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22 September 2014
Fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen,
I am both delighted and privileged to join you here today on such a special occasion - the day on which you will be granted Irish citizenship. This is an important day in the story of your life and it is also an important day for Ireland, as the host nation bestowing this honour on you.
As the Minister of State with special responsibility for new communities, these citizenship ceremonies have a special resonance for me. In becoming our newest Irish citizens it is important that you become a vital member of your community and share your experiences, your skills, your customs and culture to enrich the fabric of the Irish nation. In this way we can ensure that we are a truly enriched and integrated republic.
Today’s ceremony, like all those that have gone before it with its pageantry, its formality and its lighter moments is a very public expression of the essence of our integration policies.
There are a number of aspects to this ceremony today – some of them are formal in the sense they are a legal requirement and without doing these formalities you cannot become a citizen. Other parts of today’s ceremony are less formal in that they mark the celebratory nature of this happy occasion. And finally, today is also about symbolism; the things that matter to us such as standing in respect and facing the Tricolour while officials of our State play our national anthem at the completion of the ceremony.
All of these signal in their own way that this is also an important event for us as the host nation.
This ceremony is one of four being held here today in which 3,275 applicants for a certificate of naturalisation will become our newest citizens. You will come in here during the day as citizens of 126 different countries with all your different customs, your great diversity, and your own traditions. Many of you have come along in your national colours and costumes, adding greatly to the joyful nature of the occasion. By this evening you will share one great common unifying bond – you will have become Irish citizens. For that you deserve a warm round of applause.
The decision to apply to become an Irish citizen is one, I know, that you did not take lightly. It is also a major event for us as the host nation in bestowing this honour on you. My colleague, Frances Fitzgerald, as Minister for Justice and Equality, has the responsibility and duty on behalf of the Irish nation to ensure that the grant of citizenship is given in accordance with the laws of our country. Each application is given careful consideration and each decision to grant, or indeed to refuse, citizenship is taken very seriously indeed. Today is a major event in your life and is which opens up many possibilities to you. Perhaps one day, you or a child or grandchild of yours, could stand here as Minister for Justice, or as Judge, or perhaps the President of Ireland. One way or another, all this future potential derives from you becoming a citizen of our country today.
You will shortly have the same rights, the same duties and the same responsibilities as every other Irish citizen. We ask you, as we ask all our citizens, to participate in our communities, to be good citizens, and to uphold the law.
Over the course of the past three years or so, many reforms in the Justice area have been introduced; citizenship ceremonies are one of those and these ceremonies along with other reforms in the processing of applications have transformed the naturalisation process into the wonderful uplifting occasion that has its culmination at today’s ceremonies. By the end of today 96 of these ceremonies will have been held since they were introduced by former Minister Alan Shatter in June 2011 and the number of persons receiving citizenship since this Government came to power will have exceeded 77,000. Waiting times in the great majority of cases have fallen from 2 and ½ years plus to 6 months or less in some cases.
These ceremonies which have set a new standard for the completion of the process have been remarked upon favourably at international fora and are seen as a major positive force in the government’s national integration efforts.
Today’s ceremony is greatly enhanced by the presence of Bryan McMahon, a retired Judge of the High Court, who will perform the role of the Presiding Officer and administer the Declaration of Fidelity to the Irish Nation and Loyalty to the State, which is the final part of the citizenship application process and without which you cannot become an Irish citizen. We are very grateful to Bryan for being here today to fulfil this most important function.
The Garda Band, conducted by Inspector Pat Kenny, is providing the music for today’s event which I think you will agree adds immeasurably to the sense of occasion. I would like to thank all the members of the band for their wonderful performance. The participation of the Colour Party, led by Lieutenant Gary White, honours our national flag and underlines in a very significant way the solemnity and dignity of the ceremony. Thank you all for your presence and your contribution to this event.
The Staff at the Department of Justice and Equality, and particularly those in the Citizenship Section in Tipperary, have worked tirelessly both in processing your applications and in making today’s event run smoothly. On behalf of all of us, I thank them also.
It is truly amazing that this tiny island, at the edge of Western Europe facing into the Atlantic Ocean which is home to us all has, as its citizens - as members of the national family - people who have come to live with us from every country on this planet.
As you leave here today, as proud new citizens of this Republic and constitutional democracy, our history is your history and the narrative of your life is now part of our history.
As Minister with responsibility in the area of culture and commemorations I am conscious that very shortly we will be marking the one hundred anniversary of the proclamation of the Irish Republic. We need your help to ensure that we can face into the next one hundred years united in our determination to build a just, equal and prosperous Republic for the sake of all of our children.
In a few moments you will make your declaration of Loyalty to our Nation and Fidelity to our State. These are solemn and serious pledges and it is the duty of us all, as citizens of a proud nation which values inclusion, tolerance and diversity, to uphold them.
Following that, we will stand and face the national flag in respect and remembrance of past generations while celebrating the present generation and our National Anthem will be played. I wish to congratulate you, one and all, on becoming our newest Irish citizens and welcome you to our national family.
I now formally introduce Judge McMahon and invite him to administer the declaration in which you publicly declare your Fidelity to our National and Loyalty to our State as well as an undertaking to faithfully observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values.