13 Aug 2022

Closure fears for vital Kilkenny immigrant service

Imminent loss of years of expertise and trust

Closure fears for vital Kilkenny immigrant service

Stephen Murphy, Fr McGrath Centre (Director of Services) with Margaret Birnie, (volunteer tutor) and Theresa Delahunty, (Co-ordinator Immigrant Services). Picture: Harry Reid

A Kilkenny advice centre that has helped hundreds of new arrivals to Ireland is in imminent danger of closing — because all funding sources have run out.

The Immigrant Advice Centre, based in the Fr McGrath Centre in Kilkenny City, has been an essential support to new arrivals, many under government resettlement schemes, for more than 11 years.
Along with the hand of friendship and acceptance, the Advice Centre has helped people with everything from applying for Irish Citizenship to language classes.

At the core of everything they do is a respect for humanity. “People are who they are and we accept them. It doesn’t matter what culture they come from, what level of ability or what level of education they have, we give them the best we can to the best of our ability,” explained Theresa Delahunty, who founded the service 11 years ago.

However, the centre has always been a mostly voluntary organisation with, in recent years, one salaried employee. Funding has been ‘cobbled together’ over the years and now it has run out.
The clinic is making an urgent appeal to the government to fund the service on a permanent basis. Otherwise it may have to close.

Funding for the permanent Support Officer Samuel Morgan runs out at the end of next month. Without him the whole organisation will be affected.

ABOVE: A group of Ukrainian Fáilte Isteach students with tutors, outside the Fr McGrath Centre

Together they identified the challenges for different ethnic groups living in Kilkenny — deficits in English language, culture differences and little understanding of how the Irish system works. They aimed to help immigrants overcome these barriers by providing one-to-one support while also focusing on linguistic, civic, and developmental training.

The support clinic, which provides a one-to-one service in a low key manner, has built trust with the immigrant community. In recent times much of this is thanks to Samuel. Not only did he come to the centre with a BA in Community Studies, was first a volunteer there, and received his training for the specific services the Centre provides ‘on the ground,’ but he comes from a refugee background himself. His understanding of the experiences and emotions of many new arrivals to Kilkenny is invaluable to the support he can provide.

This financial threat to the centre is coming at a time when the expertise and trust built up over many years was never more pertinent. The service has recently stepped up for Ukrainian refugees who are in need of empathetic support and compassion and has linked them to services, provided orientation to the Irish system, and welcomed them to the Failte Isteach language support project.

Eleven years on, while some services for immigrants have improved, there is still little or nothing for those who find themselves outside the mainstream system, have little education, lack digital skills and have challenges adapting to a new culture. Immigrant Services is the only dedicated, hands-on support for such immigrants in Kilkenny and they help the most isolated immigrants.

Government supports are offered to those who arrive under resettlement schemes but this only lasts for 18 months to two years. There are no government supports for people who come here under family reunification schemes.

Immigrants still need supports, and many come to the centre to help regularise their situations if they need help renewing visas or if they have let those visas run out. The centre helps those who have slipped into the ‘black market’ to become productive members of society.
Theresa said she has also seen people who come from traumatic immigrant experience backgrounds and it doesn’t affect them for five or ten years, when they are finally settled. Then they need the centre’s understanding and support.
The centre also helps people find pathways to work and to education.
“The closure of this service would be disastrous for these people,” Theresa said. “They trust us to help them into a new community.”

Funding has always been a challenge and the service has operated on a shoestring budget. The employment of Samuel as a trained Support Officer to deal with complex immigration issues has strengthened the service and has broadened the reach and range of services available. If funding is not found to continue his role his loss will affect the whole service.
Some small grants from various government bodies helped keep the service up and running over the years, including from the Communities Integration Fund and the LCDC. But that has now reached an end.
“It is essential we have a Support Officer, we can’t depend on volunteers for the complex emmigration work Samuel does,” Theresa said.

Samuel has worked for the service for six years, and before that was a volunteer there. He helps people who have ‘fallen out of the system’ for a variety of reasons and a lot of work is required to prepare documents and advocate for these people, in order to become regularised.
Stephen Murphy, Director of Services at the Fr McGrath Centre said: “We have cobbled funding together. Funding from Kilkenny Leader Partnership has been important.”

Throughout the Covid pandemic which impacted heavily on immigrants, the services remained operational throughout the lockdowns to support those who were isolated and cut off from everyday life and did not have an extended family network to support them.
Despite all the good work, it now appears that the funding well has finally run dry and unless new funding is immediately sourced, there will be no option but to close the doors.

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