Conference focuses on families to aid integration

A CONFERENCE hosted by the Kilkenny Integration Forum recently provide a platform for debate on family and civil status in the light of the changing dynamics that now apply in Irish society.

A CONFERENCE hosted by the Kilkenny Integration Forum recently provide a platform for debate on family and civil status in the light of the changing dynamics that now apply in Irish society.

Held in the Ormonde Hotel, it also afforded an opportunity for service providers from statutory and nonstatutory bodies to engage with each other and exchange information, so that a more connected and integrated approach might be taken to provide services in the local community.

The keynote speakers included Carol Baxter from the Equality Authority, Ali Dennehy from the Integration Centre, Patricia Tyrrell from the Samaritans, Kilkenny solicitor John Harte and John McHugh from Carlow College.

Opening the conference, Mayor Seán Ó hArgáin said that one of his priorities as mayor was to work with issues raised in the community by bodies such as the Kilkenny Integration Forum. He said he came into politics in the mid-’80s because of the anti-apartheid movement and is proud of the pivotal role that Ireland played in the international campaign against discrimination especially during the apartheid era in South Africa.

He particularly addressed remarks to transition-year students from St Kieran’s College who were present – highlighting to them that discrimination and racism exists, and he went on to say: “It is the youth who will challenge and change such attitudes.”

He said the diversity in Ireland today had made us better people and was continuously challenging our culture in relation to tolerance and how we treat people who are different. The mayor also raised the issue of poverty.

Conference chairman John McHugh said the concept of family, and the context in which people live in partnership, and in which children are raised, had seen a lot of change in recent years. “This conference is important in that it gives words to the present tense approach, it examines the impact of legislation and policies on real-life experiences of people, and it creates a space for citizens to articulate and share their thoughts,” he said.

The Equality Authority’s Ms Baxter said there was robust equality legislation now in place to combat discrimination. The Equality Authority takes cases on behalf of victims of discrimination; it operates a Public Information Centre and undertake research, and it works with public and private sector organisations. She said the Equality Authority received 532 queries about pregnancy-related discrimination last year.

She said that existing systems and structures needed to change to accommodate diversity in order to enable integration to take place. The Equality Tribunal’s caseload for 2010 confirmed that the vast majority of cases of discrimination in employment were related to race.

Workshops on the day considered such issues as: Does the Irish Constitution adequately recognise the diverse society that now exists in Ireland? And what impact does family/civil status have on mental health?

On the topic of mental health, the outcome flagged the need for a consciousness of mental health in our communities. The issue of mental health, stress and depression touches all of us at some stage but especially marginalised people and in the current climate, families experiencing severe economic challenges.

In his closing address, Integration Forum chairman Kulckani Joseph Mguni said it was recognised that religion, culture, history and faith, as well as prejudices, all impact on family and civil status. He said it was to be hoped the outcomes and recommendations from the conference might challenge some attitudes, provoke further debate and influence policies in the future.