CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Remarks by Mr. David Stanton, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
You’re all very welcome to the Atrium of the Department’s offices here in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. I am delighted to be here today to open and support this very worthwhile initiative, “Promoting the Political Engagement of Migrants 2018”. Just looking around at the numbers here today (a Saturday!), it is plain to see that while this is an important event for the Government and for the political parties/public representatives here today, there is clearly a huge appetite for this type of engagement among our migrant communities too.
I’d like to congratulate all those involved in making today happen, including those of you from a number of Migrant NGOs who joined forces to plan and organise the event in partnership with the Office for Promotion of Migrant Integration at my Department. I must mention in particular the contribution of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Akidwa, Cairde, Forum Polonia, the International Organisation for Migration Ireland, New Communities Partnership, Places of Sanctuary Ireland and Wezesha. I also offer a special welcome to our facilitators on the day, Della Kilroy from RTE and Chris Chapman from ‘Change Exploratory’ and of course our chairperson Salome Mbugua from AKIDWA.
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. 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. Increased diversity brings with it both challenges and responsibilities. To ensure that we can fully realise the benefits of diversity in society, we must develop a greater focus on diversity in politics.
I view diversity as a strength, which can only serve to enrich the political discourse of a 21st century Ireland, strengthen our position on the international political stage and benefit our society as a whole. I believe greater migrant participation in political life is a fundamental aspect of migrant integration. According to the 2016 census figures, roughly, 12% of the population is of non-Irish background yet one only needs to look around the Oireachtas chambers or the local councils in Ireland to realise that the level of migrant participation in public life and politics in this State is nowhere near as representative as it should be. Participation by all members of society, including migrants, in the political decision-making process is crucial to the legitimacy of all democratic political systems, it must represent the society it serves.
Over successive generations, the Irish people have emigrated to far-away places, but particularly to the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. We can see today the impact on politics members of the Irish diaspora have had on these political systems, generations elected to overseas parliaments and assemblies, and continue to be active spokespersons and advocates for the Irish communities there. This must be the case for our own new communities, they must have voices to represent them at the heart of decision making.
Political participation however is so much more than simply running for election. First and foremost it is about exercising ones franchise, by registering to vote and using that vote. Engaging in this civic duty is a sign of real integration. It shows that a migrant cares about and trusts the political system in their adopted country. It shows they are wholly invested in the country. It shows they care.
And it’s not just about the voting. Volunteering, joining trade unions, political parties, public consultations, advising/campaigning in the community is all part of participating in the political process. I know that many of you today are involved in migrant advocacy groups and campaigning for the specific needs of your communities, this important work introduces you to the mainstream political issues, and gives you in my opinion, the community leader expertise to be a local or national representative.
I believe this event has the potential to be a significant step towards achieving the goals of the Migrant Integration Strategy – “A Blueprint for the Future”, which was published by Government in February last year with broad support from all parties. The strategy specifically challenges us, as public representatives, to deliver on two actions very relative to today’s event:
• to support and encourage migrants to register to vote and to exercise their franchise, and
• to encouraging migrants to participate in local and national politics.
The overall vision of the strategy is that migrants are facilitated to play a full role in Irish society, that integration is a core principle of Irish life and that Irish society and institutions work together to promote integration, a crucial step towards this goal, is political participation.
Clearly, there is already a developing synergy between what is happening at national strategic level and what the wider civil society is trying to achieve through events like today. Implementation of the Migrant Integration Strategy is coordinated and monitored by a cross-sectoral committee, involving the relevant public authorities. Importantly though, several of our key civil society organisations, many present today, also have a voice on this Committee. I chaired the third meeting of this committee in January, I am continually enthused by the dedication and energy of all those committee members.
The Government has committed significant resources to help integrate people into society. Making funding available for the types of supports that promote integration, such as this event today, it is a key element of our Strategy. Earlier this week, I was pleased to announce the Open Call for Proposals for the Communities Integration Fund for 2018, this is the second year of the Fund and we will again provide five hundred thousand euro (€500,000) in government funding to local organisations. The purpose of this funding is straightforward – to promote migrant integration in these local communities. Organisations can apply for grants of up to five thousand euro (€5,000). This will allow for a new and diverse selection of projects. We hope and expect that these projects will make a creative and innovative contribution – an expectation born of our experience of the projects funded in 2017. Information on the Communities Integration Fund for 2018 is available on the website of the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration – www.integration.ie for those interested in applying for funding.
Diversity is a reality, a reality which many see as a challenge. To realise its many benefits though, integration is an imperative. I hope this event will provide opportunities for meaningful engagement between migrant community leaders and political representatives and help identify and address any barriers that have prevented greater migrant participation to date.
In closing I’d like to encourage all participants to use their experience today to support us in the challenging task of building the Ireland of the future.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.