An American/Canadian couple desperately fighting to stay in Ireland after moving there five years ago have been granted one year’s leave to remain in the country.
As first reported by IrishCentral, the Ware family: Shannon, Katharine (Kate) and their three daughters Zoe, 11, Grace (Gráinne), 8, and Abigael (Gobnait), 7, were initially given until May 31 to show proof of paid passage to leave Ireland by June 12, uprooting the life they’ve built there for the past five years.
Yesterday, Minister for the Diaspora confirmed with the Ware family that a letter had been issued to confirm their permission to not only stay in the country for another 12 months but to work in Ireland throughout this time.
The family are to receive Stamp 4 visas, which they first applied for back in 2012. These visas will allow Shannon, a freelance translator, and Kate, a trained midwife, to work in Ireland and to freely move in and out of the country.
“We are very happy to have received this news,” Shannon Ware says.
Just six weeks ago, the family were given two weeks to leave the country on voluntary grounds before facing a deportation order. The deadline meant that the three Ware girls were not able to complete the academic year in Ireland.
“By their reckoning we have to be out on the 12th,” Shannon, told IrishCentral on receipt of the deadline, “but our daughter has a school tour that day so we may just do it on the 13th.
“We value our daughter’s experience more than the government's pettiness.”
Thanks to petitioning by the local community in Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry, where the family have fully integrated, and by local Sinn Féin politician, Martin Ferris TD, the family were awarded a two-week extension to this deadline allowing their young girls to see out the school year in Ireland.
They were also awarded a further meeting with the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Service (INIS) to discuss their situation.
Due to a discrepancy between the rules of the INIS and the GNIB (Garda National Immigration Bureau), the INIS considered the Ware family to be “undocumented” for over a year before the request for them to voluntarily leave the country was sent.
“There’s a bigger political battle between the Garda and the Dept of Justice,” Shannon said of the discrepancy.
“Even though the public statement is that the Garda work with the Dept. of Justice and we all work together, the reality is that there’s an awful lot of adversarial finger-pointing and blaming.
“That really has nothing to do with us but we have fallen into that.”
Last Wednesday, Shannon, an American citizen, and Kate, a Canadian citizen, met with the head of the Repatriation Division of the INIS to discuss their unique case.
The Ware family appear to have truly integrated into their community in Ballinskelligs, a Gaeltacht community. The three girls are Irish speakers and their eldest daughter, Zoe, has even received some attention as a sean-nós singer, performing at the acclaimed Irish-language festival Oireachtas na Samhna in Killarney last October.
“Many aspects of our case are unique,” Shannon says, “particularly with regard to my daughters’ learning of the Irish language, their integration into the local community, and the amount of support that we have received from the local community.”
“I would openly and strongly encourage newcomers to Ireland to do these things: get involved in the local community, learn the historical language of the country.”
Speaking to IrishCentral earlier this week, Shannon Ware said “On the surface, and in the most practical sense, the meeting was a success.”
“The meeting was very important, because it was a friendly and productive discussion in stark contrast to roughly 3 years of accusation and fault-finding. In my heart, I feel that yesterday was an important milestone to mark the end of a very difficult time.”
Just a day later, Shannon’s words rang true and the family were granted permission for a Stamp 4 visa.
As of yet, the Ware family are uncertain of the criteria under which they will be judged once this year is up. “Is taxation the issue? Or just income? Or just the fact that we are still in the country, haven't committed any crimes, haven't sought benefits from the State?” asks Shannon.
“Our objective remains becoming Irish citizens and full participants in the economic and social life of Ireland. For that reason, I would like to be very clear about the criteria of evaluation that will be in play one year from now.”
The family still plan to leave Ireland for a short period of time to visit Shannon and Kate’s ill parents but are hoping to return in September. “We will make concrete plans to return to Ireland in September,”Shannon tells IrishCentral, “and see the girls begin a normal school year.”
Both Kate’s father and Shannon’s mother are currently battling with cancer and they are due to fly to Canada next week to be with their respective families as arranged before the Stamp 4 visa confirmation. The family can now leave safe in the knowledge that they will be allowed to re-enter Ireland at a later date.
Kate and Shannon’s eldest daughter Zoe was among those who wrote to the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald asking for her to reconsider their family’s case.
“She was devastated … She was saying, ‘I love it here. I love my house, I love my friends, please let me attend school next year,’” Kate said.
TD Martin Ferris told the Journal.ie: “I am delighted to see justice done for Kate, Shannon and their girls. It is a great relief to them and to the community in which they have settled so firmly.”