Check Against Delivery

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here to speak to you at the launch of the Diversity Charter here in the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown.  


The Diversity Charter was launched in Ireland in October 2012 by eleven organisations representing the broader business community in Ireland. The signing of these Diversity Charters is a voluntary commitment by the signatories to effective diversity management, preventing discrimination and promoting equality with respect to all their stakeholders and the environment in which they operate. In signing the Charter organisations join their European counterparts in publically stating their commitment to diversity.


Diversity Charters have a number of aims; the fostering of a culture based on mutual respect and open-mindedness, the appreciation of the potential this represents, making diversity the subject of internal and external dialogue and the inclusion of employees in the process. 


As many of you will be aware the 7th EU Diversity Charters’ Annual Forum took place in Dublin Castle in October 2016; co-hosted by the European Commission and my Department in collaboration with Irish Diversity Charter. The theme of the forum was "Selling Diversity in a World of Diversion".


The conference focused on how the modern day communication methods could allow us to overcome the challenges to demonstrate the value of the diversity message and sell it more effectively internally, externally and in the media. The event brought together 150 representatives from businesses, civil society, governments and media from all over Europe.


It was at that event that the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown signed the Charter and why we are here today to mark this event here at the college and raise awareness of the significance of the Charter.


This Institute has a very diverse cohort of students and staff, reflecting the population of its locality which is home to one of the highest proportion of migrants nationwide. 23.8% of the population in this area were recorded as migrants in the 2011 census, almost double the national average, and 16% of the student body here in ITB are non-Irish nationals.  


In 2012, in response to issues around equality and diversity which were being raised in both academic and non-academic areas across the college, a Diversity and Equality working group was established here in ITB.


As many of you will be aware, this group, open to both staff and students, has created a space within ITB for diversity and equality related issues to be discussed and explored to find solutions. It was the Diversity and Equality working group that recommended that ITB sign the Diversity Charter Ireland as, in keeping with the other members who have signed it, the Institute continually seeks to improve diversity and equality competency.


Signing the diversity charter is the first step in a journey for ITB to put in place frameworks to ensure inclusion, prevent discrimination and promote equality within the Institute and embed these principles across the organisation. The Institute has also gained access to a network of organisations on a national and European level with whom they can engage and share information to continue to develop best practice in managing diversity, preventing discrimination and promoting equality.


While diversity must be celebrated, putting policies and procedures in place to ensure all staff and students are valued, respected and treated fairly irrespective of their age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, religion or any other personal characteristic. We all need to play our part in making the charter a reality at ITB.


Last year, I was appointed as Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration. I have had a lifelong commitment to fairness, integrity and treating people in an impartial but caring way.


As Minister of State for Equality, it is part of my responsibility to oversee the implementation and ongoing development of equality legislation in Ireland. This legislation is vital to the workplaces in this country in ensuring that fairness is paramount in how employees, customers and service users are treated. However, in order to ensure a society that is fair for everyone we need to go beyond the minimum standards provided for through legislation and embrace diversity by enabling a broad range of people with varied talents and experiences contribute to their fullest. This is the core value of this charter.


In recent months, I have been meeting and working with a significant number of people who have diverse needs. I am sure many of you are aware that the Traveller community has for many years campaigned to have its unique heritage, culture and identity formally recognised by the State. Last Wednesday was a historic day for the Traveller community in Ireland when the Taoiseach Enda Kenny formally recognised Travellers as a distinct ethnic group within the Irish nation.


There was unanimous and enthusiastic support for this decision in the Dáil Chamber with most importantly no dissenting voices. This statement marks a new beginning and the start of the work we need to do as a society to address the real and stark issues that face the Traveller community in areas such as health, employment, education and accommodation.


Currently, one of my priorities is the development of a new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy for the next four years.


The initial phases of the consultation process identified key themes and high level objectives for the Inclusion Strategy. The final Phase, Phase 3, identified detailed actions to achieve each agreed objective and this is now complete. As part of this phase, regional public consultations took place in September 2016. I attended those public consultations and felt that attendance and participation were very encouraging and positive. A lot of progress can be made on difficult issues with Government Departments, NGOS and civil society working together effectively.


This consultative process will provide a new set of specific, inter-Departmental actions that need to be taken to bring about a real improvement in quality of life for Travellers and Roma in Ireland and will include associated time-scales, key performance indicators, institutional responsibilities and monitoring arrangements. I plan to submit the final draft of the Inclusion Strategy to Government shortly for consideration and sign-off. 


In tandem with the Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy I have just mentioned, there is work ongoing in my Department in relation to the issues facing people with disabilities in Ireland under the leadership of the Tánaiste and Minister of State Mc Grath.


Public consultations on a draft Disability Strategy are also now complete. I hope that the Disability Strategy will result in real and positive change in the lives of those in our community who live with disabilities.


Although it is clear that Diversity is part of the DNA of ITB, the time has now come to officially and explicitly state this and I wish ITB well in embedding the Diversity Charter in the Institute.


Thank you