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Speech by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD at the launch of the
Migrant Integration Strategy – A Blueprint for the Future
On 7th February, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,
I would like to welcome you here today for the launch of our Migrant Integration Strategy.
I am delighted, in my role as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, to launch this document - a strategy not only for today, but a strategy for our collective future. At a time when our headlines are dominated by migration and by border controls, it is timely to place the focus on integration. The degree to which we successfully integrate migrants into our society will determine whether or not our society benefits from migration, and whether or not our migrants truly feel part of our society.
Before I comment on the Strategy itself, I would like to thank all of those who participated in its development. I would most especially like to recognise and thank those members of the public who answered a call for contributions and who submitted material for the consideration of the Cross-Departmental Committee charged with the responsibility of developing the Strategy. I would also like to give credit to those individuals and organisations who came and spoke to the members of the Cross-Departmental Committee.
Over 80 contributions were received in response to this call, and I believe that this number of submissions reflects the deep level of interest within the State on the issue of integration.
The title of the document we are launching today is “The Migrant Integration Strategy - A Blueprint for the Future”.
The Strategy will help us to chart a way forward along the path of successful integration in this country, building on the positive outcomes that we have already achieved, and setting achievable and realistic goals for the future. Our vision is that migrants are facilitated to play a full role in Irish society, that integration is a core principle of Irish life and that Irish society and institutions work together to promote integration.
Over the past two decades, Ireland has become an increasingly diverse country. Eurostat’s figures for 2015 indicated that migrants formed 11.8% of the population. This means that approximately 1 in 8 persons living in Ireland at the moment is of migrant origin.
Today’s Strategy builds on existing policy documents, most recently
‘Migration Nation,’ which was published in 2008. While today’s document builds on the 2008 document, there is evidently a very changed backdrop today compared to 2008. The 2008 ‘Migration Nation’ spoke about consolidating Ireland’s “position of affluence” and our ranking as one of the richest countries in the world. Ireland has since experienced a devastating economic crash and today the ideals of free trade, open borders and globalisation can no longer taken for granted.
Voters across the world are expressing a sense of exclusion—exclusion from an economy that has perhaps focused more on generating resources productively, rather than how those resources should be used to benefit people. And sometimes that exclusion has manifested itself in a desire to exclude others—those who don’t appear to share one’s identity, culture or nationality.
In today’s world, as a society and as a Government, we must show leadership to promote inclusion over exclusion, acceptance over intolerance.
Despite the period of turmoil I have just mentioned, we can point to the 95,000 persons from 170 countries that have become Irish citizens since citizenship ceremonies were started in 2011.
Today is about building on the positive outcomes we have already achieved.
Ireland’s record on integration has been quite positive. Social inclusion measures have ensured that migrants do not experience significantly higher risks of poverty because of their migrant status. In fact, in 2012, the differentials in the ‘at risk of poverty’ rates for citizens and third country nationals were narrowest in Ireland of all EU Member States.
Integration plans have been devised for key sectors, such as the Intercultural Education Strategy and the National Intercultural Health Strategy.
The business community has responded, with 50 companies in Ireland representing well over 100,000 employees signing up to the Diversity Charter to demonstrate their commitment to diversity.
However, we cannot be complacent. We know that there will be challenges ahead.
The record of other EU countries demonstrates that ghettoization, isolation, or indeed poorer outcomes, particularly for second-generation immigrants, can create problems very quickly. We also have to avoid the growth of racism within the host population.
The risks of populist, anti-immigrant movements and radicalisation of some of those of migrant origin in other EU countries have been well signalled. As stated in the Strategy, the risk of radicalisation leading to terrorist activity is a risk for all societies. The challenge will be to reach out to young people at risk of radicalisation to encourage them to participate constructively in Irish society.
Today’s Migrant Integration Strategy contains a table of 76 actions, along with an assigned responsible body and associated timeframe. They are ambitious but achievable targets, based on our experience of integration to date.
This Strategy has been framed in the understanding that the integration process is becoming increasingly complex. The composition of the migrant population is ever more diverse. While the recent focus has been on the refugees coming to Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, many migrants are now well-established in Ireland and have been here for some time. Every migrant and migrant family has their own story of how they came here, why they came here and how they see Ireland. The Strategy needs to be sufficiently flexible to encompass all of this.
The context within which this Strategy has been developed is also complex and subject to change. We are currently experiencing a migration crisis on Europe’s borders. It is likely that this crisis will continue for the years ahead, with migrants continuing to try to come to Europe to escape conflict, persecution and limited economic opportunities. Undoubtedly the countries of origin of those migrants may change but the pressure to move northwards and westwards may not.
Brexit introduces another variable into the equation. Its impact is not yet known. What is known is that it will be an additional factor, among others, that migrants will take into account when considering future life choices.
Integration is a two-way process that will involve change and responsibilities for both the migrant and for Irish society. This Strategy sends out 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.
Local communities of course must play a key role in the integration process. 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 and I look to such communities to provide leadership in demonstrating that there is strength in unity and in diversity.
Mainstream services have to place a renewed focus on integration to ensure that migrants are gaining equal access to such services. Equally, we must progress a range of targeted measures to address barriers which prevent migrants from realising their full potential. We have to recognise that some migrants, particularly the refugees coming into Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, may have complex needs to which mainstream services such as health and education will need to respond.
Turning to some of the distinctive initiatives in the document:
· The Strategy will be establishing networks to help ensure migrant families are as connected and informed as they should be. Dublin City Council, for instance, will set up a network targeted at hard-to-reach migrant groups. New York City has done something similar and has found that migrant groups are more open with city authorities than with Government Departments.
· It is proposed to establish a network for schools outside the established system to inform them on child protection and health and safety obligations.
· The Strategy places an added focus on the youth sector to look at ways at reaching out to young people of migrant origin so that they get the chance to develop and maintain relationships with their peers within Irish society.
· We are proposing a target of 1% for the employment of EEA nationals and people from minority ethnic communities within the civil service. Initiatives will also be taken to raise awareness within migrant communities of the opportunities presented by careers in the civil service.
· An awareness-raising initiative is planned to encourage under-represented groups, including migrants, to apply for appointment to State boards.
· The Department of Social Protection will be undertaking an initiative to examine the reasons behind the apparent lower rates of employment among migrants of African origin.
· To address the particular importance placed on political participation during the consultation, the Strategy includes a number of actions to encourage greater participation in political life by migrants.
· We are also proposing to include a language component in education and training programmes for unemployed migrants with poor knowledge of English. Poor English language skills can be one of the most significant barriers facing migrants.
Minister Stanton will chair a Strategy Committee of Departments, agencies and NGOs that will oversee the implementation of the Strategy. A review has been built into the Strategy in 2018 to enable it to be adapted if significant new challenges emerge over the next 18 months.
I would like to conclude by saying that the Migrant Integration Strategy has set an ambitious blueprint for action by Government Departments, public bodies, business, communities and civil society. Its implementation will make an important contribution to the process of making integration central to Irish society. It is in all of our interests that we should realise the benefits of integration for ourselves and for our children. Getting it right will enrich our society for generations to come.
Thank you very much.