Establishment of Ministry Representing New Communities and Equality

First of all I would like to welcome this motion, as I believe it is an important issue to highlight and that it makes a number of worthwhile points. Ireland has seen a great many changes over the last twenty years – immigration has seen the makeup of some of our towns, villages and cities change. But change is never something to be feared and, in that spirit, I am glad to welcome the establishment by the Government of the new office of the Minister of State for New Communities, Culture & Equality.

All three aspects highlighted within the office of the Minister each highlight important issues: our new communities, of which there are many, drawn from all corners of the world and have come to Ireland for all sorts of different reasons. Walk down any street in the city centre, and you will see food catering to all manner of different ethnicities, and the fabric of our city is all the more diverse for it.

Indeed, walk through Dublin’s city centre during any international soccer tournament, and no matter the team that’s playing: Costa Rica, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, you will find people from that part of the world watching, sometimes cheering, often wearing the jersey. Much like our own emigrants, they want to keep in touch with home while still embracing their current home, and I hope that where we can help them, we will help them.

Ireland, as a nation, and each of us as individuals can now see emigration from both sides: from the perspective of a country welcoming immigrants, the challenges and opportunities that has, as well as from the perspective of a country who has sadly lost young people to emigration also, and the challenges that poses, and the ever-present hope that if they want to return, they someday can return.

In that spirit, the highlighting of Equality within this new office is vital. It’s important we emphasise that equality needs to apply to all individuals who reside here. There are still regrettable instances in this nation where people aren’t treated equally – or are slow to achieve the provision of equality. One of those instances that jumps out is the process of direct provision, and the sheer length of time that it takes people to work through this system. There is no question in my mind that equality delayed is equality denied and, in this sense, I am hopeful that an office with a focus on equality can sustain a push to improve the process of direct provision.

The motion also calls on us to commend the Minister for the work he has done to date with new communities, which is certainly something that I would agree with, as he has truly put these issues to the forefront and kept battling on them both through legislation and in the media. He has engaged all stakeholders in a way that has shown his sincerity on the matter, and I genuinely feel he deserves credit.

This is particularly true with the PolskaEire 2015 Festival, which continued to cement the bond between Poland and Ireland: Ireland saw Polish immigration really start during the Celtic Tiger, and many have stayed to make Ireland their home, and it’s important we highlight that, celebrate that, and continue to bring the two nations together.

In 2012, Ireland made such an impression on Poland during the Euro 2012 tournament that the respective football associations organised two friendly matches – home and away – in the following year. Tourism from Ireland to Poland and Poland to Ireland is up dramatically, and I hope that all these things continue to move in the right direction. The PolskaEire 2015 Festival was one way to ensure that, and I commend the idea, and hope we can make the 2016 version even better again.

Finally, the Motion calls on the Minister to outline to the Seanad the work he has done through development of the National Integration Strategy and other matters related to integration and new communities, which he has done and has highlighted a great many achievements in what is still a relatively new office. I wish him every success in the year ahead, and hope that this is an office we see fit to maintain in the coming years.

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