Judge Bryan McMahon’s words should be taken to heart
2017-02-01 17:42:58 -
Thomas Baganineza

‘You, too, are Ireland.” Those were the words of retired High Court Judge Bryan McMahon while presiding over the citizenship ceremony that took place in the Dublin Convention Centre on 14 December 2015. Some 3,000 people from 121 countries were naturalised on that day: many had come to Ireland as migrants, immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, while others were descendants of such.

I was there on that important occasion thanks to the invitation of my South African friend, who was set to become an Irish citizen. As I looked around inside the sumptuous convention centre in Dublin’s Docklands, I could see unity in diversity: black and white, Indian and Pakistani, North African and Middle Eastern, Chinese and Filipino, Latino and Brazilian.
The ceremony was absolutely warm and lovely. The soldiers who hoisted the Irish flag were a marvel to watch, while the Army Band impressed with their music appreciated by everyone in attendance.

Then came a lady who I believe should be among the world’s most influential women: Joan Burton, then Tánaiste and leader of the Irish Labour Party. She gave a very moving, welcoming speech that left us yearning for more of her words. 

Being a Dubliner and having lived side by side with all sorts of migrants and immigrants, through her speech she became a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and aunt to all the new Irish before her.

Finally, there was Bryan McMahon, who should be nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for as far as the integration of refugees, migrants and asylums seekers is concerned.

In his speech to the newly naturalised Irish, he delivered an astounding speech, cutting across different cultures, creeds, races and statuses. He encouraged everyone who wasn’t born in Ireland but who lives here not to lose faith in this country in the face of racist attack. In four simple words – “You, too, are Ireland” – he made everyone in the room feel like they belong here.

This same justice was tasked by the Government to review the direct provision system. He believes that if an asylum seeker has spent five years in the State, they should be given their needed documents.

But not everyone in the system thinks like Judge McMahon. It’s my impression that some in Ireland’s most powerful corridors believe Ireland is too lenient with refugees and asylum seekers.

Generally speaking, Ireland is a friendly place for migrants. However, not every asylum seeker can expect to be accepted, because each case is different. And when it’s alleged that some cases are reviewed by no more than an internet search… it is a system that needs improvement, to say the least.

But whatever your status, while you are in this country, please remember that you, too, are Ireland.

Thomas Baganineza is director at TugOfHope.org, a think tank focused on peace building, climate change and humanitarian crises.
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