A 61-year-old Shannon man has turned down an opportunity to become a Danish citizen following his refusal to shake hands with his local mayor.
Billy O’Shea, who has been living in Denmark for the past 37 years, recently raised the alarm over a new bill which would force him to shake hands with the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen.
In bizarre circumstances, the Clare born musician, writer and translator has described the “symbolic gesture for new citizens” as “un-Danish”.
“I have recently passed the citizenship test,” explained Mr O’Shea. “I wrote to the Parliamentary Committee on Naturalisation at the start of December to voice my concern at proposed amendment L-80, which will make it mandatory for all new Danish citizens to shake hands with a representative of the authorities”.
“In my opinion, a handshake, if it is to be an expression of mutual respect, must necessarily be voluntary.
“You cannot enforce respect by law.
“The idea is, in my view, quite un-Danish,” he added.
According to the Shannon native, he received a response from the Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration, Inger Støjberg, who stated that “if you are covered by the new requirements for participation in a constitutional ceremony and you do not shake hands with a representative of the municipality during the ceremony, you will not become a Danish citizen”.
“Respect is not something people can be forced to show – it is something that arises between equal citizens,” said Billy O’Shea.
“We cannot shake hands if one of us is on our knees.
“What if someone refuses to shake hands on religious grounds?”
The new citizenship rules are part of new laws introduced before Christmas which aim to ensure new citizens accept European values.
“I have lived in Denmark since 1981, have been self-supporting from day one, and have never taken social assistance of any kind,” added Mr O’Shea.
“I have worked hard, have paid taxes through all the years, have no debt to the state, and no criminal record.
“I have always loved Denmark and Danish culture, and that is the only reason why I have stayed here and tried to make Denmark my home.
“I am not religious and will happily shake hands with anyone.
“I shook hands with Queen Margrethe in 2000 when I received the Gold Medal of the University of Copenhagen, and I was very honoured by the privilege.
“I have great respect for the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen, and for his office, and I will happily shake his hand under other circumstances.
“But I also have respect for myself, and I do not intend my first act as a citizen of a democratic country to be to renounce something as basic as my rights over my own body,” added Mr O’Shea.
To become a Danish citizen, immigrants must be resident for up to nine years, pass language, history and culture tests, have a clear record and be financially self-sufficient.