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Royal Irish Academy Conference
“Enfranchising Ireland? Identity, Citizenship and state”
Thursday 20th October 2016
Address by the Minister of State for Justice at the Department of Justice and Equality
with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration, and Integration, David Stanton T.D.
Thank you for that warm welcome. And thanks especially to The Royal Irish Academy for organising this excellent and informative conference today. The conference presents an opportunity to hear from many experts in the field and will, I am sure give food for thought. It is a privilege to be here in this wonderful seat of learning. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD had intended to address the conference but unfortunately she had to cancel as she is abroad on official business. She sends her best wishes for the success of the event.
Ireland has evolved significantly in the space of just one generation. In little over a decade we have changed from being an overwhelming mono-cultural society to being the home for an amazingly diverse range of communities, cultures and religions. There is hardly a country on the planet which isn’t represented in our cities, towns and villages. From remote South Sea Islands to the great American continent; from the vastness of Africa to the great landmass of the East; from countries where the sun always seems to shine to where it is covered in snow for 6 months of the year – Ireland is now home to people from all these lands. It is a truly uplifting thought that our small island at the edge of the Old World of Europe and facing into the New World of the Americas is now the place called home for so many people from such diverse lands. The number of persons seeking to become Irish citizens is representative of this fact.
Irish citizenship is governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 and some later amendments. The Act sets out the conditions for a grant of citizenship through naturalisation; these conditions include residency and good character requirements. Under the Act the Minister for Justice and Equality has the responsibility and duty, on behalf of the Irish State, to ensure that the grant of citizenship is granted in accordance with the legislation. Each application for citizenship through naturalisation is given careful consideration and each decision to grant, or indeed to refuse, citizenship is taken very seriously indeed.
The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level. It is essential that the integrity of the Irish naturalisation system is protected as we are in the enviable position of having a passport which is well regarded world wide and our Irish citizens receive a warm welcome across the globe. As an Irish citizen the person can obtain an Irish passport and avail of visa free travel to Australia, Canada, the USA and many other countries as well as being able to travel freely within the Common Travel Area. It also provides for free movement within the EU including enabling the person naturalised, along with their family, to relocate to another Member State and avail of EU Treaty rights.
Becoming a citizen of Ireland means much more than having an Irish passport or being able to vote. These of course, are very important but at a much deeper level citizens are affirming their commitment to the values we cherish most and which are rooted in our history. In so doing we are also affirming support for our sense of mutual responsibility to one another as citizens of this country. By being a citizen you become part of a common thread which unites and binds all of us.
What we ask of all our citizens are serious and solemn pledges and it is our duty to uphold them. On behalf of the Irish people we ask that citizens do their utmost to uphold these pledges to our nation, to its values and to their fellow citizens. In turn by our laws and our traditions we commit to continue to recognise the personal rights of individuals in a nation which places great value on inclusion, tolerance and diversity.
There is much debate about integration and in that regard I can say that a new integration strategy is being finalised in my Department which is expected to be published by year end.
In my view the grant of citizenship and the full involvement of the new citizen in Irish society goes to the core of integration. That is not of course to say that new citizens must adopt Irish cultures at the expense of their own. Far from it. What it does mean is that we all have obligations – the State has an obligation to ensure its laws are fair to all, to uphold equality and to encourage integration in its various policies. The so called “indigenous” population has an obligation to be open and inclusive and reach out to our newer communities. For our newer citizens we must encourage them in involvement in civic society. This can often be in small ways for example, by being members of local clubs, parents groups, etc. Through such interaction, we can all learn to appreciate each others commonality and differences and learn to live in harmony. Ireland’s own history and our global Diaspora tells our story as an emigrant people, while at the same time, contemporary Ireland is enriched by the many immigrants that are contributing to Ireland’s present and future.
Could I leave you with a quote from Vaclav Havel
“Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens there can be no free and independent nations. Without internal peace, that is, peace among citizens and between the citizens and the State, there can be no guarantee of external peace.”
I see there are a number of expert speakers lined up to give talks and share their insights with you during the day, which promises to be of great interest, so I will not delay proceedings any longer. I wish to again thank the Royal Irish Academy for organising the event, and hope it is very successful.