CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Ladies and gentlemen, Deputies
I want to begin by thanking the Irish Muslim Board for the invitation to take part in this evening's discussions.
I am proud to represent the constituency of Cork East in Dáil Éireann and to serve as a Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration.
I am aware that the aim of the Irish Muslim Board is to encourage members of the Muslim community to become more politically active. I support this aim as political engagement is very healthy in a democracy.
In fact, since my appointment I have addressed many communities now in our society and have emphasised how I look forward to the day when the Houses of the Oireachtas has even more representatives from our newer communities. Today, I am delighted to see the Irish Muslim Board taking first steps in making this happen.
Ireland has undergone profound changes in the profile of our population in the last 15 years. The most recent census figures available i.e. 2011 put the number of Muslims residing in Ireland at approximately 49,000. However, the real figure is likely to be higher. When we look back at the figures for 1991, we see that there were about 4,000 Muslims living in Ireland at that time. In 2002, the figure was 32,500 and, by 2011, the figure had increased to about 49,000 making Islam one of the fastest growing religions in the country. We will have a clearer picture of the population profile when the results of the 2016 Census become available later this year.
Today, the Muslim community in Ireland is multi-cultural comprising of Muslims from 130 countries, including Ireland, of course. It encompasses people who were born in Ireland and those who have come from countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Algeria, Libya, Somalia, South Africa, Syria and Iraq.
Ireland’s new population profile presents both challenges and opportunities to policy-makers, local communities and a variety of institutions to create an environment that is both welcoming to new immigrants and which encourages high levels of participation of non-Irish nationals in all areas of Irish life. I believe that Irish society has benefitted from the diversity that immigration has brought to our communities and will continue to benefit long into the future.
As Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration, I have assumed responsibility for bringing work on a new migrant integration strategy to a satisfactory conclusion. The new migrant integration strategy has recently been approved by Government and will shortly be published. It is intended to be the framework for the Government’s action on integration for the period from 2017 to 2020. It has been devised to respond to the challenges that we anticipate in the years ahead and is targeted at both EU and non-EU nationals, including refugees. It is also targeted at foreign-born Irish citizens and their children. It aims to enable migrants or persons of migrant origin to participate on an equal basis in the life of the country with those of Irish heritage. Its primary objective is to ensure that barriers to full participation in Irish society by migrants or their Irish-born children are identified, addressed and the basic values of Irish society are respected by all.
The Strategy seeks to build on our existing approach which involves a combination of mainstream services and targeted initiatives to address specific needs.
Its key message is that integration is a two-way process that will involve change and responsibilities for both the migrant and for Irish society.
It aims to communicate the message that successful integration is the responsibility of Irish society as a whole. It seeks to encourage action by Government, public bodies, service providers, businesses, NGOs but also by local communities. Encouraging action by local communities will be a key element of the Strategy.
The needs of new communities, and the required responses, are multi-faceted and we must continue to work together to tackle poverty and social exclusion; to combat racism and discrimination; to promote understanding of cultural diversity; to facilitate capacity building within our new communities; to promote the participation of all members of society and to enhance social cohesion.
We also need to recognise the significant contribution of migrants to Irish social, cultural and economic life and consider how best we can support each individual to make the greatest possible contribution to our society. To do so, we need to consider areas such as access to services; access to the employment market; equality issues; availability and access to information on rights and entitlements; recognition of qualifications; opportunities for English language training and access to further training and educational opportunities. These issues are addressed in the new Migrant Integration Strategy
Effective integration can only be achieved through partnerships that build on the strengths of all stakeholders working together to build a diverse and more cohesive society.
I very much look forward to working with all stakeholders to develop the required responses to the challenges ahead.