Check Against Delivery
16 May 2017
A Chathaoirligh, Senators,
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Migrant Integration Strategy which the Government launched on 7 February last. The Strategy is intended to 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.
We consulted widely on this Strategy, which has been developed over an extensive period of time. I would like to thank all those who contributed, not least Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, whose leadership of the early stages of this process has helped us to reach this important milestone.
Over the past two decades, Ireland has become an increasingly diverse country. As Census 2016 reveals, just over eight hundred thousand of those currently resident in Ireland were born outside the country. A little over six hundred thousand people speak a language other than English or Irish at home. That is an increase of 19% over the 2011 figure. At the same time, the figures reveal a strong commitment to Ireland among those born elsewhere. Just over one hundred thousand people are now dual citizens of Ireland and of another country. This confirms the strong interest among many persons of migrant origin in becoming Irish citizens and in making a permanent commitment to Ireland.
Ireland’s record on integration has been quite positive so far. Significant progress has been made over the past two decades to integrate migrants into Irish society. The actions taken by successive governments, as well as by the business sector, civil society organisations and local communities, have achieved positive outcomes for migrants in key areas. The degree to which migrants have integrated into many Irish workplaces is a particular success story. Social inclusion measures have ensured that migrants do not experience significantly higher risks of poverty because of their migrant status. 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. The Intercultural Education Strategy has focused on enabling students to experience an education respectful of diversity while assisting education providers to ensure that integration becomes the norm within an intercultural learning environment. The National Intercultural Health Strategy (2007-2012) provided a framework for action by the health service to respond to increasing cultural diversity. A new Intercultural Health Strategy will be developed as one of the actions foreseen under this Integration Strategy.
Equally, many businesses recognise the importance of managing workplace diversity successfully. 50 companies in Ireland representing well over 100,000 employees have signed up to the Diversity Charter to demonstrate their commitment to diversity. Many more companies have developed expertise in managing workplace diversity well.
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. If we are to realise the benefits of integration, we need firstly to avoid some of the pitfalls that have developed in other countries. There are great benefits for Irish society if we get our integration model right.
This Migrant Integration 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. Migrants come from diverse cultures, religions, backgrounds and experiences. Some are English-speaking, some are not. 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. The Strategy needs to be sufficiently flexible to encompass refugees and economic migrants, those who are new to Ireland and those who have spent their lives here.
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. The risks of populist, anti-immigrant movements and radicalisation of some of those of migrant origin in other EU countries have been well signalled.
We have the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of other societies. We must avoid in particular the segregation and isolation of migrant communities. Segregation can fracture shared understandings between migrant and non-migrant populations. This can lead to the growth of racist sentiment. It can also lead to the loss of economic and social opportunities for migrant communities.
The principal aim in this Strategy is to promote the ability of migrants to participate actively in Irish society and to foster migrants’ sense of belonging within this society. The Strategy builds on the foundation of what has been achieved so far. It recognises that mainstream services have to place a renewed focus on integration to ensure that migrants gain equal access to such services. Equally, it proposes 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 and may need targeted services.
The Migrant Integration Strategy is intended as the framework for the Government’s action on migrant integration for the period from 2017 to 2020 and has been devised to respond to the new challenges that we anticipate in the years ahead.
It will run from 2017 until 2020 and is targeted at EU and non-EU nationals, including refugees. It is also targeted at foreign-born Irish citizens and their children.
Our focus for this Strategy is to build on the good practices already in place and to provide further supports where necessary. We must replicate existing successful initiatives. Equally, we must ensure that areas needing attention are identified and measures taken to address any problems.
The actions and recommendations contained in this Strategy cover a wide range of very important areas including, among others, access to public services and social inclusion, education, health and employment. It builds on the existing approach to combine 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 both for migrants 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.
One issue that emerged repeatedly in the consultation process for this Strategy was the need to ensure that individuals and families are fully integrated into local communities. Otherwise, they risk being unaware of information or opportunities if they are not linked to the community and official networks on which others rely. The Strategy puts forward a number of initiatives to reach out to groups and families that may be isolated from mainstream society. It proposes to use networks as a means by which migrant and non-migrant groups and organisations can get to know one another and through which migrants can raise issues of concern. Dublin City Council, for instance, will set up a network targeted at hard-to-reach migrant groups building on a model pioneered by New York City.
Similarly, a network will be established for schools outside the established system to inform them of child protection and health and safety obligations. We intend to use this network as a means of establishing relationships with such schools, many of which operate outside any form of oversight but which are interested in being compliant on child protection etc. It is intended that such networks will be used as a means of communicating information but also of building shared understandings with regard to norms and expectations.
Reaching out to young people is a particular concern within the Strategy. Older teenagers and young adults can turn away from existing youth structures, particularly if they experience family pressures not to mix in opposite-sex groups. The Strategy proposes that the youth sector will look at ways of engaging with these young people of migrant origin so that they get the chance to develop and maintain relationships with their peers within Irish society.
The Strategy seeks to address areas where migrants are under-represented. It includes actions that seek to improve the representation of migrants throughout the public service. It proposes that a target of 1% will be established for the employment of EEA nationals and people from minority ethnic communities within the civil service. This will be monitored for progress towards the target. Initiatives will be taken to raise awareness within migrant communities of the opportunities presented by careers in the civil service. I see this as an important step towards ensuring that the civil service is more representative of the population of Ireland as a whole.
Similarly, an awareness-raising initiative is planned to encourage under-represented groups, including migrants, to apply for appointment to State Boards. The aim is to raise awareness among migrants and persons of migrant origin of opportunities on State Boards so that they can be encouraged to apply for such opportunities. I believe that getting more diverse voices onto State Boards should yield benefits in two directions. Migrants will gain access to wider decision-making opportunities in this society. In turn, State Boards will benefit from a wider pool of talent and expertise.
The consultations held with migrant groups during the process of drafting the Strategy confirmed that migrant organisations are particularly interested in the area of political participation. They want to see higher turnout by migrants in relevant elections. They also want the political parties to encourage more migrants to become involved, including as potential candidates. In response, the Strategy includes a number of actions to encourage greater participation in political life by migrants. The first step is to encourage more migrants to register for, and to vote in, elections.
Ensuring that mainstream services understand and are responsive to migrant needs is very important. The Strategy proposes that integration will be mainstreamed into the work of all relevant Government Departments and agencies. It proposes ongoing intercultural training for front-line staff of Government Departments. It also reiterates the need for information for migrants in language-appropriate formats.
English language proficiency emerged as a key concern in consultations with migrant groups. They want to see more targeted language training and greater opportunities for progression. The Strategy proposes to include a language component in education and training programmes for unemployed migrants with poor knowledge of English. The role of the Education and Training Boards will be crucial in ensuring that these opportunities are available, including to enable migrants to develop the language skills to access skilled employment.
While employment rates are broadly similar for migrants and non-migrants, one group – Africans – have much lower rates of employment than the norm. The Department of Social Protection is undertaking an initiative to examine the reasons why Africans have lower than average rates of employment. Our concern is to ensure that employment opportunities are available to African migrants on an equal basis with other groups. We also want to tackle any risk that Africans might get locked into inter-generational exclusion from the labour market. More broadly, initiatives are planned to ensure that migrant needs in relation to skills acquisition and labour market activation are addressed.
As I have already said, many employers have gained experience in managing diversity effectively. Many businesses have developed expertise in managing diversity in their customer base. There is a role now for business to communicate that expertise within the wider society. The Strategy seeks to encourage businesses to focus more on using their corporate social responsibility activities to promote integration. The work to engage with the business sector to encourage its ongoing activities to manage workplace diversity will continue. Equally, initiatives are being undertaken to promote migrant entrepreneurship using EU funding streams.
The health service is a very good example of a system that has adapted to meet the challenges of diversity. However, some of the refugees coming into Ireland at the moment have complex health needs. This may require additional resources within the health service to deal with their needs. The proposed second National Intercultural Health Strategy will provide a framework for addressing the needs of this vulnerable cohort.
The issue of data gaps has been raised repeatedly over the past years. While progress has been made in collecting data in relation to ethnicity and nationality, including in the census, there are still gaps in key areas. The absence of robust data inhibits our ability to understand migrant needs fully or to plan effectively for changes to, or for future demands on services. The issue of reporting of race-related incidents is a facet of this problem. The Strategy proposes to establish a working group under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality to examine data and reporting issues.
I believe firmly that successful integration starts at local level. The community is the key to ensuring that families feel truly at home here in Ireland. With this in mind, I have established the Communities Integration Fund that will give small grants to local organisations and community groups to promote integration across the country. I am very pleased that there has been a great response to the initiative. I will announce details of the successful applicants next month.
In addition to this Fund, the Department of Justice and Equality separately issued a call for proposals for national projects to promote integration. Again, the response was exceptionally positive, with a large number of applications received. I will announce details of the successful proposals very soon.
As our population changes, its needs will also change. I anticipate that the challenges that we are likely to face in terms of integration will evolve over the period to 2020. I will chair a Strategy Committee of Departments, agencies and NGOs that will oversee the implementation of the Strategy and will look at how it needs to adapt to meet the challenges ahead. The Strategy Committee will begin its work next month. It will set targets for action and will monitor progress towards meeting those targets. The inclusion of members of the NGO sector in the implementation process will be of great importance in ensuring that issues of concern are identified and action taken to address them as appropriate. 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.
The increased diversity of Ireland’s population has brought great benefits for our country. It has enhanced our skills. It has brought a talented workforce capable of responding to the increased demands of the global economy. It has enabled us to withstand the economic turbulence of the past decade. If we are to continue to realise the benefits of diversity, we need as a society to focus more on integration. We each of us have to play a part in promoting integration, in challenging racism and in ensuring that our workplaces and communities are inclusive of all. The Migrant Integration Strategy offers the blueprint for engaging Government, communities, workplaces and individuals in the vital task of making integration a success for all of us.