Some 5,000 people are being conferred with citizenship in ceremonies which began this morning in Killarney, Co Kerry.
The large scale ceremonies over two days got underway with a nod to the coronavirus. The usual neighbourly handshake after the oath of fealty to the State gave way to “nodding” as 900 people from among 135 countries nodded to their neighbours left and right and front and back at the first of the ceremonies in the INEC venue in Killarney.
“On such occasions before threatened with viruses, I would suggest you turn to the new citizens beside you and shake hands. You are not to shake hands today, but you can look at them and nod in their direction,” presiding officer, retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon urged.
The Department in consultation with health authorities asked candidates and their guests who have returned from a COVID-19 affected region in the past 14 days or who believed they had symptoms, not to attend.
Around 60 people postponed by Monday morning, and a short ceremony will be held in Killarney in April to accommodate this group, a spokesman said. Exactly how many cancelled because of the virus was not clear, as weather was a factor in some of the cancellations.
The 40-minute solemn and simple ceremony began with the army band’s rendition of the European Anthem Ode to Joy, and it ended with the Irish national anthem.
In an introductory video message, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his family story — his father was a doctor from India and his mother a nurse from Ireland and his sister lived in London — is defined by migration.
Migration has been good for Ireland, Mr Varadkar said, helping the society to function and enriching society.
The new citizens were urged to apply for passports, and cautioned that even online applications will take between four and six weeks.
Harpist Elaine Hogan played “O’Carolan’s Welcome”. A colour party arrived on stage with the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and presiding officer Mr McMahon.
In the nine years of citizenship ceremonies, more than 120,00 people from 180 countries have become naturalised, the minster outlined.
Integration has to be kept to the fore and this is why the Government published The Migrant Integration Strategy in 2017. It is aimed at all newcomers as well as to Irish citizens, Mr Flanagan said.
It’s very remarkable that this tiny island at the edge of western Europe has as its citizens members of every nationality and from every country on this planet.
Almost 1,000 candidates are from Britain, followed by 715 from Poland and almost 500 persons from Romania.
This is followed by India with 370 and Nigeria with 201.
England, Scotland and Wales were all represented on Monday. In the bed and blue tartan kilt of the Hamilton clan, came David Pratt, originally from Edinburgh, Scotland.
Mr Bratt said he had been living in Derry for 10 years and Brexit was among the factors urging him to apply.
83-year old Anne Mary Moriyama from England, has lived in west Cork, between Schull and Bandon for almost 20 years now. She was congratulated in person by Mr Justice McMahon.
Wearing a green cardigan and beads in honour of the occasion, Ms Moriyama said she was greatly moved by the ceremony.
“I have been quite frustrated I couldn’t vote in referendums,” she also said.
She has family in the region including her son.
Accompanying her was her husband of 46 years, Japanese-born Jerome. He wanted to apply but Japanese law does not allow dual citizenship, Mr Moriyama said.
Many British people gave Brexit as central to their decision. Some 45 people travelled from Sligo and among them was 80-year-old Lawson Owen Clements, originally from Wales.
“I’m very worried about Brexit,” Mr Clements, a retired veterinary surgeon said.
Wojcieh Terlecki, from Poland, a father of two has lived in Sligo for 13 years where he has his own wardrobe business.
The father of two said Brexit was also a key factor in his decision to seek citizenship.
Greek mother of two Loukia Athanasiou, pregnant with her third child, said she and her husband Kostas, an orthodontist have been living in Ireland for 11 years. She wore a mask because of the corona virus.
“I am afraid,” she said.
There are two days of ceremonies because a back-log had developed because of a legal question over continuous residence.
In November 2019, the Court of Appeal held that the Minister for Justice and Equality was entitled to allow for reasonable absences from Ireland. Previously, the High Court had found that ‘continuous residence’ must mean that applicants cannot leave Ireland at all during the 12-month period before their application is submitted.
However while applicants can leave Ireland in the 12-month period before lodging their application, they cannot spend more than six weeks abroad in total during the year.