Irish News

Wednesday 30 July 2014

African girl wins her long fight to prove Irish citizenship

Little Martina, 10, is now entitled to €26,000 share of late dad's pension

Tom Lyons

Published 14/04/2013|04:00

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IRISH CONNECTION: Martina Padwick, pictured with her mum Martha Woldu Hagos when she was six

A 10-year-old African girl is finally to receive money owed to her by the State after an arduous battle to prove her Irish citizenship.

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Martina Padwick, whose father was a soldier from Cork who died before she was born, is due to receive €26,000 from the State.

This is her portion of her father Martin Padwick's pension which built up over the last decade while her mother Martha Woldu Hagos fought to prove her daughter's paternity.

Ms Woldu Hagos met Mr Padwick when they worked together in the kitchens of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Eritrea. Mr Padwick died in December 2002 soon after he returned from his UN mission leaving his daughter's future in limbo.

Ms Woldu Hagos told the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2004 that her daughter was Irish but she was told she would have to establish this by formal means herself. This was an impossible task for the single mother who was living in poor conditions 5,700km away.

The only support she received was a whip-around from Mr Padwick's colleagues prior to the termination of Ireland's involvement in the UN mission to Eritrea.

In 2009, Anthony Joyce, a solicitor, and Simon Palmer, a public relations adviser, took up her case pro bono.

Martina's story was raised in the Dail by Brian O'Shea, the Labour Party spokesman on military affairs, and the then minister for foreign affairs Micheal Martin ordered a DNA test.

In early 2010 the Department of Foreign Affairs paid for a doctor to be sent to Eritrea to carry out a DNA test. This test definitively found that Martina was Mr Padwick's daughter.

Getting Martina access to her father's pension took another three years because of red tape around opening a bank account in Ireland and getting a personal public service number here for a child living thousands of miles away in Africa.

"There were a huge number of documents being sent back and forth between Dublin and Mombasa (Kenya) where Martina and Martha are now living. It's hard enough trying to set up an Irish bank account for a minor living in Ireland, so you could imagine what it was like doing it for to someone in East Africa," Mr Palmer said.

"It's great that it's finally over. Both Anthony Joyce & Co and I saw it as an injustice that Martina wasn't being looked after by the Irish State and not getting what she was entitled to," Mr Palmer said.

"Now her future is financially secure and with an Irish passport she has freedom to work or live anywhere in Europe when she's older. She's too young to appreciate the ramifications of this now, but it will be invaluable to her when she grows up."

Mr Joyce said: "Martina Padwick's father was Irish which means Martina has always been an Irish citizen and our role was to ensure that the Irish Government recognised her citizenship.

"Our difficulty was proving that her father was Irish but through extensive efforts we were able to prove the connection.

"This case highlights two issues for me as we have subsequently been contacted by other people in similar situations. The first is that there are many Irish citizens living in Third World countries in appalling conditions and Martina's case is the tip of the iceberg.

"The second and most important issue is that I believe that the burden of proof that is required by the Department of Foreign Affairs in proving Irish patronage is too high. In many cases it is not possible to get DNA samples from, for example, an estranged father and therefore other evidence should be allowed to form a case to confirm the connection," he said.

Irish Independent

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