Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen, and most especially graduates of the EPIC Programme, I would like to thank Tina Roche, Steve Costello and their colleagues for inviting me here today to participate in this Graduation Ceremony and to present the Certificates of Achievement.
Shortly after becoming Minister for Justice and Equality, in June of last year, I introduced the initiative of holding citizenship ceremonies to mark the naturalisation of new Irish citizens. You will all be aware of these ceremonies. It is a landmark event in anyone’s life and, at the many ceremonies which have taken place to date, the happiness, excitement and sense of fulfilment reflected on the faces of those who received their certificates were a delight to behold.
Similarly, I am very pleased to be here today to see so many equally excited people and happy faces on the occasion of the presentation of these Certificates of Achievement to participants in the EPIC Programme.
I would like to congratulate Business in the Community on the innovative nature of the project and on its continued success. Bearing in mind the importance of participation in the labour market in the process of integration into Irish society, this is a very significant day for you.
My Department has worked with Business in the Community for a number of years on a variety of training programmes and I think it is fair to say that the experience has been a positive one and that much has been achieved through the delivery of these programmes.
The Government has committed significant resources to training and up-skilling programmes to help re-integrate people into the labour market. EPIC is a part of this system.
It is important in these difficult times that everyone is facilitated as far as possible to access employment to their own benefit and that of society as a whole.
As you will know, EPIC is open to EU immigrants and non-EU immigrants with Immigration Stamp 4, that is those persons who are permitted to work without the need for a work permit. In a sense these are groups with somewhat different attributes. The EU national has freedom of movement throughout Europe, whether or not he or she intends to make their home in Ireland. The holder of Stamp 4 permission, on the other hand, does not have this freedom of movement unless and until they become Irish citizens. That person is also very likely to be someone who will reside in Ireland in the long term. His or her integration into Irish society in every way possible is, therefore, crucial. This is one, very significant reason why the work done in this Programme is very important.
One of the characteristics of EPIC that I particularly like is its broad scope. It seems to answer pretty much all the needs of the target group in regard to helping them participate in the economic life of the community. There are obvious things like English language for employment training and IT and interview skills but to that are added life and work skills, training in social media, information on social welfare, housing, childcare and other public services and so on. Advice on entrepreneurship is also covered, thus tapping in to a talent that many of our immigrants have but which needs to be facilitated if is to flourish in what is still a challenging environment for a newcomer. And, still, I am still only touching on some aspects of what is a very comprehensive programme.
The EPIC Programme is financed by my Department. The budget for this year is around €460,000. Half of this cost is recouped from the European Social Fund.
The ESF is, in fact, the main EU fund that can contribute to the integration of EU nationals who migrate to another State in the Union as other Funds focusing on migrant integration confine their target groups to third-country nationals. I believe it is very important for us to receive EU assistance to integrate migrants of EU origin as they exercise their free movement rights in another Member State. For this reason, I am happy to acknowledge the ESF contribution in this area.
EPIC not only seeks to provide our new communities with the wherewithal to seek and find employment but - what is equally important - it provides an introduction to the social and work environment in which the immigrant will operate into the future.
I am told that, during 2011 and to date in 2012, EPIC has facilitated 591 clients from a total of 73 different countries and that 66% of clients have been placed, mainly in employment or further training.
That is a very healthy figure and shows what can be achieved with good planning, appropriate education or training and clear focus. It is, I feel, a model of what can be achieved if the aim is clearly identified and the process to achieve the aim is suited to the purpose.
Given the wide diversity in the backgrounds of clients, I feel certain that the very act of participation in the Programme serves a really useful purpose in promoting integration among persons who might not otherwise come in contact with one another.
The success of EPIC is in large part due to the work and dedication of those involved in providing these courses and in ensuring its relevance to its target group. I speak here of the leadership and the staff of Business In The Community who work on the Programme. I believe seven different nationalities are represented among the staff of EPIC itself which has an obvious benefit in that they understand at first hand the needs of the clients of the Programme.
I also wish to thank the key business partners who through their vision and willingness to play their part in helping society have made such an important contribution to the success of EPIC.
CPL, British Telecom, Matheson Ormsby Prentice, Bank of Ireland, Ericsson, Oracle, KPMG, Sodexo and Abbott have all provided inputs in the form of training, supplies, mentoring and so on, each firm contributing in line with its own particular competency. I would like to commend them for this involvement. Through their involvement they have demonstrated social responsibility and have given an example to businesses generally in how to put something back into the community even in these difficult times.
I welcome volunteering, whether it is on the part of individuals or businesses, and I am pleased to say that it is a characteristic of many good projects working with immigrants.
I should also mention, with gratitude and appreciation, a number of collaborators which Business In The Community have in delivering this Programme. Among these are Cáirde, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Citizens Information Service, Diversity and Equality Works, the INOU, One Family, Threshold, and Volunteering Ireland.
I would also like to extend my thanks to those utilising the programme. By taking part you have shown your desire to better yourselves and to acquire the necessary skills and competences to participate actively in the economic life of the country.
It remains for me to offer my congratulations to those of you who have completed this Programme and are here today to receive your certificates. I take this opportunity to wish you well in your future path in life.
Thank you very much.