CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
 
7th Feb, 2017 – Dublin Corporation Civic Offices, Wood Quay
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Ireland has the opportunity to develop an integration model that works for us and that avoids the problems that have happened in other countries.  I am convinced that the key to this challenge is to develop an integration model that is not just led from central Government but that engages local communities as active participants.  
 
Resources, of course, will be important.  The Tánaiste and I have secured funding for a range of initiatives to promote migrant integration.  Last month, as many of you may be aware, we announced funding of more than 13 million euro for 43 regional projects to support integration and social inclusion activities under the auspices of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the European Social Fund.  
I would like to give you a flavour today of the type of projects being supported.  For example, New Communities Partnership will provide innovative training, using multi-lingual migrant coaches, to support migrants in their own languages to upskill and to improve their capability to access the Irish labour market. 
The National College of Ireland will deliver a home visiting programme for vulnerable migrant families with pre-school children.  A key feature of this project is that the home visitors are migrants themselves or are parents that have come through the programme.  This innovative project will support parents to read and play with their children with a dual purpose of reducing isolation and integrating migrant families into the local community while enhancing children’s language skills and school readiness. 
 
The Football Association of Ireland is delivering a nationwide project to support community integration through local level football leagues.  It will leverage the FAI’s existing network of full time development officers, extensive grassroots network of affiliates, from clubs to leagues, as well as local authority & NGO connections to support collaborative alliances.  The project will specifically focus on children and on young people’s participation.  It will specifically target areas with high numbers of nationals of countries outside the EU.    
 
The use of EU funding is just one element of our strategy to provide more resources for migrant integration.  We are also ring-fencing some national funding for integration activities.  We will shortly announce a call for proposals for integration activities to be undertaken by national organisations.  The call, as I say, will be focused on national organisations.  Details of the activities that will be eligible for funding will be outlined when the call is announced.  My intention is that this funding should be complementary to that provided through EU funding.  
 
However, I believe strongly that we must also do something to stimulate activity at community level.  In tandem with the need for these large-scale projects, we need to facilitate the development of locally-based, smaller initiatives as well. 
 
It is clear that everyone has a role to play in integrating our communities – host communities, government agencies, employers, the media and local community and voluntary groups.  We all have a responsibility where integration is concerned.  We can all play our part to ensure that migrants are welcomed and that they feel a sense of belonging in our communities.  Local communities play a key role in this regard as the most effective integration takes place at a local level.  It is perhaps a good exercise to try to put ourselves in the position of someone new to the country and think about the types of difficulties and barriers that such a person might encounter in different aspects or stages of their lives here.  We can help to make the transition to life in this country smoother, easier and less daunting.
 
I would like to take the opportunity to commend the many small local organisations that have already been involved in developing initiatives to assist in the integration of migrants in their communities.  I want communities across the country to take renewed action to ensure that migrants feel Ireland to be their home.
 
It is generally recognised that the ability of immigrants to participate in society has a significant bearing on their potential to integrate.  It is important that we acknowledge locally based initiatives and we must continue to enhance opportunities for interaction between migrants and receiving communities at a local level.  
 
The process of integrating migrants is entering a new phase.  While the latest refugees are new to Ireland, many migrants have been here for many years.  More and more children are being born in Ireland as second-generation migrants.   It is not just a case of welcoming new migrants.  We also need to ensure that persons of migrant origin who have been born here continue to feel a sense of belonging in their local communities.  It is when the novelty has worn off that the process of knitting a diverse community together can become more complex.  Patterns can develop over time where migrants socialise only with those of the same nationality, ethnicity or religion.  Migrants may never socialise with non-migrants and vice versa.   Communities may become segregated simply because proactive measures are not taken to promote integration.  
 
Human interaction is crucial in promoting understanding.  We know all too well that misunderstandings and fears can flourish when communities are segregated.     
 
The process of integrating migrants must involve the whole community.  Many people are already involved in organisations aimed at supporting migrants.  Many others have offered pledges of accommodation, services, clothes or toys.  The level of good will has been amazing.  It has shown the Irish at their best.  My focus is now on harnessing that good will so that it can make a practical difference to the lives of the refugees moving into communities across the country.  
 
Migrants, particularly those who have arrived recently, need to access information and to develop the relationships necessary to understand Ireland.  Equally, Ireland has a responsibility to understand them.   Because of our own history, we understand emigration and the problems emigrants can face.  We are, therefore, well-placed to recognise and understand the difficulties and barriers that immigrants face when they come to Ireland. There is a need to build bridges and links between and within communities so that this process can be as positive as possible for all concerned.  
 
In my travels around the country I have met many ordinary people who have expressed a desire to assist migrants in their local community to integrate.  Indeed, many migrants mentioned to me the simple things that need not necessarily cost a lot of money – the ‘hello’, or a smile, or a nod of acknowledgement, a cup of tea or coffee.   These are as important as costly orientation programmes. 
 
Integration is a two-way process with responsibilities for both migrants and non-migrants to work together to build a diverse and more cohesive society.  I see this process as beginning at the community level with initiatives to include both locals and migrants working together to build a diverse and more cohesive society.  
 
Involving migrants in the sporting, cultural, historical, environmental and religious activities of a community can be a means of bringing people from diverse backgrounds together, breaking down barriers and encouraging inclusion in the local community.  Getting new people involved in local groups or organisations can give a vital lift to the community.  It can inject new energy, new enthusiasm, new thinking into local activities.   
 
To this end, it is my pleasure to announce the launch of a new fund called the Communities Integration Fund.  This Fund will be available to local and community based groups to assist them to promote integration in their local area. 
 
We all remember the Special Olympics which brought together communities across the country to support the athletes participating in the games.  Communities made huge efforts to make the athletes welcome.  I have rarely seen such an outpouring of goodwill and excitement.  I’d like to mobilise that level of goodwill once more in support of migrant integration.  This time, it won’t be a case of working towards a once-off event.   What we are seeking to do is potentially more complex.  The aim is to encourage community activities that can continue over the years ahead.   I see this Fund as the seed from which a long-term legacy of community integration can grow.  
 
The Communities Integration Fund will fund initiatives by community groups across Ireland in support of integration.  We are seeking to engage all local organisations including sporting organisations, cultural organisations, faith-based groups and volunteer organisations to take action to welcome and to support migrants.   I would see volunteerism at the heart of these initiatives and as playing a key role.
 
I would encourage even the smallest groups to seek grants from this Fund, for example after school clubs, theatre groups and parent and child groups.  Grants of up to €5000 will be made available to such organisations this year.  It is not only for migrant-focused organisations.   The Fund is also intended to stimulate action on migrant organisations by groups that may not have taken action in this area before.  The message that we want to communicate is that integration is for everyone and can involve everyone.  
 
Information on the Communities Integration Fund is available on the website of the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration – www.integration.ie for those interested in applying for funding.  Application forms are available on that website as well as guidance on the type of groups, organisations and activities that are eligible.   As community organisations may not yet be in a position to develop suitable projects or to apply for funding right now, a further funding call will be issued later this year.       
 
Community is at the heart of Irish life.  The wisdom of our forebears recognises that our well-being often rests on the support and friendship of our neighbours.  As the traditional Irish proverb states: ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.’  It is in the daily interactions, in workplaces, schools, shops, places of worship that migrants will determine their sense of belonging.   Integration has become a fact of life for many communities.   I call on communities across the country to play their part in making Ireland a place where migrants and non-migrants find the welcoming shelter within which they can live fruitfully and happily.
 
Thank you for your attendance here today and I know we can count on your participation and support in the challenging task of building the Ireland of the future.