CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m very pleased to join you here today to open the Cumasú Centre and the Ardaun, Roscam and Doughiska Family Resource Centre. I have very much enjoyed viewing the exhibitions set up throughout the Centre showcasing some of the work you do here. It is inspiring to see how the Centre is being used to serve your community and bring it together in all its diversity.
Throughout Ireland, we are living in increasingly diverse communities. I know that your community here, and indeed today’s gathering, are no exception to that rule. The most recent census figures tell us that non-Irish nationals now make up 11.6% of our population. There has also been a significant increase in the number of people holding dual Irish and other citizenship. In terms of our ethnic diversity, while 82% of our population identifies as “white Irish”, most ethnic minority groupings have also seen increases in recent years. It’s about twenty years now since significant inward migration to Ireland began, so a growing population of second generation migrants accounts for some of this. Overall the picture is one of an increasingly diverse and multicultural nation. One in which people of all ethnicities and cultures, adherents of all religions and none, can co-exist in a framework of tolerance and mutual respect, underpinned by the basic values of Irish society as reflected in our Constitution and the law.
We can expect inward migration to Ireland to continue as our economy grows and provides opportunities for people to live, work and raise families here. We are also increasing the numbers of people granted refugee status here. The Irish Refugee Protection Programme was established two years ago in response to the needs of people fleeing from the conflict in Syria. Under this Programme, Ireland has to date welcomed more than one thousand three hundred people (1,328) to make their homes here in communities throughout the country, including here in Galway. Making this happen requires a huge effort at local level. Public bodies and voluntary organisations are working hard together in locations throughout the country to welcome this particularly vulnerable cohort of migrants. I want to acknowledge the effort of all those working to make the Refugee Protection Programme a success.
The increasing diversity of our communities presents many opportunities. We have always looked outward as a people. But as Ireland becomes more diverse, we are increasingly able to embrace diversity right here at home, within our own communities. By engaging with each other in shared spaces, we can broaden our horizons. Learning about each other, and learning from each other, helps us to better know ourselves. The ARD Family Resource Centre is a fantastic example of such a shared space. It’s a space filled with the vibrancy and energy that is the hallmark of a thriving community. In such communities we have a great opportunity to realise the benefits of diversity and the richness of living together in diverse communities.
I am not suggesting that this is simple or that it happens overnight. Those of you who are members of migrant communities and those of you who are working with migrant communities will know well that it doesn’t. Rapid change of any sort in communities or localities can bring its own pressures. The increase in diversity that has come about over the past two decades or so in many locations across the country is no exception to this. Integration is a complex process. It takes time, patience, determination and hard work to build truly integrated, cohesive and resilient communities. Integration is also a two-way process. That means there are responsibilities on both sides. Both migrant and host communities must share in the work of creating well integrated communities. Ireland – its people, institutions and systems – need to learn about and respond to the needs of migrant communities. We need to work to eliminate racism or discrimination of any sort. It has no place in our communities. Migrant communities and leaders, for their part, need to take a pro-active approach to integration; to engaging with Irish society, systems and values; and to developing a sense of belonging here.
We all know the risks associated with a failure to achieve this. A failure of integration can have significant adverse consequences for all of us. Where there is an absence of community cohesion, or a lack of shared values, this can contribute to segregation and increased risk of social exclusion and economic disadvantage for particular groups. This may not only reduce the quality of life and opportunities available to migrants and their families, but can also allow anti-integration agendas to gain currency. We cannot be complacent about these risks.
At Government level, we are working hard to support integration both nationally and locally. This work is guided by our National Migrant Integration Strategy which was published earlier this year. The Strategy includes actions to support migrant integration in key areas such as education, health, social inclusion, access to employment and civic participation. It also addresses racism. As Minister with responsibility for migrant integration, I have a leading role in monitoring the implementation of this Strategy which runs to 2020. Working within this framework will enable us to make tangible progress in identifying and tackling barriers to integration. It also gives us a mechanism for tracking our progress so that we can know if further initiatives or different approaches are needed.
Our work within the framework of the Integration Strategy is complemented by a range of funding supports for integration projects of varying scale and scope throughout the country. This year we have been able to mobilise Government funding for integration under several different funding programmes. Between national and European Union programmes, we are supporting forty (40) large and one-hundred and thirty-one (131) small projects in locations across the country. The European Union Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) is our primary funding programme in this area. Using this fund, we are supporting twenty (20) independent integration projects nationwide. One of these – the BRIDGE Project - is based here in Galway under the leadership of the Galway City Partnership. The Family Resource Centre is an operational partner for aspects of this project, providing a weekly clinic here. I am very pleased that we are able to support this work. The AMIF also provides funding support for communities welcoming refugees admitted under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.
I was particularly pleased to be able to launch the Communities Integration Fund earlier this year. Under this small grants scheme for local community-based projects, we allocated over €500,000 to 131 organisations across the country. The Family Resource Centre here was one of these and was awarded a grant to support its Intercultural Community Festival. I understand this Festival was held on Saturday last [9 September] and was a great success.
It’s my firm belief that successful integration begins at the local level and I am confident that the Communities Integration Fund projects will make a real and practical contribution to successful integration at community level. All projects will report back to the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration on what they achieved with the funding and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of this important initiative.
As I have said, it’s at the local level that successful integration really begins and takes root. It is the day-to-day lived experience of people in communities across the country that will determine how and when and whether we achieve the vision set out in our Integration Strategy:
- An Ireland in which migrants are facilitated to play a full role in Irish society.
- An Ireland in which integration is a core principle of life.
- An Ireland in which society and institutions work together to promote integration.
If our communities are facing isolation, segregation, lack of interaction, discrimination, or exposure to anti-integration agendas, it will be much harder to realise this vision. We need to be guided by the lived experience of our communities – both migrant and host – in determining how best to foster successful integration.
Fostering successful integration is at the heart of your work here in the Family Resource Centre here. This is a welcoming space filled with energy and positivity where people can come to seek support, to participate in a wide range of activities, or just to get together. It’s precisely the type of space in which integration can flourish and communities can enjoy their diversity and build their shared understanding. I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of all those who have made this Centre a reality. I am most impressed by what I have seen here today and I wish you every success into the future.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.