Ireland's first citizenship ceremony in Dublin Castle

The following is an edited version of an address delivered by Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Equality, at the first Citizenship Ceremony in Dublin Castle on 24 June. This was the first time a 'rite of passage' ceremony was held to mark the significance of gaining citizenship. Up until now, new citizens swore oaths of fidelity and received their naturalisation certificates at court sittings. Seventy-three people participated in the event.

Welcome to Dublin Castle 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 in granting it.

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. That is why, within days of becoming Minister in March, I decided that we as a State needed to do more – a lot more – to mark in a formal way the significance of the granting of citizenship. We do not award citizenship lightly and it is right that it's 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 waited a long time for this moment – too long in many cases. You came to our country and chose to live among us; we welcome you 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.

I intend today's pilot ceremony to be the first of many such events. Our ceremony today is greatly enhanced by the presence of Bryan McMahon, a highly respected lawyer and very 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 will signify in a very public way the importance of the occasion.  

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 new Government came into office on 9 March there was a backlog of approximately 22,000 citizenship applications awaiting decision, approximately 17,000 of which had been waiting for in excess of 6 months with an average waiting time of 25 months. Some, indeed, had waited longer. It is entirely inappropriate, and completely out of step with other countries, that people wishing to become Irish citizens should be required to wait an average of 25 months for a decision on their application.

On taking up office, I immediately initiated steps within my Department to deal with the huge backlog of citizenship applications; today there remain 13,500 applications awaiting decision in excess of 6 months. Over 6,000 citizenship applications have been dealt with in the past 3 months which exceeds the full year total for 2010 which was 5,038. I expect that the current backlog will be dealt with by Spring of next year. From that time on my aim is that, under new measures I announced on 16th June, save in exceptional circumstances, persons applying for citizenship will be given a decision on their application within six months.

I was astonished to discover, on taking office in March, that approximately 55% of all citizenship applications received by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service had to be returned to applicants due to their being incorrectly completed. It was evident, prior to my appointment as Minister, that citizenship application forms were unnecessarily complex and obtuse and I took immediate steps to remedy this. Since 17 June, new application forms have been available on the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) website of the Department of Justice.  These new forms should dramatically reduce the numbers incorrectly completed and substantially contribute to more efficient processing times.

Other measures to improve the system include streamlined and accelerated checking procedures for certain categories of applicants such as spouses of Irish citizens and applicants recently granted long term residency who, as part of that process, underwent checks similar to those in place for naturalisation.

It is planned to recruit an appropriate number of interns under the new Internship Programme announced in the Government's Jobs Initiative to assist in areas dealing with naturalisation applications such as the Citizenship Section of the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Vetting Office.

These are major changes to the current system which will yield positive results; they also are a strong signal from me on behalf of the new Government that we are serious about our commitment to address inefficient administrative processes and to deliver cost effective public services.

Very shortly you will be invited to publicly declare your loyalty to our nation - your new home - and fidelity to our State. Having completed that legal formality under the guidance of Bryan Mc Mahon, retired Judge of the High Court, I will then present you with a certificate of naturalisation – at this point you will be a constitutionally recognised citizen of this State which you have made your home.

73 of you from 24 countries across 5 continents have joined us here today in the historic precincts of Dublin Castle to become Irish Citizens. These buildings were once the seat of British rule in Ireland and, in the courtyard outside in January 1922, a famous ceremony took place which saw the transfer of British rule to us as an independent nation. Almost 90 years later, our ceremony today on the award of citizenship is maintaining 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.

I wish to congratulate you, one and all, on becoming our newest Irish Citizens – we welcome you to our national family.