Fact/Fiction: Do 10% of Brits really qualify for an Irish passport?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we delve into the facts behind Neale Richmond, chair of the Irish Seanad's Brexit Committee's claim that 10 per cent of Brits qualify for an Irish passport

How it was told

Since the UK voted Leave in 2016, it has been widely reported that the desire to secure an EU-opening Brexit-beating Irish passport has risen sharply.

Last week, figures were provided.

Neale Richmond, chair of the Irish Seanad’s Brexit Committee, said: “At least 10 per cent of the UK’s population, not including Northern Ireland, are estimated to qualify for an Irish passport and in light of Brexit, many are staking their claim to an Irish passport.

“Figures released to me by the Irish embassy in London have shown that there is no sign of this rush for Irish passports abating.”


The figures revealed 44,962 UK applications for an Irish passport – excluding from people born in Northern Ireland – in the first half of 2018. This is during the period Theresa May dithered over Brexit negotiations, hindered by the elephant in the room – the Irish border. That number is almost the same as for the entirety of 2015 – a year before the EU referendum – when there were 46,229 applications. The story went viral and the 10 per cent figure was widely repeated.

Facts. Checked.

Richmond’s claim that 10 per cent  of the UK’s population would qualify for an Irish passport translates to around 6.6 million people. That’s roughly equivalent to the 6.65 million population on the island of Ireland.

It’s a statistic that is virtually impossible to prove.

To qualify for an Irish passport while living outside the country, you have to have an Irish-born parent or an Irish-born grandparent (born anywhere on the island). So to find out how many would qualify you would have to calculate how many second and later-generation Irish people there are out of the 64.1 million people who live in the rest of Britain (not Northern Ireland). After years of emigration over the Irish Sea, even the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs admits that “estimates vary”.

It is easy to see why the passport is coveted by Brits, offering the right to freely work and study in other EU countries that may be lost in the final Brexit outcome. Currently, the Irish passport ranks as the sixth best in the world but sits behind the UK passport, which offers visa-free entry to 186 countries. However, if EU members were to change entry requirements for British citizens, it would fall down the list.

Freedom of movement and potentially shorter travel queues abroad aren’t the only benefits. The passport also ensures diplomatic support if you are injured, detained or lose your passport while abroad.

Meanwhile, Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, found that Brits made up the largest relative increase of applications granted for citizenship in the EU after Brexit. A total of 2,478 Britons were granted citizenship in an EU country in 2015, a year later that figure more than doubled to 6,555 people.

Fact-checking organisation Full Fact’s analysis of the data found that Germany granted 40 per cent of those citizenships. Sweden was second at 15 per cent, and the Netherlands accounted for 10 per cent.

However, it was a still a fraction of the number of citizenships granted by EU states in 2016, with nearly one million people taking up citizenship – 87 per cent of them were from a non-EU country.

With thanks to fullfact.org

Worth repeating


Illustration: Miles Cole

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