Presiding Officer, fellow Oireachtas members, Commissioner, Cathaoirleach, Councillors and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am delighted to join my Fine Gael colleagues, Ruaidhri, John, Billy McEvoy, Labour Senator Denis Landy, County Manager and Christy Kinehan, Chair of the Decentralisation Committee, in welcoming you all here for this important event, the joint opening of the new Justice office and Tipperary Civic Offices. To mark this occasion in a particularly fitting and appropriate way, our event today will include a Citizenship Ceremony and I extend an especially warm welcome to our candidates for citizenship and to their guests.
I would also like to particularly welcome my Fine Gael parliamentary colleagues Deputy Tom Hayes, Deputy Noel Coonan and Seamus Healy TD and former TD and Minister for State, Martin Mansergh.
This truly impressive development has been designed and constructed to a very high standard and I would like to thank the officials in the Office of Public Works, my own Department and the Local Authority, together with the builders and sub-contractors for their work. They are to be commended for the vision and collaboration involved in bringing this shared project to fruition to deliver such an impressive campus, - a 21st century facility that is more environmentally friendly and more efficient in terms of running costs - custom built to meet both our requirements and those of the council.
The completion of this office is a very welcome development, which has allowed units of the Citizenship Section, formerly housed in separate temporary accommodation in Tipperary, to be re-united in this purpose built facility.
Change is not just about the environment in which the work of the Justice Department is conducted. It is also about how the Department does its business. In this context, the citizenship division has, over the past 18 months, implemented a major reform of its operations with a view to dealing with a backlog that stood at 22,000 applications for naturalisation when I was appointed as Minister in March 2011. By the end of this year, these reforms will have resulted in more than 40,000 applications decided, a remarkable number given than in 2010 less than 7,800 applications were determined.
As you walked into the building this morning you may have noticed, in the hallway, the plaque marking the Taoiseach’s Public Service Excellence Awards of 2012, which the Citizenship Section received in June last in recognition of their hard work in the preceding 12 months and for their enthusiastic embracing of the reforms that have taken place.
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 both to the person receiving it, and to us who, on behalf of the people of Ireland, grant it.
Our 50 candidates here today, from 21 countries across the globe, will shortly become our nations newest citizens.
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.
The Presiding Officer for today’s ceremony is Her Honour Judge Elizabeth MacGrath. I would like to thank you, Judge MacGrath, for taking on this role for today’s citizenship ceremony. Your presence today signifies in a very public way the importance and solemnity of the occasion.
Today’s citizenship ceremony, together with the 58 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.
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.
For those of you granted citizenship today the history of this State is now your history and the narrative of your life is now part of our history - 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. Those of you granted citizenship today 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 Elizabeth McGrath and call upon her 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.