How Brexit could hurt the already wounded Irish passport

Is it an affinity with Ireland, or a question of convenience?

How Brexit could hurt the already wounded Irish passport

A newly issued Irish passport alongside a British passport outside the High Court in Belfast | Image: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Images

"I'm Irish too!" is a phrase we have all heard coming from people we meet abroad, mostly those who can claim Irish citizenship through their family line.

You are entitled to Irish citizenship by descent if any of your grandparents were born here.

If you were born outside Ireland to an Irish citizen who was born outside Ireland, then you are entitled to become an Irish citizen.

If your parent got Irish citizenship in another manner, for example, through marriage, and was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, you can also become an Irish citizen.

And with Brexit around the corner, more and more people are opting for the harp on their passport.

The UK is home to the largest Irish-born community outside of Ireland and to a vast number of people of Irish descent.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says British citizens in Ireland outnumber all other non-Irish nationalities.

And latest figures show there was a 68% rise in requests from Britain and Northern Ireland for Irish passports in the first quarter of this year.

January 2016 vs 2017 figures for Irish passport applications | Source: Department of Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan says the uptake shows European Union membership is valued.

But is it an affinity with Ireland, or a question of convenience?

The former British ambassador to Ireland, Ivor Roberts, told the Irish Times he was becoming a citizen as "I don't want to find myself queuing to get through Rome airport every time I go there."

Mr Roberts grandfather married an Irish woman who was originally from Waterford.

With ballooning numbers applying for an Irish passport and more work for the Department of Foreign Affairs, is it time for a referendum to restrict our citizenship?

But there are wider issues than just strains on our consular service.

A recent proposal which could allow Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections meant that, due to our citizenship laws, more people living outside Ireland could have a vote than those living inside.

Diaspora Minister Joe McHugh said the number of voters could be huge.

"You're talking about - you're including outside the State - so for Northern Ireland 1.8 million, you're talking about another 1.8 million potential citizens internationally.

"So that's 3.6 - so you're talking big numbers here."

Our Cead Míle Fáilte approach to citizenship could come back to haunt us yet.