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Google HQ, 24 May 2017 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am delighted to be here this evening to open this marvellous exhibition of African Art. I would like to extend my thanks to the Down to Basics Network of New Entrepreneurs for their invitation. 

The opening of this exhibition forms part of Ireland’s Africa Day celebrations. Each year, Africa Day gives us a great opportunity to reflect on the growing diversity of our population here in Ireland, and the contribution of our African communities. 

We are becoming an increasingly diverse country. Last year’s census revealed that the proportion of our population who have a nationality other than Irish now stands at 11.6%. The number of people who hold dual Irish nationality has increased significantly – almost doubling over the 5 year period since the previous census to stand at over 100,000 people. Over one-third of these people were themselves born in Ireland. This is illustrative of a strong commitment to Ireland among many of our newer communities. It is encouraging to see the numbers of people who opt to retain an identity from their country of origin, while at the same time embracing an Irish identity that co-exists with it.  

The new census figures are also adding to our knowledge of the many different ethnic groups that make up our population. Just under 58,000 people identified as Black African or Black Irish in the census. This was a very slight drop on the numbers recorded in the previous census. Prior to that, this group had been increasing rapidly – up 45% between 2006 and 2011.  

Diversity has become a fundamental characteristic of the Irish population. And it has brought us great benefits. It has broadened and deepened our skills base. It has doubtless helped us to withstand the economic difficulties of the past decade. And it is helping us to build the economic recovery. Our migrant communities are active in all sectors of the economy, bringing their wealth of skills, experience and talent to bear in diverse ways that we can all benefit from. 

And no less than the economic contribution made by members of our newer communities, we are all enriched by Ireland’s increased cultural diversity. The magnificent African Artworks in this exhibition are an example of this. 

Increased diversity brings with it both challenges and responsibilities. To ensure that we can fully realise the benefits of diversity, we must develop a greater focus on integration. 

Integration is a two-way process. With truly successful integration, migrants are able to participate actively in Irish society and have a sense of belonging, without having to relinquish their own cultural identity. Because it is a two-way process, integration also requires Irish society and institutions to work together to promote integration. 

Our efforts in this will be guided over the next three years by a new Migrant Integration Strategy that was launched by the Government last February. This Strategy is targeted at all migrants, both EU citizens and those from outside the EU, including refugees. It is also targeted at foreign-born Irish citizens and their children. The Strategy adopts a Whole-of-Government approach that seeks to build on existing good practice and provide additional supports where needed. It contains a broad range of initiatives in areas such as access to citizenship and public services; education; employment; political participation, and more. Its implementation will be overseen by a cross-sectoral committee, on which some of our key civil society organisations working in the area of integration will also have a voice. I am looking forward to the commencement of this work next month. 

Employment is a powerful driver of integration. Access to employment, supports for employability, and opportunities for entrepreneurship can all help to promote the successful integration of migrants and their families. One of the areas to be examined as part of the implementation of the new strategy is the lower than average employment rate for people of African origin. The Department of Social Protection is undertaking an analysis of the reasons for this. It is important that employment opportunities are available to African migrants on an equal basis with other groups. If this is not the case, we need to understand why in order to determine what interventions might assist. 

English language skills are also vital for successful integration. The recent census shows that over 600,000 people speak a foreign language at home, 30% of whom were born in Ireland. These figures are an excellent illustration of the rich diversity among our population. But they also help to show us where supports are needed. Of those speaking a foreign language at home, 83% said they could speak English well or very well. 14% said not well or not at all – that’s almost 87,000 people. For migrants without the necessary level of English language proficiency, access to English language supports is critical to enabling their integration and ensuring they can reap the benefits of living in Ireland. The Strategy contains actions aimed at ensuring that these supports are available to migrants seeking employment. 

Making funding available for the types of supports that promote integration is a key element of our Strategy. Through providing targeted funding for integration projects, the Government can support the critical work of community and voluntary sector organisations in support of migrant integration. We have a number of funding streams available to us for this work. Earlier this year, twenty integration projects run by community organisations and migrant NGOs were awarded multi-annual European Union funding totalling over €4 million by my Department under the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. A further five migrant employability projects were awarded European Social Fund grants totalling €3.3 million over four years. 

We have also recently committed almost €1.8 million over three years under our National Funding Programme for Integration. This will provide much needed financial support to a range of integration projects across the country. And next month I hope to announce the recipients of the Communities Integration Fund small grants scheme for local integration projects. I hope that these various supports will make a real difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable migrants, and well as supporting all our communities to achieve true integration. 

I also want to mention our European Social Fund programme for women’s entrepreneurship projects. This is a small programme of just €1 million over three years. However, I am pleased to say that one of the projects recently selected to receive multi-annual support from this programme has a specific focus on migrant women entrepreneurs working in the social care sector.  

This is an innovative entrepreneurship project led by the Migrant Rights Centre working with migrant domestic workers. It is designed to increase women’s entrepreneurship rates and to create the conditions for migrant women participating in the project either to develop a viable social enterprise or become self employed. The participants will directly benefit from a bespoke QQI level 6 Entrepreneurship Training Programme with Dublin City University’s Ryan Academy. This project will get underway in July. I cite it as an example of government, the community and voluntary sector, the education sector and migrant groups working together in innovative ways to support migrant entrepreneurship. 

Entrepreneurship is an important driver of our economic recovery. It is important that migrants have the opportunities to explore and realise their entrepreneurial skills and ideas on an equal basis as others. Under the Migrant Integration Strategy, Local Enterprise Offices will undertake targeted initiatives to engage with prospective migrant entrepreneurs. Networks such as Down To Basics can play an important part in fostering and supporting migrant-led entrepreneurship. I commend you on the work you do and wish you every success in the future. 

Finally, I congratulate all those involved in putting together this exhibition, but most especially the artists, whose work gives us a window into Africa, in all its rich diversity. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.