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6th October, 2017
Good afternoon everyone. It is a great pleasure to be here today in the Aviva Stadium for today's "Positive Partnerships" Conference and Workshop. I would like to thank the Football Association of Ireland for the kind invitation to come here this afternoon to address you. It is a pleasure for me to visit this wonderful stadium with its long association with the promotion of sport.
The subject of today's conference is “Working in partnership towards football development, the National Physical Activity Plan and Healthy Ireland.” This brings together a number of themes of great relevance in today’s Ireland. It is heartening to see so many bodies and agencies taking the time to come together to explore ways and means of working together to promote a healthy Ireland.
I would like to commend the Football Association of Ireland for the positive contribution it makes towards social inclusion. Through programmes such as the Late Night League Programme it seeks to engage young people in sport as a means to divert them from anti-social behaviour. It has also established an intercultural strategy which aims to increase participation of people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds in football. The strategy also aims to challenge racism and support the process of integration through participation in football.
This has never been more important than it is today. Ireland 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 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 are long-term residents here and call Ireland their home. These new communities have an increasing sense of belonging to the Irish nation, without relinquishing their identity or nationality of origin.
Cities, towns and rural areas across Ireland are now made up of increasingly diverse communities. People from all across Europe and the wider world are now making their homes in every county in Ireland. This is a new Ireland, one in which the benefits of diversity are all around us. Equally, the integration of new arrivals and diverse communities has never been more important.
Ireland’s population profile today presents both challenges and opportunities to policy-makers, public authorities and service providers and local communities alike. We need to work together to create an environment that is welcoming to migrants and which encourages high levels of participation by non-Irish nationals in all areas of Irish life. This is the integration challenge and we need to address it together.
To guide our work in this area, the Government has adopted a four year Migrant Integration Strategy that was published early this year by my Department. This Strategy provides a framework for action on integration by central and local Government and public service providers for the period from 2017 to 2020. The FAI made a welcome submission to the Cross-Departmental Group on Integration which was tasked with developing the new integration strategy. It also met with the Group to further explore the issues raised in that submission.
The Migrant Integration Strategy has been devised to respond to the challenges that we anticipate in the years ahead and is targeted at both EU and non-EU nationals, including refugees. It is also targeted at foreign-born Irish citizens and their children. It aims to enable migrants or persons of migrant origin to participate on an equal basis in the life of the country with those of Irish heritage. Its primary objective is to ensure that any barriers to full participation in Irish society by migrants or their Irish-born children are identified and addressed.
The Strategy seeks to 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 change and responsibilities for both the migrant 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.
The important contribution that sport can make to integration is acknowledged in the Strategy. It contains a commitment to explore further the potential of sport in the integration of migrants through encouraging active participation, volunteering and involvement in governance. It also requires public providers of grants to sports organisations to include a criterion on the promotion of integration activities in funding decisions. The cross-sectoral Strategy Monitoring and Co-ordination Committee, which is chaired by my colleague David Stanton, Minister of State with responsibility for integration, will monitor the implementation of these actions and report progress to Government as the Strategy is taken forward. I look forward to seeing positive outcomes from these actions.
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.
Organisations such as the Football Association of Ireland can play an important role in supporting integration. You are well placed to reach out to and connect with communities at grassroots level. Through programmes run by your clubs throughout the country, football can help to promote social inclusion among the newer members of our communities. It is not just about the individual player. Entire families can become involved either as players, mentors or coaches or volunteers. Not only are there opportunities to promote integration of diverse communities but also to foster a life long interest in sport and an introduction to a healthier lifestyle.
My Department has long been a supporter of work done by the FAI on the integration of migrants and has provided funding over a number of years to the intercultural football programme. More recently, my Department is providing support to the FAI for a project called Grassroots Integration through Football. This project is co-financed by the European Union under the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund. It focuses on children, adults and young people’s participation and aims to involve over 6,100 participants over the life of the programme.
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. Early this year saw the launch of a new Communities Integration Fund to provide grants for local integration projects and events. The organisations and projects that were allocated funding in 2017 include Sport Against Racism Ireland and Show Racism the Red Card – I am sure many of you will be familiar with these projects. Many other organisations working to promote integration through sport also received funding for integration projects.
To conclude, I would like to commend you all for taking the time to come here today and I wish you well in your discussions. Of course none of us here today are unaware of the important event taking place here in this stadium later this evening. I would like to wish the Irish team every success in their qualifying match against Moldova this evening. I am sure we are united in hoping for a result that will bring us closer to securing a place at the World Cup in Russia next year.