Waterford the setting for new citizens joining Ireland

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Eoghan Dalton
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Brexit, Polish politics and the weather were some of the key factors cited by some of the 670 people conferred with Irish citizenship at the WIT Arena last week.

People from eastern Europe, the UK, India and Nigeria received certificates of naturalisation at the ceremony hosted by Minister of State John Halligan.

The gathering was held in the locality in order to coincide with the annual 1848 Tricolour Celebration, which marks the first hoisting of the tricolour by Thomas Francis Meagher on The Mall in 1848.

Chris Barrett, a resident of Macroom for the past 20 years along with her Irish husband and their children, described Brexit as the “final push” in her decision to apply for citizenship.

“I wanted to stand by Europe and by Ireland. I can’t see where Britain is going,” she said.

Ms Barrett, who teaches art and writing classes in Cork and works with Youthreach, says Ireland was her “emotional home”. “I felt more aligned to the Irish way of life than I did to the British.”

For Desmond Hock Moh Ng (64), Friday meant the end of insecurity. He lives in Coleraine with his Irish wife and they have raised their children in Northern Ireland.

He said they feared the “hostile environment” promoted by Theresa May’s Conservative government, which saw various administrative measures implemented to make staying in the UK difficult for resident immigrants.

“We felt Brexit would leave us in a precarious situation,” he said. “In the event that there is a no-deal Brexit, the whole hostile environment practised by the home office in the UK would put us in a position whereby I would be in no-man’s-land.”

The uncertainty posed by Brexit “speeded up” the decision making for others. Estonian Aleksei Liksman (26) has been living here for 14 years and said citizenship was “inevitable” after his mother became an Irish citizen.

“Given the whole Brexit situation it might be beneficial to apply for an Irish passport,” he said. “You just never know what’s going to happen, to be honest.”

Only Poland had more residents than the UK being conferred – 119 citizens to 116 – at the event.

One of them was Paulina, who has been living in Ireland for the past 15 years.

She said her decision to become an Irish citizen was “nothing to do with Brexit” but instead came from a concern about domestic politics in her native Poland and elsewhere in Europe: “For me personally it’s a bit scary that Europe is turning right at this stage. What is happening with Poland and the right-wingers in power.”

Tom Stewart, from California, travelled from the north-west in Donegal to the other end of the island for the event. He has resided as a pastor in Donegal town for the past six years and described the Irish weather as an attraction: “I’m not real big on hot weather.”

“Donegal is ideal. They all tell me in Donegal that summer is their favourite day of the year.”

Despite the name, many of his relatives are English and Scottish. All he knows is that his grandmother was adopted and the family has never been able to trace its origins.
They were welcomed by Minister Halligan, who told the crowd: “Rest assured, our doors are open to all peoples from all over the world”.
The presiding officer at the ceremony, retired High Court Judge Bryan McMahon, administered the declaration of fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State.
He said the new citizens should not “erase” the history of their native countries and encouraged them to tell their future children and grandchildren of the “old country”.
To do otherwise would be to deny them their legacy, he said. “Such memories are not contraband. Bring with you your music, your songs and your stories.”

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