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22 September 2016
 
 
You are all very welcome here this morning. 
 
I’m delighted to be opening these Calls for Proposals for migrant integration and gender equality projects. 
 
Equality of opportunity is a core principle of this Partnership Government. As a Government, we are working to give everyone equality of opportunity in a fair society. When we adopted this principle, we acknowledged the role that Government must play in mobilising the resources for change and enabling people to overcome the barriers they face. Actions to advance equality need funding and so I am very pleased to be announcing this funding for equality and integration projects. It demonstrates this Government’s continuing commitment to real actions to advance equality across our communities. 
 
It will hardly come as news to any of you gathered here in this room today, nor indeed to anyone outside it, that our country has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. This, of course, we all know. But it is worth reminding ourselves of quite how transformative those changes have been – and may continue to be. 
 
As a society, we are more diverse – ethnically, culturally, and religiously – than we have ever been. Almost one in eight of us is  non-Irish. And over one third of that group are from outside the European Union. The CSO’s latest estimates are that these figures continue to rise. We can look forward to a more complete picture as the results of Census 2016 come to public attention in the coming months.
 
This increased diversity presents us, as a society, with many opportunities. Opportunities to enrich our culture, to expand our economy, and, more generally, to share ideas and learn from one another. These changes can also present challenges, which must be addressed if we are to avoid exclusion and isolation, and help our communities to achieve and enjoy a balance between diversity and shared understanding.
 
The immigrants who have arrived here over the last twenty years or so, have come to an Ireland that was itself already transforming at a remarkably rapid pace. While the years of the Celtic Tiger feel some way behind us now, it is worth remembering that, that extraordinary period of growth was, in no small measure, driven by an ever larger proportion of women entering the workforce, developing successful careers, and setting up their own businesses.
 
That dramatic expansion in women’s workforce participation began from a very low base. There remains a significant gap between male and female employment rates in Ireland, and a still greater gap among its executives and entrepreneurs. As Minister with responsibility for equality, I want to see further expansion of women’s opportunities to contribute to the Irish economy, not just as employees, but also as entrepreneurs.
 
In these contexts, we are working to develop both a new Migrant Integration Strategy and a new National Women’s Strategy. 
 
As some of you are no doubt aware, the new Migrant Integration Strategy is in the final stages of development in the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration. We hope to publish the new Strategy later this year. In developing the new Strategy, we undertook a broad consultation, in which many community and voluntary organisations participated. The new Strategy will guide our work in this area in the coming years across the full range of policy areas that influence the integration of migrants. 
 
The active engagement of the community and voluntary sector in this policy area is essential – both at the level of national debate, and of local community action. My own experience as Minister of State with responsibility for integration has already been greatly enriched and informed by my interactions with community based groups. The funding I am announcing today is intended to support their initiatives into the future, and represents a significant investment in our communities. 
 
As recently announced by the Tánaiste, work is also commencing on a new National Women’s Strategy. The development of this strategy will be informed by a broad consultation, including regional meetings and an opportunity to make written submissions. This process will begin soon and both the Tánaiste and I will take an active part in the consultations.
 
One area to be addressed in the new Strategy is the employment of women. The employment rate in Ireland for men currently stands at just under 70%, while the corresponding rate for women is just less than 60%. It is an important gender equality policy goal to increase women’s overall participation in the labour market, which offers greater economic independence and reduces the risk of poverty in later years. 
 
I am very pleased to open Calls for Proposals for migrant integration and gender equality projects. We are making available €13.3 million in funding under these Calls, the majority of which is European Union funding.
 
Up to €4.5 million is available over the next three years under the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. Here we are looking for projects that will support the integration of third country nationals in our communities. People who join our communities from abroad to build new lives here in Ireland for themselves and their families have diverse needs and require targeted supports. Local, community based organisations play a vital part in providing these supports. A wide range of activities aimed at helping both migrants and host communities towards successful integration can be supported under this fund. 
 
Under the European Social Fund, we are looking for projects under three separate strands of funding. €3.3 million is available for projects aimed at improving migrants’ access to the labour market. €4.5 million is available for projects to support women who wish to return to the workforce. This funding is intended to assist women who are currently detached from the workforce but who would like to take up paid employment. Projects that can offer women locally delivered support services, such as work-related skills development courses, may benefit from this funding. We are also making a proportion of the gender equality funding  -  €1 million in total - available to support women’s entrepreneurship.
 
These funding programmes cover a range of policy objectives across the areas of integration, employment and entrepreneurship. What links them is the common theme of Social Inclusion. Each of the three European Social Fund measures – migrant employment; women in the workforce; and women’s entrepreneurship – are designed to contribute to the Social Inclusion objectives of the European Social Fund. This means that projects need to be able to show how they will benefit people suffering disadvantage or exclusion on some dimension. 
 
Similarly with the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, we are hoping to support actions that target the most vulnerable of our migrants. Interventions at the local level can make a real difference in the day-to-day reality of vulnerable groups, it can protect them from isolation and its effects, and can help to build real social cohesiveness among diverse communities. Efforts to counteract exclusion and isolation among vulnerable groups are important for all of Irish society, helping to ensure that our communities are both stronger and safer. This is the type of effort we want to support.
 
These Calls for Proposals are now open and I encourage you to apply. Public, private and voluntary bodies are eligible to submit applications.  More than one organisation can collaborate on a project.  For example, a statutory body and a community-based organisation may be in a position to cooperate on a proposal.
 
In relation to the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund call, I would hope to see immigrant-led organisations among those applying.  Of course, the criteria for selection are the same for all but I understand that there was only a small level of involvement of such organisations in the European Funds that preceded the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and I would hope to see this expand into the future.   
 
Commercial companies are eligible to apply.  However, I would point out that the project itself cannot make a profit.  This is an overarching EU rule.
 
Some elements of the ESF calls may, however, be of interest to companies providing training and interventions for women who wish to return to work, or become entrepreneurs.  The range of interventions that may be funded is broad, and applicants will need to identify in their proposals where their target market lies and how they intend to make an impact.  This is a great opportunity for providers to show innovative and creative approaches, whether it be in relation to supporting women to return to work or become entrepreneurs or in relation to migrant employment. 
 
As many of you will be well aware, all EU Funding Programmes come with their own rules and regulations. It’s essential that all funded projects can demonstrate their impact and account for their expenditure according to the standards set at EU level for the fund in question. That’s not something to be afraid of. But it is something to be aware of. Staff of the Department are here this morning to take you through the application process and answer your questions on how to apply.
 
There is much that can be done at local level in communities all around the country to support migrant integration and gender equality. This Call for Proposals is an opportunity for those best placed to deliver those supports.  I encourage you to take this opportunity.