Seanad Éireann - Volume 153 - 17 December, 1997

Funding for Immigrant Organisations: Motion.

Mr. Mooney: I move:

That Seanad Éireann commends the Government for the recent increase in funding to Irish Immigrant Organisations and requests the Minister for Foreign Affairs to consider a review of his Department's policies in relation to emigrant issues and to outline the additional measures the Government can undertake to give further assistance to these working among emigrants.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Davern, and thank him for taking this debate. When framing the motion, I became aware that emigrant issues are in a bureaucratic mess. I say that with the greatest respect to those involved. Funding for emigrants, such as it is, comes from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which primarily provides funds for the Irish in Britain through the DÍON Fund, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, which provides a sum of money for immigrant centres in America and Australia.

I understand the Minister of State is here wearing a Department of Foreign Affairs hat and will no doubt respond in that context. However, it highlights the fact that emigrant issues should be handled by one Department. I would go as far as to say that a body should be set up on a statutory basis to handle all emigrant matters. We should seriously consider setting up a body which would recognise the invaluable work done not only in the United Kingdom, America, Australia and [381] wherever Irish people gather, but also in Ireland. I acknowledge the presence in the Public Gallery of Fr. Paul Byrne of the Oblates, to whom I will refer later, who is doing outstanding work in that regard. If he were a Member of this House, he would give us his expertise so we will have to do the best in the circumstances to transmit his views. Many Members on both sides of the House have been briefed by Fr. Byrne.

There is a widespread perception that the Celtic tiger has eliminated the need to emigrate. The controversy relating to refugees seeking asylum here has fuelled that thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Irish centres in the countries I mentioned continue to respond with their limited resources to a constant stream of inquiries from Irish citizens who have been excluded from the benefits of our growing prosperity. I commend the Government for increasing the grant to DÍON, through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, from £600,000 to £613,000 in the current year. One of the last acts of the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ray Burke, during his September visit to the United States was to announce an increase of £20,000 to immigration centres in the US and Australia. This brings the total amount of funding to £185,000, £15,000 of which is provided for emigrant groups in Australia. While these sums are far from adequate, it is a considerable improvement from the late 1970s when a Government refused to consider providing any funds to assist emigrants on the principle that it would encourage emigration. It is sad to say that, to some degree, that view permeates thinking within the permanent Government. I refer to those who administer rather than their political masters. The situation has changed and people are returning to this country. While we still have emigration, it is not the same involuntary economic emigration of previous years.

The Minister will be aware I have extensive contacts with Irish groups in the United Kingdom, particularly in the London area. I pay tribute to all those working for better conditions for our emigrants, especially the Oblate Order, which provides invaluable social and pastoral care in several towns and cities not only in the United Kingdom, but in the United States. The Irish Centre in London and the hostel on Quex Road, Kilburn, are well known ports of call for Irish citizens seeking assistance in the London area. Other centres in Hammersmith, Haringay, Brent, etc. , also spring to mind. Centres in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow also do outstanding work. I acknowledge the outstanding work of the Federation of Irish Societies and the county associations, which are the unsung heroes among the Irish in Britain.

When one considers that many of the Irish who had to emigrate before the advent of free education here were in many cases semi-literate and from predominantly rural backgrounds, with little more than primary education, their achievements in providing a valuable social outlet for those who [382] came after them can be seen in the many impressive Irish clubs in the United Kingdom. It is long past time that we in Ireland paid public tribute to these Irish men and women who have made and continue to make a significant contribution to the economic and social life of their adopted countries.

In the past 20 years the exodus of an entire generation of Irish boys and girls to the United States could have had severe repercussions for the future of this country. The brain drain of previous generations resulted in an emerging Irish State regressing as the best people left these shores, their creativity, imagination, risk taking and inventiveness being lost forever. A pleasing aspect of the phenomenal success of the Irish economy in recent years is that many of these well educated young people who left in the 1980s have returned and continue to return in significant numbers, bringing with them new skills and that indefinable spirit of adventure that can only be explained and understood by those who have had to leave their homes and families to seek a living, as the song says, far, far from Erin's shore.

I wish to make a specific proposal to the Minister in response to discussions I have had with Sr. Lena Deevy and Ciarán O'Sullivan of the Irish Immigration Centre in Tremont Street, Boston. This centre, one of the largest on the east coast of the United States, has an outreach programme which involves visiting Irish immigrants throughout Massachusetts on a regular basis. It also welcomes hundreds of callers to the centre on an annual basis seeking jobs, accommodation and refuge. The centre is grossly under-funded and mainly exists on its own fund raising efforts and the welcome funding from the Department. However, it is in need of more technology to assist it in conveying specific information on job opportunities to those intending to return to Ireland. Towards this end the centre urgently needs computer technology with Internet access and I ask the Minister to consider, in conjunction with his colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, a once-off grant to provide this important facility. Once in place I understand the centre would liaise with FÁS, the national training authority, which would provide the necessary software and information to alert potential job seekers among the Irish community in the Boston area of current job opportunities in Ireland and the new training and upgrading of skills opportunities available here.

The Minister is aware of the acute skills short-ages in several industries, including the construction, catering and computer industries. In my discussion with the Boston office it was pointed out that many Irish citizens who emigrated in recent years have not done as well as they might have expected but, for a variety of reasons, have not returned home. As a former emigrant I well understand the need for those who leave to be successful in their adopted country while perceived lack of success can sap one's self confidence [383] to the point where to return home would be interpreted as failure.

I am confident that the provision of information along the lines described would result in more of our young people returning home and to that end I ask the Government to consider providing a once-off grant in the region £5,000 to £10,000. This would be separate from the existing annual grant which is not sufficient to meet the current running costs of the Boston centre or similar centres throughout the United States. Perhaps other centres may be able to utilise this information, but there is a specific proposal from the Boston centre to which I hope the Minister will give favourable consideration.

I understand things can be difficult and that it could be said that a sufficient amount of money is being provided by the two Departments I mentioned. However, this grant would be for a specific purpose and FÁS, which under the Treaty of Rome operates almost exclusively within Europe, would be interested in making a significant contribution within their own obligations. It sees this project as being linked to training, retraining and the provision of jobs and, therefore, part of its brief. It could be an exciting prospect for the Boston centre and one which could be expanded to other areas where Irish people are working and living in the United States and Europe. I would be grateful if the Minister would take this proposal on board.

This debate provides an opportunity for the House to reflect on the issues still facing our emigrants abroad and the issues facing people like Fr. Paul Byrne who are involved preparing people who wish to emigrate but who have no way of knowing what is facing them. Increasingly young people are emigrating without information. These people start out with the best of ideas and intentions but they fall through the social safety nets in place for them in their host countries. It is then they turn to the Irish centres in those countries seeking information. The Government has a role to play at the crucial points of departure and arrival.

Perhaps the interdepartmental committee which was established several years ago to discuss matters relating to emigration might examine how it can best serve those who leave Ireland despite or in spite of our prosperity. There will be no public outcry at or criticism of a Government which takes on board this real social issue and which provides sufficient funding and backup technology. We are now short of skills and people are returning. There is a greater onus on the Government to provide the finance and backup I am suggesting. I understand other Members will expand on this theme. I know that acceptance of my proposal would be extremely welcome by the Boston Immigration Centre and would go some way towards alleviating its problems.

I am grateful the Minister has taken time to come to the House to discuss this matter. He comes from an area similar to my own and I know [384] he has a great understanding of many of the issues we are discussing.

Mr. Lanigan: I second the motion. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Mooney. The pattern of emigration has changed over the past number of years. Our emigrants are no longer economic emigrants except in the sense that they can now sell their skills, skills which they acquired here through the huge investment in education at all levels. This does not mean that nobody in Boston, New York, Australia, Taiwan, etc. , falls into the trap of not being able to support themselves. There should be support for such people wherever they are. It is necessary to put a small amount of money aside — I do not know how much — to support emigrants who fall into need because they cannot survive in their host society. The ethnic Irish community in these countries should be in a position to help those who find it difficult to survive and perhaps we could provide additional support for them.

We are proud that our emigrants have done exceptionally well, but there are drop-outs and failures. These people fail not necessarily because they emigrated — they might have dropped out if they remained in Ireland. If we decide to support people who go abroad and experience problems, I would welcome the setting up of a fund through the Department to help centres in Boston, New York, Australia and other places with which we are familiar and which perhaps contain larger numbers of Irish people than Wales or France. I do not want to focus on the Oblate Fathers or any other group; the de la Salle Brothers run centres in Kilburn in London. However, I do not want to single out any group which has supported Irish emigrants. There may be publicans in London who have supported emigrants and they should be supported too.

I agree absolutely with the motion. I would not like to specify the groups to which support should be given. If Irish emigrants experience problems we should fully support them.

I concur with Senator Mooney's comments on the work which the Oblate fathers have done. However, I do not want to single them out as it might appear that other groups have not been supported.

Apart from the political efforts of Senator O'Dowd's brother Niall, he and his ilk have done amazing work throughout the years. People all over the world have worked for Irish emigrants. We must ask the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Finance to give as much help as possible to Irish emigrants experiencing trouble. They may experience problems because of the area in which they live or perhaps because of the circumstances in which they left Ireland. Let us ask the Minister to support all Irish emigrants.

Mr. O'Dowd: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire chuig an Teach agus aontaím leis na tuairimí atá tar éis nochtú ag mo cháirde i dtaobh imirce. Is rud antábhachtach [385] é don tír seo, go mór mór do na daoine a théann as an tír.

The Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants does tremendous work for Irish emigrants. Fr. Paul Byrne of the commission informs me that approximately 29,000 people emigrate from this country per annum and 18,000 of those are in the 15 to 24 year age bracket. Many of these young people have no choice but to emigrate. They are not voluntary emigrants; they leave the country because they cannot find work in Ireland. Many of them are poorly educated and take up unskilled jobs in the UK and the US. Many of them do not even hold valid American visas.

We must educate all of our young people in the area of life skills. Transition year students may be a core group with which to work. Pre-emigrant education should be available in all our schools to give young people proper training in life skills and to help them to understand new cultures. We must equip people with the fundamental knowledge for survival.

If people emigrate to the UK or the US they should know where to seek advice. Proper advice centres must be set up outside of schools and we must counsel emigrants. We should not be afraid to say there is an office in O'Connell Street or wherever for the sole purpose of counselling emigrants. Workers in such a centre could talk to emigrants about what their needs are. They could try to persuade them to stay in this country if at all possible and ideally find them employment. If people choose to emigrate, we should be able to provide them with the best information to help them on their way.

The Government should appoint a Minister who would have total responsibility for emigrant affairs. As it stands, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Foreign Affairs and Social, Community and Family Affairs are involved in various aspects of emigrants' affairs. A junior Minister should be appointed to co-ordinate all policy and activities in relation to emigrants.

We must consider the value returned emigrants can bring to our community and we must consider emigrants' success abroad. I welcome Senator Lanigan's comments in relation to my brother, Niall. In America and the UK, a network of very well placed Irish people show great goodwill towards our emigrants.

There is a great deal of information in this area which must be properly collated and organised. Fr. Byrne cited a comparison between the Israelis and the Irish and the way in which each race treats its people. The Israelis are better organised than we are. We have the right people in the right places but we need to co-ordinate our efforts.

Mr. Lanigan: As a matter of interest, Israelis have joint citizenship in the US.

Mr. O'Dowd: I am sure Senator Kennedy could obtain something similar for Irish people. There is a real and tangible connection between Ireland [386] and the sources of power in the present US Administration.

A number of emigrants have fallen on hard times in America and the UK. Those who were formerly known as ‘McAlpine's Fusiliers’ are now living in very poor accommodation. Many of our emigrants to the UK live in dreadful poverty. Something in the region of 30 per cent of the people who are homeless and sleeping rough on the streets of London are Irish. If one considers the massive rates of immigration into the UK, a very significant portion of Irish people are literally down and out.

Fr. Colm Campbell does a great deal of work for Irish emigrants in America. Many of those who emigrated to America in the 1930s and 1940s lived in neighbourhoods of which they were a vital part. These areas have now become very deprived and Irish emigrants do not have the money to move out of them. The culture in these neighbourhoods is generally alien to these former Irish citizens, who are literally locked into their homes. Thousands of Irish emigrants in New York live in very poor conditions. The Irish Episcopal Commission would like to see this issue tackled in a positive way, with proper funding and understanding being provided to these groups.

We must fund social workers who are ethnically Irish. Many of the social workers in New York would not necessarily understand Irish culture although they would be fine and able people. In poorer areas populated by Puerto Ricans and other races, an Irish person would be totally isolated.

It is important that we discuss the issue of emigration. If we organise ourselves better, we can improve our support services to our emigrants. We can use our successful emigrants in the UK and America to do more and we can encourage them to bring their skills and knowledge together to provide better information, contacts, advice and facilities for our emigrants. I thank Senator Taylor-Quinn for allowing me to use her time. Beidh mé ag éisteacht leis an ndíospóireacht.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Davern): I am grateful to Senator Cassidy and others at the instigation of Senator Mooney for tabling this motion and allowing this House another opportunity to give attention to the needs of emigrants and how best to meet them. The motion is addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Responsibility for the co-ordination of policy with regard to emigrants and emigration is a proper matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and I am here at the request of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In a period of strong economic growth there is a tendency to assume that emigration has ended, which, as Senator Mooney said, is not quite true. Central Statistics Office figures show that while in recent years there is more inward than outward migration, about 30,000 people are leaving the country every year, of which about 13,000 go to [387] Britain. In the year to last April about 18,000 people in the 15 to 24 year age group emigrated and about 14,000 came into the country. There are therefore still many young emigrants — mostly in Britain, but also in other European countries, the United States, Australia and elsewhere — needing guidance and assistance both before they leave Ireland and when they are trying to find their feet in a new environment.

Since 1984 Governments have given financial support to voluntary organisations providing advisory and welfare services to Irish people in Britain. These grants support the employment of professional staff to give advice and counselling as well as practical assistance to new arrivals from Ireland or to Irish people already in Britain for some time who may be encountering problems. Studies show that, for cultural, social and other reasons, Irish people there, especially the elderly, are sometimes slow to approach or even claim their legal entitlements from the State welfare agencies. Therefore, voluntary agencies run by members of the Irish community or close to that community play an indispensable role. A small part of the funds that are made available goes to support research into aspects of welfare problems affecting Irish people in Britain.

Grants are made from the Enterprise, Trade and Employment Vote on the basis of recommendations of the London based DÍON committee, which is chaired by an officer of that Department stationed at the embassy there. The committee's terms of reference, set in 1984 with the approval of the Oireachtas, are to advise and report on emigrant welfare services, to make recommendations on the provision of financial assistance towards the employment of professional workers dealing with the welfare of Irish workers and to consider and make recommendations on specific questions at the request of the Minister.

In recommending grants the committee seeks to address ways in which the Irish community in Britain is significantly disadvantaged including through unemployment, through inadequate access to State agencies, welfare rights, housing or through ill-health.

The amount provided in the DÍON subhead of the Enterprise, Trade and Employment Vote for grants to emigrant welfare organisations in Britain was £500,000 a year for a number of years until it was increased to £550,000 in 1996 and to £600,000 in 1997. Some 33 organisations have received grants averaging about £18,000 each this year.

Since 1990 Governments have also given financial support from the Foreign Affairs Vote to voluntary groups in the United States providing information and advice to Irish emigrants there, especially new arrivals and those who are “undocumented”. The tightening up of US immigration legislation in recent years — for example, the ending of the possibility for illegal aliens to adjust their status without having to leave the [388] country, the introduction of re-entry bars on people who overstay — means that there is a continuing need for the assistance and guidance that voluntary organisations can provide. The amount of funding to such organisations was £150,000 a year until this year when, mainly because of the unfavourable exchange rate, it was increased to £170,000.

Thirteen organisations in Boston, Florida, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco have received grants of from $500 to $60,000 in 1997. Decisions on the distribution of funds are made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the recommendation of the Ambassador in Washington, the Consuls-General in Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco and the Irish Immigration Working Committee in New York. This committee is comprised of representatives of Irish immigrant welfare bodies in the New York area and is chaired by the vice-consul there.

The embassy in Washington and the Consulates-General in Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco carefully monitor how the frequently changing immigration rules affect Irish people in the US and, through their contacts in the Congress, use their best efforts to ensure that their interests are protected as far as possible. When he was in the United States in September the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Burke, also raised current immigration issues with Senators and Members of Congress he met there.

The first grants, amounting to £30,000 to three organisations, were made to Irish immigrant welfare organisations in Australia in 1996. Grants amounting to £15,000 have been made to those organisations in 1997.

The need for a co-ordinated and structured approach to matters relating to emigrants and emigration led in 1988 to the establishment by the Government of an Interdepartmental Committee on Emigration. It is chaired by an Assistant Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and comprises representatives of Departments and Offices dealing with emigrants. The Committee facilitates the flow of information and ideas between Departments and Offices, targets specific areas for attention, agrees on responsibility for action or joint action, monitors developments in action areas and has meetings with people directly involved with emigrants. The committee is finalising a review of its activities, including an examination of the main issues of concern to Irish people in the countries in which they have settled in the greatest numbers.

It has been the policy of successive Governments to promote the economic development of Ireland to the point where none of our people will have to go abroad to find employment. However, voluntary emigration will always exist, as it does in every country. Ireland has a well established tradition of emigration which has left communities of people of Irish birth and descent in many countries. The existence of that tradition and those communities themselves is an incentive [389] to our young people to think of emigration, whether or not they need to do so for economic reasons. The common travel area with the UK and freedom of movement within the European Union are further incentives.

The Government, therefore, assumes that for the foreseeable future people will continue to want to go to other countries, at least on a voluntary basis, even though it may be only for a few years. That being so, there will continue to be a need for back-up information, advice and guidance services both before departure and after arrival in the other country.

In the past few years the need for adequate pre-departure information, especially for youngsters going to London, has been one of the main issues addressed by the Interdepartmental Committee on Emigration.

FÁS, the Training and Employment Authority, organised seminars in Dublin and London drawing together people from Government and voluntary organisations in Ireland and the UK. This has resulted in the coming into existence this year of the Emigrant Advice Network, EAN, co-ordinating the activities of the relevant agencies in Ireland. Earlier this year FÁS produced a migration information pack which is distributed widely not only through their own offices but also through voluntary groups in contact with young people throughout the country. FÁS also has a series of other specific country leaflets for young people thinking of going abroad to work.

The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs — in consultation with Emigrant Advice, a voluntary organisation in Dublin — this year has produced information booklets entitled “Thinking of Going to London?” and “Thinking of Going to the United States”. These contain practical guidance on job seeking, accommodation, health care and welfare entitlements.

The Irish Immigration Working Committee in New York recently submitted to the Minister for Foreign Affairs proposals for the co-ordination of activities regarding pre-departure advice of bodies in Ireland and in the US. They are currently being considered by the Departments and Offices concerned.

Another issue affecting Irish people in London which we have been hearing about with increasing frequency in recent times is homelessness. Several studies show that it is a problem being faced by a disproportionate number of Irish people there. This is one of the main priority areas wherein the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister have agreed that the two Governments will develop closer co-operation in the East-West context.

As interest among Irish people abroad in returning to Ireland has increased, so have inquiries and requests for up-to-date information about living and working here now. In response to this demand, the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, again in co-operation with Emigrant Advice, produced a booklet this year, Returning to Ireland, with useful practical guidance. [390] The first print run of 20,000 copies has already been distributed abroad, mainly through voluntary agencies in contact with Irish people, and a second printing is being considered.

On the occasion of a conference on Ireland and the Irish diaspora at University College Cork last September to mark the establishment there of an Irish centre for migration studies, the Department of Foreign Affairs sponsored a one day seminar concerning contemporary issues in Irish migration. This was a useful opportunity for experts from the academic field, practitioners involved with emigrants and their needs and people dealing with policy issues to exchange information and views.

Through the Departments and offices represented on the interdepartmental committee on emigration, including embassies abroad, the Government continually keeps developments regarding emigrants and emigration under review and responds to changing needs as appropriate. Despite the welcome decrease in involuntary emigration, we accept the need to maintain services to intending and actual emigrants as well as assisting intending returnees. We will listen with interest to the debate.

Senator Mooney mentioned the Irish Immigration Centre in Boston, one of the recipients of grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs Vote, and suggested the centre be given specific financial assistance to purchase a computer for its outreach activities. The Minister agrees that the services provided by the IIC are excellent, as are those available from ten to 12 other organisations in the US which receive grants. The centre would have to meet certain standards to qualify, and it would be invidious to suggest that any one recipient organisation was better than another.

Recognition by successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the merits of the Irish Immigration Centre is evidenced by the fact that the grants it received grew from $18,600 in 1993 to $40,000 in 1997. This is a rise from 9 per cent to 16 per cent of the total money available, which was $253,300 in 1997, including $20,000 to compensate for the fall in exchange rate. The amount provided in the Foreign Affairs Vote for grants for emigrant welfare organisations in the US and Australia is now £169,000.

I will convey Senator Mooney's suggestion to the Minister and ask him to contact the Senator directly. I apologise that the Minister, Deputy Andrews, is not here. He is unfortunately engaged in other business. He asked me to convey his best wishes and to assure Senators he is continually aware of the need to care for emigrants.

Mr. O'Toole: Tá sé deacair an rún seo ón Rialtais a thógaint dáiríre toisc gur beag rud a rinne siad nuair bhí siad i gcumhacht roimhe seo ar son daoine atá ar imirce ón tír seo. Táimíd ag caint faoi dhaoine, a lán acu a d'fhág an tír seo gan cáilíochtaí, gan seans ar bith agus gan aon rogha eile tugtha dóibh, go h-áirithe dóibh siúd a bhí ós [391] comhair na cúirte agus gur dúradh leo, “You can go abroad now or you can go to jail”. Ní raibh a lán acu in ann léamh, fiú. Ní raibh seans ná todhchaí acu.

We have discussed the plight of Irish emigrants in New York and other places before. We talked of the dead end position of people who are illegal in a foreign country and who are not eligible for social security nor are they recognised for financial purposes. They cannot open a bank account or obtain a social security number. We spoke of how bad it was, how our people were treated and how they ought to receive better entitlements. We see the same happening here. The vast majority of politicians have been above reproach in this matter but too many are prepared to use it as a means to enter into a populist area, thereby sowing the seeds of future problems.

I accept that Senator Mooney has shown a consistent interest in and support for the problems of emigrants for at least the past 12 years and, perhaps, for much longer. However, I recall that when I went to London in 1986-87 and spoke on voting rights for emigrants, I did not receive support from anyone in either House of the Oireachtas. The only Member who supported me within a few months was Deputy Jim Mitchell. All parties that have been in power over the past ten years have given commitments to some form of voting rights or voting participation for emigrants, yet none of them has fulfilled those commitments. Three Members present and three more who are absent have among their electorate people from every corner of the globe who have no difficulty in keeping abreast of what is happening. We have voters everywhere from Sydney to Valparaiso, from Dunquin to Moscow. The distance does not matter; they still cast their votes.

I have been less than impressed with the type of extraordinary, nonsensical and illogical opposition over the past seven or eight years to giving voting rights to emigrants. We can restrict it as much as we want and the obvious way to do it is to have a constituency for emigrants in each House of the Oireachtas with three seats in each constituency. It is not a question of a constituency of 25 million people deciding who would run Ireland, as one inane politician once put it. It is just that there is no voice in the Oireachtas to highlight the problems our people abroad experience.

I have a serious problem with some of the immigrant centres. I know the people who run them are motivated and committed, but I have been to immigrant centres in various parts of the world and there is a huge difference between them. Tá cultúr dár gcuid féin againn; it is strong and neither static nor stagnant. It is based on the Irish language, music and literature. It includes not just writers, from the first who wrote in Irish and English down to Heaney, but also includes people like U2 and Sinéad O'Connor. They are also part of Irish culture whether people like it or not. There is a danger that many of our emigrants [392] live in some kind of a timewarp. I appeal to the Minister to ensure such people are told about Ireland as it is today.

People have spoken at length about those who are completely down at heel, who are in the gutter and are homeless. I do not wish to rehash the argument. I support what has been said about them. However, there are others, such as blue collar workers who work every day of their life in London or Northampton and do not have any pension when they retire because they have been employed by someone who will not pay social security. They find themselves, having worked all their lives, with neither a home to return to in Ireland nor one to move into in England or wherever they happen to be. I would like to see practical financial advice provided for them rather than just social welfare advice. I accept what the Minister said about it being important but we must go beyond that.

We must discuss pensions. It would be good if the Irish Government set up a pension fund into which people working in menial or blue collar jobs in other countries who would like to return to Ireland could contribute so that they would have an element of security, dignity and independence in their latter years. Such practical measures must be taken. We must also recognise that many of these people have literacy problems. Adult literacy support could be extraordinarily helpful for many of our emigrants.

Two Members of this House recently spoke of three or four immigrants to this country taking advantage of the social welfare system. I nearly vomited listening to them. Irish people have done that in other parts of the world. It is no reflection on Irish people as a whole, just on those who did it. We should remember that we sent criminals abroad because we did not want them here.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The British did.

Mr. O'Toole: They were given choices — get out of the country or go to jail. We sent them abroad and they are creating havoc. People who left this country as emigrants have settled into a life of crime in other countries. They are Irish immigrants in those countries. To us they are emigrants. Let us take off the rose-tinted spectacles. We need to look at all elements of this matter. We need to give practical help and support to those who need it. We also need to be clear that we do not condone activities which we would not accept in this country. We need to recognise where we are going in terms of our culture. We should take this opportunity to give due credit to a group which has received bad publicity in recent times — the Irish hierarchy and religious abroad. They have done extraordinary work for emigrants in every part of the globe. They know how to be supportive and we can be proud of them.

I do not believe that political parties do not understand the problems of emigrants. I do not believe that they do not see a distinction between [393] different classes of Irish emigrants. Every political party from Sinn Féin to Fianna Fáil has found ways of identifying those who can afford a $1,000 dinner when they want to raise money. If they can do it for the rich they can do it for the poor.

Mr. D. Kiely: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important motion. I am concerned about emigrants. I have been involved in the emigration movement in Ireland and abroad for the past 18 years. I have not been found wanting on emigration issues, particularly in the US. I was an emigrant in the 1960s and I know the plight of emigrants, particularly in the US.

In New York in 1987, I set up the first meeting on the plight of illegal immigrants in the US between the Taoiseach, the Immigration Reform Movement, the Catholic charities and other groups. There were thousands of illegal immigrants in the US at that time. During the postal strike in Ireland, when no one gave tuppence about illegal Irish immigrants in the US, I took 16,000 visa applications to the US and processed them. I did this without any assistance for the sake of those living illegally in the US and those who wished to emigrate there.

We are afraid to speak of emigrants but they are our own people. Two-thirds of my family were emigrants. Half have returned to this country. I know of numerous families who have done well abroad but returned home and established businesses. They were not afraid to be called emigrants. I know of people who are in good employment and wish to emigrate to broaden their horizons. However, despite all the programmes, there is a serious problem. A department will have to be created to deal with these issues. For the past two months Senator Mooney and I have been trying to get some Department to take responsibility for missing persons. We have knocked on many doors but we are waiting for someone to take up the challenge. The Department of Foreign Affairs will only accept responsibility if the matter is officially reported through the Garda. However, some of these people leave home because of a row and they may never return.

The Kerry Emigrant Support Group was set up in 1991. The group has rehoused five or six emigrant families in Kerry. There is a lack of co-ordination between organisations working in the UK and the US and a similar, funded group in Ireland. This problem will have to be tackled. I compliment those involved in advice groups abroad, particularly in the UK, who work on behalf of the homeless and Irish immigrants. Fr. Paul Byrne is in the Public Gallery. He has done tremendous work for emigrants and is trying to implement some co-ordination between groups in the US, the UK and Ireland. This work is done on a voluntary basis without any funding.

I also compliment those who set up the missing persons line without assistance from the State. This line is working well and they must get funding. It is pointless to say that we are grant aiding [394] groups involved with missing persons in the UK, the US or Australia because there is no link to an organisation in Ireland. Many of these emigrants will never go to the authorities because they do not want anyone to know that they are missing. Perhaps they are ashamed to return home. However, people in Ireland would like to rehouse or relocate these people.

I am disappointed with the numbers who took up the Government's 90 per cent grant to build community homes. I built some of these homes in Kerry 20 years ago when there were no grants available. I was fortunate to raise money locally and built four such homes. We brought four emigrants back from the UK and housed them. I am glad we did so. More groups should avail of the 90 per cent grants and build community homes for the homeless, whether in Ireland or abroad.

The new organisation established in the US is working well. There is still a problem with illegal immigrants in the US. Every year, thousands of people apply for visas. Last year Ireland had a quota of 3,850 US visas. However, only 300 of these were allocated to the Republic. This is unfair and someone is making a mistake. Eight hundred and ninety visas were granted for the island last year. We need to take care of those living without documentation in the US and those trying to go to the US.

I stood in front of a television camera at Shannon Airport with 16,000 applications in 1987. People said that I was trying to export the problem. However, Irish people have always been travellers. No one wants to export their problems. If people wish to travel they will do so. One cannot put shackles on them and tell them that they must stay here whether they wish to or not. Irish people have always liked to go abroad to try their expertise. They are well educated. Our emigrants are in big demand in countries such as the US because they are white, they speak English and they are highly intelligent.

Mr. B. Ryan: Is that what is wrong with our immigrants — they are not white?

Mr. D. Kiely: These countries are using our expertise. However, Irish emigrants are gaining much experience and they have returned in droves over the past three or four years. They have created new businesses and employment in this country. However, there is still a problem for the homeless and for emigrants who could not make it abroad and were too shy or afraid to pick up the telephone and admit they were in difficulty. I compliment the Irish centres in the UK, the United States and Australia for helping them, but some type of helpline must be established. We must also establish an organisation in Ireland to co-ordinate with agencies abroad. We must not be afraid to confront the challenges posed by emigrants who are in difficulty. We should have our hand out to help these people.

I thank the Minister of State for his contribution.

[395] Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: This is an appropriate time to debate this motion and I commend Senator Mooney for tabling it. Since the 17th century over seven million Irish people have emigrated. Currently, there are one million people living abroad who were born and reared in this country.

Much of the emigration this century took place in the 1940s, 1950s and 1980s but there are still problems for our emigrants in such countries as England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. This issue has never been addressed or taken seriously by any Government. The attitude appears to be that, as the emigrants are gone, they are no longer our problem or responsibility. However, these people are part of the Irish nation. We live in the Irish State but our emigrants are part of the Irish nation.

It is extremely important that every Government includes emigrants within the nationhood of Ireland and that can only be done by taking a serious policy approach. It is unfortunate that no political party or Government has had a specific policy for our emigrants. I am delighted that research into the emigration issue is to commence at the end of December and will be completed next year. Hopefully, that research will provide the basis from which a substantial Government emigration policy can emerge.

The major problem at present is the plethora of organisations which deal with emigration issues. In the 1980s there was an attempt to co-ordinate these organisations when an assistant secretary of one of the Departments chaired a committee with that objective. However, it is still the case that if somebody decides to emigrate to New York, London or Brisbane they do not know where to go for specific direction and advice. The one thing to emerge from this debate is the need to provide proper counselling in local centres. This could be carried out effectively in each village and town through the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs.

In a number of his speeches Fr. Paul Byrne referred to the need for people to “talk before they walk”. That is vitally important because the emigrant is moving from one culture to a different culture. The cultures of Britain, America or Australia are different from the Irish culture and the emigrants who move to those countries often cannot cope with the culture shock. When emigrants are unable to manage even the basics serious problems arise.

Unfortunately, many emigrants are of the opinion that it is easier to be Irish in America than in the UK. That is the reality for many emigrants and we should focus on it. A great deal of emphasis was put on our emigrants in the United States during the past decade because of difficulties which arose with regard to visas. There is not as much focus on the position of our emigrants in the UK. It is opportune at this point to compliment our ambassador to Britain, Mr. Ted Barrington, on his forcible and confident defence of the position of Irish people in Britain. It is [396] extremely important to have somebody at that level to articulate the Irish position in a competent fashion. I congratulate him on his work in that regard.

There is a tendency in embassy circles to mingle with the nobs but there is a need for our embassy personnel to involve themselves with the most deprived members of our nation in foreign countries. I hope this issue will be addressed by the Department of Foreign Affairs through our embassies and consulates. However, it must also be acknowledged that fine work has been done by the embassies and our consuls, many of whom operate on a voluntary basis without funding, to help Irish people who get into difficulty in foreign countries.

I had hoped the Minister would make a major announcement of an increase in funding. It is disappointing to learn it will only be increased from £150,000 to £170,000 and the reason for the increase is changes in the exchange rates. At a time when the Celtic tiger is boisterous and so much money is available, I urge the Minister to return to the Department and demand a realistic approach to this issue. The country is flush in financial terms and plenty of money was given away in the recent budget. Surely our emigrants deserve a better response in terms of funding for the agencies which are serving them abroad than an allocation of £15,000 or £18,000 per agency. What can be done with £18,000? It would not run a constituency office.

Mr. Davern: It must be an expensive office.

Mr. D. Kiely: That is my salary.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: How can one expect a room to be provided in New York, Chicago or other major cities without proper funding? The Government must respond to the plight of emigrants. We have relied for too long on voluntary organisations and on the Catholic Church. For many years the church has provided a fine service to our emigrants in these cities. However, since the number of priests and nuns is reducing drastically both in Ireland and abroad, they will not be there to provide these services in the future. There is an onus on Government to fill that gap and to provide the service that is required through counsellors, agencies and advisers. These advisers should be people with life skills which are globally acceptable rather than simply nationally acceptable.

There is a huge diaspora of Irish emigrants who have been extremely successful. Senator O'Dowd referred to the wonderful network that operates in the Jewish diaspora on behalf of Israel. Unfortunately, we have not successfully tapped into the Irish diaspora, which constitutes almost 40 million people in the US, between six and seven million in Australia and up to 20 million in the UK. If we were more successful it would benefit the diaspora as well as this country. The Department of [397] Enterprise, Trade and Employment should put a great deal of emphasis on this area.

Voting rights is a fundamental issue which should be addressed. The last Government was in the process of doing so but had not concluded any specific proposals. The Presidency, however, is a specific office and President Robinson identified to a great extent with the Irish diaspora during her term of office. We should give serious consideration to empowering the one million Irish people abroad to vote in the presidential election. The President is not just the President of this State but the President of the nation, and that extends beyond the Twenty-six Counties.

Mr. Davern: I did not think the Senator was that badly affected by the last election.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I hope the Government will look favourably on this issue so our emigrants can empathise and identify with something specific in their homeland.

Dr. M. Hayes: I strongly support the motion. Senator Taylor-Quinn has relieved me of the responsibility of making a speech because she said most of what I intended to say. It is sad to be accosted by young Irish people, from the North and South, on the streets of London begging for money or to see them prostituting themselves. To say we have no responsibility for them is a denial not only of our responsibility, but of their rights. I applaud the work done by the emigrant advice centres and Fr. Colm Campbell, Mr. Niall O'Dowd and his friends in New York. I was struck by the figures given by the Minister of State because they did not amount to much when one added them up. The sums of $500 and £18,000 are small in terms of the problems faced by these people.

At a time when the Exchequer is robust, the State should take its courage in its hands and substantially increase the amount of money available to such bodies. It should be concentrated on two groups. I do not have enormous worries about the people who leave with skills because they are mobile and their skills will help them. They may even return to Ireland and become economic contributors. Despite Senator O'Toole's remarks, I am not inordinately worried about people with a university franchise. However, we should be concerned about the young people who leave this country unprepared and who often have domestic, familial, health or emotional problems. Money should be invested in this area to provide advice and counselling so that young people are aware of what faces them.

There should be a focus on the young people in the country to which they go to help them overcome the transition and settle into society. The resources of former emigrants who have made good are extremely important in that regard. Some people will be out of their depth and will not know where to turn. These people, more than anybody else, need help, succour, good [398] counsel and support. They may not go to a church or something which appears to be authority for this help. It may be necessary to find new and slightly unorthodox means of making contact with them.

At the other end of the scale, some people, who are now elderly, have spent their lives doing unskilled work, particularly in Britain. We should ask why the Irish are inordinately represented among the homeless, the prison population and in psychiatric hospitals in Britain. Those are the people for whom we should care. We should help them in their current situations or to transfer back to Ireland if they wish to spend their old age here.

A huge bureaucratic structure should not absorb funds which could go to voluntary bodies. There are such bodies with proven track records and they should be helped with sufficient money to give them a critical mass and make them effective. This would enable them to work in decent places to which people will come to see them. Why should they work over cafés or in old corner buildings or dance halls? There is no need to spread the money all over the world. It is hard luck if two or three people are having problems in Upper Volta.

The problem of emigration is well settled round the world. We are aware of the places, cities and countries to which young Irish people go. A focus of effort and money on those destinations in co-operation with the voluntary bodies already in existence and harnessing the goodwill of emigrants who have made good in those places would make an enormous difference. These are our people and we owe it to them to help them through the difficulties they are experiencing and embrace them as full members of the nation, even if they have left the State.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I understand Senator Brendan Ryan may wish to share his time.

Mr. B. Ryan: Yes, with Senator Norris.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. Ryan: This subject is of major concern and I subscribe to all the comments made about the plight of our emigrants. I am concerned at the horrific figures on the degree of homelessness among our emigrants and that the Irish are the only emigrant group in Britain whose life expectancy drops in comparison to their life expectancy at home. In addition, unfortunately, a significant number of Irish people are in prison in Britain. I am concerned about these matters, but I wish to put the figures in perspective.

At the height of the emigration wave in the 1980s, it was suggested that there were 250,000 undocumented Irish people in the United States. That country is approximately 80 times the size of Ireland so the equivalent figure here is 3,000. People did not descend into a moral panic about [399] a crisis of illegal immigration in the United States when there was the equivalent of 3,000 illegal Irish in the US. However, in the last three weeks, Ireland has descended into a position close to barbarism in relation to dealing with the problem of 3,000 illegal immigrants seeking asylum in this country.

The 250,000 Irish emigrants in the United States had the effective lobby of the Government, Irish-America and other people who arrived before them to protect them. The 3,000 people in this State have no lobby and are becoming the victims of political convenience. Unfortunately, there is a whiff of hypocrisy about elaborate concern for people who emigrate from this country and the tightening of the rules governing illegal immigration in the United States, while at the same time a significant body of opinion in Irish journalism and politics is winding people up on the idea that people who are in Ireland illegally should be dumped over the Border at the first possible opportunity.

It is a pity that a tradition from which we have benefited internationally in terms of welcoming those whom Ireland could not afford to keep and one which was extended as recently as the 1980s in the United States has been abandoned in this country. How can we justify the extraordinary contradiction of policies where we worry about our own abroad, but say we have no responsibility for other people's children when they come to Ireland? People moan and whinge about welfare and housing and imply that an entire collection of chancers and shysters are on the streets of Dublin abusing our services. At the same time we expect other people to look after our own in other countries. In charitable terms, it is an exercise in double think about which we should be ashamed.

I would prefer the House to discuss what Ireland should be doing for the misfortunate people who are in much worse circumstances than any of our emigrants were before they left. These people come from countries whose economies have collapsed and from countries where, if they go home courtesy of the Star Chamber of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, they will be killed. None of our emigrants, in their worst possible imagination, were under any threat if they returned home. Most of our so called illegal immigrants are frightened by the collapse of their countries and for their wellbeing and safety. We have decided to operate a two sided policy. One half of our brain considers our own abroad and worries about them; we want them looked after and secure. However, the other half of our brain looks at those from other countries who are in Ireland and tries to figure out the most expeditious way to get rid of them. We should be ashamed of ourselves because we are contradicting in practice and in terms of our affluence the precise principles we want applied to our own abroad. That is not good enough and it is time we faced up to our responsibilities. [400] Emigration is now a two-way street for us. If we do not get used to it, we will join the ranks of people who wanted to drive the Irish out of Britain and the United States. We call them racists when they do it in Britain and the US, and it is time to remove the motes in our own eyes.

Mr. Norris: I compliment Senator Mooney and his colleagues for this important motion. This is a very significant issue, and I was pleased by the tributes paid by colleagues to the work done by the churches in this area, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. That church is often attacked and reviled, but the wonderful work it has done, which is unpopular, unpaid and unseen, is sometimes forgotten. I have no difficulty, as a member of the Anglican community, in paying that tribute.

I was in Argentina recently where there is a huge, eclectic Irish community. There are over 400,000 people with Irish connections in Buenos Aires alone, and those people have a wonderfully moving commitment to Ireland. There are fourth generation Irish descendants there from Westmeath and Wexford. There is a cluster of Howlins there, and when I used that name it seemed to belong to half the people in the hall I was addressing. They speak impeccable Spanish, but they speak English with Wexford and Westmeath accents. The Minister of State has had that experience. They have a deep respect for Irish culture; they have a hurling club but do not play because they have nobody to play against. Their facilities are wonderful and it was an honour to be there.

We should not forget how wonderfully successful many of our emigrants have been. It is a source of great pride to travel and see that. However, there is a minority who have not succeeded, and I was pleased the Minister of State said that there was an arrangement for continuing discussions between the British and Irish Governments on homelessness, particularly in London. The existence of that problem is a reproach to all of us.

The existence of Irish centres in American cities is very important. I received an appeal from one recently and sent back a small cheque, adding that I wished they were sensitive to the fact that a group of Irish people have been forced out to London, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — gay people. I received a very nice reply from a nun involved with this centre which said that the matter was a priority for it and that gays were recognised as a vulnerable group for whom the centre went out of its way for. I was surprised and felt I had misjudged the centre.

We advise people on insurance, health, residence and other matters. Senator Dan Kiely should attempt an exercise in imagination in relation to Senator Brendan Ryan's comments on people emigrating to Ireland. Senator Kiely said he boasted about bringing 16,000 visa forms to Irish people in New York some years ago. How would those with reservations about immigration [401] into Ireland feel if someone in the Bosnian or Zairean parliament said they had brought 16,000 visa forms to Dublin for their people? We must realise we live in one world and that we are interdependent. Senator Kiely made a slip of the tongue when he said Irish people were working in American society because they were white. It was honesty, and he is right. There is racism in America, and there is racism in Ireland, which I deplore.

I raised a matter on the Order of Business today concerning a Nigerian and Sudanese, both in good standing here as asylum seekers, going to the mosque on a bus. They were yanked off the bus, interrogated by the police and brought to Pearse Street Garda station in a squad car that was called to the scene. They were interrogated again, told they were lying and strip-searched. They were then forced to sign a document stating that they had been well treated before being photographed against their wishes before leaving. Imagine if that happened to an Irish person in England. There would be screams about British racism, and quite right, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, whatever the nationality of goose or gander.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Fáiltím roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá áthas orm go raibh sé ábalta bheith i láthair don díospóireacht seo. Cuidím leis an rún agus tá áthas orm go bhfuil an díospóireacht ar siúl. Tá súil agam nach bhfuil ann ach tosnú agus go mbeidh seans againn arís as seo amach a mheas cén dul chun cinn atá déanta.

This debate is relevant to the majority of Irish people. The majority of homes have been touched by emigration; four members of my family emigrated. Every person in this Chamber could tell harrowing tales of heartbreak about people leaving Ireland, perhaps never to return. Something that has stood out for me in working with emigrants for 25 years is the generosity of spirit of our emigrants. There is very little hostility towards a country that was unable to provide employment for them. The opposite is the case, as they have demonstrated an undiluted affection for Ireland and developed concern and support for Ireland. I remember many occasions when emigrants tried to express their views on this country but were told in less than polite language that it was none of their business. That is the reason we have not given the fullest service to our emigrants and not recognised their potential.

Last November I went to celebratory functions in Liverpool, Leicester, Glasgow and west London for four weekends in a row. There were up to four generations of emigrants at those functions, and I noticed immense pride in Ireland among all of them. That, more than the work of Governments, has provided a good image of Ireland in their adopted countries. The work of Irish people abroad has made Ireland known in those countries. It is important to recognise this when speaking of the downside of emigration. Recently I read a book by Donal O'Donovan, the [402] former PRO of the Bank of Ireland, which stated that 40 per cent of corporate America was controlled or directed by people of Irish extraction. We should bear that in mind when considering our emigrants' potential to help Ireland, as we have not yet found a structured way to do so. I praise the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs for their efforts in this area. I know of no country whose diplomats have given such positive service and they have always been readily available.

However, we must not think in terms of what we can do for our emigrants but what we can do to facilitate emigrants to work for us. There have been many occasions when our emigrants could have been forgiven for believing they were only important on St. Patrick's Day or when groups left Ireland on fund raising missions. That happened when churches and community halls were being built and employment projects were being developed here. The emigrants have never been found wanting but there was always a feeling that they were entitled to much more than that.

I would like to pose a scenario which might be helpful to develop this debate, not tonight but on a future occasion. If it is possible for us to develop a concept and a structure which is extra-territorial in regard to the European Union, if it is possible to develop a concept of the United Nations, why is it not possible to maximise the potential of our emigrants abroad? I do not mean that in a lip service manner. I do not mean to have others acting on their behalf. I mean working in a representative manner because I have no doubt that we would find plenty of goodwill on the part of those who have been successful abroad to help those who have not been quite as successful.

Last year in Boston the North American convention of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was held. Minister Alan Dukes attended on behalf of the Government. The previous year Minister Síle de Valera attended the convention in Toronto. On each of those occasions more than two thousand delegates attended from all over the United States and Canada at great expense to themselves. Why did they do that? They did it because they wanted to feel, as Senator Taylor-Quinn has mentioned, that they are part of the Irish nation, the nation in exile, the nation which is much more numerically strong than we are here. Because they have that strength it is important for us, not only to acknowledge it but, to facilitate them in using it at every opportunity.

I mentioned on a previous occasion that in North America alone we have 40 million people of Irish extraction. In recent surveys it was very evident that many of those people are coming back to Ireland to trace their roots. An opportunity has been provided, through the Department of the Taoiseach and other Departments, to help them to do that. If such people come back to Ireland and want to identify with us then they should also be given the opportunity of participating in a fuller manner. I would find it very difficult, in conscience or in tradition, to ignore the [403] comments which were made by Senator Brendan Ryan regarding immigrants to this land. It is not possible to be insensitive to those immigrants, to ignore their plight and at the same time to demonstrate a concern for our emigrants abroad. Any person who has set foot in Gros Isle or in Ellis Island will realise the emotional trauma which must have been experienced by our people when they emigrated. It is worth making the point that they were not always received with open arms. There were many occasions when signs were displayed saying, “No Irish need apply for jobs”. The greatest recognition and acknowledgment which we can give the Irish diaspora is to demonstrate a sense of generosity — a céad míle fáilte - when the opportunity comes our way.

Dr. Henry: I too compliment Senator Mooney on having put down this motion. It is a wise motion to have put down in view of the debate on racism that took place yesterday in the other House. I would support other Senators who have said that we must be very careful that we do unto others as we would have done to our emigrants when they are abroad. There has been a tendency in the last few years to look on those who have come to our country in quite an appalling way in some situations. Many of the people I have met who have come here as refugees are academic and professional people who have no desire to be a charge on the State and only want to become part of the community here, having had to seek asylum here from the possibility of death in their own lands. This is a part of Senator Mooney's motion which, perhaps, he did not expect to be seized on so enthusiastically by the rest of us. I do hope that is heard outside here and in the other House too.

I was very interested in what Senator Maurice Hayes said about the difficulty of looking after our emigrants in Upper Volta. I have no one in Upper Volta at the moment but I do have someone, a son, in the Republic of Benin, which is just south of it. As he appears to be the only Irish person there at the moment I had better tell him to paddle his own canoe because there is not going to be an Irish club founded for him just at the moment.

Mr. Davern: There is an Irish mother and that will suffice.

Dr. Henry: Oh, thank you Minister. It is interesting to see that practically everywhere you go you can find a couple of Irish people. We must, of course, concentrate on the areas where there has been the most emigration. It is important, too, to involve those who have been succesful in places like London, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, the large cities of Australia and South Africa in whatever we put in place. As many people have said, the Churches have for too long been expected to do everything. I have found that young successful people are [404] extremely enthusiastic about becoming involved in helping other people. There is, for example, a big ball held in London by young Irish people to raise funds for those who are not in as good a situation as they are.

We have to ask ourselves constantly: why do people leave us? Some people leave for very serious social reasons. I am the president of Cherish, the association for single mothers, and I find that far too many girls still go to England feeling that they cannot stay in Ireland to have a child. It distresses me to say that every time, when going on the tube in London, I have stopped a girl who is sitting begging with a child, the girl has been Irish. Not once was a girl I spoke to from anywhere else. This may be just a coincidence but it is not a great feeling to see a fellow Irish woman sitting begging. When I implore them to go home so many girls still say that they cannot go home because their parents would not have it. We must really look at the people who feel that they cannot come home to us when they are in trouble. This is true of people who may have had problems with the law or who have suffered a psychiatric illness. It is widely known that Irish emigrants, particularly in Britain, have a very high instance of psychiatric illness. We have to be sure that people for whom things do not go too well feel that they can come home. It is much more difficult to come home when you have been a failure rather than a success. We must make sure that it is understood by anyone who leaves here that, no matter what the situation is, he or she is perfectly welcome to come back again.

Mr. Gallagher: I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It was a very good idea of Senator Mooney and his colleagues on the Fianna Fáil side of the House to put down this motion. The debate has been wide ranging and very relevant, because at a time when the country is seen to be doing so well in many respects it is important to realise that, as the Minister has said, 30,000 people leave the country every year and 13,000 of those go to Britain. I accept that many of those leave voluntarily. We have always been very much aware of emigration, and particularly so in the 1980s. The needs of emigrants do not get so much attention now because the trend is in the other direction. Thirty thousand people is half the population of my home county. Thirteen thousand people going to Britain is more than the population of the town in which I live. This is a sizeable number of people and I thank the Senator for focusing our attention on their needs.

I worked abroad on three occasions for lengthy periods — in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. I was lucky because I went with an education and with good information and back up. It was by choice that I went. We must record and recognise the positive aspects of emigration. Many Irish people, like me, got a chance to learn new skills abroad, to broaden our horizons and maybe to appreciate a little bit more what we had [405] at home. This has enriched Irish life and helped to contribute to the success and development that we have seen in recent years.

I support Senator O'Dowd's suggestion that a Minister of State be given responsibility for working across the various Departments to co-ordinate the support provided for emigrants. The Minister of State indicated that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs are mainly involved in funding, while the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has produced excellent guides. Many people are doing good work but it needs to be properly focused to ensure that needs are being met and that information is disseminated and backup provided where it is needed.

I compliment successive Ministers, especially over the past two to three years, including former Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring and Mr. Ray Burke, who have ensured that increased funding has been provided to the DÍON committee and for the Foreign Affairs Vote. It is never easy to read a book of Estimates, but it would appear that the Estimate for DÍON will increase by £13,000 next year while the Estimate for Foreign Affairs is due to fall by £16,000. Perhaps further information following the budget announcements will be made. Will the Minister of State clarify the exact amount of money to be provided? Most Members will probably agree that more will be needed than that which will be provided.

Senator Mooney is more proficient than I in the area of broadcasting and communications. On my visits to the Offaly County Association in London over the years I often heard complaints that it was very difficult for members to receive RTÉ Radio One. The improvements in broadcasting, especially through the Astra satellite and the provision of short-wave communication broadcasts for the major games and other events has been a big help. I compliment RTÉ on its work and would encourage it to do more to ensure that reception of our home news and current affairs is provided, especially in the other continents.

Everybody is in favour of voting rights, but there are different views on the practical measures required. I encourage the Minister for the Environment and Local Government not to be disheartened by the lack of a positive response to the proposals tabled for consideration and debate by the previous Minister. These pleased nobody but that is no reason for the Minister not to return to the subject. I encourage him to use this House to table proposals for discussion. If we apply our minds to the problem we could agree on provisions regarding voting rights which, on the one hand, would genuinely recognise the fact that Irish people abroad are still citizens of this State while, on the other hand, would meet with the broadest possible political consensus necessary to enshrine it in law.

[406] I am delighted that this motion on the needs of Irish people abroad has also focused attention on the needs of people from other countries living in this country. Deputy Callely's ill-advised remarks at least prompted debate on an important issue in this and the other House. Anybody who is tempted to make derogatory, ill-tempered or ill-conceived statements regarding the position of people from other countries resident in this country, either on a temporary or a permanent basis, would do well to first think of all of the issues for which we have fought for Irish emigrants in other countries and, following that, I am confident their remarks will be better tempered. In this regard, there is an obligation on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure that the Refugee Act is implemented. Its speedy implementation will assist in ensuring that any attempt to whip up racial or ethnic tension will be quickly stamped out.

I wish to make a special plea for the county associations in Britain. Many of them find it difficult to keep going because there is no-one to take the place of many of those emigrants from the 1950s and 1960s who were actively involved. Young emigrants perhaps do not have the same cause to depend on support from them. I also wish to record my appreciation of the work of groups such as the Oblate Fathers, especially the work of a fellow parishioner, Fr. Tommy Scully, who did great work through the years. I wish him well. I appeal to local authorities to make a special effort to have included in next year's Estimates a specific provision for support for their county associations in Britain. Over the past couple of years we in County Offaly have started on a small basis to support our associations in London and Manchester. It would not take too much money in the context of a local authority budget, but it would be greatly appreciated. I appeal to Senators who are members of local authorities to take the matter up with their colleagues.

Mr. Davern: This year the DÍON grants were increased by £13,000, while the increase was £4,000 in respect of the US and Australia.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Buttons.

Mr. Mooney: I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. He provided much new information. I also thank my colleagues on all sides of the House for their gracious comments with regard to the initiative taken on this motion. It is gratifying and is another example of the environment of consensus in the House on motions such as this, which is a serious social issue.

With regard to the point made by Senator Henry, I was aware of the context in which the motion was framed. The Senator will be aware that I took an active role on the other side of the House during the debate on the Refugee Bill. I share the views expressed by Members on this and hope that perhaps the pending High Court [407] case will be dispensed with to allow the legislation take effect.

Senator Gallagher's proposal that local authorities support their county associations is excellent and should be widely circulated. I hope they will encourage their office holders, their cathaoirligh and leas-chathaoirligh, to attend functions, be they in England, Australia, New Zealand, America, Benin or Upper Volta. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to attend social functions organised by our county associations and by Irish societies will testify to the value placed on our presence, not because of ourselves but because of the office we hold or the message we convey from our people at home. It also relates to the comments made by Senators Taylor-Quinn, Henry, Ó Murchú and others about the inclusive nature of the Irish diaspora. They feel Irish. The fact that they live thousands of miles away makes no difference. Similarly, the distance of the generations makes no difference; second and third generation Americans feel Irish.

Regarding the points raised by the Minister of State, I welcome the reference to homelessness. This issue arose in the past week to ten days. Senator O'Dowd referred to the horrifying statistics The Minister said that one of the priority areas is homelessness and that the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister have agreed the two Governments will develop closer co-operation in the east-west context. Perhaps the British-Irish Parliamentary Body might have a role in that regard, in that it could monitor it through its sub-committees Time did not allow him to elaborate on the exact nature of the initiative.

I am very grateful to him for his commitment to reflect on the proposal about Boston. I appreciate his point that one cannot single out an area. However, Boston has made this proposal which could be applied to other areas because it does not involve a great deal of money.

I suggest the role of DÍON and the emigration working committee be widened to include Irish based organisations and individuals. For example, why should someone like Fr. Byrne or his organisation not be included on DÍON? It is an exclusively London based grouping of seven worthy people. I had the honour to serve on its predecessor, the Committee on Welfare Services Abroad, for five years from the late 1970s until Deputy Quinn, the then Minister for Labour, abolished it and established DÍON.

However, he narrowed the focus too much — it went from the extreme of having too many people from this country on the original body to having only one or two on the new body. It is 14 years since DÍON was established and it is time for it to be reviewed. Perhaps it should have a wider role in the context of pre-emigration information and education. I was interested to learn that the emigration committee is exclusive to the New York area. Perhaps the Minister of State might consider including on it a representative from Boston, which is just down the road.

[408] Not many people know of the existence of the interdepartmental committee which was established in 1988. I agree it is working very well and is providing an input into Government. However, despite its status as an interdepartmental group, could its reports and recommendations come into the public arena so that we would have some idea of Government thinking on the issue? Perhaps its structure may not allow that, but it would be a valuable input into the ongoing wider public debate.

I have always fully agreed with votes for emigrants, although the structuring of that is a matter for Government. When I was an emigrant I was always annoyed by the fact I could not vote in Irish elections. I am grateful to the Minister of State for coming to the House so close to Christmas. I know he has every sympathy with, and understanding of, the case which was made here.

Question put and agreed to.