Mayor Cummins, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for those warm words of welcome. I am delighted to be here in Waterford on this special day for all those of you who will be granted Irish citizenship. It is a very 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.
This ceremony is made extra special by the anniversary today of the first raising on 7 March 1848 of the Irish tricolour here on the Mall in Waterford. It is indeed fitting that we are participating in a citizenship ceremony here today while at the same time honouring the most potent symbol of Ireland – the Tricolour, our national flag. At the conclusion of this ceremony we will all stand and face the Tricolour in respectful acknowledgment while the Army Band plays our national anthem – that other great symbol of nationhood and country.
Today is a day which is rich in symbolism and connections. It is about you the applicants becoming citizens of our democratic republic where you make a solemn pledge to uphold the ideals and principles we cherish. It is a day where we acknowledge in a most appropriate way the designation of the Tricolour as our national flag over 160 years ago by one of our great patriots Thomas Meagher. Finally it is a day where we are doing all this in the hometown of Meagher who was as proud of his Waterford birthright as you are of the place which you have made your adopted home.
My sincere thanks to the Mayor, John Cummins; City Manager, Michael Walsh and the members and staff of the City Council for welcoming us to this magnificent building. My thanks also to James Doherty, Michael Garland and all the other members of the 1848 for their invitation to hold a citizenship ceremony here in conjunction with the Tricolour Festival. I am also delighted to welcome my Oireachtas colleagues joining us here today, Senator Maurice Cummins and Deputy Ciara Conway.
This day of course is a very special day for you as the candidates for citizenship who are with us from twenty five countries all around the globe, and I am very pleased to welcome you together with your friends and family who have joined us in City Hall to witness this joyful milestone in your lives. The decision to apply to become an Irish citizen is one you did not take lightly and today is a major event in your life and that of your family. The oath you will soon take is a solemn personal undertaking and I know it is something you take very seriously.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have 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 I take each decision to grant, or indeed to refuse, citizenship very seriously indeed. It is a momentous occasion for you, as it is for us. It is a life altering event, not only for you, but for generations yet to come in your families.
As you have heard, the man who first introduced our national flag, Thomas Francis Meagher, was a Waterford man and many of the historic events he is associated with took place within sight of this room. However, he also had connections with many countries and, as many of you have, he travelled far from home. Following the Nationalist Rebellion later that same year of 1848, Meagher was charged with sedition and deported as a convict to Tasmania. From there he later travelled to the United States, became an American citizen in 1855 and went on to lead the famous Irish brigade in the American Civil war. He was honoured to be a pallbearer at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln and was the first Governor of Montana until his own death in 1867.
Coming to Ireland and obtaining citizenship is a life altering event, not only for you, but for generations yet to come in your family. In 1848, the great grandfather of President John F Kennedy emigrated to Boston from New Ross, about 20 miles from where we stand today. If his ancestors had not, in their day, become American citizens, JFK could not have been elected President of the United States. Here among you, or among your children or grandchildren, there may well be a future Taoiseach, a President or even perhaps a Minister for Justice who will be granting citizenship to future citizens of Ireland. We should never lose sight of the fact that becoming a citizen opens up that possibility. We need to dream to fulfil our dreams – JFK himself, more than most, had a keen appreciation of that great promise of fulfilment.
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 Presiding Officer. He will administer the Declaration of Fidelity to the Irish Nation and Loyalty to the State, which is the final part of the citizenship application process, 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 Army Band Brigade from Collins Barracks in Cork, under the command of Captain Brian Prendergast, 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, under the command of Captain Thomas Stapleton, honours our national flag and, together with the presence of the Naval Service Reserve Honour Guard, under the command of Petty Officer Stevenson, underlines in a very significant way the solemnity and importance of the ceremony. Thank you all for your presence and your contribution to this event.
As you know, I have the privilege of being both Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence and it is in my capacity as Minister for Defence that I am delighted to announce today a new recruitment campaign for both the Permanent and the Reserve Defence Forces. The Defence Forces plan to recruit, this year, up to 400 personnel to the Permanent Defence Force (both Army and Navy) and up to 500 personnel to the Reserve Defence Force (both Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve).
With the changes in the make-up of Ireland’s population, it is important that we raise awareness and attract recruits from all backgrounds, including the new Irish, so that our Defence Forces, both Permanent and Reserve, reflect the society that they serve. It is, therefore, appropriate that I am announcing this recruitment campaign today, at this Citizenship Ceremony in Waterford which recognises and welcomes our new citizens. The Defence Forces is committed to full equality among all its personnel irrespective of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation and this new recruitment campaign is designed to attract enthusiastic and committed men and women to a career in our Armed Forces. As new citizens, you contribute to the richness and diversity of Irish society and I would like to invite and encourage you to participate in all the institutions of the State and, in particular, to consider a career in the Defence Forces or in An Garda Siochana.
The staff of my Department, particularly those in the Citizenship Section, have worked tirelessly in processing your applications and in making today’s event run smoothly. On behalf of all of us, I thank them also.
When I was honoured to be nominated by An Taoiseach as Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence in March 2011, I made it a priority to establish a ceremony to appropriately recognise and to mark, in a formal and meaningful way, the granting of Irish citizenship. The first Citizenship Ceremony ever held in this State took place – three short months later – on 24th June 2011 in Dublin Castle. On that day, 73 applicants were welcomed as Ireland’s newest citizens. Since then, 85 ceremonies have been held and over 60,000 people have been welcomed to Ireland’s national family. Today almost 100 new citizens will be added to that total. I think that all of you here now, together with all those who have been granted citizenship since that date, deserve a big round of applause……
It is truly uplifting to realise that this tiny island which is home to us all, at the edge of Western Europe facing into the Atlantic Ocean has, as its citizens – as members of our national Irish family – people who have come to live with us from every country on this planet. I think we all deserve a round of applause for that…
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.
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.
We remember with respect Thomas Francis Meagher and for his role in nation-building by giving us our enduring sense of identity in our national flag, the Tricolour. In a little while we will stand and face the Tricolour in gratitude, in respect and in remembrance for what he left to us the succeeding generations. Finally, 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 McMahon and call upon him to administer the declaration in which you publicly declare your Fidelity to our Nation and Loyalty to our State as well as an undertaking to faithfully observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values.