Do more than 700,000 born in Northern Ireland have an Irish passport?

CLAIM: More than 700,000 people born in Northern Ireland have an Irish passport.

CONCLUSION: ACCURATE. 831,779 Irish passport applications (2010-19) represents 44.7% of the Northern Ireland-born population living in the UK at the time of the 2011 Censuses.

On the 29 January 2020, BBC Newsline made the following claim in an item discussing whether having an Irish passport would be an advantage after Brexit: “More than 700,000 people born in Northern Ireland now have an Irish passport.” Less than a minute later in the item: “Almost half of people born in Northern Ireland now have an Irish passport (overlay graphic: “700,000”).”

The BBC news website also claims that “at least 700,000 people born in Northern Ireland now hold an Irish passport”.

Dual identity option for those born in Northern Ireland

People born in Northern Ireland have the right to identify themselves as British, Irish, or both, as declared in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. This includes the right to hold both British and Irish citizenship, if eligible. Citizenship rights are determined by the UK and Ireland separately; dual citizenship is not an automatic birthright.

Irish passport eligibility

To obtain an Irish passport, you must be an Irish citizen. Since 2005, you are considered an Irish citizen if you were born on the island of Ireland (i.e. including Northern Ireland), so long as one of your parents was born on the island of Ireland (or you are born abroad to a parent who was born in Ireland before 2005). This criteria did not apply before 2005.

If you were not born on the island of Ireland, you may still be eligible for Irish citizenship (and eligible to apply for an Irish passport) if your grandparents or great-grandparents were born on the island of Ireland.

Increase demand for Irish passports

On 27 December 2019, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFA) (Ireland) released the following statement, indicating an increase in applications for Irish passports:

“Over 900,000 Irish passports were issued in 2019, a new record, representing a 7% increase on 2018. During peak periods, more than 5,800 applications were submitted from around the world in a single day. Continuing the record-breaking trend, total monthly applications exceeded 100,000 in January, March, April and May in 2019.”

The statement also notes that over 94,000 first time applications were received from people born in Northern Ireland or Great Britain.

FactCheckNI contacted DFA to confirm the information provided to BBC Northern Ireland, and DFA a representative confirmed the following figures (with notes):

Year NI born Irish passport renewal applicants NI born First Time applicants for Irish passport Total applications received from NI born applicants
2010 33,216 29,020 62,236
2011 34,109 22,172 56,281
2012 37,113 23,130 60,243
2013 39,868 21,471 61,339
2014 42,592 21,822 64,414
2015 47,749 24,492 72,241
2016 53,802 37,435 91,237
2017 58,298 48,579 106,877
2018 62,563 48,674 111,237
2019 68,716 76,958 145,674
Total 2010-2019 478,026 353,753 831,779

Notes: “In processing a passport application the Passport Service verifies that the applicant is an Irish citizen by examining supporting documentation. The Passport Service does not verify or compile statistics on any other citizenship an applicant may hold. Accordingly, the figures for passport applications include both Irish citizens who do not hold any other citizenship as well as those who may also hold citizenship of another country. The overall number of first time applications and renewal applications received from applicants born in Northern Ireland or Great Britain regardless of where they are resident from 2015-2019.”

The above data tells us that during the period 2010-2019, there were 831,779 Irish passport applications received from those born in Northern Ireland. (This is assuming that a very high percentage of the applications were successful.)

The figure of 831,779 Irish passport applications confirms the claim that more than 700,000 people born in Northern Ireland have an Irish passport.

However, that is not the end of the story. There is a difference between being one of 700,000 persons born in Northern Ireland possessing an Irish passport, and whether half of all living people in the world who were born in Northern Ireland has an Irish passport. Because not everyone born in Northern Ireland still lives in Northern Ireland.

So, we need to examine the population of Northern Ireland, in terms of those born here and those not born here. We also need to assess the Northern Ireland-born population, living inside and outside Northern Ireland.

Population of Northern Ireland

The population of Northern Ireland in 2018 was estimated at 1,881,600. (The mid-year estimate for 2019 will be published at the end of June 2020.) This includes people not born in Northern Ireland.

The population recorded for the 2011 Census in Northern Ireland was 1,810,853: 1,608,853 (88.8%) born in Northern Ireland and 202,000 (11.2%) born outside Northern Ireland.

We can look to the 2011 Census in England and Wales and Scotland’s Census 2011 for further detail.

These tell us:

  • 206,735 in England
  • 8,253 in Wales
  • 36,655 in Scotland

In total, in 2011 there were 251,643 persons born in Northern Ireland living in Great Britain.

This gives a figure of 1,860,496 people born in Northern Ireland who were living in the UK in 2011, which is summarised in the following chart:

Of course, there are people born in Northern Ireland living outside the UK. For example, it is reported that the 2006 Census in Australia recorded about 21,000 such persons. But it is not feasible to calculate a global population of those born in Northern Ireland; we will apply the 2011 UK-resident figure.

The 2018 mid-year estimated population of Northern Ireland — 1,881,600 — may contain a similar percentage (2011: 11.2%) of those born outside Northern Ireland. Likewise, a similar number of those born in Northern Ireland may be living in Great Britain. Current estimates are unknown; the 2011 figures are more precise.

For the ten-year period (2010-2019), 831,779 applications represent 44.7% of the Northern Ireland-born population in the UK in 2011. The BBC Newsline figure of 700,000 represents 37.6% of the same.

Summary

The original claim stated “more than 700,000 people born in Northern Ireland have an Irish passport”. This claim is substantiated by figures from the DFA.

An additional claim stated “around half of those born in Northern Ireland now have an Irish passport”. We do not know the global population of those born in Northern Ireland who live outside Northern Ireland. However, we know how many people born in Northern Ireland were living in the UK at the time of the 2011 Censuses.

The data shows that the ten-year figure for applications received from those born in Northern Ireland (831,779) represents 44.7% of the Northern Ireland-born population in the UK (2011). It is accurate to say that this is almost half, while not considering the rest of those born in Northern Ireland living outside the UK.

Image: Photo by Allan LEONARD used by license CC BY-NC.


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