'Now we belong' -- tears as new citizens given a cead mile failte
FROM Siberia with love. Olga Sergina (29) told how she traded one of the coldest places on the planet for the chilly damp green fields of Ireland as she took part in the first ceremonial granting of Irish citizenship at Dublin Castle.
"I came here to study first in 2001 and then I came back. I fell in love with Robert, I fell in love with the country," the office worker said after she swore allegiance to her adopted country alongside 72 other people from 24 countries across five continents.
They had all chosen Ireland as their new home after journeying thousands of miles from countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Russia, Philippines, China, Tajikistan, Egypt, Croatia and Moldova.
Ms Sergina, who now lives with her boyfriend Robert Byrne (39), in Rush, north Dublin, said the ceremony had "brought a tear to my eye".
Until yesterday, all new citizens of the State were sworn in at general court sittings where they received their citizenship certificates.
She told how previously a friend's wife and her small child were not permitted to view him swearing allegiance as children are not allowed in courts.
"The case before them was something to do with drugs and crime. So it was nothing special, it was basically quite depressing," Ms Sergina said.
That changed yesterday as Justice Minister Alan Shatter extended a "cead mile failte" as retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon presided over the first 'rite of passage' ceremony designed to mark the significance of the occasion.
The group of voices rang out singularly as an Army officer held the Tricolour aloft. They gave their names, addresses and then swore their "fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the Irish State" before scores of friends and family.
Then each person walked up on stage at the Dublin Castle Conference Centre to receive their certificate before the Band of the 4th Western Brigade played the National Anthem.
Mr Shatter said the ceremonies would continue to be held as it was a "major event" in the lives of those granted citizenship.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) said it was important to recognise migrants who become Irish citizens were "committing their futures to this country". Mr Shatter admitted many of the immigrants had been made to wait "too long" to become citizens.
In March, there was a backlog of 22,000 citizenship applications, with 17,000 awaiting a decision for more than six months and an average wait of 25 months. Mr Shatter said by next spring the backlog would have been dealt with and people would on average receive a decision within six months. Around 6,000 applications have been processed in the past three months. However, he said an independent appeals system would not be introduced.
"I can assure you no one is going to be refused because they got a parking ticket," he said.
Ms Sergina said receiving citizenship gave her "freedom" in employment and in travelling.
"I am calling Ireland now my home," she said.
Delighted care assistant Arman Engyo, and daughter Mikayla (1), looked on as his wife Aileen Engyo, at nurse at St Vincent's Hospital who is originally from Manila in the Philippines, received her certificate.
She said it meant "stability for my work and my family".
Grace Joseph, who left Nigeria for Tyrellstown in Dublin with her three children and husband 12 years ago, said it meant she was now "certain and not afraid of what might happen". Ms Joseph, a health care assistant added: "I'm Irish. Yes, I get to belong to the country. We are so grateful for what the Irish Government have done for migrants.
"I chose to come to Ireland as I know Ireland is a Christian nation, people are friendly and very receptive and people spoke English so I wasn't going to get lost. I remember when I first arrived people wanted to feel my hair," she said. "I was one of the first that came."
Hardip Singh (32) and his wife Jatinder (27), left Punjab in India for Lucan, Co Dublin, more than nine years ago and are now parents to two-year-old twin boys. The carpenter came on a work permit with builders McNamara and Company and has since taken up maintenance work at a supermarket.
"I feel very happy today," he said as he received his citizenship certificate. "It is like having a graduation ceremony."
Mr Singh said he had originally been "sad" leaving his family, before adding: "I work with Irish guys, they are very good men. Very friendly."