The East Derry MP acknowledged that many unionists now carry Irish passports to facilitate movement across Europe.
However, he addressed the plight of Irish trade unionists – known to include his party colleague, cross-party colleague Willie Hay – who face very high costs if they wish to travel on a British passport.
“The Irish Government has taken action because they consider citizens of the island of Ireland to be Irish citizens if they choose to be so viewed.
“Unfortunately, our government has not done the same. There are those who have been residents of Northern Ireland for decades and need to be able to do for a British passport what those who choose to be Irish do for an Irish passport, but they are not allowed to do that.” Campbell told MPs.
He pointed out that under British law “anyone born before 1949, when the Republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth, who wishes to become a British citizen can do so, but anyone born after 1949 cannot”.
This applies to the former spokesman for Stormont, who was born in Milford in 1950 and is therefore not automatically entitled to a British passport. The DUP Grande has repeatedly urged the British government to deal with it.
Mr. Campbell specifically mentioned the case of Willie Hay this week.
“This means that if someone was born in the Republic in 1950 and moved to Northern Ireland the day after they were born, became a British resident, grew up and became a British taxpayer and British voter – in one famous case they sat in the British institution of the House of Lords – they still would not be considered British citizens because they were born at the wrong time,” he remarked.
Mr Campbell added: “The problem at the moment is some people have an Irish passport because they need it to travel but they would rather have a British passport.
“The Home Office is basically telling them, ‘Naturalize. Just pay the £1,330 to get what’s due to you.’
“If you go to the Home Office’s website, the first page says ‘Check if you can become a British citizen’. They already are! That’s what they demand.
“They have been for decades and then the Home Office says to see if they can become British citizens. There is nothing more insulting or demeaning than having this on the Home Office website. It tells them: ‘Well, of course you can claim British citizenship, now go ahead and fill out the necessary form, then apply for the passport and you’ll get one.’
“Meanwhile, the neighbor in the house next door – or in some cases family members who were born at a different time – may want an Irish passport and may have never visited the Irish Republic.
“You just go to the post office and ask for an Irish passport application, fill it out and attach the required fee and an Irish passport comes in the post. The Irish Government has stated that it is prepared to recognize these people as Irish if they choose to apply for a passport. We want our government to do exactly the same.”
Responding to Mr Campbell’s concerns, Steve Baker, Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), said Irish trade unionists born after 1950 “are not British citizens and must be naturalised”.
Mr Baker said he recognized the unique circumstances of the North but said there were other UK residents who also ‘may or may not have British citizenship or a British passport’, including members of the ‘Windrush’ generation – those who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971.
“The Honorable Lord will recall some of the unfortunate circumstances of the Windrush affair, and there are other people who have had various difficulties. There are people in my constituency who, despite being born elsewhere, have lived there longer than I have alive,” he said.
Referring to the case of Irish trade unionists born in the 26 boroughs, Mr Baker explained: “The crux of the matter is that an Irish national can naturalize in the same way as any other long-term resident who now has the UK as his considered home.
“I guess the core of the sensitivity is the fact that people who identify as British, who may have been born not far from the border but were on the other side of it, are being told they have to naturalise.
“He made it clear that for those who are British but were born across the border this is a matter of the utmost sensitivity.
“The government treats these people – administratively they are not British citizens and have to naturalize – like other nationals living here in the UK.
“We are happy that you feel at home here. We are of course pleased that they identify as British – that they choose to be British – and we welcome them.
“The honorable sir mentioned elsewhere the case of our noble friend. To make sure we treat everyone fairly in the UK, they need to naturalize to match their nationality with their identity,” he said.