French or Irish?

I find it hard to concentrate on anything other than the political mess in Britain. I weep for my country of birth; and I fear for my future in my country of adoption.

I won’t rehearse yet again all the reasons why I am so angry and despairing about Brexit. I think I am more depressed and upset about it than any other event that has happened in my life – yes, including the failure of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which dominated my life as a teenager.

It is not simply witnessing the country stepping ever closer to the cliff, with all the potential damage to the British economy, industry, health system, universities, research… … It is the realisation that Britain is a broken country, with polarised views, a rising populism, and a parliamentary system in crisis. Whatever the result – and goodness knows where we will be in two months – how can attitudes be changed, how can the damage be repaired? How can parliamentary democracy regain credibility, for example, and how can we again believe in and respect politicians, statisticians and journalists?

Meanwhile, what can I personally do? Not a lot. I signed the petition to revoke Article 50 of course (on day one). I can’t demonstrate (but I am glad that Kate and family – as well as at least one cousin – are currently marching in London).

If there is another referendum I can’t vote as I have lived in France for more than 15 years and the overseas voters bill, which would restore my right to vote, has been held up by Brexit. It is a private members bill, introduced in 2017, and was only debated in Parliament last week – to a virtually empty Chamber.

But I can try to obtain dual nationality, to remain a citizen of an EU country in the event of Brexit happening. Unlike my Carte de Séjour which I am still waiting for), becoming the citizen of another European country would have no practical benefit – other than my childish pleasure at being able to continue to walk through the EU Citizens gate at the airport.

It is more a personal statement, that I am a European, that I wish to distance myself from these horrible nationalistic, xenophobic views in Britain. They are elsewhere as well, of course, and whatever his other faults, Macron made a good distinction last November between patriotism – love of your country, which can be an inclusive sentiment, and nationalism (https://francais.rt.com/france/55302-patriotisme-contraire-nationalisme-tres-politique-discours-macron-centenaire-armistice-paris).

I am not proposing to give up British citizenship, but rather to have dual nationality. The question is, which country? Well, the obvious choice is France and last year, in between hospital crises, I started to collect together the information required, though it was clear that the priority should be applying for residency.

There are three problems about applying for French citizenship. The first is that I have to gather together an enormous amount of documentation (as well as writing yet another essay about why I am applying). This includes a host of birth, marriage and death certificates (which all have to have official, legal, costly translations). And in due course there will be difficult interviews no doubt.

My second problem is that I do not have a birth certificate for my father, who was born in India, and it is impossible to obtain a copy. Thanks to my cousin, Ursula, who works in the British Library, we found the record for his baptism, and the Library has produced a letter saying that government departments sometimes accept their official evidence of a baptism in lieu of a birth certificate. I can but try, though I worry about the word “sometimes”.

My third problem is that I might have to wait years rather than months to get French citizenship. Every time a French person asks if I have applied yet, I mention the problem of delays in the process and they raise their eyes in shared frustration at the tortuous workings of “l’administration franchise”.

So how about joining the apparently growing queue of Brits using their familial links with Ireland to seek Irish citizenship? Both my paternal grandparents were Irish. My grandfather was born in Portaferry in northern Ireland and my grandmother in County Cork in southern Ireland.

The procedure should be so much more straightforward than applying for French citizenship. But that is before one takes into account the amazing lack of documentation for my Irish family. Apart from my father’s missing birth certificate, which could be a problem here as well, there is the question of evidence of my grandparents’ marriage. They were married in Ceylon (don’t know why, as my grandfather was in the Indian Police in Madras). There is no marriage certificate, just a newspaper report recording the wedding and what the bride wore.

Yet another complication, I do have my grandmother’s birth certificate, but there is a blank in the box for her name! I have paid Irish genealogists to track down her baptism records, but they have drawn a complete blank. (What they did throw up was something else I had not known. My great grandfather was a leading light in the Church of Ireland, but it turns out he was married in a Methodist church and that his father was a Methodist minister.)

All of this might prove to be too many dodgy records, even for the Irish. So I am currently thinking of returning to my French citizenship papers. Big sigh.

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