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[For Information: Retired Judge Bryan McMahon will preside over the 10:15 am and 12:30 pm ceremonies, while Her Honour Judge Sarah Berkeley will preside over the third and final ceremony at 2:45 pm.]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As both participants and guests I am delighted to see you all here on this very special occasion. I know that the granting of Irish citizenship to so many of you here today who have come to our country from a foreign land is a major event in your life. It is a time of celebration, a rite of passage and a moment for all of you to cherish. It is also a solemn event for this State to grant citizenship. It is particularly fitting that this Citizenship Ceremony is taking place in this wonderful convention centre with its iconic architecture. This appropriately reflects the importance of this occasion for you as our newest citizens and for us as the host nation in bestowing this honour on you.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have the legal obligation and duty of deciding who should be awarded the privilege of citizenship. In doing so, I have to carefully apply the citizenship laws enacted by our Parliament and consider the individual circumstances of each person who seeks Irish citizenship. It is a duty I take very seriously, as I am acting on behalf of all Irish people in deciding who should be granted the privilege of Irish citizenship. Careful consideration is given to each citizenship application received and it is right that the granting of citizenship is marked by a sense of occasion that serves to underscore its importance to you, the person receiving it, and to us who, on behalf of the people of Ireland, grant it to you.
You have come to our country and have chosen to live among us. Some of you have been waiting a long time for this day to arrive. Today, we welcome you to our nation as its newest citizens and we hope that you will continue to contribute to our communities, to our neighbourhood and to our society. As a people we have been enriched by your presence and, in making you citizens of our ancient and proud land, we are acknowledging the contribution you have already made.
Our ceremony today is greatly enhanced by the presence of Bryan McMahon, one of our foremost lawyers, recently retired High Court Judge and a greatly respected patron of the arts. Bryan will lend great dignity to the proceedings in his role as presiding officer and his presence signifies in a very public way the importance and solemnity of the occasion. I want to thank you most sincerely, Bryan, for taking on this task.
I would like to thank the Garda Band conducted by Inspector Pat Kenny, and the Colour Party under the command of Captain Neil McMahon from the 2nd Eastern Brigade.
I also want to thank the staff of my own department and in particular the staff of the Citizenship Section in Tipperary who have been instrumental in organizing today’s programme of ceremonies. I would like to again publicly congratulate the Citizenship Section on receiving, in June this year, one of the Taoiseach’s Public Service Excellence Awards of 2012 for the work of the Section in the preceding 12 months and for their enthusiastic embracing of the reforms that have taken place.
I referred earlier to the length of time that many of you here today will have waited for your citizenship applications to be processed. When the Government came into office 19 months ago, on 9th March 2011, there was an enormous backlog of approximately 22,000 citizenship applications awaiting decision. Approximately 17,000 of these had been waiting in a barely moving queue for in excess of 6 months with an average waiting time in excess of two years. Some, indeed, had waited 3 to 4 years.
Having made decisions on over 37,000 applications since I took office, including almost 22,500 so far this year, I think I can safely say that the steps that I initiated within my Department to deal with the backlog of citizenship applications have been a huge success.
This citizenship ceremony, along with 2 others taking place here today, together with the 55 other ceremonies which have taken place since we introduced this universally welcomed initiative in June of last year, is a major celebratory event in the citizenship process. Citizenship Ceremonies have also been pivotal in addressing the backlog of citizenship applications. Had we not put them in place, our District Courts - where you would have been required to make the declaration you are making here today - would have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applicants. This of course would also have meant that you would have had to endure even further delays in becoming citizens.
On 24th of June 2011, the first Citizenship Ceremony ever held in this State took place in the Dublin Castle Convention Centre. On that day, we welcomed 73 new citizens to our national family. Today, in this state of the art venue, we welcome almost 2,300. I think your presence here today deserves a special round of applause.
The most visible sign of your becoming a Irish citizen today is a formal legal document - your Certificate of Naturalisation. I have no doubt it will take pride of place in many of your homes. The Certificate's importance is soon also going to be acknowledged in another special and unique way.
I am happy to be able to tell you today that a Certificate of Naturalisation will be exhibited in the coming weeks at our National Museum in Collins Barracks - further down the river Liffey from here - as one of a short-list of 10 objects representing contemporary Ireland. Its inclusion will symbolise each one of you here today and all who were naturalised before you. It will represent the tens of thousands of our new citizens and the important part you play in all our communities throughout this State.
The Certificate is, of course, hugely valued by each of you individually but in a wider sense it portrays, in a simple but powerful way, the unprecedented changes in the demography of this State. The most recent census shows that 12% of our national population or some 544,000 people are representative of 199 other countries around the globe. Our small island home at the western edge of Europe facing into the Atlantic ocean has truly become a country of many cultures - inclusive and diverse – to the benefit of us all.
I am told that as well as being able to view the Certificate, members of the public will also be encouraged to participate in the exhibition by voting for their favourite object from among the 10 in the short-list. The winner will then be included in a volume to be published next year - A History of Ireland in 100 Objects. I am told it will also be possible to vote on-line and this is something I am sure many of you will be interested in doing.
This ceremony on the award of citizenship marks in a very public way one of the very potent and powerful manifestations of our independence as a nation.
The history of this State is now your history and the narrative of your life is now part of our history. For those of you granted citizenship today your future is now interwoven with the future of this State, its citizens across the globe and, in particular, all of us who live on this island. For those of you granted citizenship today you are becoming citizens of a republic, a constitutional democracy which recognises the personal rights of each of you as individuals and which greatly values inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity.
I wish to congratulate you, one and all, on becoming our newest Irish Citizens – we welcome you to our national family.
I now formally introduce Judge Bryan McMahon and call upon him to administer the declaration of Fidelity, in which you publicly declare your loyalty to our Nation and Fidelity to our State as well as an undertaking to faithfully observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values.