A Chinese couple who applied for Irish citizenship last year had the paperwork returned by the Department of Justice because they had submitted the application in Irish.
Fangzhe Qiu and Lijing Peng applied for naturalisation in September 2020 but last month their application was returned and they were told to reapply through English.
Mr Qiu is a lecturer and assistant professor at UCD’s School of Irish Celtic Studies and Folklore, has lived in Ireland since 2011 and speaks Irish. Ms Peng is a linguistic anthropologist and assistant lecturer at Trinity College Dublin’s centre for literary translation. She has lived in Ireland since 2008.
Three years ago, Ms Peng secured her new work permit after her husband wrote to the Department of Employment in Irish to complain about delays in the process. “My permit was approved within a week and since then we naturally thought using Irish would be a way to dodge the slow application process.”
The couple also have a “special affection for and attachment to the Irish language”, said Ms Peng. “Fangzhe is a committed scholar of old Irish and our son has been in a Gaelscoil for six years and will hopefully grow up to become one in a new generation of native Irish speakers.”
“It’s not just about the delay, it’s the attitude towards the Irish language,” added Mr Qiu, who has conducted all correspondence with Government officials on this topic through Irish. “People are being discriminated against without these developments.”
In December, three months after applying, the couple’s passports were sent back. On March 1st 2021, they learned their submission had been declined because the Irish form was not up-to-date and told they needed to re-apply using the latest English language documents.
“Our entire application had been returned to us including all application materials and the application fee,” said Ms Peng. “It’s obvious that they didn’t even look at our form in five months, including the time when they returned our passports in mid-December.”
The couple contacted the Department of Justice, local TDs and the Irish language commissioner and on March 9th, they received an email in Irish from a justice official apologising for the mistake and clarifying that the couple could apply through Irish.
The official said the couple’s original submission date would be taken into consideration but did not offer details on how to re-apply. Following another email from Mr Qiu, the couple learned a new Irish language form was being drawn up but, on April 1st, they were told this new form would not be available until the end of April.
“I’m so angry,” Mr Qiu told the Irish Times. “They’ve requested another four weeks to sort out a tiny formatting issue.”
Irish language commissioner Rónán Ó Domhnaill said it was important that public services in Irish are made available at the same standard as those in English and that Irish be treated as the first national language.
While Mr Ó Domhnaill would not comment directly on the family’s case, he underlined the department of justice’s obligation, under the Official Languages Act, to provide application forms bilingually.
Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who was contacted by the couple, described their treatment as “nothing short of a disgrace” and said it “speaks to the contempt some in Government and the civil service have towards the Irish language”.
“Instead of rewarding and celebrating someone who comes to our country and makes the effort to learn and immerse himself in our national language, we actively obstruct them,” said Mr Ó Snodaigh. “An Ghaeilge should be a celebrated part of Irish citizenship, not an obstacle to it.”
Responding to a parliamentary question from Mr Ó Snodaigh on this issue, the minister for justice acknowledged last month that her department had mistakenly returned the couple’s application unprocessed but stated the situation had been resolved.
“The fact remains that Fangzhe and Lijing have been discriminated against at every turn and had their application to become citizens delayed significantly for using Irish,” said Mr Ó Snodaigh.
A justice spokesman said the most up to date Irish language version of the citizenship application form was “undergoing final formatting before being made available on our website shortly”. Application forms for citizenship are regularly updated to take account of legislative and policy changes and the revision of the Irish language version is “an essential process”, he said.
An application will “never be refused” where the Irish version of the application form is used and when applicants use an out of date form, he said. However, applicants must apply using the most up-to-date version of the form, he added.
European Commission recommends travel ban on southern Africa amid fears over new Covid variant
The EU is expected to announce an immediate travel ban to southern Africa because of the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.
The B.1.1.529 variant, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant and could evade vaccines, has been discovered in South Africa’s most populous province Gauteng.
The EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.”
The future of this year’s United Rugby Championship (URC) could be in jeopardy as it has four South African teams in it.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Michael McBride, said the emergence of the new variant was “undoubtedly a matter of concern”.
Recent arrivals to Northern Ireland from the six countries on the UK list will be contacted by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and asked to self-isolate and take a PCR test, which will be prioritised for genomic sequencing.
Further assessments will be made concerning other countries with strong travel links to South Africa, the North’s Department of Health said.
Dr McBride said the introduction of travel restrictions was on a “precautionary basis, while we await further evidence on the spread of this variant in South Africa and understand more about it.”
The official Munster rugby Twitter account stated: “We all are safe & well in Pretoria. We are working with URC on the ongoing situation relating to Covid-19 & will provide an update once we know more #MunsterInSA.”
The Covid adviser for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), Mary Favier has warned that if the new South African variant of the virus manages to “out run” Delta, then “we will have a problem”.
It was still unknown if vaccines would work against the new variant which was why so much attention was being paid to it, she told Newstalk Breakfast.
Dr Favier also welcomed plans to extend the vaccine programme to children aged 5-11. GPs knew the difference that vaccines could make, however, she pointed out that it would be a parental decision and GPs would be willing to discuss the issue with parents.
On RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme immunology expert, Professor Christine Loscher said she expected the World Health Organisation (WHO) to move the status of the new variant from one of interest to one of concern in the near future.
The new variant was of concern because of the number of mutations in the spike proteins and it was still unclear how this variant would respond to vaccines. It was a case of wait and see the impact, she said.
Within the coming weeks it would be known how good current vaccines were at neutralising antibodies in the variant, added Prof Loscher. But she pointed out that vaccine manufacturers have been able to “tweak” vaccines as the virus changed.
“That’s a positive thing to know, that they have the technology to vary the vaccine as variants arrive.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he is “deeply concerned” about the new Covid variant.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will meet on Friday to to further assess the significance of this variant.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has not updated its travel advice to South Africa on its website. It no longer advises against non-essential travel.
Italy tightens Covid restrictions as some regions face return to ‘yellow’ zone
A government decree that comes into force from December 6th will require a ‘super green pass’ health certificate to access most venues and services across the country, in a bid to contain Italy’s rising infection rate and ensure Christmas celebrations can go ahead as planned.
The ‘super green pass’ can be obtained only by those who are vaccinated against or have recovered from Covid-19.
It supersedes the basic ‘green pass’, which was also available to those who had recently tested negative for the virus; though the basic green pass will still be valid for use on public transport and to access workplaces.
Speaking at a televised press conference on Monday evening, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the restrictions would mean a “normal” Christmas this year for those who are vaccinated, and would “give certainty to the tourist season”.
The announcement comes amid media reports that some Italian regions will be placed under increased restrictions starting next week.
People wearing a face mask do some window shopping on Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on December 13, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
The northerneastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia will be returned to the more restricted ‘yellow’ zone from Monday, after it met all of the Italian government’s criteria for tightened restrictions.
Italy operates under a four-tier colour coded system for coronavirus restrictions, with ‘white’ zone areas under the most relaxed rules, and ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones under increasingly strict restrictions.
Since October, the entire country has been in the least-restricted white zone – but this week, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s hospital ward occupancy and Covid infection rates exceeded the limits put in place by the government last summer.
The region’s figures stood at 15 percent Covid patient ICU occupancy and 18 percent general hospital ward occupancy as of November 24th, according to data provided by Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services.
Under a law introduced by Italy’s government in July, any region above the threshold of 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy and with a new weekly incident rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should automatically be placed in the yellow zone.
It’s thought that mass demonstrations held in the region’s capital of Trieste last month to protest the introduction of a Covid health certificate requirement for Italy’s workers are partly behind its deteriorating health situation.
A Santa Claus puppet wearing a face mask is displayed in the window of a food store at Rome’s Trevi fountain square on December 23, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
According to Italian media, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s governor Massimiliano Fedriga has agreed to enforce the government’s ‘super green pass’ rules from Monday, allowing the region’s vaccinated population to bypass restrictions they would otherwise be subject to.
Currently, ‘yellow zone’ restrictions require an area’s inhabitants to wear a mask both outdoors and in indoor public spaces, and restaurants can seat a maximum of four diners to a table.
While those in a yellow zone will still be required to mask up outdoors, under the new rules, people who hold the ‘super green pass’ will be able to access “indoor catering”, shows (such as theatre performances), parties, nightclubs, sporting events, and “public ceremonies”, as normal.
Other parts of the country currently expected to join Friuli Venezia Giulia in the yellow zone within the next couple of weeks are the autonomous province of Bolzano, which had 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy rates as of November 24th; as well as Marche, Liguria, Lazio, Calabria, which all have figures approaching the threshold.
Some of Italy’s larger cities are putting into place their own preemptive strategies to try to contain their infection rates.
On Thursday, Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala said he was preparing to sign a measure making facemasks mandatory outdoors across the city center from the coming weekend, reports news agency Ansa.
And in Venice, mayor Luigi Brugnaro has already signed an order requiring the use of masks at Christmas markets and other large outdoor gatherings in the city, reports Sky TG 24.
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