By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Around 1,500 people became Irish citizens on Friday, giving a declaration of loyalty to Ireland and standing for the national anthem.
Minister for Justice Simon Harris, who addressed the first group of new citizens, paid tribute to those “who are part of our national tapestry of communities right across the country”.
Speaking at the first such in-person event in Dublin in over four years, he said that Ireland had taken the decision to “make a day out of it” through the citizenship ceremonies.
“There were obviously citizenship ceremonies during Covid, they had to take place online. So to be back in person and see the pride and joy in people’s faces and their families and how much it means to them – it’s a good day for Ireland and a good day for those 1,500 people,” he told reporters.
Philomena I Obasi, originally from Nigeria, said that Mr Harris’s speech moved her to tears.
“It felt how in the past, the Irish went out because of circumstances beyond their control, like he put it, they went out and they have excelled in different places,” she told the PA news agency.
“I was even crying. My friend said ‘What?’, I said ‘he spoke my mind’.
“I feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, and I’m so happy to be here. Ireland is a quiet country, it’s a calm country. You don’t have enemies. You don’t like war. And I’m so happy being here today.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since I came in August 2014. I’ve been waiting for this day.”
She said she was educated from primary school level onwards in Nigeria by Irish missionaries.
“I keep telling people that maybe the British colonised us, but the Irish educated us,” she said.
Elvira Griffin and Anastasia Mariussen, both originally from Russia but living in Ireland for more than eight years, said they had waited a long time for this day.
“I met my husband here, I have a baby here, so Ireland is home,” Mrs Griffin said.
“You’ve probably heard it so many times, but people are just the best. And you just feel so included, you feel supported, you feel accepted as you are.
“I’ve travelled a lot for work, for personal travels, but I’ve never ever felt anywhere like I feel in Ireland.”
Mrs Mariussen said she and her Norwegian husband lived in Norway for a time before “falling in love” with Ireland.
“People are so special, and it might sound cliched, I’m sure everybody’s saying it, but people are just so open and incredibly helpful and supportive, and very grounded, which is just a beautiful thing.
“With everything going on in the world, I’m so relieved and grateful and happy. So this was very emotional.”
Mr Harris told reporters after the ceremony: “Today is a sharp reminder of how our country is all the richer for the diversity, for the inclusion and indeed for the values that we show on a day like today.
“The (is) fact that this country is all the better for those who have come here and chosen to make Ireland their home, whether that’s people working in our health services, whether it’s people working in businesses and towns and villages across our country, whether it’s people involved in our sports clubs on our rich fabric there as well.
“It is a reminder of formerly a country that was known for emigration now being a country that is welcoming people to our shores.
“And remember, these are people who have come through a robust and vigorous process that doesn’t happen overnight to become citizens of Ireland, and today they have given an oath of loyalty and fidelity to our country.”
Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman, who addressed the second group of new citizens, also congratulated Ireland’s newest citizens.
“The richness of our nation is not measured in our wealth, but in our people, in our differences, our similarities and our shared home here on this island.”