Private Members Motion, Seanad Eireann
Welcomes the establishment by the Government of the new office of Minister of State for New Communities, Culture & Equality, and commends the Minister for the work he has done to date with new communities, in particular through the organisation of the recent inaugural PolskaEire 2015 festival; and calls upon the Minister to outline to the Seanad the work that he has done through development of the National Integration Strategy and other matters related to integration and new communities.
1st April, 2015
I welcome the tabling of the motion on the issue before the House in the name of Senators Ivana Bacik, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Lorraine Higgins, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Moloney, Mary Moran, Susan O’Keeffe and John Whelan
I would also thank the House for this opportunity of providing an update as to where we now stand in terms of the development of the revised national strategy on integration.
When a Private Members Motion on racism was adopted here last June, it called on the Minister to report back to the House on these matters. So, now is an opportune time to provide some further information on developments in this area.
As Senators will be aware, the Programme for Government contains a commitment to the promotion of polices which integrate minority ethnic groups in Ireland, including those policies which promote social inclusion, equality, diversity and the participation of immigrants in the economic, social, political and cultural life of their communities.
This Government recognises the importance and value of the many new communities that are now an integral part of Irish society.
The importance of these groups was recognised and underscored in a very tangible manner through the assignment, in July last year, of specific responsibilities for new communities to a Junior Minister. The assignment of responsibilities in this manner helps ensure that issues of importance to new communities are highlighted appropriately. .
I am sure that you are aware that we are in the process of reviewing Ireland’s strategy on integration. This follows a decision which was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy early last year. The work on this review is being carried forward by a Cross-Departmental Committee of senior officials and it is chaired by a senior official in my own Department.
The mandate of the cross-Departmental Group includes the following specific tasks:
To review the activities being undertaken by Government Departments and agencies directed to promoting the integration of non- Irish nationals;
The preparation of a draft overarching Integration Strategy taking account of the policies and actions already being implemented;
Undertaking consultation with key stakeholders;
A very important part of the work of the Group was to engage in a meaningful way with members of the public. In order to do this, a two-fold approach was undertaken by the Committee.
The first step in this was to place a call in media outlets inviting submissions from interested parties who wished to contribute to the work of the Group. The closing date for contributions was in May 2014 and I am delighted to say that over eighty submissions were received from a wide range of organisations and groups providing services to migrants.
The second phase of the consultation process was a series of face-to-face meetings with some of those who contributed material for consideration by the Group. Five consultation sessions were held, with each session lasting one day and involving a series of sub-meetings with members of the public.
A total of 27 separate groups, one individual and a group of seven individuals met with the Cross-Departmental Group during these sessions.
This segment of the consultative process facilitated the highlighting of, and in-depth discussions on, issues of particular concern. They also permitted those contributors present the opportunity of imparting their personal experiences to the Committee. I understand that those who participated in these meetings, both from the official side and the non-government side, found these face-to-face interactions to be very valuable.
Separate to the above process, the Cross-Departmental Group also held a series of thematic meetings which addressed particular issues. The topics discussed during these meetings included:
Promoting Intercultural Awareness and Combating Racism and Xenophobia
Social Inclusion and Access to Public Services
Employment and Pathways to Work
In addition, suggestions which were made in the context of written contributions have been collated and circulated to the relevant Government Departments and associated Agencies for consideration.
Work on the development of the updated Integration Strategy is ongoing and I expect that a draft Strategy will be sent to key stakeholders for their observations before the summer, with a view to the Strategy being published as soon as possible thereafter.
I am hoping that the resulting recommendations on migrant integration will form the basis of a new and more comprehensive overarching strategy, one which is capable of meeting present needs and expected future conditions of our society.
According to Census 2011, we have a situation where non-Irish nationals account for over 500,000 people or 12% of our population and where there has been a rapid growth in the non-Irish population over the last decade or so.
We now have people from over 199 countries living in the State. This can pose challenges but it can also provide opportunities. There have, unfortunately, been circumstances where individuals have experienced racism and xenophobia. I want to be clear in expressing my views on such behaviour – it is not acceptable and we will do everything possible to combat it.
I am aware that there have been calls for the legislation on racism to be reviewed and this issue is a topic which is being looked at by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in terms of its ongoing work on integration, multi-culturalism and combating racism. I fully expect that the legislation to combat racism will be considered in the context of the outcome of the review of the Oireachtas Committee and following publication of the Government’s Integration Strategy.
In the meantime, I urge those who affected by manifestations of racism to report the matter to the appropriate authorities.
I am aware of the excellent work that NGOs in this sector have been doing in providing support and assistance to people who have been victims of racism, and I commend them for this. Of equal importance is their advocacy role in opposition to racism and in seeking to keep the focus of Government and of society generally on this problem.
I am very pleased that the motion commends the holding of the PolskaÉire Festival 2015. This is an initiative I have had in mind for some time because I saw it as important to recognise the Polish influence in present-day Ireland. It is estimated that there are 150,000 Polish citizens living in the State, resulting in Polish becoming the second most widely spoken language here. It also seemed to me to be a worthwhile exercise in furthering integration of Poles in Irish society and promoting contact between Irish, Polish and other nationalities through a range of events, cultural, artistic, social, sporting and so on and catering for different age groups. I thought it would be a very good idea if the Festival was organised on the occasion of the Republic of Ireland vs. Poland international and that proved to be the case.
I arranged for funding for elements of the Festival from the two Departments at which I am Minister of State. However, I really want to thank the Polish Embassy, the FAI, Dublin City Council, and other local authorities, the Irish-Polish Society, Polish associations, sports clubs and cultural groups across the country, in short anyone and everyone who organised events or participated in what was a very successful festival.
With regard to the amendment tabled by Senators Cullinane, Ó Clochartaigh and Reilly, as Senators know, I have a personal commitment to reforming the direct provision system. I established a Working Group on the Protection Process, alongside my colleague, Minister Fitzgerald. The work of this Group is on-going and it will be reporting back in the coming weeks with a suggested path of reforms. However, I cannot accept the amendment and, indeed, some of the matters referred to fall outside my remit in the Department. I appreciate that these are very important issues and, if the Senators want to outline their concerns in writing to me, I will ensure that they are brought to the attention of Minister Fitzgerald.
Finally, I would like to once again thank the Senators for raising the important issues on new communities and for providing me with the opportunity of addressing the House. I remain at the disposal of the House in regard to any future motions or debates on this very important area or any issues which Senators care to raise with me.