Emma DeSouza always thought she was Irish—but the Home Office didn't agree. Now, her case is due to be heard again, with potentially profound implications for the provisions of the Good Friday Agreementby Siobhán Fenton / September 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
When Emma and Jake DeSouza married in 2015, they didn’t expect to find themselves locked in a legal logjam just to be able to live together in the same country. But that is exactly what has happened. In the process, their marriage has exposed complexities and contradictions which strike at the core of Northern Ireland’s contested place within the United Kingdom.
Today, after a legal battle with the Home Office spanning several years, a court hearing will examine the couple’s case with potentially profound implications not only for their own lives but the wider status of the Good Friday Agreement.
One of the key components of the peace accord which marked the end of Northern Ireland’s decades-long Troubles conflict in 1998, was a commitment that people born in the region could make the personal choice to identify as British, Irish or both. This was a crucial element in ending the conflict, as it recognised the contested nature of identity in the state and the fact that while a small majority of the population identifies as British (due to their heritage tracing back to the Plantation of Ulster by British settlers under the colonisation of Ireland), a considerable minority identifies as Irish (due to their heritage as descendants of the native Irish population).
For many nationalists and Republicans, this amounted to a major and long-overdue recognition of their inherent Irishness and an ability to reject the label of Britishness with which they felt no affiliation and often considered a colonial label imposed upon them. The provision is not a controversial one, particularly among Northern Ireland’s post-conflict generations of millennials and Gen Z for whom it is merely another normal part of day-to-day life in the region and scarcely worth passing comment on.
Emma, who was born in County Derry, has always considered herself to be Irish. Her husband Jake was born in the United States; the couple met when she was holiday in Los Angeles. After they married in Belfast four years ago, they began the process of applying to stabilise his immigration status so the couple could live together in Northern Ireland.
Initially, he applied for an EEA residence card as the spouse of an Irish citizen, and the couple were shocked when the…