More Britons applying for Irish passports
Applications from UK-born citizens for Irish passports have more than doubled in the past year, partially reflecting, it is thought, tourists' heightened fears about revealing their British identity abroad.
The figures, released to the Guardian, show a rapid rise in the period since the July 7 London tube and bus bombings at a time when al-Qaida sympathisers have been targeting British travellers in the Middle East.
As many as 6 million people in the UK have an Irish grandfather or grandmother, which entitles them to claim citizenship in the Republic. The same generous regulations have traditionally allowed the Irish football team to draw on a wide reserve of talent.
According to the department of foreign affairs (DFA) in Dublin, in the first six months of last year 3,843 people born in the UK applied for an Irish passport for the first time; in the first six months of this year the figure was 8,896.
Passport renewals among those born in the UK showed a similar rapid rise: from 7,861 in the first half of last year to 19,497 in the first half of this year. A DFA spokesman said the figures revealed "a very sharp leap" but he could not account for the change, since those applying do not have to give reasons.
Release of the latest statistics follow confirmation last month that applications for Irish passports by US citizens have tripled in the five years since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Several US websites extol the virtues of travelling on Irish passports pointing out that the republic's long-established neutrality is a better guarantee of safety. "With an Irish passport you are at lower risk when travelling in areas of the world that are hostile to Americans," explains ancestry.com. "Terrorists are far less likely to kidnap or attack an Irish citizen than an American."
Among those reported to carry an Irish passport is Lt Col Tim Collins, who led the Royal Irish Regiment during the invasion of Iraq.
The family of the British hostage Kenneth Bigley asked the Dublin government to issue him with an Irish passport in an effort to convince his al-Qaida captors that he was from a neutral country. He was murdered nonetheless.
A spokeswoman the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), said yesterday: "It may be because it is more fashionable to be Irish and it's merely a way of expressing their heritage."
Part of the increase may also be attributable to changes over the past three years allowing those living in Northern Ireland to apply directly through post offices for Irish passports. The nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) is pressing the Irish government for a local office to process applications.
New poll calls for independence