but this was never implemented in legislation.
Ms DeSouza took a legal case when an application for a residence card for her US-born husband was rejected. After a three-year campaign, the Home Office in London finally changed how its immigration rules affect people in the North last week.
Mr Robinson ironically declared that the issue strikes “to the very heart of the principle of consent” when he insisted British citizenship is primary for all those born in the north of Ireland.
Ms DeSouza told the BBC that to “state that the people of Northern Ireland are all British whether they want to be or not flies in the face of those principles [of the GFA].”
“He can think that personally but when you’re representing people you should not be making those kind of comments in public,” she said.
Ms DeSouza said the couple will continue the “We Are Irish Too” campaign in order to push for what they say is “full implementation of the GFA”, including the right to identify as British, Irish or both.