Address by Minister of State David Stanton TD
Minister of State for Justice at the Department of Justice and Equality with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration
Deputy President Ó Dochartaigh, Judge Bryan McMahon, Oireachtas colleagues, distinguished guests, colleagues and most especially those of you here, including children and teenagers, from our new communities and attending at this very important and noteworthy conference, Thank you for the invitation to be here and the very warm welcome I received on arrival.
It was an invitation which I was delighted to accept. It provides me with an opportunity to meet with you and to hear at first hand of your experiences and also an opportunity to let you know of the Government’s continuing work in this area.
This conference is very timely and I am sure will inform the debate and indeed generate debate on the issues facing those who have made Ireland their home, those in the protection process and indeed Irish people themselves. It is incumbent on all of use to take an holistic view of the issues so that we can make the best informed decisions for the benefit of all concerned.
I was delighted on my arrival to meet with Professor O Dochartaigh and his colleagues and also to meet, in an informal setting, some of those from the new communities being established in Ireland. These people come from such diverse countries as China, Russia, Cuba, Cameroon, Kenya and Zimbabwe and of course Ireland and other countries in the EU. This gives us all some indication of the degree of representation of communities from around the world that are now living in Ireland.
I hope to meet all of you in a more formal setting in the coming months to hear of the issues of particular concern to you.
Life as you all know is a state of constant change – indeed it is said that the only constant in life is change itself! Life in Ireland has changed completely since 1916. Messengers on bicycles were used to communicate messages between the various headquarters and field offices. Today, I am sure Padraig Pearse would have set up a Whatsapp group or maybe even a Twitter account to broadcast his message.
We can spend our time and energy fighting against that change or we can embrace it, learn from it and maximise the benefits for all involved.
We have chosen to embrace these changes.
You will all be aware of the Government’s commitment to accept 4,000 persons into Ireland under the International Refugee Protection Programme which is primarily focussed on the crisis in the Syria. We are actively working towards that target and to date 283 persons have been accepted into Ireland under that programme.
We are also assisting in the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean in a meaningful and practical way - The L.É Róisín has returned to the Mediterranean Sea to resume humanitarian missions. The L.É Róisín is working in support of Italian Navy rescue ships already operating in the area. Last year, the Irish Naval Service was responsible for the rescue of more than 8,000 migrants in the Mediterranean. This is an achievement of which we can rightfully be proud.
On another front, the number of persons who have chosen to migrate to Ireland continues to rise since the economic crash in 2009. In 2010, just over 40,000 migrated to Ireland. Last year the figure had risen to 69,000. This compares with over 150,000 in 2007. Many of those persons have made their homes here, are raising families here and are bringing their own unique experiences and cultural values with them.
We are working on finalising a Migrant Integration Strategy which will identify and address the key issues currently facing migrants who come to live in Ireland. This strategy will bring together an extensive range of recommendations covering a wide of Government Departments and agencies. It is the culmination of process which saw significant input from a large number of individuals and representatives of various migrant representative groups. I expect that this work will be completed in the early autumn.
Last year over 3,200 persons sought protection in Ireland. All of these are offered accommodation and approximately 50% of those in the protection process are in fact living in State provided accommodation. That protection process and the entire system was the subject of a detailed analysis of a working group under the chairmanship of an earlier speaker Judge Brian McMahon. The Government has responded to the report in a number of different ways not least of which is the introduction into law of the International Protection Act. This Act provides for a single application procedure which in turn will speed up the application process itself.
There are also some other developments - the Tánaiste has agreed that persons resident in State provided accommodation centres should have access to both the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children and work is underway to amend the relevant legislation to allow that to happen. The Minister for Education and Skills has extended the Pilot Student Support Scheme for those in the protection system for 2016/17. Generally speaking, this scheme provides supports in line with the current Student Grant Scheme to eligible school leavers who are in the protection system
The Government is also committed to improving the living conditions for those in State provided accommodation. Work is under way to meeting the recommendations dealing directly with that accommodation in respect of increases in the living space and catering facilities especially for those with families and children. These improvements will of necessity take some time to implement but I can assure you all that they will be implemented
All in all some 140 of the recommendations in that report have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented
For my part and in order to develop a greater understanding of the issues that face asylum seekers on the ground, I have already visited a number of accommodation centres throughout the country and I hope to visit many more in the coming weeks. Today’s conference is a welcome addition to that store of knowledge.
All of the persons that I have referred to – those seeking protection, migrants and all of their families - bring with them a richness of culture of their own, a set of values of their own and a way of life of their own. These inform our existing culture so that together we can all, and I repeat all benefit.
Shortly you will see a presentation of music and song – rap to those in the know - entitled “Endless Opportunities”. Together, and I stress together, our existing communities, our new communities and those soon to arrive offer us all endless opportunities for the new century. Opportunities for growth as human beings, opportunities for growth in our culture and growth in our economy. It is up to all of us to capitalise on these opportunities for the benefit of all concerned.