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Céad míle fáilte to the new Irish

ONE of the outstandingly positive features of life in Ireland, both north and south, in recent years is the number of people from other countries who have chosen to make their homes and build their futures here.

In doing so, as they live, work, play and study, they have enriched the communities in which they have settled and made a huge contribution to society.

European Union policies have, for a great many, eased this process. The freedom of movement and residence for people is an EU cornerstone, along with free movement of goods, services and capital.

Indeed, one of the more significant regrets about the Brexit project is that citizens will lose that freedom of movement when the UK eventually leaves the EU.

But a welcome has also been extended to people from beyond Europe, particularly to those who arrive in the most dire circumstances; many are the individuals and families who have found refuge and sanctuary in Irish towns and cities when fleeing war, poverty and persecution in places like Iraq and Somalia.

In the vast majority of cases, the arrival of these newcomers has been warmly embraced.

Sadly, however, there are episodes of racism, such as that reported in this newspaper at the weekend; families from Syria living in Dungannon were targeted in what police described as "racially motivated hate crimes" after 'Muslims out' was scrawled on a wall and stones thrown at a house.

However, another, altogether more uplifting, aspect of the remarkable story of the 'new Irish' was writ large in Co Kerry yesterday.

More than 2,000 people from 90 different countries were conferred with Irish citizenship in a series of ceremonies in Killarney.

There have been 141 similar events since 2011, when ceremonies to confer citizenship on groups of people were first introduced. More than 122,000 people from 180 countries have received Irish citizenship in the last eight years.

Ninety nationalities were represented at yesterday's conferment ceremony, with most coming from Poland (406), the UK (309), Romania (218), India (186) and Nigeria (99).

The new citizens received certificates of naturalisation and took an oath pledging, as justice minister Charlie Flanagan reminded them, "fidelity to our nation and loyalty to our state".

In taking on the rights of Irish citizens, they also agree to take on the civic responsibilities - for example, being able to vote in next month's referendum changing the Constitution's divorce provisions.

As the number of people wanting to become Irish citizens attests, Ireland is seen internationally as a place of openness.

Emigration is etched in this land's history and psyche; it is fitting that welcoming the migrant should be part not only of Ireland's present but also a richer, more diverse future.

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