Remarks by Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs, at a Reception to announce the 2004 Díon grants. Part I
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to welcome you all to the Embassy today to announce the Díon Grants for 2004. I also wish to take the opportunity to announce important new developments in our emigration policy relating to both structures and financial assistance.
Emigration is a theme in Irish history that touches almost every family in Ireland. In particular, it has been a central thread of the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
The story has been a mixed one. The majority of those who travelled to Britain in the peak period of the 1950s made good lives for themselves. Most of them maintained very strong links with their home places and with their families. They also sent home remittances which were a vital source of support for families at the time. They worked hard and made a valuable, lasting and generous contribution to the development of this country. They brought great credit on themselves and on their country of origin.
At the same time, the experience of emigration has not always been a happy one. A minority of our people have not been able to make their own way and now find themselves, through no fault of their own, in a vulnerable or disadvantaged position.
Shortly after I took office as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I saw the need for a more structured and strategic approach to our emigration policy if we were going to respond more effectively to the needs of our emigrants. As agreed with the social partners, I established a special Task Force to advise on the development of a coherent long-term policy strategy.
The Task Force came to Britain and met with many of the voluntary organisations here - in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and elsewhere. Many of you willingly shared your time and expertise with them, and this in no small way helped to shape the final recommendations in their seminal Report.
I asked the Task Force to examine in particular three critical areas - pre-departure services for emigrants, services for emigrants abroad and, thirdly, services for those who wished to return to Ireland. I did not set any limit on their inquiry.
The Report contains many wide-ranging and far-reaching proposals. They cannot of course all be put into effect overnight and, realistically therefore, their implementation will have to be phased over a period of time.
That said, action is currently being taken on implementing over two-thirds of the Report’s 71 recommendations. One of those recommendations, that financial support for emigrants abroad, including the work of the Díon Committee, be brought under the Department of Foreign Affairs, has already been implemented. The Committee does outstanding work and I would like to thank its members for their great commitment throughout the year.
The Task Force also recommended increasing the level of the Díon Fund. This year there has already been a 30% increase in the level of the fund to €3.57 million.
I am very pleased to announce that, as I promised earlier in the year, I have now allocated an additional €1 million from my Department’s budget for emigrant services this year. The bulk of these funds will be reserved for disbursement by the Díon Fund in a second tranche later in the year.
This will bring the total assistance provided for emigrant services by my Department this year to €5 million, an increase of two thirds on last year. I will also be seeking to increase this figure even more next year, to enable services for the Irish abroad to be further developed, in line with the recommendations of the Task Force.
Today, I am particularly pleased to announce an important structural innovation in our approach to emigration issues. From September, a new Dedicated Unit will be established in the Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate the provision of assistance to our emigrants, and to work intensively with Government Departments and voluntary agencies to advance the Task Force’s Report. Our Ambassador in Estonia, Seán Farrell – who has personal and direct experience of emigration, having himself grown up just outside Manchester – will be returning to head up the Unit. I am very confident that this Dedicated Unit will introduce a new dynamic into our collective effort to advance this important area of national policy.
I am also happy to be able to announce here today that I have approved a grant of €50,000 to enable ÉAN - the Emigrant Advice Network - to hold an international two day Migration Conference alongside their A.G.M. in December, 2004 in Dublin. The purpose of the conference is to support those working in the field of Irish emigration, at home and abroad, through education, networking and policy development. Representatives from a number of their affiliated organisations, principally in Britain and the U.S., will be invited to participate. This reflects the recommendation of the Task Force that financial support be given to ÉAN to develop its coordination role and promote closer cooperation between welfare agencies abroad in order to enhance the overall impact of pre-emigration services in Ireland.
I believe that this conference will contribute significantly to addressing the need for closer cooperation and coordination identified in the Task Force report.
Turning to the Díon fund, at least 65 projects, involving 57 organisations, will be supported this year. This includes 5 new organisations, involving projects in Sheffield, Nottingham and Sandwell. At my request, the Committee is paying particular attention to the needs of older people and those who wish to return to Ireland.
The Committee rightly continues to give priority to supporting the front-line work of organisations which deliver services directly to those who most need them. But I also agree with the Committee that second-tier organisations can play a critical role in ensuring productive engagement with the British authorities - be it at the local, regional or national level. The Federation of Irish Societies plays a central role in this regard. Through its capacity building project, the Federation is expanding its range of practical services at the regional level, and is deservedly receiving €335,000 in Díon funding this year.
While I fully recognise the duty of the Irish Government towards our people here - and the ongoing work of the Embassy in London and the Consulates in Cardiff and Edinburgh bears witness to this - we should not forget that the welfare of those who live, work and pay taxes in Britain is also the responsibility of the British Government and the local authorities. In pursuit of this, one of the key objectives of the Federation’s capacity building project is to enhance its affiliates’ ability to lobby and obtain support from local and central government. I would like to thank the Mayors and other distinguished local authority representatives who have come here today in support of the work of their local Irish agency.
The main purpose of my visit here is of course to formally announce the Díon grants for 2004. But I am also particularly glad to have this opportunity to spend some time with the community here. I was pleased to meet earlier with the officers of the Federation of Irish Societies, and I look forward to meeting with you all more informally in a few moments, as well as visiting Cricklewood Homeless Concern later today.