Irish Community Organisations at the Emigrant Support Programme Reception
Speech22 October 2019
It is a great privilege to be back in London, at this important event, at what is a key moment for Britain’s future. I am delighted to meet you all and to have this opportunity to acknowledge and to thank you for the range of work being carried out to support our Irish community across Britain. This event is something that I look forward to each year and it truly is as if I am back amongst friends. I am delighted that you were able to take time out of your busy schedules to join with us this today. Thanks to Tara Viscardi for that wonderful musical interlude this afternoon.
I am very happy to announce grants of over £5.5 million to 105 organisations in Britain this year, an increase of almost 0.3 million. This funding, which is over half of the total Emigrant Support Programme allocation, allows us to continue to provide much needed services to the most vulnerable amongst our diaspora. In addition, grants have been made to a range of Irish cultural and sporting organisations as well as Irish business networks to not only promote our heritage but to promote connectedness within our diaspora in Britain. The ESP is world-wide but it started here in Britain and Britain remains at the core of what we do in the programme. This reflects the continuing importance of the Irish community here to Ireland.
In addition to the organisations with whom we have been working on a long-term basis, I am also delighted to see some new faces and new organisations in attendance this year. Ireland is truly fortunate to have such a committed and dedicated group of organisations who continue to work tirelessly for the Irish community in Britain and advocate for their needs and I know your contribution is very highly valued by the Government.
I also want to acknowledge the way in which you, as organisations, are seeking to collaborate amongst yourselves in order to ensure the best possible outcomes for the wider Irish community, not only learning from successes and new innovations, but also focussing on how we collectively respond to the changing needs of the community and common challenges in terms of service provision, reaching newer members of the diaspora and ensuring the sustainability of organisations. You will recall that over the last few years we focussed not only on collaborative projects, but also intergenerational projects which bring huge benefits to all concerned and can only yield very rich results.
I am particularly pleased to see that the Embassy will, this week for the first time, host an event in conjunction with IamIrish to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of Irish people of mixed races as part of Black History month. I know that earlier this month, the Embassy also marked World Mental Health Day with ICAP and that it works with various other Irish community organisations on events throughout the year.
Initiatives such as the Volunteer Awards organised by Irish in Britain are important in recognising the crucial role volunteers play in ensuring that organisations can provide such dedicated level of care to the most vulnerable. I would like to acknowledge all nominees and award winners, in particular, Sr Moira Keane, from the Sisters of Mercy, a neighbour of mine from Galway who has been working with Irish prisoners in England and Wales as part of the Irish Chaplaincy and who won the individual volunteer award. I wish to acknowledge also the Lunch Club team at the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project who won the group award, and Rose Morris, outgoing Chair of Irish Community Care Manchester, who won the trustee award.
The recent high profile media coverage of cases of Irish people who died in Britain in tragic circumstances illustrate the continued demand for the services which many of your organisations provide and the complex needs of many of those who left Ireland in difficult circumstances, leaving family and support networks behind. Notwithstanding the terrible situation in which these individuals found themselves, the response by many of the Irish organisations in Britain in ensuring that their passing would be dignified, exemplified what is truly remarkable about the wider Irish community in Britain and you should be deservedly proud of your role in this.
I am, of course, aware of the wide range of services provided through Irish community organisations in Britain, serving the needs and interests of the largest and most diverse Irish community outside Ireland. Whether it is serving our elders; providing welfare, health and accommodation advice; helping people to network; or to explore and celebrate their cultural heritage, I know there are Irish organisations working hard to promote the interests of the community and that many of you are present here today.
This year, as Minister of State for the Diaspora, I have had the opportunity to engage with our diaspora around the globe in the context of the development of our new Diaspora Policy and this has included a number of consultations in Britain in July. I found these sessions to be hugely useful and I am delighted that some of you here were able to attend them and provide very valuable contributions as part of this consultative process.
The new diaspora policy is due to be launched in the first quarter of 2020. The extensive consultation programme undertaken has given me an opportunity to hear not only about the very valuable work being done by various organisations and the contribution that our diaspora continue to make around the world, but also to learn about the key challenges that face our diaspora, not least in Britain at this very pivotal time.
Let me assure you of one thing: support for the most vulnerable members of our communities abroad will remain at the heart of the new policy.
Since we met last year, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Common Travel Area was signed by Ireland and the UK on 8 May 2019. Through the MoU, Ireland and the UK confirmed the commitment of both Governments to maintaining the CTA in all circumstances. Under the CTA, the way in which Irish and British citizens can live and work freely across these islands will not change. The CTA is a long-standing arrangement which means Irish citizens can move freely to live, work and study in the UK on the same basis as British citizens, and vice versa. It pre-dates our membership of the European Union and will continue after the UK leaves the EU. I know some of you will have had an opportunity to attend the information sessions on the CTA which were held over the past few months as part of our outreach efforts. These sessions underline one of goals of the MOU – to provide clarity and assurance that your rights and entitlements under the CTA will not change, regardless of the path Brexit takes.
I am delighted that we have been able to re-open the Consulate General in Cardiff this year. This highlights the importance of the relationship between Ireland and Wales, and is part of Ireland’s expansion of its diplomatic network under the “Global Ireland” initiative. The Consulate in Cardiff will have a governmental and economic focus and will play an important role in supporting the strengthening and deepening of the existing relationships between Ireland and Wales and reaching out to the community there.
Both I and the Government are committed to maintaining strong relationships between the people of our two islands and I can assure you of the Government’s support to you not only in terms of support to our communities through the Emigrant Support Programme, but also in terms of ensuring that the deep and meaningful bonds between our two islands continue to flourish and that we remain as closely entwined in friendship as we have been in the past.
I would also like to thank Ambassador Adrian O’Neill and all at the Embassy, in particular the team working in the Community and Cultural Section who are always on hand to provide advice and support to the community here.