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Migrant representation is crucial for Integration Taskforce

By: Ruth Evans
Information Management and
Communications Officer
Immigrant Council of Ireland

The Government’s recent announcement that it will establish a national Integration Taskforce shows it has begun to recognise the importance of this issue to Ireland’s future – but now it is important that it acts to get the fundamentals right, according to Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) founder and board member Sr Stanislaus Kennedy.

Sr Stan said the announcement by Minister of State for Integration Policy, Conor Lenihan TD, that he would establish the taskforce by Christmas, is a positive sign.

“While the ICI welcomes the initiative, we believe it will be crucial that the taskforce is broadly based, with representatives from immigrant communities, the NGO sector and the social partners,” Sr Stan said.

“The Government needs to listen to the voices of migrants.”

The ICI has been calling on the Government to ensure the National Integration Policy is developed as a part of a shared vision on the future development of Irish society, with migrant and ethnic minority-led groups and support organisations involved in its development, implementation and evaluation.

Sr Stan said “integration” has been discussed widely in the Irish media lately.

While many commentators spoke about the need to recognise integration as “a two way street”, it was important to realise that integration is not about dictating that migrants should have to give up their cultural identity in order to feel a sense of belonging in Irish communities, she said.

“When it comes to effective integration policies, there are rights and responsibilities for migrants and for the community generally,” Sr Stan said.

“Mutual respect has to underpin our understanding of integration.

“Integration is about ensuring people feel part of the community. It means people who come to live in Ireland are able to feel that they are full, valued members of our communities.

“Just as importantly, it means those of us who were born here recognise and value migrants as members of our communities.

“What it’s about is ensuring that all people and families in Ireland are treated equally, with equal access to employment opportunities, housing, health services and education.

“We also need to ensure that we overcome issues that stop migrants from feeling that they belong – and perhaps stop Irish born citizens from thinking of migrants as belonging here – in particular, language barriers.”

Sr Stan said the ICI was holding a roundtable discussion on the need for language and introductory programmes for migrants in Ireland on September 11, when it would launch its research document, “On Speaking Terms”.

The report examines the need for language and introductory programmes for migrants, existing provision, and how the issue is dealt with overseas.

The ICI has also submitted the document to the Government’s current review of English language courses for adult migrants in Ireland.

Sr Stan said adequate provision of English language courses should be an integral part of Ireland’s approach to integration, but that the Minister’s taskforce had a range of equally important issues to tackle.

“The Integration Taskforce’s priorities should be to develop a national integration policy and to secure an adequate budget so that the policy can be properly implemented,” she said.

“The integration policy should cover those essential issues of access to employment, housing, health and education but it also must look at barriers to integration, such as policies which keep families apart,” she said.

“These are the sorts of issues that migrants regularly raise with the ICI.

“The importance of the taskforce’s work should not be underestimated.

“As a country, we must act now to make sure our experience of immigration remains positive and that we recognise the rights of migrants to help us avoid pitfalls that have been made overseas.

“But that won’t happen by chance.

“We need to think about what we want Irish society to look like in the future and to accept that what we do now will influence the success of our integration policies.

“We all want a society that enjoys economic prosperity and social cohesion into the future.

“I believe we can ensure we enjoy social cohesion if we get our integration policies right now.”

The ICI is a national, independent, non-Government agency. The ICI promotes the rights of migrants and their families in a number of ways, including through the provision of information and legal advice, research, training and also lobbying for political and legislative change.

26 October 2010   


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