Wednesday, 12th of April


Good Morning.

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests.


I would like to thank Professor Hannah McGee for the invitation to speak to you this morning.


I have had the pleasure of meeting earlier with some of you who participated in the Programme and I would like to congratulate the students who have taken part in this very important programme. As future healthcare professionals you have the skills, values and attitudes that you will need to work effectively in a culturally diverse healthcare environment both in Ireland and around the world.


I understand that the participants in the Programme come from many countries around the world including Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United States of America and the United Arab Emirates.  Many of you have family and friends here to celebrate and enjoy the occasion with you and a special welcome must go to them also. To those of you who have travelled from outside the country, I hope you find Ireland a pleasant and welcoming experience.


From the first recorded human-to-human blood transfusion in Ireland performed by Robert MacDonnell in 1865, to the first use of X-Ray technology in Ireland which was recorded when R. Bolton McCausland used it to remove a needle embedded in a woman’s hand in 1896, RCSI staff and students have been pioneers in healthcare education and innovation in Ireland over its 230 year history and today the students receiving these awards continue in that tradition. 


I am delighted to see RCSI taking a leading role and responsibility in adopting an International Citizen award approach. As we all know, “international citizen” is not a legal status and its meaning can vary depending on the context in which it is being used.  For RCSI it is used in the context of a programme designed to encourage students to reflect on and develop the skills, values and attitudes that they will need in order to work effectively in a culturally diverse healthcare environment.


Over the past two decades, Ireland has become an increasingly diverse country - it has undergone profound changes in the profile of it’s population over that period.


The summary results of the 2016 Census which were published last week tell us that non-Irish nationals account for 11.6% of the overall population – down from 12.2% in 2011.  The slight decline in the number of non-Irish nationals recorded can in part be explained by the rise in the number of people with dual-Irish nationality – this figure has more than doubled since the 2011 Census.  The number of persons granted citizenship during this period may also have and influenced these figures.


More than 100,000 persons from over 170 countries have become Irish citizens since citizenship ceremonies were introduced in 2011.   We now have people from over 199 countries living in Ireland and the changing ethnic, linguistic and faith-based composition of our population presents many opportunities and challenges to policy-makers, institutions and local communities.


Ireland has welcomed people from many different countries and cultures and as a nation we have greatly benefitted from their presence here. As a country we have been fortunate that we have not been subject to some of the events and actions that other States have experienced in recent times.  We have all seen the terrible images of suffering which have resulted from intolerance and disaffection.


It is important, however, that we do not become complacent and that we continue to keep integration to the fore.


Back in February both the Tánaiste and I launched a new Migrant Integration Strategy which provides the framework for Government action on migrant integration for the years 2017 to 2020.


It is intended to address the challenges that we anticipate in the years ahead and is targeted at both EU and non-EU nationals, including refugees. Its primary objective is to ensure that barriers to full participation in Irish society by migrants or their Irish-born children are identified and addressed and the basic values of Irish society are respected by all.


The Strategy will 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 actions by both migrants and by Irish society.


Specific actions are set out in the Strategy that will stimulate action on integration by Government Departments, public sector bodies, the business sector, local authorities, and by civil society organisations.


Ensuring that mainstream services, such as in health, education, social protection and employment, are responsive to the needs of migrants is a priority of the Strategy. Targeted measures will address particular issues.


I will briefly mention a couple of actions in the area of health which may be of interest.  These include:


We all have a responsibility where integration is concerned which is the reason I established the Communities Integration Fund to support organisations in local communities to undertake actions to promote the integration of migrants into their local communities.


I also announced a call for applications for National Funding to Promote the Integration of Migrants.  Funding under this call will be granted for a wide range of activities and was open to applicants at both regional and national level.  It is intended that this funding will complement the Communities Integration Fund.


To all of you students, I wish each and every one of you success in your career in the future.  As doctors, pharmacists and physiotherapists you will have opportunities to make a real difference in peoples lives.  Whether your future is here in Ireland or you travel and work abroad I am sure you will bring with you respect for the cultures and beliefs of those you will encounter.  It is fantastic to see RCSI leading the way in this area using higher education and your international student body in particular as a force for increasing respect and tolerance across cultures and countries through actively increasing the ‘cultural competence’ of graduates through specific training and supported personal development like with this award programme.

To borrow the RCSI tagline, it is programmes like this which helps in “developing healthcare leaders who make a difference worldwide”.


I do apologise that I cannot stay with you for the entire event but I must dash back to the commencement of Dáil business at noon. Enjoy the rest of the celebration and many thanks for your kind attention.