Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Mary Lou McDonald - New Irish New Communities

9 December, 2007


"Speaking at Sinn Féin's major conference 'Engaging Modern Ireland' Dublin Sinn Féin MEP and party National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald said Arguably the issues we are dealing with in this session are the most challenging of all in engaging modern Ireland. Ireland is a much-changed place, we have moved from a country that haemorrhaged emigrants to one that receives immigrants. The extent of change is reflected in the 2006 census and is evident in communities the length and breadth of Ireland.

Immigrants to this country make up over 10% of the total population and around 230,000 are employed in the workforce. People come to Ireland for many reasons. Some to seek refuge and asylum, others to seek a better way of life, to have the dignity of work and to allow them to provide for their families. The stories of those who come to our country are strikingly reminiscent of those of Irish emigrants over the generations.

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"Speaking at Sinn Féin's major conference 'Engaging Modern Ireland' Dublin Sinn Féin MEP and party National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald said Arguably the issues we are dealing with in this session are the most challenging of all in engaging modern Ireland. Ireland is a much-changed place, we have moved from a country that haemorrhaged emigrants to one that receives immigrants. The extent of change is reflected in the 2006 census and is evident in communities the length and breadth of Ireland.

Immigrants to this country make up over 10% of the total population and around 230,000 are employed in the workforce. People come to Ireland for many reasons. Some to seek refuge and asylum, others to seek a better way of life, to have the dignity of work and to allow them to provide for their families. The stories of those who come to our country are strikingly reminiscent of those of Irish emigrants over the generations.

The changed face of Ireland is not transient; it represents a profound and long-term change in our country. The question for us, as human beings, as citizens and as republicans, is how do we deal with this change? How do we avoid the mistakes made in other countries where a failure to manage diversity has brought division and intolerance? And, crucially how do we create a successful model of integration that fits with Ireland and that enjoys the full support of Irish people and new comers alike?

I want to thank Salome and Kazik for their valuable contributions today. In setting out some thoughts on the issue of new communities I want to clearly state that there is no room for the cancer of racism in Irish society or in the ranks of Republicanism. All humans are born equal and the right to equality and respect transcend race, colour, class or creed.

Racism disfigures a society and diminishes us all. We cannot allow the destruction and division thate changed face of Ireland is not transient; it represents a profound and long-term change in our country. The question for us, as human beings, as citizens and as republicans, is how do we deal with this change? How do we avoid the mistakes made in other countries where a failure to manage diversity has brought division and intolerance? And, crucially how do we create a successful model of integration that fits with Ireland and that enjoys the full support of Irish people and new comers alike?

I want to thank Salome and Kazik for their valuable contributions today. In setting out some thoughts on the issue of new communities I want to clearly state that there is no room for the cancer of racism in Irish society or in the ranks of Republicanism. All humans are born equal and the right to equality and respect transcend race, colour, class or creed.

Racism disfigures a society and diminishes us all. We cannot allow the destruction and division that sectarianism and discrimination brought to Ireland, to revisit us in racism. We cannot create a legacy of racial, ethnic or inter communal tension. Of course it is not enough simply to oppose racism. We must develop, agree on and promote a policy of interculturalism and integration in Ireland. None of us should underestimate the importance or scale of this task. Change is difficult. Difference is challenging.

The benefits which social change, and diversity can bring to our country are enormous. The economic dividends of inward migration to Ireland are manifest. The contribution of migrant workers is real and measurable. The social dividends of a rich cultural mix are there to be reaped by us if we choose to reap them. Equally the potential damage to Irish society if we mismanage or neglect our new cultural and ethnic mix is enormous. The choice is ours; the future is in our hands.

I would like to highlight some of the prioritie sectarianism and discrimination brought to Ireland, to revisit us in racism. We cannot create a legacy of racial, ethnic or inter communal tension. Of course it is not enough simply to oppose racism. We must develop, agree on and promote a policy of interculturalism and integration in Ireland. None of us should underestimate the importance or scale of this task. Change is difficult. Difference is challenging.

The benefits which social change, and diversity can bring to our country are enormous. The economic dividends of inward migration to Ireland are manifest. The contribution of migrant workers is real and measurable. The social dividends of a rich cultural mix are there to be reaped by us if we choose to reap them. Equally the potential damage to Irish society if we mismanage or neglect our new cultural and ethnic mix is enormous. The choice is ours; the future is in our hands.

I would like to highlight some of the priorities and challenges, as I see them, in the time ahead. The task of building an intercultural Ireland requires that we address issues concerning public services. I am referring particularly at this time to access to social housing and school places.

As we know there are 40,000 households on housing waiting lists in this state. We also know that there is a scramble to access school places for children in many cities and towns. Those seeking a home or a school place for their child are correctly angry and frustrated. The system is failing them. This failure is one of the system not of any new citizen. Sinn Fein representatives across the country work daily seeking to assist people who have been failed in this way.

Adequate spending provision in housing, education and all other social services is an absolute prerequisite for a successful model of integration. Proper planning for the extent and location of services is equally important. Over the pass and challenges, as I see them, in the time ahead. The task of building an intercultural Ireland requires that we address issues concerning public services. I am referring particularly at this time to access to social housing and school places.

As we know there are 40,000 households on housing waiting lists in this state. We also know that there is a scramble to access school places for children in many cities and towns. Those seeking a home or a school place for their child are correctly angry and frustrated. The system is failing them. This failure is one of the system not of any new citizen. Sinn Fein representatives across the country work daily seeking to assist people who have been failed in this way.

Adequate spending provision in housing, education and all other social services is an absolute prerequisite for a successful model of integration. Proper planning for the extent and location of services is equally important. Over the past decade this government has been unwilling to spend adequately on social services and ignored the massive population growth. This has lead to public services being put under strain. This fault lies squarely with the government

The building of an intercultural Ireland requires equality of treatment for workers. We know that agency workers, part time workers, 'self employed' workers are being exploited. It's a fact. The result is that vulnerable workers, many of them migrants, are exploited working for for well below the rate. Other workers are squeezed out of jobs, in the construction and services sectors in particular. As this race to the bottom continues many workers are understandably fearful and regrettably, resentful. Proper protection and enforcement of equal rights for all workers, directly or indirectly employed, Irish or not, are prerequisites for integration. The Irish government is wilfully neglecting vulnerable workers. They know that t decade this government has been unwilling to spend adequately on social services and ignored the massive population growth. This has lead to public services being put under strain. This fault lies squarely with the government

The building of an intercultural Ireland requires equality of treatment for workers. We know that agency workers, part time workers, 'self employed' workers are being exploited. It's a fact. The result is that vulnerable workers, many of them migrants, are exploited working for for well below the rate. Other workers are squeezed out of jobs, in the construction and services sectors in particular. As this race to the bottom continues many workers are understandably fearful and regrettably, resentful. Proper protection and enforcement of equal rights for all workers, directly or indirectly employed, Irish or not, are prerequisites for integration. The Irish government is wilfully neglecting vulnerable workers. They know that legislation is urgently required to protect agency workers and yet they fail to act domestically and block protective measures at EU level. Shame on them.

The building of an intercultural Ireland requires that we devise a coherent, fair, transparent and efficient asylum and immigration policy. Policy and practice in this area must comply with international law, be in line with international best practice, must be fully human rights compliant and must work. Anomolies, inefficiencies and injustices in the current system must be addressed, amongst these are the delays in processing applications and appeals, the impartiality and fairness of those processes, the existence of direct provision centres. Sinn Féin is not in favour of what is called an 'open door policy'.

We need for to manage migration. We must manage in a positive way, in a way that reconciles the needs the country, the national interest and the needs and rights of legislation is urgently required to protect agency workers and yet they fail to act domestically and block protective measures at EU level. Shame on them.

The building of an intercultural Ireland requires that we devise a coherent, fair, transparent and efficient asylum and immigration policy. Policy and practice in this area must comply with international law, be in line with international best practice, must be fully human rights compliant and must work. Anomolies, inefficiencies and injustices in the current system must be addressed, amongst these are the delays in processing applications and appeals, the impartiality and fairness of those processes, the existence of direct provision centres. Sinn Féin is not in favour of what is called an 'open door policy'.

We need for to manage migration. We must manage in a positive way, in a way that reconciles the needs the country, the national interest and the needs and rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers. These sets of rights are not contradictory and should never be set at variance with each other. An intercultural strategy requires that cultural life is valued. This means that sensitivity and openness to the otherness, newness in the cultural norms and practices of new communities in Ireland. Equally it means that the cultural richness of Ireland, an gaeilge, dance, literature, the visual arts, are cherished and shared.

Above all it will be the ability to share and learn, to receive that can inform a positive intercultural dynamic. Neither identity nor culture are frozen or immovable both can and do adapt, shift, borrow and copy. We have an almost unique advantage in coming to the issues of immigration and managing diversity later than many. We don't need to 'reinvent the wheel' on many of the issues Ive mentioned. We do need to examine the reasons for the riots in France, the gross refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers. These sets of rights are not contradictory and should never be set at variance with each other. An intercultural strategy requires that cultural life is valued. This means that sensitivity and openness to the otherness, newness in the cultural norms and practices of new communities in Ireland. Equally it means that the cultural richness of Ireland, an gaeilge, dance, literature, the visual arts, are cherished and shared.

Above all it will be the ability to share and learn, to receive that can inform a positive intercultural dynamic. Neither identity nor culture are frozen or immovable both can and do adapt, shift, borrow and copy. We have an almost unique advantage in coming to the issues of immigration and managing diversity later than many. We don't need to 'reinvent the wheel' on many of the issues Ive mentioned. We do need to examine the reasons for the riots in France, the gross overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the British penal system and the apparent underachievement of African-Americans in the USA. There are reasons. We ignore these lessons at our peril.

2008 has been designated the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue. We need to set ourselves a programme of work to create spaces for communities to talk, to exchange experiences and to agree demands of government and local authorities."ENDS  

overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the British penal system and the apparent underachievement of African-Americans in the USA. There are reasons. We ignore these lessons at our peril.

2008 has been designated the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue. We need to set ourselves a programme of work to create spaces for communities to talk, to exchange experiences and to agree demands of government and local authorities."ENDS  

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