Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 1916 Proclamation, the founding document of our Republic, begins with three simple, but inclusive words: ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’.
In a few minutes’ time, after this ceremony is completed, we will have added more names – your names – to that list of Irishmen and Irishwomen and I would like to welcome and congratulate you as our newest citizens, your friends and your families.
Citizenship is a powerful concept, and it is right that we do not take it for granted. Under the old monarchies there was no such thing as a citizen – everyone was a subject of the king or queen, and subject to their rules and their wishes.
That is why ceremonies like today are so important. They remind all of us – those of us born Irish citizens and those of us who become Irish citizens – that we are all free, that we are all equal under the law, and that we all have rights and responsibilities to this country.
I was born an Irish citizen, not far from here in the Rotunda Hospital, but I understand something of the journey that many of you have made over the past few years. My father was an Indian migrant who came here to live. He worked hard, contributed to the economy and the community, and eventually became an Irish citizen.
The love of an Irish woman, my mother, brought him here but when they met, she too was a migrant working as a nurse in England where he worked as a medical doctor.
Growing up in West Dublin, I was the only child in my primary school to have sallow skin and a funny name. Today, West Dublin is one of the most diverse parts of Ireland.
Back in the early 1980′s, diversity was just me and a few others. It is so encouraging now to see children from migrant backgrounds in our Gaelscoileana and togging out for local GAA and football teams.
In fact, Ireland has always been a nation of migrants coming in waves down the centuries. Pre-Celtic tribes from Spain, Celts from Central Europe, Roman citizens from England like our patron Saint Patrick, Vikings from Denmark and Norway who founded this great city and many others on this island, French-speaking Normans. Each brought a new infusion of knowledge, culture and wealth to Ireland enriching us, before becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves.
In more recent years, migrants have come from all over the world, from Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, India, the Arab world, China, the Philippines and Brazil, to name just a few. Indeed many work in our health service.
As was the case in centuries past, each wave of migration has enriched Ireland and infused our country with new knowledge, new ideas, new cuisine, words, art and music. Migration brings with it challenges, but I am convinced its benefits outweigh these many times over.
For centuries many Irish people had few rights, limited opportunities, and lacked freedom. But we never lost hope, we never gave up on our desire for freedom, and as we travelled around the world, we carried with us our own unique values: a sense of justice, and fairness. A belief in the importance of education. A quirky sense of humour.
We never sought to conquer other countries, but we did change countries all around the world, just by becoming part of them. That is why being Irish means something in the world: it is respected and it is valued. The Irish passport you will be entitled to carry after today means something in the world as well. Carry it with pride.
The Ireland of today is a more tolerant, inclusive, open and equal country than the leaders of the 1916 Rising could ever have hoped one hundred years ago and we have all benefited as a result.
There are a number of thanks due today. I would like to thank the ________ band of the _________, conducted by _________, for providing the music. It shows how seriously the State takes these events that we always call on the army’s finest to perform the music, and again their presence is a powerful symbol of the significance of today’s event.
In addition, the participation of the Colour Party, led by _____________, honours our national flag, and reinforces in a very clear way the solemnity and dignity of the ceremony. I would like to thank them also for their contribution to this event.
Most of all, I would like to recognise Bryan McMahon, a distinguished retired judge of the High Court, for performing the role of Presiding Officer today and administering the Declaration of Fidelity. He has played a major role in these ceremonies since their founding.
The Declaration of Fidelity is to the Irish Nation and it affirms our Loyalty to the State, and it is rightly the final part of the citizenship application process. It reminds us that citizenship is something that we choose to take on board, and with it certain rights, responsibilities and obligations.
So when you stand to make your declaration of Loyalty to our Nation and Fidelity to our State, please remember one thing. You are doing so not out of obligation, but as a free choice, and that makes it a powerful affirmation of support for this country.
We all believe in Ireland, and what it represents. That doesn’t mean we think it is perfect, but it says that we – as citizens – will work together to make it better. It means that we don’t judge someone on their surname, or their background, or their skin colour or their religion – or anything else – but on the content of their character, what they say and what they do. It means that we are and can be One Nation.
After the Declaration of Fidelity, we will stand and face our national flag as our national anthem is played. We will remember the generations past who helped create this state, and think of the future generations we promise to support.
Before I call on Judge McMahon, I would once again like to congratulate you all on becoming our newest Irish citizens. Welcome to our national family and to our nation.
And never forget – by choosing to become Irish citizens, and going through this rigorous process, you have affirmed something very powerful about what it means to be Irish. You have strengthened what it means to be a citizen for all of us. You have reminded us that serving communities, serving the State, serving each other – is not about an accident of birth, it is a conscious and powerful statement of self-determination.
Today you are making that statement with pride. And we are proud to join with you in calling you fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen.