Check against delivery
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be with you this morning to launch the Strategic Plan for Culture Connect for the period 2017 to 2019. Culture Connect is an established voice in community integration in Drogheda and the North East.
As with other locations across the country, County Louth has over the past two decades become more culturally and ethnically diverse. Our most recent census shows that just under 12% of our population have a nationality other than Irish. The figure for Drogheda is somewhat higher at 17.3% with almost one in three of these – that’s approaching 2,000 people - from outside the European Union.
The census also shows a huge increase to over one hundred thousand in the numbers of people who hold dual Irish citizenship. This attests to increasingly settled migrant communities – people who for some time now have called Ireland their home, and have a sense of belonging to the Irish nation, without relinquishing their identity or nationality of origin.
These figures speak of diverse communities in cities, towns and rural areas across Ireland. Of people from across Europe and the wider world who have come to make their homes in every county in Ireland. It speaks of a new Ireland, where the benefits of diversity are there to be reaped, and where the integration of new arrivals and diverse communities is imperative.
What do we mean by integration? It is the ability to participate in all of the major components of society without having to relinquish one’s own cultural identity. It means being facilitated to play a full role in Irish society. It means interaction between migrant and host communities. With all this in mind, I firmly believe that successful integration starts at the local level. It is through the day-to-day lived experience of migrants and host communities that we will succeed or fail at this. Equality of opportunity; the ability to access services; the ability to live free of discrimination – all these are critical to integration. In addition to these, I firmly believe that truly integrated communities are characterised by a vibrant interaction between different cultures and traditions. It is when we move beyond parallel lives and work to get to know each other that we can create truly integrated communities.
Community organisations such as Culture Connect have a vital role to play in supporting integration. You are well placed to connect with communities in ways that it can be hard for government services to do. You can provide much needed links between hard to reach groups and public services and in this way act as an important promoter and enabler of social inclusion. Public service providers at national and local level need to ensure they deliver services ways that are sensitive to the needs of migrants. This is well recognised in the whole-of-Government Migrant Integration Strategy that I launched earlier this year. Many of the 76 actions in this Strategy address this need directly. Under the framework of the Strategy, my own Department will undertake research to assess how well mainstream services are meeting migrant needs and to make recommendations for changes and improvements where the evidence shows us these are required. But regardless of advances in the capacity and capability of public services in serving migrant communities, there will always be a critical role for civil society, and in particular, migrant led organisations such as Culture Connect in promoting integration.
The Government is committed to supporting integration at the community level. For my own Department, we do this primarily through a series of funding programmes for community-based organisations. All funding is allocated on the basis of open competitive calls for proposals. Earlier this year, I launched a new Communities Integration Fund to provide grants for local integration projects and events. I was pleased to see that Culture Connect was a recipient of one of these grants for an innovative project aimed at enhancing the English language proficiency of up to fifty young migrants aged between 5 and 17 newly arrived in the locality. I understand that the initial phase of this project was implemented successfully over the summer holidays and that a second phase will commence later this month. I am delighted that we are able to support this work with government funding.
Coming now to the Strategic Plan that I am launching here today. I want to share a few thoughts on your organisation’s Strategic Aims as they are laid out in this Plan.
“To promote the sharing and celebration of cultures within the community.”
I am struck by the way in which this aim recognises the richness of diversity – that it is something to be shared and celebrated. We have so much to learn from one another – both about each other, but also about ourselves. We can learn a lot about ourselves when we reach out to one another.
“To educate communities to recognise the strength in cultural diversity.”
This aim recognises that sometimes people need help to recognise the benefits of diversity. I like the honesty that this displays. It’s not always easy and people can feel threatened or confused by difference. They may need some support and positive interaction to help them see the benefits of cultural diversity.
“To encourage communities to embrace differences and celebrate similarities.”
With this aim, you acknowledge a very important truth - much as we can celebrate our diversity, it’s also vital that we recognise what unites us and celebrate our similarities.
“To challenge racism and discrimination.”
Racism and discrimination can blight lives. It is terrible to think that people who have come here to build new lives, to raise their families here in an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion might encounter racist behaviour or experience discrimination. We all have a responsibility to challenge such behaviour when we see it. It is not acceptable and has no place in our communities. I am pleased to see this important objective included in your Strategic Plan.
“To promote a more inclusive and friendlier community.”
This is at the heart of what your organisation does. New arrivals in particular may be at risk of isolation and need networks of support to protect them from this. Organisations such as Culture Connect can provide much needed links for migrants. Opportunities to involve the host community in outreach work aimed at hard-to-reach or newly arrived groups can be a good way to promote the interaction between migrant and host communities that is the hallmark of successful integration.
Our Migrant Integration Strategy is a living document. It has the flexibility to adapt and to have further actions added during its implementation phase. I want to have a vibrant engagement with our stakeholders on this, and ensure that we are hearing and taking into account the experiences and needs of migrants. Migrant-led organisations such as Culture Connect are very important stakeholders in this process. I look forward to continuing to engage with you as we take forward this important work.
It remains only for me to formally launch the Culture Connect Strategic Plan 2017-2019. This is a fine document that does credit to your organisation. I wish you every success in its implementation.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.