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19 September 2017

 

Lord Mayor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am delighted to join you here this morning, at the invitation of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, for this conference on Culture, Faith and Cohesion. 

This is a critically important subject at this time as we ponder how best to meet both the challenges and opportunities of diversity and interculturalism. 

Communities both here in Dublin and throughout Ireland are becoming more and more diverse. The inward migration of recent decades has given us a population that is multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and multi-cultural to a much greater degree than in previous generations. People come here from many nations and cultures to work and to study. They may come for short periods or to establish new lives. Many are raising families here, leading to a rising cohort of second generation migrants in our schools, colleges and workplaces. There has been a significant increase in the past few years in “dual-Irish citizens”, that is people who hold Irish citizenship alongside the citizenship of another country. I like to think that this is evidence of a growing sense of belonging among migrant communities here, an increased identification with Ireland, and perhaps commitment to Ireland, while at the same time maintaining their identity and citizenship of origin.  

This fits well with the vision of integration outlined in the Government’s Migrant Integration Strategy which I was proud to publish earlier this year. In the Strategy, integration is envisioned as a process which enables migrants to Ireland to participate in Irish society without having to relinquish their own cultural identity. This, in many ways, is the hallmark of successfully integrated communities. They are communities in which people of all ethnicities, faiths and cultures can live together in mutual respect for each other’s difference, underpinned always by the basic values of Irish society. These values, as reflected in our constitution and laws, give us a framework of equal rights and non-discrimination, within which diversity is valued. 

The theme of today’s Conference – “Moving from Tolerance to Inclusion” captures very well the journey that communities need to take to become truly integrated. As Minister with responsibility for integration, I have a particular role in supporting communities on that journey. Tolerance is essential. We must continue our efforts to combat intolerance wherever it arises. Discrimination and racism have no place in our communities and we need to keep working together to identify and eradicate them. Yes tolerance is essential. But it is not enough to be tolerant. Tolerance is only part of the foundation needed for successful integration. Without inclusion, without interaction, without engagement between diverse groups, we will not fully realise the benefits of diversity. 

The risks associated with a failure of integration are well known. Where communities are segregated, either spatially or socially, it becomes harder for mutual understanding and respect to thrive and easier for isolation, discrimination and anti-integration agendas to gain a foothold. It is important that we acknowledge these risks and address them pro-actively and together. 

Communities of faith and faith-based groups can and do make an important contribution to this work. Many migrants identify as members of one or other faith community. Membership of a community of faith can give access to important social supports in that community for people making new lives here in Ireland. It can help to combat isolation, to build networks, and in this way can have a practical and positive impact on the lived experience of migrants. This is perhaps especially true in the early period after arrival in Ireland when other networks may not yet be formed. 

This gives faith communities and faith leaders not only a very special opportunity to work in support of integration, but a responsibility to do so.  

In this context I want to pay tribute to the work of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. The Forum provides a much needed link between Dublin’s major faith communities and both public and voluntary bodies. It is a good model of organisations working together across traditional boundaries in support of integration. The work of building and nurturing a vibrant, integrated, inter-cultural city requires time, energy, and the input of a broad range of actors and supporters. In Dublin, we are fortunate to have the Interfaith Forum playing such an important part in this work. 

At national level, Church-State dialogue is also being renewed. In recent weeks, the Taoiseach met with representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Archbishop Eamon Martin, as part of the process of structured dialogue between the Government and the churches and faith communities. This was the first in a series of bilateral meetings which will be held with dialogue partners.

We in Government are working hard to support local integration initiatives. This is a key commitment in the Migrant Integration Strategy which provides a framework for Government action in this area over the years to 2020. That is why earlier this year I launched the Communities Integration Fund. This is a small grants programme to support local level integration projects and events. This year I was able to allocate just over €500,000 to 131 such initiatives across the country, including many here in Dublin. 

The Interfaith Forum was one of the organisations selected to receive funding support under this programme. This funding will be used for an innovative project to map Dublin’s faith communities and develop a detailed information resource on this important feature of the city. I wish the Forum every success with this initiative and look forward to its outcomes. 

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the Council of Europe in support of Intercultural Cities. It is well recognised that vibrant urban environments that facilitate interaction between diverse groups are critical to the success of integration. Integration cannot flourish in environments characterised by segregation, the development of ghettoes, isolated communities or social exclusion and deprivation. Across the cities of Europe, we have much to learn from each other on this. We need to be creative, to share ideas, to work together in building environments where integration can flourish. 

I am a firm believer in the power of integration at the local level. This is where the journey to successful integration begins – with the day-to-day lived experiences of people in their families, as they go to work, take their children to school, interact with local services and with their communities – including communities of faith. 

Our Integration Strategy sets out a vision of an Ireland in which migrants are facilitated to play a full role in Irish society; an Ireland in which integration is a core principle of life; an Ireland in which society and institutions work together to promote integration. 

Today’s Conference is a fine example of the type of working together that is needed. I wish you every success. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.