CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

I am delighted to be here in Tipperary Town today, along with my colleague, Minister of State Martin Mansergh, to turn the first sod on the new INIS Offices. I would like to welcome Ned O'Connor, the South Tipperary County Manager and Clare Curley, Town Manager with whose staff, we will be sharing this fine site. I also want to welcome the Secretary General of my Department, Seán Aylward, who has been a great advocate of decentralisation while at the helm of the Department of Justice, and Clare McGrath, Chairman of the Office of Public Works and John McMahon, Commissioner, O.P.W.

It is just over 2 years since I was last here to open the temporary accommodation for INIS. In the intervening time, I am pleased to say that the staff in Citizenship Division have not been idle. The number of naturalisation cases dealt with by the Office has increased from 7,000 in 2006 to 11,000 in their first year here in 2008 to an expected 26,000 this year. The new Offices that will be built in this field will provide a permanent home for this important work.

Decentralisation has many critics but I believe overall it has been very successful. Those who question the effect of the scheme should come here to Tipperary. They can start with our erstwhile colleagues in the Equality Authority in Roscrea. They can stop by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in Nenagh; proceed to Thurles to the Garda Central Vetting Unit and the Fixed Charge Processing Office and finish up in Tipperary Town at the Private Security Authority and INIS. By the time they have completed that journey, they will have met 250 staff, happy to be working in their own place, close to their families and friends. Happy to be back in the Home of Hurling and back in what has become a significant outpost of the Department of Justice and Law Reform. Some commentators see decentralisation through a prism of finance, to the exclusion of all other considerations. We see it through the needs of real people and their communities. I am proud of my Department's record on decentralisation, which has already seen 550 staff in 13 agencies transfer to 9 locations around the country.

Today's event marks another significant milestone in the Justice family's decentralisation story. We already have 62 staff here, processing naturalisation applications from those who came to our shores over the past 5 years or more, and who now want to become fully-fledged Irish citizens. When this office is built, fitted out, and ready to go in 18 months time, we will begin the process of expanding the staff complement to raise it ultimately to 188. At the same time, staff from the Council will occupy their premises.

I have no doubt that the staff from both services will function well together to make this facility a thriving centre of activity for all the people of South Tipperary and in the case of our staff, for people far beyond this community.

Before I finish, I want to again thank our colleagues in the Office of Public Works for bringing the project to this stage. I know the work that has been involved and I wish them and the contractors, JSL Group Ltd, every good wish for a successful project. I look forward to being back here again in 2012 to officially open the new Offices.

Thank you.