The passport omission enraging thousands across Australia: 'A joke'

·Associate News Editor
·4-min read

While it prides itself on being a multicultural nation, Australia's ethos doesn't always align with reality.

Just ask a growing number of disgruntled European ex-pats, many who have started families Down Under and have become dismayed by a bizarre case of bureaucracy.

Australia, like several other English speaking countries, does not accept on identification documents names that include special characters or diacritics. It has upset many families trying to continue cultural traditions when naming children.

"It's crazy... it's a joke," linguist and member of the Irish National Association of Australasia Tomás de Bhaldraithe bluntly told Yahoo News Australia.

His anger is the result of state and federal governments refusing to recognise fadas – the right slanting line above certain vowels which indicate the pronunciation of multiple Irish names – on birth certificates and passports.

"They say it's something to do with the computers at the airport that can't scan them but that's absurd as there's all sorts of other names with other symbols on them," he said.

Mr De Bhaldraithe is a proud Irishman and there are many more men and women like him across the country. More than 110,000 people moved to Australia from Ireland in the decade to 2019 alone, the Irish Times reports.

Aaron Stranney, a father of three from Wollongong, moved to Australia from Ireland in 2008.

He and his Australian wife decided to choose an Irish name for their third child to celebrate Ms Stranney's heritage.

Aaron Stranney pictured with his son Faolan standing in front of a Christmas tree.
Aaron Stranney pictured with his son Faolán. Source: Supplied

However when they went to register Faolán's name, they hit a roadblock.

"I thought it was really strange," he told Yahoo News Australia when discovering he could not submit Faolán's name with a fada on his birth certificate.

The strong sense of pride in the language and heritage from the Irish diaspora was "the main reason" Mr Stranney chose an Irish name for his son.

"[A country like Australia] you'd want to have as many languages as possible," he said.

Mr De Bhaldraithe laments claims of Australia being representative of cultures found across the nation.

"They talk about being multi-cultural, well it's no more multi-cultural [than elsewhere] as you're mono-accented in the media.

"If you're outside of the norm, they crucify you."

He says the suppression of the Irish language in Australia undoubtedly came from the British.

He recalled a period during The Troubles when his Gaelic name on his Irish passport would result in him being pulled into a side room at British airports.

"They'd get more furious when I'd say 'What's your name in Chinese?'" Mr De Bhaldraithe said.

An example of a fada features on the front of an Irish passport (left). But to get a fada on your name included on a passport in Australia has proven impossible. Source: Getty, file.
An example of a fada features on the front of an Irish passport (left). But to get a fada on your name included on a passport in Australia has proven impossible. Source: Getty, file.

The UK does also not allow names with diacritical marks on passports. Most US states prohibit the use of diacritical marks in names on official documents, citing the difficulty of computer systems to recognise such names.

Omission under review, state government promises

And while the omission of fadas on identification is an age-old issue for Irish people in Australia, a spokesperson for the NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages told Yahoo News Australia the use of fadas on documentation such as birth certificates is currently under review.

"NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages (the Registry) is currently consulting with organisations including the Australian Passport Office and national BDM Registries on the use of diacritical marks to represent the State’s diverse and multicultural communities," they said.

"Currently the Registry does not use diacritical marks on documents to retain consistency with Federal and State authorities including the Australian Passport Office, Medicare and Transport for NSW.

"The Registry aims to ensure a person registering a life event such as a birth, change of name or marriage in NSW will not face challenges with other organisations if diacritical marks are included on the civil registration registers in NSW."

Consultation over whether fadas and other diacritical marks will be permitted on documentation will conclude in March.

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