Minister Deenihan remarks at Emigrant Support Programme Reception, London
Dia dhaoibh go léir agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as ucht bhur fáilte.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here for the annual reception to honour recipients of Emigrant Support Programme funding.
Since being appointed the Irish Government’s first ever Minister for the Diaspora, I have had the pleasure of visiting many of the organisations represented here today. It has been a great privilege to see first-hand the tremendous work that is being done and the profound impact that your services have on our emigrants in Britain.
This annual reception is also an opportunity to recall the legacy of those generations who came before us to create a life for themselves and their families in Britain. They preserved and nurtured Irish culture and heritage and developed a strong and vital community during times of great hardship. Your work today continues that legacy.
We are proud to continue supporting Irish people in Britain and the Emigrant Support Programme is tangible expression of our commitment and interest in the global Irish community. I am delighted to announce today that the grants awarded through the 2015-2016 Emigrant Support Programme total £4.8 million to 110 organisations in Britain. This brings to over £70 milllion the funding which we have provided in the period 2004-2015.
While the Emigrant Support Programme engages on a wide range of projects, including those furthering links in business, culture, heritage and sport, our primary focus remains on support for the most vulnerable in the Irish community. There is undoubtedly a high quality of service being delivered by community organisations and our goal is to help you to preserve and enhance that service.
Quality Assurance Standards
With that goal in mind, I would like to acknowledge the strong progress made by many ESP organisations in recent years to achieve independently validated quality assurance standards.
We have committed to spending approximately 1% of Emigrant Support Programme funding on quality assurance. We introduced this commitment in order to assure taxpayers that value for money and the best possible outcomes for the Irish abroad are being achieved and thus protect the long-term viability of the Programme.
I congratulate the many groups who have already undertaken the process and recommend that others follow their lead. For those who have not yet done so, I would encourage you to reach out to Irish in Britain or the Embassy team to learn about the standards and the supports available to achieve them.
We want Irish community organisations in Britain to be recognised as the best of their kind and to be a model for other community groups. Not only will independently-verified quality assurance standards help to ensure the viability of the ESP, they also play an important role in enabling you to seek out other sources of funding.
While we are of course aware of the challenges faced by organisations in accessing funding in the current environment, we would continue to encourage you to actively seek out other sources of funding. We are keen to see a decreased reliance on Irish government funding. Funding by other organisations provides an important endorsement of your work and can also provide useful insights and supports from external bodies.
In Government we are constantly called upon to justify the money that we spend, either at home or abroad. In this context, it is incumbent upon us to secure value for every penny invested by the Irish State.
To ensure accountability and high standards, I have asked my colleagues to institute a system of audits. We are now in the second year of audits and I thank all the organisations for their cooperation in that process. It is through safeguards such as these that we can ensure the long-term sustainability and success of Irish community organisations.
Over the years, Irish Governments have nurtured a relationship with the Diaspora that has marked us as a role model for many other countries.
In early 2010, the Global Irish Network was launched and now comprises over 350 of the most influential Irish and Irish-connected individuals abroad. Members of the Network, who come from a diversity of fields and are based in almost 40 countries, provide Ireland with an invaluable resource. Next week, we will host the Global Irish Economic Forum which brings together more than 300 such figures from across the globe.
This year also saw the first ever Global Irish Civic Forum with representatives of over 140 organisations working with the Irish diaspora travelling to Dublin. I recognise many faces in this room from that event and I hope you found it a worthwhile and valuable discussion.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to personally play a part in how we define our relationship with the diaspora. This year we launched the first ever Government diaspora policy which sets out our plan to both drive and foster engagement with the global Irish community.
Many individuals and groups present here today fed into that policy and I thank them sincerely for taking the time to do so. Their input was invaluable. I hope that they can see their fingerprints on the policy, in particular through the clear and stated focus on support for vulnerable Irish emigrants.
You will note the emphasis on support for mental health services in particular, an issue which I know is close to many of your hearts. The Embassy hosted a discussion last month to mark World Mental Health Day. At that event, Irish organisations, funders, commissioners and key influencers came together to discuss the specific needs of Irish emigrants in the context of Britain’s national anti-suicide strategy. I am personally committed to this work and would like to wish the initiative for co-operative work on mental health issues across community groups well.
Of course this work could not be carried out without immense volunteering efforts on the part of local communities. Without exception, I’m told by every organisation I meet that volunteers are the backbone of the work they do. Whether it’s organising a tea-dance, visiting people in their homes or creating new databases and social media strategies, thousands of volunteers across Britain put an extraordinary amount of time and dedication into supporting their fellow Irish.
This is a true reflection of the Irish meitheal tradition where a community comes together to help one another.
On behalf of the Government I wish to pay tribute to all those who give up their time and effort to offer a helping hand to their community.
In discussing volunteering, I often hear about efforts to engage with younger members of the Irish community. This is particularly true in view of recent waves of emigration from Ireland.
I believe that many young Irish emigrants are eager to connect with the generations of Irish people who came here in decades past. We shouldn’t forget that even though most of our emigrants arriving in Britain today are well-educated and may be coming here for prestigious work or study opportunities, they too can experience the same feelings of alienation and homesickness familiar to past generations.
By involving them in your activities not only are you profiting from the resources and skills of the younger generations and bolstering the long-term sustainability of your own organisations, you would also be continuing the long tradition of supporting those who find themselves in a new city and in need of a helping hand.
I understand that the Embassy team is in the early stages of organising an initiative to facilitate volunteering opportunities for young Irish people with Irish organisations in Britain. I encourage anyone who is interested in supporting that to reach out to my colleagues today.
Finally, I would like to pay a sincere thanks to the members of ESAC, the Emigrant Services Advisory Committee, for their time and effort in advising the Government. Their wise counsel is greatly appreciated.
Once again thank you for joining us today for this celebration of Irish community organisations in Britain. On behalf of the Irish Government, I thank you for your service and your commitment to Irish emigrants.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.