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Speech by Minister Jimmy Deenihan announcing Emigrant Support Programme Funding for Britain 2014

Irish abroad, MoS Jimmy Deenihan, Speech, Great Britain, 2014

Speech by Minister Jimmy Deenihan announcing Emigrant Support Programme Funding for Britain 2014

Embassy of Ireland, London 16 October

I am delighted to be making my first official visit to Britain as Minister for the Diaspora.

Growing up in Co. Kerry, with its long history of emigration and large Diaspora throughout the world, I have always felt deeply connected to the Irish abroad. Throughout my career as a footballer for Co. Kerry, I had the privilege of travelling many times to the UK and the US and had the opportunity to witness and learn about the experiences of Irish emigrants, to hear about their achievements and the challenges they faced. Since entering the Dáil, our community abroad has always been a priority for me and I feel privileged and honoured to now hold the position of Ireland’s first Minister for the Diaspora.

The establishment of the position of Minister for the Diaspora is a tangible demonstration of the Irish Government’s deep commitment to the Irish community abroad.

The announcement in this week’s Budget of a total of €12.595 million for supporting emigrants and engaging with the diaspora is a further demonstration of this. This sum includes maintaining funding for the Emigrant Support Programme at €11.595 million in 2015 with an additional €1 million for new diaspora projects and initiatives. This is an achievement given the pressures on the budget and it means that we can do more, together.

Ireland’s greatest resource has always been our people and the valuable contribution that our community abroad has made to Ireland throughout our history is widely acknowledged and respected by the Government and the people of Ireland. As Minister for the Diaspora, I am committed to ensuring that the enhancement of our connections to the global Irish community remains central to Government policy.

The Irish community in Britain is one of the most dynamic and successful communities in this country. Many of the Irish people who emigrated here have experienced great personal and professional success and there is virtually no aspect of British civic, political, community or cultural life that has not been enriched by contributions from the Irish community. This was acknowledged so powerfully during the recent State Visit by President Michael D. Higgins. At home in Ireland, we are extremely proud of the achievements of our community here in Britain. We are also aware that the success of our community today is due, in no small part, to the determination and hard work of earlier generations of Irish emigrants who settled here in more difficult times. They laid the foundation for the excellent relationship Ireland and Britain now enjoy. Those of you here today represent a very wide and diverse range of organisations and you are all part of this legacy.

While acknowledging the many achievements of the Irish community here in Britain, the Government is also very aware of the more vulnerable members of our community here who are in need of support. Welfare, particularly that of older people and those at risk of social exclusion, remains a key priority of the Irish Government’s engagement with the Diaspora here. The funding provided to Irish community organisations through the Emigrant Support Programme is a practical expression of this.

Since 2004, over €81 million has been awarded by the Irish Government, on behalf of the people of Ireland, to organisations that provide vital support to our community here. I am proud of the fact that we have been able to maintain ESP funding at very significant levels here in Britain, despite severe budgetary restrictions at home in Ireland over the past few years and I am delighted to be here today to announce the grants awarded through the Emigrant Support Programme for the 2014-2015 grant round, totally £5.114 million to 113 organisations in Britain.

Of course, delivering support on a practical basis would simply not be possible without the network of established Irish community organisations throughout this country or the dedication of the many volunteers that support your work. I’m delighted that so many of these organisations are represented here today. I am also struck by how many organisations are celebrating significant anniversaries this year, some celebrating from than 60 years of service. This is a real testament to the strength and spirit of the Irish community in Britain. On behalf of the Irish Government, I want to thank you for the important work you do every day to support our community here in Britain. I look forward to meeting you all throughout the evening.

Many of you will be aware that my Department is currently undertaking a review of the Government’s Diaspora policy. We are looking closely at what other things we should be doing to better engage with the Irish community abroad and examining how we can deliver established programmes in a better way. We want our community abroad to continue to feel connected and actively engaged in the development of Ireland. The policy paper will be published in the coming months and will be based on submissions received from Irish organisations and individuals around the world. It will outline our vision and strategy for ensuring that our engagement with the Diaspora remains relevant and effective going forward. It will also set out our strategy to improve our engagement with the younger generation of Irish emigrants. I want to thank the many Irish community organisations and individuals here in Britain who engaged with and made submissions to the review.

The Emigrant Support Programme will remain a key element of our engagement. The focus of the ESP in Britain will continue to be on supporting the more vulnerable and marginalised members of the community. However, we will be working with you all to make the programme more effective and efficient, to strengthen the programme and ensure that funding is directed to projects making a real and tangible difference to those in most need. The onus will be on every organisation that receives ESP funding to demonstrate that they are meeting a real need within our community and are maximising the impact of funding awarded.

We also want to increase accountability in the programme. A regular programme of audits has recently been established, with 1% of ESP funds now dedicated to quality assurance. This will strengthen the overall programme and allow the Government to defend and stand over the positive impact of Emigrant Support Programme funding.

We will also be encouraging all organisations in receipt of ESP funding to seek external quality marks for the services you are providing. This external validation will strengthen Irish community organisations and endorse any future applications to maintain or increase Irish Government funding. We look forward to working with you on this.

While I am acutely aware of the difficult funding environment faced by Irish community organisations here in Britain, I want to emphasise the importance of securing other sources of funding. Again, this provides important endorsement of the work you do and strengthens the case for maintaining or increasing Irish Government funding. We would like to see all organisations decreasing their reliance on our funding – however this does not mean that we are aiming to reduce funding for organisations as a goal in itself. Rather, we are open to applications for increased funding, based of course on audited and quality assured service provision, for organisations with diverse funding sources

We also want to encourage new organisations to join the programme. I am delighted that this year, we are again funding two business networks through the Emigrant Support Programme. This is an important way for us to engage with the younger generation of our community here in Britain.

The Emigrant Support Programme is just one way in which the Government engages with the Diaspora. Another important way in which we engage with our communities abroad is through the Global Irish Network. The Global Irish Network is a network of over 350 influential Irish and Irish-connected people, based in almost 40 countries worldwide. Members of the Network, who work across a variety of sectors, provide Ireland with an invaluable resource of international expertise from which we can draw as we work towards economic recovery. As part of our review of Diaspora policy, we will be working to improve the lack of young voices in the Global Irish Network to engage with and hear the voices of the younger generation of our community abroad.

Another key element of our engagement with the Diaspora is through the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad, which is presented by the President of Ireland each year to individuals living outside Ireland who have made an extraordinary contribution to Ireland and the Irish community abroad. I am delighted that there will be another British-based recipient of the award this year, Mrs. Mary Allen, who has dedicated much of her life to supporting the Irish community in London, on a voluntary basis. This recognition highlights the importance attached at the very highest levels in Ireland to Irish community organisations and volunteers in Britain. I am delighted that Mary Allen is here with us this evening (check).

Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Emigrant Services Advisory Committee who devote considerable time, energy and effort to ensuring that Government funding goes where it can best and most effectively be used. We are greatly appreciative of your important contribution to the programme. I had the pleasure of meeting the Committee just before this reception and I very much appreciated the opportunity to hear their views on the current challenges facing the Irish community in Britain today.

Thank you all for joining us here today for this celebration of Irish community organisations in Britain. Your work makes a profound difference to the quality of life experienced by thousands of Irish emigrants in this country and deserves the gratitude of all Irish people. On behalf of the Government, I thank you again for your tremendous work.