About 5,000 people were conferred with citizenship in ceremonies which continued in Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday.
With the coronavirus at the top of everyone’s thoughts, 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 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 cases.
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, acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his family story was defined by migration. His father was a doctor from India and his mother a nurse from Ireland and his sister lived in London. Migration had been good for Ireland, Mr Varadkar said, helping the society to function and enriching society.
The new citizens were urged to apply for passports online, and cautioned that applications would take four to six weeks.
In the nine years of citizenship ceremonies, over 120,000 people from 180 countries had become naturalised, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan outlined.
Integration had to be kept to the fore and this was why the Government had published the Migrant Integration Strategy in 2017. It was aimed at all newcomers as well as to Irish citizens, he 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,” Mr Flanagan said.
Almost 1,000 candidates are from the UK, 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 tartan kilt of the Hamilton clan, David Pratt, originally from Edinburgh and living in Derry for 10 years, said that Brexit was among the factors urging him to apply.
Anne Mary Moriyama, 83, from England has lived in West Cork, between Schull and Bandon, for almost 20 years.
She was congratulated in person by Mr Justice McMahon. Wearing green cardigan and beads, in honour of the occasion, Ms Moriyama said she had been greatly moved by the ceremony.
“I have been quite frustrated I couldn’t vote in referendums,” she 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 UK people gave Brexit as central to their decision. About 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.
He 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 had 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 backlog had developed because of a legal question over continuous residence.