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.
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.
No doubt some of you will be aware of recent reports in the media on the topic of racism in Ireland. I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, racism in whatever form it takes. Attitudes based on hatred and ignorance have no place in our society. I do not underestimate the effect racism has on individuals and understand that an incident that may appear relatively minor to one person may have a deep and abiding effect on the person against whom it is perpetrated.
During our EU Presidency I raised the issue of the apparent increase in hate crime and intolerance across the Union with my EU Ministerial colleagues. We agreed to ask the European Commission to launch a debate on the need for a mechanism or initiative to better support protection of fundamental rights and the Rule of Law in Member States to ensure that we live up to all the values set out in the European treaties, including democracy, the Rule of Law and the protection of the fundamental rights of all, including the right to live free from discrimination and harassment.
I did this because failure to live up to the values of the EU in one part of Europe is something that affects all of us.
So far in Ireland, we have avoided the extreme problems of racism and conflict within societies that we have seen in other parts of Europe. There are mechanisms in place to deal with racist crime and if you are subject to abuse you should come forward to our police force – An Garda Síochána - and seek their assistance and protection.
The Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office places great emphasis on the importance of reporting any suspected racist crime to the local Gardaí. It works with a network of Ethnic Liaison Officers at local level and gives advice on the services available to victims of hate crime. My Department’s Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration also undertakes important work to promote positive attitudes in our society and positive integration, as well as providing information.
But we should not be complacent. Ireland has proved to be a warm new home for so many people from so many different parts of the world, but our society is not perfect and we should never assume it is. I think we should start a reflection - a national dialogue - in Ireland about what we need to do to ensure the evils of racism, prejudice and intolerance do not spread and detrimentally affect the lives of those who live in this Republic. We must remain an inclusive society and ensure that migrants to our State, our new Irish citizens, and their children and grandchildren never feel alienated or excluded from mainstream society.
It is my hope that few of you here with us today have experienced racist abuse or have ever felt discriminated against but I know some have been victims of such behaviour. It is behaviour that we should never tolerate or regard as acceptable.
As new Irish citizens, your personal knowledge and experience would be of great value to us as we consider what further action we could take to address this very important issue. I am inviting you to think about the challenges we face and to write to me with your views and suggestions.