Northern Ireland man cannot marry fiancée from Japan because he holds Irish passport
A Northern Ireland man says his Japanese fiancee has been refused a visa to come to Belfast and marry him because he holds an Irish passport.
Lawyers for Ciaran Doole will today begin a legal challenge to overturn the Home Office ruling so he can marry partner Makiko Takeoka in 12 days time.
The couple have already spent over £7,000 on the wedding and are distraught that they may now have to cancel it.
Their legal team is set to lodge an application for leave to apply for a judicial review in Belfast High Court. They will argue that the government decision is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Doole told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are absolutely devastated. We cried when we got the refusal. We can't understand it.
"We are meant to be getting married in Belfast City Hall on October 21.
"We have booked our reception at a venue in Newcastle. We have paid for that and for a DJ, flowers, our cake and clothes.
Makiko's family have flights booked from Japan. We have friends coming from the US, Canada and Denmark.
"We stand to lose everything."
Answering the application form question about her partner's nationality, Ms Takeoka chose "Ireland" from a list of countries.
When asked his status within the UK, she wrote "British citizen".
Mr Doole's Irish passport was among the documents the couple forwarded.
In its decision, revealed to Ms Takeoka last Wednesday, the Home Office stated: "You do not meet the eligibility requirements because ... your sponsor is an Irish national who is working in the UK; however, they have not established that they are settled in the UK.
"Your sponsor is not present or settled in the UK.
"I therefore refuse your application."
Mr Doole said he was at a loss to know why he wasn't regarded as "present and settled in the country where generations of my family are from".
The 31-year-old said: "I was born in Northern Ireland, my parents are from Northern Ireland.
"I've lived my whole life here and I want to be married and continue to live here.
"This decision discriminates against me because I hold an Irish passport, as do many other people in Northern Ireland.
"This is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
"I'm being treated as an immigrant in the country where I was born and have lived for three decades.
"I consider myself both Irish and British.
"I don't need to hold two passports to assert my right to British citizenship."
Solicitor Barbara Muldoon claimed the decision breached the Good Friday Agreement.
"It treats Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland as foreigners in their own country," she said.
"It also has huge implications post-Brexit for the 400,000 Irish nationals living in the UK who aren't entitled to hold a British passport.
"Despite all the promises being made now about their status, this ruling indicates they would have no automatic right to live in Britain."
Ms Muldoon said she would have attributed the decision to "individual error" had she not witnessed an identical case in the Immigration Court six weeks ago.
"It was stated in court that the Home Office reversed an earlier decision in that case only because the Irish passport holder got a British passport," she said.
Mr Doole and Ms Takeoka met in 2013 at L'Arche charity in south Belfast, which helps adults with learning disabilities. He was a staff member and she was a volunteer with the organisation.
They began dating a few months later and got engaged last year.
Ms Takeoka (32) is an artist who ran art groups with L'Arche. Her own work has been exhibited in venues across Belfast, including the Engine Room Gallery, Waterfront Hall and Crescent Arts Centre.
She has worked in Northern Ireland for more than three years but returned to Tokyo to make the application for a family settlement visa to marry Mr Doole in Belfast and live there. The couple believed their application would be approved as they met all the requirements.
Mr Doole is "settled" in the UK and earns over £18,600 (the specified salary minimum), they have been in a relationship for several years, they have suitable accommodation to live in after marriage, and Ms Takeoka has passed the prescribed English language test.
Ms Muldoon said her clients' approach had been "meticulous and organised".
They had handed over all the documentation required, including letters from Mr Doole's employer, his employment contract, payslips, birth certificate, passport and his parents' passports, she added.
The couple made the application on June 15, knowing that all visa applications are decided within 60 days. They also paid £500 for their application to be fast-tracked to be doubly safe.
The became concerned when they hadn't heard anything by mid-August. Mr Doole contacted his local MP, the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly.
"Her office tried hard but could find out nothing," he said.
He later approached Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey who similarly "hit a brick wall". The couple were finally informed of the decision last Wednesday.
Ms Muldoon said: "This young couple should be looking forward to the happiest day of their lives. Instead, it has turned into a nightmare.
"They did everything right. They did nothing to cause this situation. We must get this decision overturned."