PEOPLE WHO are granted Irish citizenship will in the future attend formal citizenship ceremonies where they will have to swear an oath of fidelity to the nation.
However, the Government has decided not to introduce citizenship tests for foreign nationals applying to become citizens in the short term.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter yesterday announced key changes to the citizenship application procedure, which he said would speed up the process and give proper recognition to the importance of becoming a citizen.
Mr Shatter said he had “substantial concerns” about the existing arrangements for becoming a citizen, whereby applicants take an oath before a District Court judge during court business and receive their certificate by post.
He said a pilot citizenship ceremony involving 75 people will take place in Dublin Castle on June 24th. Judge Bryan McMahon, a retired judge of the High Court, agreed to assume the role of presiding officer.
Future ceremonies will take place in Dublin and outside of Dublin, he said.
Many other states, including the US and Britain, hold citizenship ceremonies where people takes oaths of fidelity.
A recent report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland highlighted how many migrants said they were “deflated” by the existing procedure of swearing an oath in the District Court where there was no sense of ceremony, and often where the swearing-in occurred shortly after someone had been convicted of crimes.
Mr Shatter said there was no immediate plan to introduce citizenship tests, although he said this may be considered in the future.
The previous government had reviewed whether a test should take place for several years.
The Government said as part of the reforms, it is moving to cut a backlog of 22,000 citizenship applications awaiting decisions (17,000 of which were waiting for more than six months) when it came to power in March.
In the past 2½ months, the Department of Justice has dealt with 5,578 citizenship applications, which exceeds the full-year total of applications dealt with in 2010, it said.
Some 14,000 people are currently waiting more than six months to have their application for citizenship processed.
Mr Shatter said under the new system nobody would wait longer than six months to have their application processed except in exceptional circumstances.
“I was astonished to discover that approximately 55 per cent of all citizenship applications received by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service had to be returned to applicants due to their being incorrectly completed.”
He said further steps being taken to improve processing times include:
* streamlined procedures for certain categories of applicants such as spouses of Irish citizens and applicants recently granted long-term residency;
* plans to recruit interns under the Government’s new internship programme to help deal with applications.