Minister John Paul Phelan (centre) with Syed Mustafizur Rahman, Bengali Festival, Leas Cathaoirleach Andrew McGuinness, Brian Killoran and Pippa Woolnough. PICTURE: PAT MOORE
The success of Kilkenny County Council in promoting social integration in local communities brought the Immigration Council of Ireland to the council chamber today (Thursday) to launch it's new national report 'Keeping it Local.'
Minister of State John Paul Phelan, who has responsibility for Local Government and Electoral Reform, was in his home county to officially launch the report - and he called on members of migrant communities to register to vote and to consider standing as a candidate in next year's local elections.
He also said Ireland will have to do more to welcome people moving from their home countries, whether for political or economic reasons.
The event was attended by members of Kilkenny's migrant communities, including Syed Mustafizur Rahman of the Bengali Festival of Kilkenny and Imam Ibrahim Ndure from the Kilkenny Islamic Centre.
Minister Phelan said that while civil servants can only do so much ultimately it is the local communities who are the people with the potential for promoting better integration of cultural groups.
In the almost 20 years since he was first elected, to the County Council, the Minister said there have always been representatives of diverse local communities at events like the St Patrick's Day Parade, and this should be encouraged in the future.
This sentiment was echoed by members of the Immigrant Council of Ireland who said the key to integration is the simple and practical things - meeting and spending time with people from other communities.
Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigration Council of Ireland, explained this report is based on their research with local authorities across Ireland to find out what has worked best in their integration strategies and what didn't work, and combined with this is research of best practice and the experience of the ICI.
He paid tribute to Kilkenny County Council whose strategy, he said, had stood out as stronger than many other local authorities.
Joe O'Brien, Integration Research Officer with the ICI, said this report aims to be useful to local authorities in its recommendations. He said he hopes this report will be a discussion document for future plans. "I hope this report will give food for thought, food for conversation but also food for action.
“Small measures, like introducing an intercultural small grants scheme and facilitating community inclusion open days would go a long way towards embedding an intercultural identity within communities, celebrating diversity. Uniting communities in a common purpose and with a shared vision regarding diversity has the double positive of protecting against segregation and diminishing the risk of racial tensions, while also building a thriving, diverse society,” Mr O'Brien said.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland is an independent organisation and leading voice in securing improved rights and protections which benefit Irish citizens, migrants and their families.
The ICI has called on local authorities to update their integration strategies after their work revealed only three counties have in-date local integration strategy - Carlow, Kildare and Dublin City.
Read more on the report in the Kilkenny People next week.