Speech delivered by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence at the Citizenship Ceremony, Convention Centre, Dublin
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are all most welcome on this very special occasion. The granting of citizenship to a person who has come to our country from a foreign land is quite clearly a major event in his or her life. It is a time of celebration, a rite of passage and a moment for all of you to cherish. It is also a solemn event for this State to grant citizenship. I also welcome you to this wonderful convention centre with its iconic architecture; it is indeed a fitting place for hosting this most important occasion for you as our newest citizens and for us as the host nation in bestowing this honour on you.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am in law given the duty of deciding who should be awarded the privilege of citizenship. In doing so, I have to carefully apply the citizenship laws enacted by our Parliament and consider the individual circumstances of those who seek Irish citizenship. I take that duty very seriously, as I am acting on behalf of all Irish people in deciding who should be granted the privilege of Irish citizenship. We do not award citizenship lightly and it is right that its granting is marked by a sense of occasion that serves to underscore its importance to you, the person receiving it, and to us who, on behalf of the people of Ireland, grant it to you.
You have come to our country and have chosen to live among us. Some of you have been waiting a considerable 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 that contribution.
Our ceremony today is greatly enhanced by the presence of Bryan McMahon, one of our foremost lawyers, recently retired High Court Judge and a greatly respected patron of the arts. Bryan will lend great dignity to the proceedings in his role as presiding officer and his presence signifies in a very public way the importance and solemnity of the occasion. I want to thank you most sincerely, Bryan, for taking on this task.
I would like to thank the Army No. 1 Band conducted by Captain Declan Whitston, for joining us for this important ceremony.
I also want to thank the staff of my own department and in particular the staff of the Citizenship Section in Tipperary who have been instrumental in organizing today’s programmes of ceremonies.
I referred earlier to the length of time that many of you here today will have waited for your citizenship applications to be processed. When the Government came into office just slightly over a year ago on 9th March 2011 there was an enormous backlog of approximately 22,000 citizenship applications awaiting decision. Approximately 17,000 of these had been waiting in a barely moving queue for in excess of 6 months with an average waiting time in excess of two years. Some, indeed, had waited 3 to 4 years. Today, even though 18,000 valid applications were lodged in 2011, representing an increase of 45% over 2010, the backlog of standard applications awaiting a decision for more than 6 months has now dropped to under 8,500. This I am sure you will agree is real and significant progress. Of course we are not stopping at that, I am determined that in the coming weeks and months, we get to a point where the backlog is eliminated and where all standard applications are dealt within 6 months.
Having made decisions on almost 23,000 applications since I took office, including more than 6,500 so far this year, I think I can safely say that the steps that I initiated within my Department to deal with the backlog of citizenship applications have been a huge success. This citizenship ceremony along with 3 others taking place here today together with the 43 other ceremonies which have taken place since we introduced this universally welcomed initiative in June of last year are now major celebratory in the citizenship process. These ceremonies are also pivotal in addressing the backlog - had we not put them in place, our District Courts - where you would have been required to make the declaration you are making here today - would have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applicants. This of course would also have meant that you would have had to endure even further delays in becoming citizens.
Today’s ceremonies also marks a significant new initiative in tackling the backlog. In previous ceremonies we had limited logistical capacity available to us to ensure that as many people as possible were able to complete the citizenship legal formalities without further delay. Today’s ceremonies, in this state of the art venue, are a major milestone in that respect in that by this evening, almost 4,000 citizenship applicants will have become new Irish citizens. Over the coming months we plan to host further 16 such ceremonies over 4 days here in this facility, so in a sense by being here today at the first of these, you are participating in an event which is hugely important to you, which is historic in terms of its scale and significance to us as the host nation and which will mean that by this evening, the stock of Irish citizens will have increased by almost 4,000. I think I can truly state that is the first time ever in our history that the number of Irish citizens has increased by such a large amount in any one day! I think that you deserve a hearty round of applause for being part of this unique and historic event.
This ceremony on the award of citizenship marks in a very public way one of the very potent and powerful manifestations of our independence as a nation.
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. Having recently had the great privilege of representing the nation at St Patrick's day events in Australia and New Zealand, I have seen for myself in a most striking way the enormous respect, pride and affection which our people hold for our sense of nationhood and national identity - though like many of you - they are far from home. Like you also they too have adopted these and many other countries as their home; they have benefitted from the kindness of strangers. We now in turn confer a similar welcome to you.
I wish to congratulate you, one and all, on becoming our newest Irish Citizens – we welcome you to our national family.
I now formally introduce Judge Bryan McMahon and call upon him to administer the declaration of Fidelity, in which you publicly declare your loyalty to our Nation and Fidelity to our State as well as an undertaking to faithfully observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values.
1 April 2012