Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the Report of the Task Force on Policy regarding Emigrants
I would like to welcome you all to this press conference on the occasion of the presentation to me of the Report of the Task Force on Policy regarding Emigrants. I am very pleased to have with me the Chairman of the Task Force, Mr. Paddy O'Hanlon. Earlier today, I met with the Chairman and other members of the Task Force to receive the Report formally and to discuss it with them.
The completion of this Report fulfils the commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to address the special needs of Irish emigrants abroad who are particularly marginalised or at risk of exclusion, by establishing a Task Force to develop a coherent, long-term approach to our emigrants and their needs.
As I stated in my foreword to the Report, emigration has been a constant, sometimes dominant, theme in the development of the Irish Nation. It has touched the lives of people in every part of the country. It has contributed to our economic and social progress both positively, through remittances sent home from abroad, and negatively, through the loss of so many talented people. We owe a great debt to our emigrants who have done so much to help build our country.
Irish emigrants have also made an enormous contribution to the development of the countries in which they settled. Through their efforts in all areas of activity, they have brought great credit to themselves and have enhanced the reputation of Ireland throughout the world.
Many voluntary agencies have been established, at home and abroad, to assist Irish emigrants, especially those who require special support when they leave the country. These agencies provide a vital service at minimal cost thanks to the extraordinary commitment and dedication of the people involved.
The establishment of this Task Force in the framework of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness reflects a recognition on the part of the Government and the Social Partners that the time has come to develop a new approach to meeting the needs of our emigrants, particularly the most vulnerable who are in greatest need of support. This Report contains many detailed recommendations which will be considered carefully for future action.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Chairman and his colleagues for the energy and commitment they brought to their work. In less than eight months, they have produced a comprehensive and stimulating Report which highlights the complex and varied issues affecting Irish people abroad. I am particularly pleased that they consulted so widely and that so many people at home and abroad were able to contribute to the Task Force's deliberations.
I welcome also the research study commissioned by the Task Force which provides much valuable information and analysis on the patterns and causes of emigration from Ireland.
Both the Report of the Task Force and the Research Study will be published by my Department. The Report of the Task Force will be available electronically from today on the Department's website. Printed copies will be available in the near future.
The Report contains many detailed recommendations which will be considered carefully by relevant Government Departments. At this stage, obviously, I cannot comment in detail on the recommendations and some time will be required to examine them in detail.
I can say, however, that I hope that this Report will mark the start of a new approach to relations between Irish people at home and abroad. There have been some positive responses by successive Governments over the last decade and a half but it is clear that more needs to be done. I agree with the Task Force that we owe a great debt to our emigrants and that we must acknowledge the enormous contribution made by our emigrants to the development of our country.
The Report makes clear that, while emigration from Ireland has declined considerably in recent years, a substantial number of people continue to leave this country every year, in many cases without adequate preparation to meet the challenges they face abroad. I share the view of the Task Force that we need to help our vulnerable emigrants who need assistance. For too long, we have relied on the efforts of the Irish communities abroad themselves to care for Irish people in need through the voluntary agencies established for this purpose. We owe a great debt also to the Catholic Church which, through the Episcopal Commission on Emigrants here in Ireland and its Chaplaincies overseas, has done so much to provide advice and support to Irish emigrants. I agree with the Task Force that we should try to ensure that those who emigrate do so as a matter of choice only and are not forced into it by social or economic reasons. This will require more extensive pre-departure information and advice for intending emigrants before they leave.
I also welcome the emphasis in the Report on recognising and valuing the contributions made by Irish people abroad to their adopted countries, and on helping those who wish to maintain and express their Irish identity. Just as the pattern of emigration from Ireland is changing, so also is the make-up of the Irish Diaspora abroad. While there are still emigrants who need welfare assistance, it is clear that there is a growing number of Irish people abroad who have achieved success and who have integrated well into their adopted countries. Many of them want to retain their Irish links and to express their Irish identity and we need to consider how best we can help them to do so.
I note also the view of the Task Force that there is need for much greater communication and coordination between the various statutory and voluntary agencies, at home and abroad, who are engaged in providing services to Irish emigrants. This is an area where technological advances should enable progress to be made quickly and easily. In particular, I share the view of the Task Force that the potential of the Internet should be exploited to the greatest extent possible.
The Task Force considers that new structures and resources will be needed to put in place the range of services required by our emigrants abroad. This raises a number of administrative questions which will have to be discussed with the relevant Ministers. I will study these recommendations very carefully.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my appreciation to Paddy O'Hanlon and his colleagues for the exemplary public service they have performed by serving on this Task Force and carrying out their work so diligently and effectively. The problem of involuntary emigration has been with us for a long time and I have no illusions that it will be solved overnight. It will take time for the necessary measures and resources to be put in place. I do believe, however, that the Report of this Task Force provides what has been lacking in the past, that is a template for a coherent and considered approach to take in the long term to meeting the needs of our emigrants. For this alone, I am grateful to the members of the Task Force and I congratulate them on a job well done.