Happiness and excitement were in the air on Friday as more than 3,000 people from over 120 countries filled Dublin’s Convention Centre for three consecutive citizenship ceremonies.
As usual, Poland, India, Romania, Nigeria and Brazil were well-represented among those taking the oath of allegiance, but there was also a significant sprinkling of Ireland's second-largest immigrant community – the British. Easy enough to pick out, as they tended to be rather older than the rest, they nearly all had the same story to tell; after living in Ireland for many years, they were finally taking the plunge because of Britain's impending departure from the EU.
The Department of Justice confirms there has been an increase in the number of British nationals who are applying for and have been granted Irish citizenship in 2016 and 2017.
On Friday, they were the third-largest national group in attendance. Yvonne and Bill Davidson were typical. Originally from from Fife in Scotland, they have been living here for 27 years. Yvonne spent 20 years working for the HSE and now works in private healthcare, while Bill is retired. According to Yvonne, every five years or so they would discuss applying for citizenship. "We talked about it and gave lip service to it, but then Brexit came along," she says. "And that put a foot in our backsides," adds Bill.
The Davidsons, who live in Cork and have grandchildren in both Ireland and the UK, loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the day. “We were talking to two Indians on the way in, and we were sitting beside an Ethiopian,” says Bill. While they are not particularly worried about the immediate impact of Brexit – it will take a few years to fully understand what that will really be, they say – they have no desire to find themselves outside the EU.
“We would have been Remainers,” says Bill. “We want to be part of Europe.”
In the longer term, though, they foresee bigger problems ahead. “If you think about it, potentially in two years’ time we might have to apply for a visa to go to France,” says Bill. “Potentially we wouldn’t have access to the health service. Nobody knows for sure, but don’t kid yourself, there’s going to be a hard Border.”
Chris Randolph, originally from Gloucestershire, has been in Ireland for 18 years and lives near Castlebar. “Brexit tipped the balance,” he says. “When I came here I wanted to be a European. I’ve always been a European. Every since I first thought about it as a teenager. I’d thought about doing it before but of course it’s very expensive. It costs more than €1,000.”
His real worry is his sterling pension. “I’m retired and most of my pension comes from the UK.”
Roddy Scott, originally from the Scottish Borders but now living in Roscommon, was not applying for citizenship today, but his Brazilian wife was. Scott looks forward to the day – not too far off, he says – when he gets his independent Scottish passport. “I came to Ireland to work but I’m not concerned about my immediate legal status,” he says. “That needs to be ironed out, but there’ll have to be a reciprocal agreement between Britain and the rest of the EU about the status of residents in each others’ countries.”
He’s scornful of what he sees as the British government’s attempts to have its cake and eat it in the Brexit negotiations. “You don’t leave a club expecting to have all the rights you had as a member,” he says. “Your membership’s revoked.”
So would he not consider joining our club instead? “Well, I don’t like the guy who’s in charge of it,” he laughs.
But Yvonne and Bill Davidson both say they definitely feel Irish. “This has been home for us for a long time,” says Yvonne. “I felt very emotional today. Everyone is smiling and happy. We’ve done the right thing, for sure.”