We've been getting so much of Sir Van Morrison over the last few days, because of him hitting the big Seven-O, that one of his songs has been rattling around in my head. You know the one that starts with his mother telling him there'd be days like this?

Nobody told me, before I became Minister for Justice, that there would be days like this!

Seriously - the days when I get to welcome new citizens to the family that is Ireland are among the happiest, the best among all of the joys of the job. To look out at big numbers of people who have come from so many countries, and who have made the decision to be Irish -- it's just fantastic.

It speaks to how they see this nation.

It speaks to how this nation sees them.

And it speaks to how this nation re-invents itself, generation after generation.

This ceremony is a bit different. Much smaller numbers, for starters.

But there are similarities, too. We're welcoming new citizens today who have already contributed to Ireland's sense of itself.

Let me quote journalist Anthony Woods, writing in the current CARA magazine. He says:

But this time, as we prepare for the 2015 World Cup...there is a different feel about Ireland... They have always been capable of big one-off performances, but now we are much more consistent.

Their coach, Joe Schmidt, is regarded as one of the best..."

It's always pleasant when media say something like that, but what doesn't get into print can be equally important. People in rugby tell me that Joe does an untold amount of work behind the scenes to support grass roots rugby in Ireland - quietly declining offered payment.

And he's not on his own. As key members of the Irish rugby management and team Joe, Oliver and Richardt have, time and again, lifted the mood of the nation, made us proud to be Irish.

Today, you go a step further. Your decision today indicates more than professionalism, more than commitment to a team. It indicates commitment to the wider team that is New Ireland. From today, you, too, will be proud to be Irish.

Later this month the Irish team will carry the hopes of the entire island of Ireland into the World Cup being held in England and Wales. From the foundation of the Irish State, one team drawing players from both North and South has represented Ireland in rugby.

Sports men and women of different faiths, beliefs and traditions from across the island have proudly worn the Irish jersey, even during the darkest and most troubled periods in our past. United in purpose, they have taken the field of play to represent all of the people of this great island. It is a living manifestation of the true meaning of our national flag peace, reconciliation and respect. It is a profound demonstration of the reconciling power of sport.

Today, our national DNA, our sporting culture and our understanding of our place in the world are enriched by strands of knowledge, culture and history coming from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

When Bryan McMahon, a retired Judge of the High Court, in a few minutes, administers the Declaration of Fidelity to the Irish Nation and Loyalty to the State, it will be a formal moment. But none of you will miss the reality underpinning the formality:

You will be part of us,

You are welcome to be part of us,

and we rely on you to help us be the best of us.

Just before I hand over to Bryan McMahon, let me just thank the Garda Band who will play the National Anthem during the ceremony. The presence of the Garda Band at so many important public events registers that, if we are linked together by a strong sporting culture, we are linked together, too, by music and by the members of An Garda Síochána who make it.

I now invite Judge McMahon to administer the declaration...