According to ELENA newsletter,
The applicant, Mr. P, is an Iranian national and was granted refugee status in Ireland in December 1991. He submitted applications for naturalisation on a number of occasions, all of which were refused, most recently in 2013. The Minister provided no reason for the refusal, relying on certain provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, as amended.
Despite a High Court ruling quashing this refusal, the subsequent application was again refused for not meeting the “good character” requirement of s. 15(1)(b) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. The refusal referred to an undisclosed “attached report” which referenced “national security/international relations considerations.” The High Court and Court of Appeal determined that Mr. P was given a sufficient reason for the refusal, that the interests of national security outweighed the interests of Mr. P. to know the content of the materials relied on. In the Court of Appeal, Hogan J. also held that the Charter of Fundamental Rights was not applicable as the granting of citizenship represents an exercise of sovereign power by the State.
In the examining the case, the Supreme Court recognised that the right to reasons is a fundamental part of the right to be heard and applies not only when a decision is made, but also during court proceedings so that an applicant can effectively engage in the decision making process. The Court observed that there is no general procedure in Irish law which would allow a case to be decided on the basis of evidence which all affected parties did not have the opportunity to know, save in several exceptional cases. With reference to case law, the Court held that the ultimate decision on whether state interests outweigh the requirement to provide documents is one which must be made by a court rather than by the State authority.
The Court examined the instant case with a view to the principle of proportionality, and held that a failure to give more detailed reasons can only be regarded as justified if that failure impairs the entitlement to reasons to the minimum extent necessary. It held that the State did not abide to the principle of proportionality in impacting the rights of Mr. P to the minimum extent. The Court recognised that decisions on naturalisation are at the discretion of the Minister and that the Court is only placed to decide on the lawfulness of such decisions. It nonetheless held that an independent assessment could have established whether any version of the information could be provided in a way that would not affect State interests.
The Supreme Court ruled that the process followed by the State failed to impact to the minimum extent necessary the applicant’s right to reasons. It quashed the decision of the Minister and ordered that the matter be remitted following an enhanced process to conform with the principles identified in the judgment.
Before concluding the judgment, the Supreme Court also addressed the applicability of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. With reference to the case of Rottmann (Case C-135/08), on the removal of citizenship of an individual who was already a Union citizen, it held that there is nothing to suggest that Union law has any role in the decision to grant citizenship as opposed to its removal. The Court held that it did not think it necessary to reach any final determination on the boundaries of Union law in this area.
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