A few years ago I enrolled as a student in a tertiary institution in Ireland. The application form requested my place of birth. I remember hesitating, as my place of birth and my citizenship don’t correspond. I looked for a space on the form where I could add my citizenship. There was none.
Fast forward a few months, when time came for me to register. I was presented with a bill for over €10,000. I had near heart failure: I had not expected any bill at all. I met all the requirements for the fees charged to an Irish citizen, and I also met the requirements for the government grant available to first time students, which would cover my tuition and what’s called a student contribution.
When I contacted the college, the administrator blamed me for the error, as I did not notify them I was an Irish citizen. They had not given me any opportunity to do so, nor did they indicate that I needed to. My citizenship had already been established for the purposes of applying for the grant, and the grant awarding body (SUSI) was in other ways linked to the college through the Central Applications Office (CAO): I had naïvely assumed the fact that I had managed to obtain a SUSI grant, only available to Irish citizens, would give a clue to the CAO as to my citizenship status.
Things were sorted, in the end, and I thought it was just a glitch It wasn’t. Recently I filled in an application for a scholarship. Again I was given a space to fill in my place of birth, with no opportunity or option to indicate citizenship. Remembering the previous buggerup, I discussed it with my husband, and ended up entering: “Irish citizen” in the place of birth box. It’s none of their business where I was born.
Now my daughter is about to start at a university. She worked hard in her Leaving Certificate, and won the points required to gain entry. She carefully examined options, and went through all the required application processes. This week first year students had to register online… except she was notified that because she had indicated a place of birth outside of Ireland, she had to provide evidence that she is a citizen, and also that she has been resident in Ireland for the required number of years before now. Only then would she be able to register. Like I did years ago, she also had met the requirements for a SUSI grant, like before the SUSI office is linked with the CAO, so you’d think they’d be able to somehow put a citizenship verification system in place. But no, that would mean efficiency in a beaurocracy, so perish the thought.
She provided the required evidence by Thursday (she had to wait for a letter from the school), but she is still blocked from registering. This means that all her fellow students are able to peruse their timetables and similar information without which it’s difficult to plan ahead. She can’t provide her part time employer with an idea of what hours she’d be available to work, for instance. It means she is anxious about missing the deadline the university gave for registration. Most of all, it means she is excluded. Highlighted. Different.
This kind of thing is pissing me off ever more, the longer I live here as a citizen. Ireland has done a lot for us, and I would not be who, or where I am, without this great little country. Yet I earned my citizenship, and my husband and I earned our children’s citizenship. What did most people do to be Irish? They popped out of the right parents, or in the right place. Other than that they did bugger all to earn the right to call themselves Irish citizens.
Naturalised citizens like myself and my children did so much more. First, in 2005 I met the requirements for residence in Ireland. Sortly after arriving I visited the police station and registered as an immigrant. For years I had to return to the police station at regular intervals to renew my registration, and prove I continued to meet the requirements for staying – a process that sometimes meant hours of waiting (I once waited four hours, before someone thought to tell me the immigration officer wasn’t in). After five years living here I was entitled to apply for citizenship, but for various reasons I didn’t apply until late 2012. The application process involved filling in a form which, as I remember it, was at least 13 pages long. I travelled to Dublin for help from the New Communities Partnership with filling in the application form, because it was well known that if you made even the smallest mistake, your form would simply be sent back to you, and you’d have to start all over again. You could lose the €175 non-refundable application fee. I spent an entire day there getting that form perfect. At one point the consultant realised with horror that I had filled in the form with blue rather than black pen, so I had to re-do the whole. damn. thing.
Once I sent in the application the processing of citizenship applications had been streamlined, and I waited only a few months for my application to be processed. Before the overhaul, people waited years. My application was approved, and I had to fork over nearly €1,000. After that I travelled to Dublin and attended a ceremony where I swore allegiance to the Irish state.
In light of all that, can you understand why I get so angry and upset when we STILL have to jump through hoops, prove ourselves, deal with systems which seem to be designed to discriminate against us and make our lives difficult? Why in the name of all the gods can universities and colleges not ask people to fill in their citizenship rather than place of birth in application forms? Why is this so difficult? Why is it such a hard thing to get that not all Irish citizens were born in Ireland? Why insist on sticking to a system that others and discriminates against and makes life difficult for those who actually sweated blood for the privilege of citizenship, while blithely taking the word of those who claim to have been born in Ireland on both their place of birth, as well as their years of residence in the state?
This whole thing pisses me off tremendously. But I suppose it’s one of those things you just have to live with.