What is the Difference Between the Rights of Citizens and the Rights of People who are not Citizens?
Irish citizens have a range of constitutional, civil and social rights. Non-citizens are entitled to some of these rights. There is some dispute about exactly what rights are exclusive to citizens.
The legal term for anyone who is not an Irish citizen is a "non-national" but the word "alien" is also used in some of the laws. The term "third country national" is often used to describe people who are not citizens of the EU.
There are two areas where there is a clear distinction between the rights of citizens and the rights of non-nationals. They are:
- The right to live in Ireland
- The right to vote
It is clear that non-nationals have broadly the same rights as citizens in respect of rights relating to the administration of justice. This means they have the right of access to the courts and the rights of a non-national charged with a criminal offence are the same as those of a citizen. Only citizens may serve on a jury.
In other areas, the situation is not so clear. Some articles of the Constitution refer specifically to citizens but it is not clear whether or not this is meant to exclude non-nationals (for example, Article 40). Other articles do not specifically refer to citizens (for example, Articles 41 and 42) but, again, it is not clear if they confer the same rights on non-nationals as on citizens.
Non-nationals living in Ireland or visiting Ireland have the same duties as Irish citizens in respect of obeying the law, paying tax etc.
Who Has the Right to Live in Ireland?
Irish citizens have the right to live in Ireland. They are entitled to leave Ireland and to return here. An Irish citizen may not be deported. Deportation means removing a person from the country. (Deportation should not be confused with extradition. Under certain circumstances, a citizen may be extradited in order to face criminal charges in another country or to serve a prison sentence in another country. An extradited citizen retains the right to return and live in Ireland when free to do so.)
In practice, Irish children whose parents are non-nationals may not be able to exercise their right to live in Ireland until they are adults.
Citizens of EU Member States
Certain non-nationals also have the right to live here. In particular, citizens of the other EU member states have the right to live here. This includes the citizens of the member states which recently joined the EU. They have the right to bring their families to live here with them. Members of their families have the same rights even if they themselves are not citizens of an EU member state (that is, third country nationals).
The right of EU citizens and their families to live here is subject to some conditions and there are some exceptions but, in general, it is close to an absolute right. They may only be deported in very restricted circumstances (they may, of course, be extradited in the same way as Irish citizens).
The member states of the EU are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are not members of the EU but their citizens have broadly the same rights as citizens of the EU member states.
Third Country Nationals
Third country nationals (citizens of countries other than the EU member states) do not have a right to live in Ireland. This is the case even if they have connections with Ireland. For example, the non-national parents of Irish citizens do not have an automatic right to live in Ireland.
Third country nationals may be allowed to live in Ireland if they meet certain conditions. They need specific permission in order to enter the country and to live here. Non-nationals from certain countries need a valid visa in order to enter Ireland (see www justice.ie for a list of countries whose citizens need visas and for information on how to get a visa).
Third country nationals may get permission to live in Ireland if
- They have a work permit or work authorisation (see www entemp.ie for more information)
- They are setting up as self-employed and meet other conditions
- They have been granted refugee status
- They get leave to remain (usually for humanitarian reasons)
- They are applying for refugee status (seeking asylum) and a decision has not yet been made on their application
There is further information on asylum and refugees at www justice.ie
Who has the Right to Vote in Ireland?
Irish citizens living in Ireland have the right to vote in elections. The right to vote in referendums and in Presidential elections is confined to Irish citizens. In other elections, Irish citizens are entitled to vote and so are some non-nationals.
In all cases, you are entitled to vote only if you are aged 18 or over and your name is on the electoral register.
Citizens of Ireland and of the UK who are living in Ireland are eligible to vote.
You do not have to be a citizen to vote in local elections - all you need is to be living in Ireland.
European Parliament Elections
Citizens of the member states of the EU who are living here are eligible to vote.
Irish Citizens Living Abroad
Irish citizens who live abroad are not generally eligible to vote in Irish elections.
Irish citizens living in other EU member states have the right to vote in local and European Parliament elections in the member state in which they live.
What is EU Citizenship?
If you are a citizen of an EU member state, you are also an EU citizen. Each member state has its own rules about who is entitled to be a citizen. The EU itself does not set down separate rules about who is entitled to be a citizen of the EU. EU citizenship gives you a range of rights including the right to move to, live in, and work in another member state.
If you are an Irish citizen, you are also an EU citizen. You are entitled to live and work in other EU member states. The EU itself is not involved in deciding whether or not you are an Irish - and consequently an EU - citizen. Irish citizenship is decided by the Constitution and Irish laws.
Irish citizens are also citizens of the EU and have all the rights associated with that. Non-nationals have some rights under EU rules but, in general, they are not as extensive as the rights of Irish citizens.