Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

Agency for the Irish Abroad: Motion.


5:00 pm

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the decision by the Government not to set up the agency for the Irish abroad recommended in the Report of the Task Force on Emigration.

As a matter of detail, may I presume the debate on the motion will continue until 7.17 p.m.?

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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It will have two hours and will conclude at approximately 7.18 p.m. I will give the Senator one minute extra.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach.

There are a couple of things to be said about emigration from Ireland. It was perhaps the greatest generator of excuses for failure that this country ever had. It was a failure that for most of the last 80 years, until about 20 years ago, we collectively tried to excuse and that was not confined to one particular political party. We collectively grabbed on to excuses for our failure. When Professor Joe Lee produced his book, Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society, and did a magnificent job of looking at our collective excuses and demolishing them, for instance, our excuse that we were peripheral and then pointing out the position of Finland——

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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He never envisaged the Celtic tiger.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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Order, please. Senator Ryan without interruption.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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It is since Professor Lee produced his analysis that we developed the confidence in ourselves and the willingness to take responsibility for ourselves that produced the extraordinary economic performance. It was also due to the bedrock laid by the extraordinary achievements of the 1983-7 coalition Government in sustaining education in the teeth of a mess created by Fianna Fáil which produced the skilled labour force that became the major driving force for our success in the 1990s.

Professor Lee went through a succession of our excuses for ourselves and demolished them all. On peripherality, it was clear that there were countries which were just as peripheral. On population growth it was clear that other countries had a more rapid population growth. Having gone through all these excuse he then pointed out that, in addition, most of the successful small countries of Europe had been flattened by the Second World War but had managed to deal with that and recover.

When we presided over mass emigration from this country, when we pretended to ourselves for perhaps three generations that it was inevitable, when an eminent politician and one-time Tánaiste, Brian Lenihan, suggested the country could not hold or keep on its territory the number of people that needed to live here and that emigration was a necessity, we were all wrong. This country is capable of sustaining high levels of population and high levels of prosperity like every other small country in Europe that has done so.

It was our fault as a nation that they emigrated. They did not do it freely or by choice or because they were interested in other cultures, but because the alternative was either misery at home or what they believed to be better chances abroad. For many, although not as many as some of the more optimistic commentators today would suggest, it was a question of better opportunities abroad. What we now know and what we have known for some time, and which was crystallised for many of us in December by a television programme, is that there is also a significant number for whom opportunities abroad, if they existed, were minor, peripheral and left them with no great security in life. There is empirical evidence that the proportion of Irish people in psychiatric hospitals, in prison, and homeless on the streets of the United Kingdom is considerably greater than the proportion in the population at large. A good number of our older fellow Irish people have fallen through whatever nets existed. I presume that was the reason the task force was set up.

Having read the report of the task force, it is calm, dispassionate and focused. Its members are happy to acknowledge gaps in information. To its credit, it made specific recommendations, each one of which is worthy and important. Two, in particular, need to be emphasised. These are the two to which I wish to refer. First, there is the recommendation that a new structure be established, the agency for the Irish abroad. It goes into detail about the membership of that agency. The second major recommendation, or the one I choose to highlight, is its crystal clear conviction that to do what needed to be done for people who needed these services, a dramatic improvement in funding was required. The figure it quotes is €18 million for 2003 rising to €34 million for 2005. Those are the gross figures for many different services. For current services it makes specific recommendations. The task force considers that the support for voluntary agencies providing welfare services to the Irish abroad, which in the year in which it reported was €3.5 million, should be increased to €11 million in 2003, building to €21 million in 2005. The two specific recommendations are a dedicated agency and a specific funding revolution.

We have got €4 million this year which is less than a third of what the task force recommended. We have a unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs which will get working after the Presidency. That is extraordinary. It will be done when important things are out of the way. The generation we abandoned has to wait until important things are done. It does not have to be like that. I can understand why the Department of Foreign Affairs part of this could be stretched, but we could set up the agency that was recommended. The agency and the unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs are both recommended by the task force and are clearly identified as being different bodies with different roles. The setting up of a unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs is a recommendation of the task force but it is not a substitute for and nor will it meet the objectives of an agency.

The task force reported in 2002. Two years later we get a decision which is not to have an agency. Over a period, the Government decided there were other priorities. That is the lecture one always gets, that there are choices to be made. We all know there are choices to be made. The choice was made to ignore a recommendation from a bipartisan, totally apolitical task force set up by the Government. There was a deliberate decision to ignore the recommendation of the task force.

I was never forced to emigrate and for that I am most grateful to whoever was responsible for not forcing me to emigrate, but I did spend time abroad.

I will not speak if a conversation is going on at the same time.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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Order, please.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I am not missing anything.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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The Minister of State might be missing something. I spent two summers abroad, working in north west London in Harlesden. Even as a young person and knowing I was coming home in September, one could not but notice the gradually ageing isolated Irish community. If one went to Mass on Sundays and saw them dressed up in the style of dress I associated with my youth, shiny Sunday suits, it was clear they were going to Mass for one main reason, among others, and that was to meet other Irish people. If one walked into a pub in Camden town, as I did, with three people from Connemara and discovered that all the others there were from Connemara, then what we know at this stage about Irish emigration is as follows. We abandoned perhaps 500,000 people and of that number, perhaps a quarter in Britain are in extremely difficult circumstances and are ageing. Every new agency set up has more demands on it.

The Government responded in a way it is good at, by setting up yet another task force. That task force reported and made its recommendations and the Government abandons two of its most basic recommendations. An agency and money are the two items that will prove we are serious about saying "Thank You" to people who by leaving and by their transmission of funds bailed out this country and who now need us to give them dignity and support in their old age. On both issues, prioritising their problems through an agency and providing funding that will make a difference to them, the Government has failed them.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I second the motion. I thank the Labour Party for tabling this important motion and concur with what Senator Ryan said. We are debating a Private Members' motion which is not just about politics. There is a moral dimension to this motion which is the huge debt of gratitude we, and particularly politicians, owe to the Irish emigrants, most of whom were forced to leave this land down through the years to eke out a meagre living abroad. Those people built up the economies of the countries to which they emigrated. Significant numbers of such people sent back money to assist relatives in Ireland.

Ireland from the 1930s to the 1960s was a bleak place, particularly in economic terms. Without the money sent home weekly or monthly by hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants abroad, it would have been worse. For that reason alone, there is a moral obligation on every politician in this country and particularly on the Government to ensure that we mark in a meaningful way the contribution of emigrants.

Last year, I read that fine novel by John McGahern, That They May Face the Rising Sun, a story which is both simple and complex in its way. One of its characters is an emigrant labourer who spent his emigrant years, for economic and social reasons, in London. In his fading years, he returns to Ireland. When in London, he pretended he was financially well off, with an excellent lifestyle. However, as one reads the novel, one realises he yearned to be at home. The character comes home because he has no pension entitlements and, soon afterwards, he dies.

Although it is a novel, that character is typical of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Irish people abroad. The touching nature of the tale struck a chord with me and made me reflect on what we should do to respond to such people. The Minister has received a report from the task force, which the Government amendment on the Order Paper welcomes. However, unfortunately, the amendment continues by stating why the report will not be acted on as and when it should. Senator Ryan concluded by saying that this debate should be about the agency and the money and I reiterate that point. The Minister should show us the colour of the Government's money in regard to this not only political but moral issue.

There was a time when, during debates on emigration, we had to deal with what Senator Ryan rightly called the politics of choice. The Government of the day, of whatever hue, would have to make hard choices. Now, fortunately, we have sufficient resources to put in place the assistance which many emigrants still need. The choice now is not financial but political. It is up to the Minister and his colleagues in Government to make a clear statement as to what they think of the Irish generations who lived their lives abroad.

When we debated emigration over the past ten or 15 years, more often than not we were talking about illegal Irish immigrants in the United States. It was a subject in which I had much interest and I went on a few visits to the United States to meet illegal immigrants. That problem has, on the whole, been tackled, although, as the Minister is aware, there is again an emerging problem of illegal Irish immigrants in the United States.

However, the broader issue of Irish emigrants to Britain must be urgently addressed. We must accept that tens of thousands who worked in Britain, particularly in the construction industry from the 1940s to the 1960s, are not in a position to retire with a decent pension or secure accommodation. Given the circumstances in which they had to find and maintain employment, their remuneration was often without security or welfare and pension benefits. We must urgently quantify the numbers of such people.

There have been attempts to put in place schemes to bring some home. One of our Oireachtas colleagues, Deputy Cowley, featured in a recent article regarding a scheme in the west through which certain emigrants are being assisted to come home. Despite what was said by a former member of the Fianna Fáil party, referred to by Senator Ryan, the country is big enough for all such people. If we can at least quantify the numbers interested in returning to live out their final years in this country, we should attempt to do so. The question of choice should no longer prohibit us from responding because the money is there — it is a question of what political priority we give this issue.

The wording of the motion is the only wording appropriate to this debate. The recent "Prime Time" programme, Lost Generation, brought home to us starkly the sad lives of too many of our fellow Irish citizens abroad. There is a need for a political response. When a task force is charged with a job of work, responds in a concise fashion as to what should be done and quantifies the money required, it is not good enough for any Government to say action must wait. The idea that the Minister for Foreign Affairs must wait until after the EU Presidency to establish the unit is not good enough.

During recent debates at the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gay Mitchell suggested that there should be some facility, perhaps through that committee, to liaise with, work with and take hearings from Irish citizens abroad, particularly those in Britain, the problems of whom we could investigate at a deeper level. His proposal was supported by all sides of the committee, including by the Leader of the House, Senator O'Rourke.

I support the motion. At a time when record resources are available in a country which was built on the labours and remittances of many emigrants, we must respond in kind and show real political commitment. Anything but immediate action on, and financial response to, the task force report is simply not good enough. It would not be a fair, honest or moral answer to the Irish emigrants who, in their own way, have made a huge contribution to the building of this country.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

—welcomes the report of the Task Force on Policy regarding Emigrants;

—notes that the report contains many proposals affecting a number of Government Departments and that their implementation will have to be phased over a period of years;

—welcomes the progress made by the Government so far in implementing the recommendations and notes that action is currently being taken on over two-thirds of the proposals in the report;

—welcomes the additional funding provided in the Vote for Foreign Affairs this year and notes the Minister for Foreign Affairs intention to give priority to funding of welfare services for Irish emigrants who require special support, including elderly people and those who are vulnerable or at risk of exclusion;

—notes the intention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to establish a designated unit in his Department after the EU Presidency to coordinate the provision of services to Irish emigrants; and

—requests the Minister to keep under review the proposals to establish an Agency for the Irish abroad.".

I was an emigrant. I was less than 18 years of age when I travelled to Dublin and out to Dún Laoghaire on a cold January evening. Two images still resonate through the decades and will probably stay with me until I die. One was the lights of Dún Laoghaire harbour as I left and the other was the approaching lights of Holyhead as I arrived. I arrived at Euston station the following morning after a seven hour train journey in a freezing carriage, where to keep warm I snuggled together with others, mainly from the west, who had made the journey seeking a new life. Arriving in Euston, we were met by representatives of the Legion of Mary.

It is important and timely, in the context of this debate, to pay a warm tribute to Irish organisations such as the Legion of Mary which, for decades, met the Irish coming off the boat-trains to ensure they were looked after in terms of accommodation and, if necessary, to arrange job applications for them, and also to ensure they did not meet with the wrong company. That covers what I mean. They did not wear their religion on their sleeve but were there for purely social purposes. Many of them have now passed to their eternal reward but it is important to pay them a warm tribute and acknowledge the outstanding contribution they made.

When I first got involved in politics I was elected to the national executive of Fianna Fáil and one of the first things I attempted to do was to raise the question of emigrants at a meeting in Mount Street. I remember being told by the then Minister for Finance, the late George Colley, that Governments did not wish to recognise they had any financial obligation to emigrants because they felt that giving money to emigrants or emigrant organisations outside Ireland would create a pull factor. That was not the term he used then but it has been used subsequently. Governments felt more Irish people would leave if they felt the Government would support them financially in the UK, which was weird thinking. I was relatively young, naive and inexperienced at the time and I was confronted by a very powerful Minister for Finance who was not so much attempting to put me in my box as reflecting the political ethos of the time.

I do not doubt the sincerity and passion of those who have worked on this since the task force reported and I am particularly struck by the passion Deputy Stagg brought to the recent debate on this matter. Some Members may have heard his contribution repeated on "Tonight With Vincent Browne" and I empathise with and recognise everything he said. The difference was that he was talking about it from an Irish perspective, watching the consequences of the population haemorrhage from the west and his native Mayo, but I lived that emigrant experience. Until one lives that emigrant experience——

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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So did Deputy Stagg.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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——no amount of passion can bring one to the same level. What I meant was that he spoke of the consequences of emigration in his area. I am not saying he was not aware of it.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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So was his family.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I am paying tribute to Deputy Stagg. He raised the profile of the debate but many politicians and Governments have paid little more than lip service to this issue. All of us are tainted by our neglect of the Irish diaspora and I speak as someone who was fortunate enough to come home and eke out a living.

We get the impression from debates here, in the Dáil and among the general public that the Government is doing absolutely nothing for emigrants. However, I will put some facts on the record. The Government has introduced the pre-1953 pension scheme, 60% of which goes to Irish people abroad. I know how beneficial this has been from my experience in Leitrim, which probably haemorrhaged more people than any other county, particularly to England. This year €80 million will go to emigrants under this heading.

The Government has also introduced special initiatives for returning emigrants to enable them to apply for social housing without having to be resident here, despite our ongoing housing crisis. Like the poor, the housing crisis is always with us. At the time of the greatest affluence in our history we still have a housing crisis. However, the Government has committed itself to this special initiative and local authorities are implementing it in so far as they can.

The focus of the task force and its report was directed towards those Irish emigrants abroad who are particularly marginalised or at greatest risk of exclusion. It is important to state that because for the vast majority of the Irish diaspora emigration was a positive experience once they got over the trauma of leaving their home place. I was eight years in London and I enjoyed my time there. I am not saying I could not wait to get back home, as I always wanted to return, but it was a mould-breaking experience. I lived there in my formative years and I owe a great deal to my experiences in that time, not just with English people, as it was a multicultural society, but with my Irish contemporaries. We were very close and supportive of each other.

A Labour Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, reoriented welfare for Irish people abroad by creating DÍON in 1983. For five years before that I was a member of its predecessor, the Committee on Welfare Services Abroad, and I was very disappointed when that committee was disbanded. A DÍON grant of over €2.5 million last year went to 57 voluntary organisations in the UK, 45 of which are under Irish management. These organisations provided advice and assistance to about 30,500 Irish people in 2002 — Irish-managed organisations dealt with 23,000 people and non-Irish organisations dealt with approximately 7,500. In addition, €150,000 was allocated to the Federation of Irish Societies for capacity building within that organisation. That body has played a pivotal role in ensuring the county associations have kept the Irish diaspora's sense of community alive by organising functions through the county associations, particularly in Britain.

Many of the organisations assisted by DÍON funds help Irish people who are homeless or badly housed, and in many cases they are also in poor health. These are organisations like Acton Homeless Concern, Cricklewood Homeless Concern, Leeds Irish Health and Homes and Rehab UK in Coventry. For example, the Rehab Irish Elders Resource Centre, Teach na hÉireann, in Coventry has been supported by DÍON since 1999 and received a grant of €30,000 last year towards the salaries of a project manager and a support worker who provided services to over 150 elderly Irish people. Support from DÍON enables Irish voluntary organisations to provide assistance and advice to many such marginalised people.

Senator Ryan will be pleased to hear that DÍON also supports the Simon Community, which works on behalf of homeless people in London. It received a grant of over €30,000 last year towards the salary of an administrator/fundraiser to work on behalf of homeless Irish people in London. In 2002 Simon assisted 236 Irish people, a quarter of its clients.

Over the past two years half of the DÍON allocation went to organisations which provide services to the elderly. One of these is the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project which has been funded by DÍON since the mid-1990s. Last year it got a DÍON grant of over €57,000 towards the salary of a community co-ordinator and two part-time outreach workers. The organisation now has 482 members, all over 60 years of age, and 97% of them are Irish. The Southwark Irish Pensioners Project operates a drop-in service and lunch club five days a week for its elderly Irish clients, some of whom are disabled and in poor health. The DÍON grant makes a very real difference to the lives of these people.

Many of the organisations DÍON funds have outreach workers who seek out and befriend elderly Irish people who are living alone or homeless and who may be in poor circumstances and health. The London Irish Centre in Camden also employs outreach workers, as does the Irish in Greenwich project, Irish Community Care Manchester, Irish Community Care Merseyside and Coventry Irish Society, to name but a few.

I put that on the record because despite the enormous obstacles and difficulties faced by the Irish diaspora both at organisational level and by victims of emigration on the ground, I do not want the message to go out from the debate that the Government does not care or is not doing enough. Of course it is not doing enough and I am the first to say so. It will never do enough for those who had to leave our shores involuntarily but there are some positive aspects to this issue, such as the broad political consensus in both Houses that there is an urgent need for the Government to do more for Irish emigrants. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has commitments to Third World relief and he will bring his commitment and expertise to this area. I am sure he will have much to say.

On radio and television, I welcome RTE's initiative in taking over what was the Atlantic 252 wavelength. It is a long wave wavelength which covers two thirds of the land mass of the UK. However, I hope the Minister of State, maybe through talking to his colleague the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, tries to encourage RTE to provide more emigrant-oriented programmes on 252. At present they are replicating what is currently heard on RTE radio 1. RTE has the capacity to do this. It requires a philosophical or ideological approach as there is a need to look at more programmes oriented towards the Irish diaspora. I support the task force's recommendations in this regard.

I ask the Minister to keep in mind an initiative which has come my way. It concerns the recently celebrated symposium on EU citizenship organised by the organisation Europeans Throughout The World, known as ETTW. That organisation deals with emigrant issues, including the international diaspora. Some 35 million people in the EU are not resident in their own countries. The task force refers to the Government's input to the EU, but the ETTW could provide a way forward. One of its main recommendations is that one of the new EU commissioner posts, created under the enlargement process, would be devoted exclusively to the issues of the diaspora within the EU. This recommendation could provide the Government with a way to link in to that process so that there would be a Government initiative for helping those who have left our shores, as well as an EU initiative.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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Senator Mooney is right that unless one has had the experience of emigration, and the loneliness of being away from home, it is difficult to empathise with those whom we are discussing. For approximately 17 years, Senator Mooney presented his RTE radio programme "Both Sides Now". It must have been a draining experience at times because some of the messages broadcast from London, Coventry, Manchester and elsewhere were from people at their lowest ebb. The Senator used the word "urgent", which is very important in the context of this debate. Many of these emigrants are in their 60s and 70s, so we will not be in a position to act on their behalf if we delay much longer, no matter what good work the Government is doing.

To date, Senators have spoken about those who left this country to get work because they could not find employment here. However, there were others, for example, women who became pregnant outside marriage, who were forced out for sociological reasons. Tens of thousands of such women had to leave this country to have their children in England. The perceived "disgrace" of having a child outside marriage was terrible and we have never investigated our levels of infanticide in those days, apart from occasional academic theses. It really was a deplorable situation. Some of those women are still resident in England so we could usefully make contact with them.

Some Senators will be aware that during the Second World War the idea of obliging single women to obtain an exit visa to leave the country was being considered. However, it was decided to drop the proposal when it was realised what effect it might have on the rate of children being born outside marriage. We used England as an appalling escape route for people who were at their most vulnerable. Some of them are still living in England and I have met a number. A friend of mine worked in a centre for Irish women in Islington, which is not the poorest London borough.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Not any more.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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She was a psychologist. She told me the centre had been set up because Irish women who were in serious trouble with psychiatric illness and alcoholism did not want to let the side down by saying why they had to leave Ireland. That is dreadful. They felt that when they went to the regular social services, they could not tell the truth about their previous predicament. I salute the women who established that centre. Approximately nine or ten women per day came in to tell of their experiences. They did not want to let the side down by speaking about being treated for psychiatric illness or having been forced out of Ireland. I do not know what excuses they used to give about their backgrounds but it is very sad to hear of such cases.

I have also met the children of those women. Senator Mooney is right to talk about the great work of DÍON, albeit with limited funds. I went with someone from DÍON to attend a meeting of children who had been born to these Irish women. Very little thought was paid to them, apart from the fact that they should have a Catholic upbringing. One man told me he had been put into a house with an elderly Polish couple, which was all that mattered apparently. Those children went through very rough times so we should make more effort to contact them.

Another man told me that his mother had been a nurse. She had given him up for adoption in England because otherwise she would not have been able to get employment as a nurse. She managed to catch up with him again when he was about 40 years of age. He told me that his father was a doctor, gave me his name and asked me if I knew him, which I did. Then he asked me if he looked like his father. I asked the man whether he had ever thought of trying to find his father. He replied: "You know, it is so hard the way my mother was treated. Every now and then I think I will go over to Ireland to seek him out, but at other times the pain is so bad that I can't. It is the sort of thing you take up and put down. You think you can go and deal with it, but then you decide you can't." We could try to help such groups of people.

There is all too much in Dancing at Lughnasa which is true to life. The fate of the two youngest sisters was the fate of many Irish women who went over to very poor employment in England and lost contact totally with their families. While emigration was hard for men, it was easier for them to socialise; it was desperately hard for women to do so.

In sociological surveys of psychiatric illness and alcoholism in England, no one is higher up the league than the Irish. Studies have been done to see if it is due to our Celtic genes, but it is not because the Scots and the Welsh are further down. The Indians and the Pakistanis are further down still. Sometimes one finds that the West Indians have similar psychiatric problems, but not with alcohol. The most vulnerable of these Irish people who had to leave for England paid a dreadful price through illness.

I remember how we dealt with people who got into trouble before the courts. I was in court in Cork and heard a judge say, "It is the Innisfallen tonight, or jail". The youth's mother stood up in the court and replied, "I've got him the ticket already". We had the most extraordinary methods of dealing with people who were extremely vulnerable from a sociological point of view.

I strongly support the motion because we do not have much time left. Although we have money now and DÍON is doing great work, we must do as much as we can immediately because the people affected are getting older and they will not be there forever. I am pleased with all the Government has been doing but there is an urgent need to accept the motion, rather than the amendment.

6:00 pm

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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Two months ago, a similar motion was debated in Dáil Éireann. It was a well attended, informed and, at times, emotional debate, as this one has been. I acknowledge the significant contribution of Deputy Stagg in the Lower House, which was mentioned in this debate and rightly so. It is important that we should hear from those with practical experience as emigrants. Equally, I acknowledge the important contribution made, and the very real experience shared, by Senator Mooney. Those of us who went to the UK and elsewhere as students to work on building sites in the 1970s would have met the kind of people to whom Senator Ryan referred. In our own lives we have all come into contact with such individuals and, as a result, we are aware of the contribution they made, as well as the difficulties they experienced as emigrants abroad.

While there was, as one would expect, the usual cut and thrust of parliamentary exchanges, I noted the constructive and positive tone which characterised many of the contributions to the debate in the Lower House. I am, therefore, pleased that the Seanad has also had the opportunity to address this important issue, to make its distinctive contribution to the debate and, thereby, to continue to raise the profile of this significant issue among the public.

It is important and necessary to have the widest, informed public discussion on an issue that has affected, at one time or another, almost every family in Ireland but yet for too long has been ignored by all of us. I will outline how the subject of our emigrants abroad has been brought to the forefront of political debate and why we are having this debate.

The background was a report commissioned by the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants and the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas in 1999. That report assessed the current pattern of Irish emigration, reviewed the policy responses and services provided by the Government, the Catholic Church and other voluntary agencies and set out the main policy challenges that would arise over the next ten years. It concluded there was a need for a Government commitment to a partnership approach to the subject of emigration and the development of a coherent and effective policy, funding and service infrastructure and recommended the establishment of a task force. As a result of discussions and consultation with the social partners leading to the agreement of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, it was agreed that a task force on policy regarding emigrants should be established.

My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, established this task force in 2001 and gave it the widest remit. It was asked to examine and review all aspects of emigration, pre-departure services for emigrants and services for emigrants abroad and those who wished to return. The task force was asked to pay attention to the needs of young and disadvantaged emigrants who are at greatest risk of social exclusion and marginalisation when they go abroad and to the needs of returning emigrants, especially the vulnerable and the elderly.

After wide consultation, both at home and abroad, the task force produced an excellent report in August 2002 setting out the problems and challenges of emigration in today's world. During all the discussion since the publication of the report, I have heard nothing but the highest praise for its incisive analysis of the issues, the clarity of its recommendations and the humanity that guided its deliberations. The chairman, Mr. Paddy O'Hanlon, and all the members of the task force deserve our special thanks for the way they went about this difficult but necessary task.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs made it clear when it was published that the implementation of its many wide ranging and far reaching proposals would have to be phased in over a number of years. In this regard, he said he did not believe it would be possible to implement all the recommendations at once, even if the level of resources advocated by the task force could be provided. However, this is far from saying little has been done. Since the publication of the task force's report, considerable progress has been made across a range of areas.

Britain continues to have the greatest number of Irish emigrants and the greatest proportion of vulnerable emigrants who require special assistance and support. The greatest share of the resources provided by the Government for welfare services for the Irish abroad is, accordingly, allocated to the UK. The total amount allocated by the DÍON committee since 1984 is almost €18 million. More than half of this has been allocated since the Government parties took office in 1997. The DÍON fund has increased by more than 350% since 1997.

In 2003, 57 organisations received DÍON grants totalling €2.573 million. I accept this was 5% less than the total allocated in 2002 but, later in the year, this was corrected when a further €150,000 was allocated directly to the Federation of Irish Societies in London from savings. This brought the total allocation to emigrant services in Britain to €2.723 million in 2003, representing a slight increase of €15,000 on the 2002 figure.

This year, the DÍON fund will increase by a further 30% to €3.57 million. Funding for a project by the Federation of Irish Societies to provide greater support to its affiliated organisations to improve their capacity to manage their services and secure funding from local sources in the UK is included in this amount. This capacity building support is vital to enable the Irish welfare agencies to make the most effective use of the funds provided by the Government and to assist them in broadening the base of their funding to encompass other available sources. The Federation of Irish Societies has recently appointed a director to manage this project and it will shortly recruit two development workers who will be based in the regions and who will provide hands on management support to the agencies that require it.

The new director of the federation welcomed the funding in an article in the Irish Post stating:

We are delighted that the Irish Government has demonstrated its commitment to the Federation, recognising the central role we play within Britain and providing us with additional funds to continue this role. The new posts funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs will also enable us to expand and develop the range of services on offer to our affiliate organisations and build upon our capacity to reach groups that may not be linked in with any other Irish organisations such as ourselves throughout Britain.

The total allocation for emigrant services in the Foreign Affairs Vote this year is €4 million. This represents an increase of €1 million, or one third, over 2003. The lion's share of this — €3.57 million — will go to the DÍON fund for services to Irish emigrants in the UK while €400,000 will be allocated to Irish welfare agencies in the US and €48,000 will go to agencies in Australia. Provision has also been made for grants to Canada, ÉAN, the umbrella body for voluntary agencies in Ireland providing services to emigrants, and the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas. It is hoped to allocate further funds to emigrant services later this year under the Foreign Affairs Vote.

In addition to the funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Social and Family Affairs provides funding for information to assist Irish citizens considering emigration and to Irish emigrants abroad considering returning home. The total amount allocated by that Department for these services in 2004 is €427,000. Furthermore, approximately 60% of those who qualify under the pension scheme introduced by the Government in 2000 for people with pre-1953 contributions are living abroad, mostly in Britain. Approximately €80 million will be paid in these pensions to Irish people abroad in 2004. Many thousands of elderly Irish people living in Britain will benefit as a result.

The report contains 71 recommendations. Action is being taken on implementing more than two thirds of them. A number of the recommendations fall within the areas of responsibility of other Departments and they have been asked to examine them to determine what progress has been made in implementing them and what further steps could be taken.

I will outline a few examples to illustrate progress. The funding for emigrant services abroad has been brought together under the Department of Foreign Affairs. This was done last year following the transfer of the DÍON fund from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. A significant increase in funding for emigrant services has been provided in the Foreign Affairs Vote this year. The task force recommended that financial assistance be given to ÉAN, the umbrella group for voluntary agencies providing information and advice to potential emigrants, to enable it to provide more effective support to its member agencies. The Minister recently announced that a portion of the additional funds this year will be allocated for this purpose.

The task force also recommended that the Government should continue its political engagement with the authorities in the US regarding the position of undocumented Irish people there. During his recent visit to Washington, the Minister met a number of prominent members of Congress with whom he discussed a draft Bill that would regulate the status of undocumented Irish immigrants in the US.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs is implementing the task force recommendation that the Government should give priority to the link between migration and social exclusion during our Presidency of the EU by organising a Presidency conference on reconciling mobility and social inclusion next month.

An interdepartmental group, chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, is meeting on a fortnightly basis to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations. The task force report recommended that €18 million should be provided for emigrant services in 2003, increasing to €34 million in 2005. These amounts were seen by the task force as the optimum required if its recommendations were to be implemented immediately. The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that because of the range and complexity of the measures proposed by the task force, they could not be put into effect overnight and their implementation would have to be phased in over a number of years.

The task force recommended the establishment of an agency for the Irish abroad to co-ordinate the provision of services to the Irish abroad. This would consist of a board, representing both the Departments involved and the voluntary sector, with a secretariat provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The agency would be established as a non-statutory body initially but, once established, could become an independent, statutory body. Its cost was estimated at between €1 million and €2 million.

We are not opposed in principle to the establishment of an agency and do not rule this out. However, we consider that, in the context of the current level of funding, it would be inappropriate to devote a large proportion of it to the establishment of an agency.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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The Government will not support the agency because it will not provide the funding.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister has decided, therefore, at least as a first step, to establish a dedicated unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs, when staff resources become available after the EU Presidency. However, work is ongoing. Its role will be to co-ordinate the provision of services to the Irish abroad and to carry forward the implementation of the task force report. The reality is, therefore, that the Government has done a great deal for emigrants. The level of financial assistance for emigrant services abroad has been substantially increased and we can be proud of our record in providing assistance to emigrants. Of course, we cannot say we have done enough — Senator Mooney has rightly made this point. There are constraints on the level of the resources we can provide and there is no point in pretending otherwise.

Emigration should be viewed in its proper context. We should be proud of the achievements of the majority of our emigrants abroad who have successfully integrated into their adopted countries while maintaining the strongest links with Ireland. On my recent visit to Australia, I had the opportunity to meet with representative groups of Irish emigrants and to listen to their concerns at first hand. I was particularly pleased to be able to meet representatives of the Irish Welfare Bureaux in Sydney and Wollongong, whose valuable community work we support, and Fr. Tom Devereax, whose chaplaincy provides invaluable practical and pastoral care to the many thousands of young Irish people who travel to Australia. What struck me was their work not only for the very large young population but also for the older emigrant community. Harrowing stories of the lonely lives were shared. Many live alone in apartments. The Irish Welfare Bureau is involved in purchasing graves for many who cannot afford to buy a plot in a graveyard. It is important that the Government works with the tremendous organisations abroad which do invaluable work. They have conveyed their concerns to me and I intend to follow up on that. When I addressed various groups, I made the point that departing emigrants not only represented a huge loss to Ireland, but represented a huge gain in building countries such as Australia.

I accept we have a moral obligation to try to assist those who were forced to emigrate for economic or social reasons in the past and whose remittances home in the 1950s and 1960s contributed greatly to our economy and who now find themselves in difficulties. This sense of moral responsibility imbued much of the task force report and is reflected in the priority areas highlighted in the report, namely:

improving the effectiveness of the voluntary agencies involved in providing direct support to emigrants most in need by improving their capacity to secure funds from other sources,

promoting more co-operation and communication between voluntary agencies at home and abroad to ensure the best use of available resources and to maximise the impact of their combined efforts [these were the types of issues we discussed with the groups in Sydney] targeting assistance on the provision of front-line services to those who are at greatest risk of marginalisation and social exclusion, as well as the elderly and returning emigrants.

In its approach to implementing the task force report, the Government will focus on these priorities. Fortunately, the number of emigrants has declined very considerably and of those who emigrate now, only a small proportion requires special support. It should also be recognised that there is a responsibility on the host country to help these people and the burden cannot fall solely on the shoulders of the Irish Government. The Government, of course, is prepared to play its full part in helping the less fortunate emigrants and is working actively to implement the report of the task force. As I have said, many of its recommendations fall within the area of responsibility of other Ministers and so it will require a concerted effort from Government to bring about the desired changes. The Government will also work closely with the Governments of host countries and with voluntary Irish agencies abroad to maximise the impact of the combined efforts for the benefit of the Irish abroad.

In the 18 months or so since the publication of the task force report, considerable progress has been made. The terms of reference of engagement with Irish emigrants abroad have been changed. The Government intends to continue to deepen this dialogue and constructive engagement in the spirit of the report. It is an ongoing process and I do not think the Government will ever be able to say it has been completed. However, the Government has made, considerable progress in addressing it and it is for these reasons I commend to the House the amended motion tabled by the Government.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister and the sincere tone of his remarks, but the content of his speech was an exercise in pretence, masking the reality of doing very little. The following line in the Minister's speech sums up best the attempted spin to convince Members that something is being done. It is a reminder more of 1984 rather than 2004.

We are not opposed in principle to the establishment of an agency and do not rule this out. However, we consider that, in the context of the present level of funding, it would be inappropriate to devote a large proportion of this amount to the establishment of an agency.

The establishment of an agency might happen sometime, but there is insufficient funding for it. Who determined the current level of funding? The Government determines the level of funding which is inadequate to set up an agency. Therefore, the agency will not be established because the Government has not allocated funding to it. Let us be straight about it. There is no political will on the part of the Government to do anything substantial or real for Irish emigrants abroad, who are in need of assistance. Lip service has been paid to a fine report and to the needs of Irish people living abroad, which have been set out so starkly and clearly in the "Prime Time" documentary of last December. It is an exercise in hypocrisy by the Government for the Minister to come before the House with a long spiel on what has been done and to talk about an increase in funding. There has been an increase in very little except hypocrisy.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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The money is very real to the people in England. The Senator perhaps should go over to see them.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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Deputy Kitt further stated:

The Minister has decided, therefore, at least as a first step, to establish a dedicated unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs, when staff resources become available after the EU Presidency.

That just sums it up. That means that when staff are less busy they will be asked to do something about the Irish abroad, because of the problem with the Opposition giving out yards on how the Irish abroad are not being taken care of. When our turn comes to host the Presidency of the EU again, or some other big issue arises, will the staff be asked to forget about the welfare of the Irish abroad? Is that a dedicated unit?

It was the Government that set up the task force, which made a very clear recommendation for the establishment and need for an agency. The Minister has made the best argument of all for the establishment of an agency.

The task force was very clear on the amount of money required. It set out clearly that things cannot be done overnight, a point made by the Minister. It was stated that there needs to be a phased allocation of resources because it recognises that it will take time to expand capacity in the voluntary sector to use these resources effectively to meet the needs of the Irish abroad. It suggests an initial allocation of €11 million in 2003, building to €21 million in 2005 and sets out how those amounts should be distributed: €8 million for services in Britain in 2003 increasing to €12 million in 2005; €2 million for services in the US rising to €6 million in 2005 and €1 million for services in the rest of the world rising to €3 million in 2005, which are not major sums by any means. However, the money would make a substantial difference to the lives and experiences of the Irish abroad and in particular to the community to which the Minister refers, but the targets have not been reached.

In the words of Eavan Boland, which were recently quoted by Fr. Alan Hilliard, director of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants in an article in The Irish Times, "Like oil lamps we put them out the back of our houses, of our minds". Clearly, older Irish people abroad were at the back of our minds. Thanks to "Prime Time" they have been brought to the front of our minds, where they remain, although we must ask for how long that will be the case. Obviously, it will be for as short a time as possible for the Government. Fr. Hilliard also quoted Catherine Dunne, author of a book called "The Unconsidered People". She pointed out that in 1961, the entire education budget for primary and post-primary schools was the equivalent of £14 million. The same year, the contribution of emigrants in remittances was estimated at £13.5 million. That illustrates the extent of the country's reliance on emigrants and the significance of their contribution which has been estimated in billions of euro.

My Labour Party colleague, Deputy Stagg, spoke in terms which will go down in history of the experience of poverty in the west of Ireland and the experiences of so many people who left in the 1950s. There is hardly an Irish family which has not been touched by emigration. An aunt of mine who is now in her 80s went to work in the hospitals of London during the blitz and was on duty on D-day when the bodies were being returned from the beaches of Normandy. She recalls her experiences in a TB hospital in Ireland when she had the task of cycling around on night duty to count the bodies of those who had died. That is the country she left.

I recall visiting a friend of mine in London who is a museum curator. He devised a project to recreate the 1950s experiences of the Irish in Wembley, the particular part of London in which he worked. He reconstructed a room in a digs which was so miserable that I still recall it after ten years. The room featured a mean, small cot with thin blankets, the inevitable cardboard suitcase under the bed, bits of old linoleum covering the floor, a single burner in the fireplace to boil water for tea, one good suit hanging on the back of the door and the inevitable letters to and from home. This was the experience of many thousands of Irish people who went to London and other parts of Britain as well as to other countries. It is an experience which, like oil lamps, we put out the back of our houses and into the back of our minds.

The hypocrisy of the Government and its attitude to this issue are disgraceful and deplorable. I ask the Government to reconsider this matter. It is not too late to establish this agency and it is never too late to recognise that not enough is being done. I disagree with Senator Mooney. It is possible to reach a point at which we can say we are doing enough, but we must aspire to more than we are currently doing. We must aspire to at least recognising and thanking people for what they have done.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I thank the Labour Party for moving this thoughtful motion. It allows all of us pause for reflection to think of other times and of what can now be done. Senator Mooney proposed the amendment in my name, but it was moved on behalf of Fianna Fáil. It described how the Minister for Foreign Affairs has begun to introduce over two thirds of the 71 recommendations of the task force he established. I read the report of the task force which was published about a year ago and was struck by the clarity of its language and the manner in which the recommendations were set out.

I was very interested in Senator O'Meara's family reminiscences. A motion such as the one before us causes one to think like that. My brother Paddy emigrated, having been in college here. While it is a different story of emigration, it is quite a telling one. While studying agricultural science in Dublin, the wanderlust got at him and he went to work in the mines in Worksop, a town in the north of England. He stayed there for about ten years although he used to come home every holiday. He would not return to work here although there were plenty of opportunities of which he could have taken advantage. Of course, my parents were heartbroken. He was the second eldest and I was the youngest and I remember thinking of him down in the mines. He worked very hard, which had an effect on his health later although he is alive, well and thriving as a farmer. On one particular holiday, he met a nice woman from Connemara and, after ten years, he returned to marry her and have a family.

My mother used to be in floods of tears at the tales he told us about the pure hardship experienced by people in the mines when he came home but, of course, he did not tell her the half of it. I know the term "pure hardship" sounds funny, but it is the phrase we use down the country. The mines are somewhat sanctified now and there was a series recently on BBC television about them, Arthur Scargill and Mrs. Thatcher. That involved only the glory days but the work was grinding, unhealthy and sapped one's youth and energy. Certainly, it would rid one of any illusions. I quote the example of the mines as it is one with which I am very familiar from the days and tales described by my brother. He was lucky in that he met the woman he wanted to marry when he came home one summer.

The hardship experienced by people who emigrated in the 1950s and 1960s was significant. My brother is in a different category as he was educated to the extent that he had obtained a leaving certificate and attended first year in college. However, he did not want to travel the straight path which is what took him abroad. While we should pay tribute to people, we should also make practical contributions. Less fortunate emigrants left on the boat train with their cardboard suitcases and, on arrival in England, travelled for six hours to London. If they were lucky, they had the name of a rooming house written down at which they could obtain lodgings. Some were lucky and were able to pull themselves up and move on, but many others were not because they did not have an education.

As always in the United Kingdom, the cut and thrust of society was sharper and more difficult to deal with. However, there were no jobs in Ireland and people who stayed faced stagnation. Unfortunately, many who left faced stagnation also. Many who worked in the years they had the physical ability to do so found in later years that the toil they undertook and the deprivation through which they lived had effects bodily, spiritually and mentally upon them. They are mainly men and many of them are in a sorry state. While there are some women among them, women tended, whether it was the right thing to do, to marry and establish alternative lives. I had a long conversation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on this very topic and I am aware that he is very involved in the issue. He is very aware of the experiences of these people who left from every townland and village in Ireland. The people who go now do so of their own free choice. There is a considerable body of people still there.

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs recently discussed the idea, proposed by Deputy Gay Mitchell, of travelling to London, Liverpool and Manchester. We propose to advertise the visit in the press and meet those working with the Irish community to determine what they want. We expect to hear more about this matter shortly. The diligent and hard-working unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs can make a change. While I do not mean to castigate the motion, I do not know if we should get wrapped up in the idea of having an agency. The matter requires hands-on treatment and a keen ear.

I approve of what the Minister is doing. I know from talking to him that he is fully acquainted with this issue. After all, people left Offaly just as they left Westmeath and Roscommon. The Minister is keen to do the best he can for these emigrants. Approximately two-thirds of the 71 recommendations are now under way. I would be happier if the unit was already established. While it is about to be set up, this is another matter altogether. Will the Minister of State ask the Department to give us a progress report on what the unit is doing and what contact it has already made with emigrant organisations in Britain? While such emigrants reside elsewhere, such as in the US, most of them are resident in Britain. Many of them only had enough money to get as far as Britain. I commend the Government amendment to the House.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I compliment the Labour Party on tabling this motion. I followed closely the discussion on this matter in the Dáil when it was discussed two months ago. If anything, the "Prime Time" programme of 22 December last helped to focus many minds on this issue. I watched the programme with a great deal of nostalgia. I could empathise with much of what the programme portrayed. I grew up in west Limerick and, like many other people, I emigrated in the early 1960s owing to the lack of employment in the area. Available employment was often casual in nature.

Senator Henry referred to the Innisfallen. I travelled to England on that ship and through a combination of bus and rail travel, I travelled for almost 24 hours before reaching my destination in Torquay, Devonshire. I got seasick on many trips during the winter. I do not tell this as a hard luck story. I was probably fortunate to gain employment in England and take a course before coming back to Ireland. I enriched my experience by living in England for a time.

The 1950s and 1960s were cruel times. I grew up in Foynes and a sanatorium was established there for those suffering with tuberculosis, which was rampant at the time. I knew many people who suffered from the disease and were committed to the sanatoria in Foynes or Glanmire. Those were harsh times for employment too. Similar problems were experienced in employment in the 1980s. We are fortunate to have seen a change in the other direction in recent years. However, this does not stop us feeling sympathy for many of the people who emigrated to England in the 1950s and 1960s. Owing to the lump system that operated in England, many of these emigrants now find themselves in harsh economic circumstances.

It would have saddened anyone to watch the "Prime Time" programme that dealt with the issue. I was driving when I heard Deputy Stagg's contribution to the Dáil debate on this issue relayed on the "Vincent Browne Show". I felt a lump form in my throat as I listened to it. I asked myself what we could do for these people.

The Government amendment welcomes the additional funding provided in this year's foreign affairs Vote. The funding increased last September from €3 million to €4 million. The Minister for Foreign Affairs told the Dáil that this doubled the amount of €2 million spent by the coalition in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Why do Ministers always hark back to 1997? While the amount may have been doubled, it has only been doubled over a period of six years. We have enjoyed an economic boom in the interim. I remind Government Members that the boom catapulted them back into government in the last election.

This House recently discussed the disbursement of the dormant accounts fund. The money was to be allocated to disadvantaged sectors in different areas. Today we were notified of a tranche of funds that has been allocated from this scheme. This is largesse that the Government would not have anticipated receiving in 1997, or even in 2001. The fund was set up arising from work undertaken by the Committee of Public Accounts and the late Jim Mitchell. It is worth bearing in mind that the fund contains €175 million that was not known about four or five years ago. This will increase to about €400 million from next April when the insurance funds come into it.

Finance is highly important. Mary Creagh, leader of the Labour Party in Islington, recently said that funding for the local Irish centre had been cut and the Irish Government did nothing for it other than offer warm words. The centre exists to look after Irish people. While Islington may be prosperous, just as Camden Town and Kentish Town evoke certain memories, there are areas all over Britain where Irish people live in poverty. Many of the hostels they live in are sustained by charitable or religious organisations.

The Government should not boast that it has increased funding by one third from €3 million to €4 million. Money exists in the dormant accounts fund and something positive can be done with it. The task force, under the chairmanship of Paddy O'Hanlon, must be complimented for what it proposed. The Government should identify projects and release a decent chunk of funding.

There is a fundamental point behind this. The people living in England do not have votes here. Not alone are we neglecting emigrants, we are also cutting funds for widows and widowers. This is having a serious effect on this sector of the community and those affected feel the State is letting them down. Once a Government receives a significant majority, I often wonder if it forgets about the small things that count. If the Minister wants funding, that disbursement account is there, but the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív has hijacked the funding along with the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, since in future, the Government wants to distribute the largesse rather than having it administered by the body which was established on a statutory basis. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, should approach those involved. I am sure they will gladly accede to the requests for funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs for worthwhile projects such as this. The Department should identify the projects and locations and quantify the costs involved. No doubt the funding will be provided.

Let us not forget the emigrants. I will not repeat what I said in the past. In every community and parish in Ireland, whether in west Limerick, Connacht or wherever, the money that came back to Ireland in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was vital support for families. It provided an economic stimulus for many people otherwise deprived in their own communities. Most of those who went abroad did not forget to send money home.

I fully support the motion. There are no votes in it for the Labour Party or for any of us, but we owe it to these people not to leave them deprived and abandoned, particularly in England. We must do something about the situation now.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I join colleagues in welcoming the Minister of State to the House. I am pleased to speak on this important issue. I welcome the debate because it is important to put some facts on the record. Senator Mooney in his contribution sought to dispel some of the myths perpetrated by people within and outside this House. Hopefully the debate will continue in that vein.

The initiative on this issue was taken by the current Government in consultation with the social partners and others. It was an issue simmering for some time. Others have referred to it in terms of the age profiles, and recognising the times during which people emigrated, and how they reached the point where they are no longer working in the standard environment, and need help.

The task force was initiated in 2001 and reported in 2002. The strength of the Government policy lay in setting out for the first time a coherent framework for dealing with this difficult issue. Much talk has focused on what has not been achieved rather than what has. People have referred to percentages and so on. Some 50 of the 70 recommendations have already been implemented. It would be wrong, however, to take a tit-for-tat approach in this debate. It is a more fundamental issue about understanding the way forward. As a number of Senators said, there are no votes in this. The Seanad is a good place in which to debate the issue, because we are not always as conscious of the wider electorate as Members of the other House. It is important that we add our voices and our wisdom, whatever we might have.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have no direct knowledge or experience of emigration. I was fortunate in that at the time I was born and when I was being educated, there was no longer a need for emigration. I have, however, heard of the experiences of many in my extended family. The difficulties that emigrants faced were well aired by Senator O'Rourke and by others, as were the kind of issues with which they daily contended. Scars were left on their lives and on the lives of those family members left at home, who were all the time concerned for the welfare of their siblings overseas.

The issue should not be about bureaucracy, about an agency versus a Departmental unit. It is more fundamental. I favour an approach by a Department over one by a separate agency. We have an ongoing difficulty with political accountability. The Government sets up an agency and powers are devolved to it. The Government or the Minister responsible then continues to get the grief, publicly and privately, for not becoming involved in the day to day running of the agency. While a unit remains within a Department, the Minister at least has a direct hand in the control, organisation and management of it. More than anything, that is what we need in this case — a political hand in the operation on an ongoing basis.

We are all aware that the issue is about money. Unfortunately, not enough money has been committed this year. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, have clearly stated that and said they would like to see more money committed. They have, however, started an important plan, as well as a journey towards getting sufficient funding. This situation has not developed overnight. The crisis has been going on for some time. We have taken an important step by putting a coherent policy in place through the framework documentation. The Government has made a commitment to increase funding and honoured it with a year by year increase. I encourage the Minister of State regarding the financing, though he probably does not need encouragement. He is well aware of the financing difficulties. I hope the commitment continues regardless of who holds the ministry. While Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are in Government, that increase will be provided, as it should.

The Government policy on emigration has been inclusive. We all know the historic facts — the forced emigration, the lack of education for those leaving and the difficulty they had. We talked earlier today in this House about racism. Let us not forget that those who had to emigrate to our near neighbour suffered intense racism. There were signs on the doors of certain boarding houses saying that no blacks or Paddies need apply for entrance. That was the kind of difficulty encountered. It is important that this legacy should not bear down on us in the future, and that the Government continues, as it is doing, to put in place a proper structure to alleviate the difficulties suffered.

The current situation in this country is very different. We all know that most people leaving Ireland today do so with a sound, structured education behind them, with good prospects. They can travel outside Ireland to gain valuable experience which they bring back to great effect. Many of them have returned with entrepreneurial skills and have sought to create employment in Ireland, the lack of which was the root cause of many of the difficulties historically.

The task force approach will ensure that the past experience of emigration will not be repeated, regardless of our economic situation. Hopefully we will never return to the days of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the days of mass or forced emigration. Should emigration take place, the policies of the task force will ensure, particularly through the pre-departure service, a support structure for emigrants in the new country of residence. The report also deals with services for returning emigrants, particularly the elderly. That is one of the strengths of the work done, reflecting the funding put in place to target those who need to return.

The crux of the problem regarding the difficulties of those forced to emigrate, and the difficulties they now suffer, particularly in England, is the individuality of each case. We cannot generalise either in terms of defining the problem or the solution. There is no "one size fits all" solution. Many of these people have fallen outside the social structure for a host of reasons. We must recognise that there is no overall solution which will resolve all problems overnight.

We have the same problems in our own society. I guarantee that anyone who leaves Leinster House tonight will, before reaching Grafton Street, come across two or three homeless people sleeping in doorways. We have a plethora of agencies. Nobody is suggesting that we have a shortage of funds to deal with the problem.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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The Senator should ask the agencies.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps we are not dealing with the problem. We have similar problems in this country and we have not found the quick-fix solution. There are many agencies charged with dealing with the situation, and they have not succeeded in doing so. An agency is not the solution to the problem, rather a change in mindset is required. I also recognise there is a question of funding. The Department, through its unit, with the capacity to respond and react to the difficulties and issues on an ongoing basis is better charged than an agency. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt when he asks why €2 million should be spent on an agency when the matter can be better handled within the Department of Foreign Affairs. If that money can be used to alleviate the difficulties for emigrants, then it should be used to do so. We only have to compare their difficulties with those on our streets. I do not know what the solution is to resolve these individual cases.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the work they are doing. I hope a resolution can be found to this difficult issue.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House and thank the Labour Party for putting down this crucially important motion.

Senator Dooley said that it must not be forgotten where this problem began. However, we must have absolute clarity in our recollections. These emigrants were people from every street, town and county on this island who went across to England under various circumstances. Some did not have jobs in Ireland due to lack of education and had no choice but to leave. However, I recall when living near a courthouse that a month did not go by when a judge gave a defendant the choice of either going to jail or to England. When I hear the pious chantings of some politicians today on immigrants entering this country and fiddling us for a few shillings, it must be remembered that we wrote the script. We knew how it was done from the beginning. We sent the people we did not want across to England. They went over with no education, no prospects and criminal records with nowhere for them to go.

When they got there, they were met with open arms by those very successful Irish emigrants, many of whom are now giving evidence to tribunals. They were given the most difficult work — carrying hods with six or seven blocks up three section ladders that broke their health in no time. To make life easier for them, they were always paid in the pub on a Thursday evening. This was to ensure they could spend their money in the very pub that was probably owned by the same builder. To make life even easier, they were told not to worry about social welfare and tax. It would all be taken care nicely on the lump as the builder paid them in cash, with no tax to be declared so they could take home more. Of course, the emigrants grabbed at it. When I was in England as a student, we all considered those from the West Indies as the poor and uninformed who did the miserable jobs such as driving the Tube and clicking tickets on buses, getting paid half what we were.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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The Irish did those jobs too.

7:00 pm

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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Now 30 years later, those who worked on the Tube and buses and for local councils are surviving on their pensions. The Irish emigrants, such as those on the recent "Prime Time" programme, are the ones with no pensions, supports, prospects, homes or families. They were never given the opportunity in England. Instead, they were mistreated, abused and exploited right the way through. Senator Mooney, who has done Trojan work in caring for elderly emigrants, will confirm this. The successful people, as he said, were those who took the jobs in Dagenham or on the Tube who were able to buy their houses, get married and send their children, who are now in high-flying positions, to college.

We have inherited a problem that was created by our predecessors. I do not wish to point the finger at any particular Government or political party. I am not claiming that those on the other side of the House care less about emigrants than those on this side. I readily concede that it is a shared concern. However, the proposals for an agency should be implemented. The Minister of State gave credit to Mr. Paddy O'Hanlon for chairing the working group, but every member thereof was diligent.

Can the Department of Foreign Affairs do some practical things for emigrants? The Cathaoirleach correctly ruled out of order a matter I wanted to raise on the Adjournment, namely that Ireland establish a short-wave radio service. I listen to short-wave radio, such as Voice of America or the BBC World Service, when I am abroad. Small countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Zambia and New Zealand all have a short-wave radio service which can be picked up around the globe and is inexpensive to provide. On St. Patrick's Day, I was delighted to note that our long-wave service was decently used. However, the service did not extend as far as Brussels. Can this service's output be boosted to cover Paris and Brussels? By doing so, it could cover the whole of the UK and reach the Irish diaspora in central Europe. It is the next best thing to FM and is clearer than medium-wave.

People will not tune into radio on the Internet even though RTE can be received on the Internet anywhere in the world. People are more inclined to tune into radio on satellite or digital transmission platforms. Can the Minister of State inform us how much would it cost to take space and satellite broadcast footprints around North America, Australia, Asia, New Zealand and parts of Africa? Senator Dooley claimed there were no votes in this issue. Actually, Senator Ryan and I have voters scattered all over the world who take great interest in what happens in this country. I have raised time and again the need for some form of articulation for this group in the democratic process, even so far as giving them the vote. There should be a separate constituency where they can have some voice — albeit under strict conditions — in our democracy.

Recently an individual, abroad for 40 years, told me that the Department of Foreign Affairs used to compile a news digest of the news in Ireland on a monthly basis for circulation. This is no longer in circulation, yet it would be easy to have such a digest on the departmental website with a limited print run. This would allow people abroad to keep in touch with Irish affairs. Digital radio, being the next transmission medium which can be easily accessed by satellite, is also very cheap. People in Europe can listen to RTE radio services through Sky satellite. These are superb services. However, there is poor access to RTE services in the US when a broadcast footprint could easily be established. I ask that such services for emigrants be investigated as they would be much appreciated.

John Hume always used to speak about the number of people in North America who describe themselves as Irish. I have forgotten the exact figures, but they are not important. He said that investment in Ireland to the value of $10 for every Irish immigrant in North America could do a great deal for this country. When one works it out, it is an astronomical figure. I do not suggest that we create Irish millionaires from the pockets of generations of emigrants to North America, but the figures in question allow people to have a clearer understanding of what we are about.

President Bush is due to visit this country in the next six months. I do not want to discuss all aspects of his visit, but there is one point I would like to make. Certain people, including me, will demonstrate against the policies of the current officeholder of the presidency of the United States. I know that such protests will be misunderstood throughout North America, just as they were in 1984. It would be nice if people could understand that we do not seek to give a calculated insult to the American people and the Irish diaspora in the United States, but that we wish to protest against the policies of one person, who is an officeholder. It is not an insult to his office.

The Department of Foreign Affairs understands such nuanced matters, which we fail to convey in these situations, more than any other Department. The development of such a nuanced perspective would help to counterbalance certain difficulties. The Taoiseach has said on a number of occasions that foreign direct investment in this country may be at risk, for example, because people do not understand our attitude in respect of certain matters.

In supporting the motion and the proposed agency for the Irish abroad, I am asking the Minister of State to take a further step. I ask him to examine the creation of greater contact at which RTE is superb. It is a pity that we do not have a short-wave service, as people would listen to it and it would be very much appreciated. It would not cost big money in terms of what we are doing at present. I would like us to expand our long-wave service, to introduce a short-wave service and to book satellite time for radio distribution in the main population centres of the world.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I would like to share time with Senator Brennan. Having listened to the debate, it is evident that this is a greatly emotional subject. Many Senators who have spoken have had personal experience, directly and indirectly, of emigrants. I did not have to emigrate because four members of my family had already done so. They sent money back to my family to help us during those times. Such experience is typical throughout the country. It is particularly important, therefore, that we realise we have an obligation in this regard. When I spoke on this subject at a function in Manchester two weeks ago, I said there will be a scar on our national conscience if we do not act urgently and proactively on this matter. I continued by stating there is a specific moral obligation on the Government to respond properly in this case. I do not suggest that the obligation is a charitable one, as we need to repay the generosity we received from the people in question in the past.

Some speakers have painted an accurate picture of Ireland in the middle of the 20th century. Ireland was a deprived country in every sense of the word. We had none of the affluence we have at the moment. When opportunities came our way, we did not have the seed capital necessary to respond to them. When money was sent back to Ireland by emigrants, it was often used to establish small businesses and to sustain small shops, etc. That was the infrastructure of the time. Let us be fair and honest by saying that we would not enjoy the fruits of the Celtic tiger at present if it were not for those who went abroad.

Those who emigrated in the years gone by left this country because they had to go and because they wanted to go. They wanted to do something positive with their lives, so they took the opportunities that came their way in Britain, in particular, and in North America, to a certain extent. This often meant that they held down more than one job. There was never an opportunity to develop career prospects in the construction industry, for example, because workers had to follow the job. Wherever the job went, they had to go. Not only were they losing out on any opportunities they might have had at home, but they were also losing out on the chance to accumulate as much finance as possible to send home to Ireland.

I have been travelling to Britain for the past 35 years. I have been in every Irish centre and in every welfare centre on at least a dozen occasions in that time. I have had the privilege of meeting some of the finest open-hearted and generous people one could ever hope to meet. It is obvious they did not foresee the difficulties they would encounter in the future, but they were to find in their twilight years that they had no security as a consequence of unorthodox methods of payment, particularly in the construction sector. They often failed to interact with the agencies and organisations that could help them, perhaps because of their personal sense of pride. Voluntary organisations, such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and many others were often at the coalface at that time. Many of the organisations that comprise the Federation of Irish Societies looked out for their own people and tried to help. They remain an important conduit for such people, even more so than the official agencies.

I would like to mention a group of people who have often been denigrated and whose history has been revised mercilessly. I refer to priests and nuns in Britain who did outstanding work to help those about whom we speak. Our difficulty nowadays is that we do not have as many priests or nuns to offer assistance.

Before I conclude and allow Senator Brennan to contribute, I would like to say that I support Senator Finucane's suggestion that the funds from dormant accounts be used in this area. It would be worthwhile to contact the Government as a matter of urgency to state that we need money now. The people we are discussing will not be alive in another eight or ten years. The most important part of the work that needs to be done is to provide help on the ground. We need to connect with people in certain areas who are in contact with those who require help. I have said that we should be generous because we are not providing charity, but repaying the generosity that was given to us.

Michael Brennan (Fianna Fail)
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I would like to be associated with the words of Senators from both sides of the House. Goodwill and a Christian approach have been evident from all speakers. Although there may be a division on the motion and the amendment before the House, everyone who has spoken has recognised the role played by Irish emigrants in the development of this country in the 1960s. A great deal has been said about construction work in the UK. The money that was sent home by people working in that industry helped to keep food on Irish tables at a time when employment here was confined to 40 hours per week and it was hard for people to make ends meet.

Like the previous speaker, I wish to pay tribute to the voluntary organisations. Those involved in voluntary housing organisations, such as the Safe Home programme in Mulranny, County Mayo, are doing tremendous work to help our emigrants on a national basis. A great deal of work has been done in respect of housing. Local authorities can take people off the Safe Home programme's list, but much more could be done in this field. I urge the Minister to examine what can be done through the local authorities to help our emigrants.

It is clear that a single approach has not been put in place to solve the problems of our emigrants. I pay tribute to the emigration task force, which has compiled a first-class report, and to all those who made submissions. I ask the Minister, in his wisdom, to consider all these approaches and suggestions. In the meantime, all Departments should work to make the lives of our emigrants a little easier and fulfil our responsibilities in that regard. I pay tribute to the Minister for what he has done to date, but much more remains to be done.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I welcome this debate because it reminds us that many of us have experience of emigration. It was only when I was thinking about this debate that I remembered that I am the daughter of Irish emigrants. My parents emigrated from Mayo after getting married in the 1960s and I spent the first five years of my life in England. They returned in the 1970s. Then, 20 years later, my sister and my friends emigrated because they could not find jobs here. We must keep reminding ourselves of this phenomenon because it is such a major part of Irish society.

It is important that we cherish Irish people who have emigrated, whether they stay abroad or return. My parents were moderately well off. They were not poor in England. However, they experienced difficulties on returning to the wealthy Ireland of the 1970s. My father said there was a prevalent attitude that they should not be coming back because they were fine where they were. That attitude has persisted in Irish society. It was detectable in the comments of the late Brian Lenihan when he said: "We can't all live on a small island." When I raised the issue of emigrant housing at a county council meeting recently people had the same attitude. One official more or less said that we did not want to bring people back to be added to the waiting lists.

It is difficult even for people who have houses in the United Kingdom or the United States to return here because they must give up their houses, return to Ireland and go on a housing list for years as they cannot afford to buy a house here. I welcome the work done by Deputy Cowley in this regard and I have been doing my utmost to persuade my county council to implement an initiative like his, in the face of fierce resistance. My replacement on the council, who happens to be my father, is raising the same issue. We are the only two councillors in South Dublin County Council who have raised this issue. This is because of my parents' experience. They came from Mayo, and through visits to Ballina I became aware of the work being done by Deputy Cowley.

We need an overall agency. That is one of the recommendations in the report. It is due to the lack of an overall co-ordinated approach by county councils that we need an agency such as this. We cannot build houses for emigrants without money. Without resources, we cannot provide support for emigrants abroad or cherish the work they do in other countries. If the report is left on the shelf by the Government it will prove that the words of its members are empty rhetoric. They are exhibiting exactly the same attitude as that experienced by my mother and father when they wanted to return here in the 1970s.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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This debate was characterised by a profound depth of feeling. There is agreement about the scale of the disaster we allowed to fall upon our society. I do not blame anyone in particular for this, but we failed as a society. The amount of emigration that took place was neither necessary nor inevitable.

Political debate, however, is not the place for a group catharsis of deeply held emotions. It is about making things happen. People have said they would like to see more money. I will make things clear: the Opposition can say we would like to see more money, but Government can provide more money. When more money is not provided it is not because somebody else decided not to allocate it. It is because the Government made a decision not to. A decision was taken that money could be better spent on other things or that more money would not be raised because of issues of taxation. These are not aspirational matters or accidental consequences; they are deliberate policies. It is the difference between government and opposition.

I say this as the grandson of an American citizen. My late grandfather on my mother's side was an American citizen. I suspect that if I ever tell the American Embassy I am probably entitled to American citizenship, a minor reverberation will occur in the relationship between this State and the USA. I would not be its preferred extra citizen.

We are all touched by emigration. We all feel strongly about it. However, it is time we moved beyond feeling and charity. In the Catholic bishops' document on justice, issued many years ago and forgotten by most people, the very valid point is made that charity is what one does after justice has been instituted. It is not a substitute for justice, nor is it a precursor to justice. The 200,000 people living on our nearest island who were let down and abandoned by this country and in many cases, as Senator O'Toole correctly pointed out, exploited by their fellow Irish citizens when they went to work in Britain, require justice, not charity or a feeling of guilt. Justice demands that we look after them. To talk about the responsibility of other countries is a cop-out.

I must repeat the point made by my colleague, Senator O'Meara. In the Minister of State's speech, apart from the gobbledegook of putting together figures from 1984 to 1996 to make a small sum look larger and the amalgamation of figures over a number of years, there was the implication not only that the Government had decided to allocate very little money, but that somebody else had then stopped that money, so that the agency could not be set up. The agency is not being set up because the Government will not allocate the money to make it work.

The agency is the nub of the issue. It is not about a group of well intentioned civil servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs whose capacity and ability I and every other Member of this House know. The real problem of an agency is encapsulated in the Minister of State's speech. This problem requires and demands a multi-agency response across Departments. Civil servants within the Department of Foreign Affairs would not be able to point the finger publicly at other Departments. An agency under the aegis of the Department but separate from it would have both the moral authority and the legal status to do precisely that. When that agency is set up there will be no problem with finding sufficient causes on which to spend the money. The real issue is that the Government decided not to spend the money recommended by the task force and is continuing to refrain from spending it. The issue is not whether we feel good or bad, but a decision made by Government that these people do not count.

Amendment put.

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 27 (Eddie Bohan, Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Francis O'Brien, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Mary O'Rourke, Eamon Scanlon, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)

Against the motion: 17 (Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Mary Henry, Derek McDowell, Joe McHugh, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole, Brendan Ryan, Sheila Terry)

Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators U. Burke and O'Meara.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.