THOUSANDS of Non EU wives and husbands of EU citizens based in Ireland who were facing deportation are to gain residency rights here following a landmark European ruling.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) found Irish laws which required a spouse from outside of the EU to have lived in another member state before moving to Ireland were incompatible with a directive on the free movement on EU citizens.
The ruling involved four failed asylum seekers who married EU citizens while living in Ireland. The couples successfully complained that "notice of intention to deport" orders breached EU law and their rights to live and work in any EU state.
The High Court had previously ruled that the Department of Justice had the right to insist that non-EU wives or husbands of non-Irish EU citizens, must live legally in another member state before moving to Ireland.
The Governmentbacked by Germany, Britain, Italy and Denmark, defended the measure as being necessary to deal with the problems caused by so-called marriages of convenience.
But the ECJ ruled that Irish regulations designed to give effect to a mandatory EU directive aimed at removing red tape for EU citizens -- allowing them to travel and work more freely within the European Economic Area -- were incompatible with the directive.
The EU directive was designed to give greater legal protection to EU citizens and their families and restrict member countries from refusing entry or right of residence to non-EU spouses and family members.
The blanket ban, part of the Government's policy to prevent sham marriages, also affected married EU nationals, already living and working in Ireland, who were told that their spouses could not join them here.
Late last year the Government, which had been inundated with scores of High Court actions, settled many cases and allowed affected spouses to remain. But lawyers claim that they and their clients were forced to sign confidentiality clauses to avoid the creation of a legal precedent that could be used to fight other cases.
"Our Government spent vast sums of money fighting these cases when all logic dictated that they were wrong," said solicitor Kevin Brophy.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said more than 1,500 couples will be affected by the ruling. "While the Immigrant Council of Ireland recognises legitimate concerns regarding marriages of convenience, which may have been the reasoning behind the Government's incorrect transposition of the 'Free Movement Directive', we are of the view that each application must be considered on its own merits," said ICI senior solicitor, Hilkka Becker.
A spokesperson for justice minister Dermot Ahern said the Government needed time to consider the ruling before introducing new laws to remedy the impugned Irish regulations.