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President of Ireland

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Remarks at the opening of ‘The Many Faces of Africa’ event

Tralee International Resource Centre, 30th May 2012



A Dhaoine Uaisle,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today to officially open ‘The Many Faces of Africa’ event which has been organised by Tralee International Resource Centre as part of the Africa Day festivities. I’m told that this is not the first time you have organised an event to mark Africa Day and I commend you for all your hard work in making this special day possible.

Africa Day celebrates African diversity and success and highlights the cultural and economic potential that exists on the African continent. It also serves to raise awareness and understanding of development issues in Africa. The particular focus this year I know is on the importance of economic and trade links between Africa and Ireland, the development of which will be mutually beneficial to African countries as they will to us.

Ireland’s official development aid programme, Irish Aid, is a central part of our country’s foreign policy, an expression of our values as a nation and our sense of solidarity with those who face extreme poverty, hunger and underdevelopment.

But, long before Irish Aid, we had a deep engagement with Africa over many years through non-government bodies, lay and religious, who worked to respond to humanitarian crises, reduce poverty and provide education and healthcare to people sorely in need of such assistance. This was motivated by high idealism which found expression in the African continent and in other places, even at a time when our own country was itself underdeveloped (if to a lesser extent) and witnessing emigration – many of our people seeking opportunities in more prosperous societies.

It has likewise been the African experience that underdevelopment resulted in the migration of people from their homelands in the hope of building a better life elsewhere. Political instability and conflicts too have forced many to flee their country and seek refuge wherever they can find it – some of those refugees coming to Ireland and making new homes here.

While mindful of some of the very difficult circumstances that caused our paths to cross, our purpose today is also about having fun and using the opportunity of Africa Day to witness aspects of African culture in the form of music, dance, art to name just a few. Is deis iontach é seo d’Afracaigh agus d’Éireannaigh agus do dhaoine eile chun teacht le chéile agus níos mó a fhoghlaim óna chéile maidir lenár dtraidisiúin agus cultúir dhifriúla agus chun páirt a ghlacadh sa phobal nua idirchultúrtha seo agus é a neartú.

[This is a splendid opportunity for Africans along with Irish and others to come together, to learn more about each other and our different traditions and cultures and to reinforce and participate in this new intercultural community.]

There are now more than 41,000 Africans resident in Ireland (source - 2011 Census) an increase of 18% in the past five years. This accords with what we have found with immigration generally: that Ireland has become a very diverse society over a relatively short period of time and, significantly, this process is continuing. This is borne out by the fact that in the space of just five years in Ireland we witnessed an increase from 10% to 12% in people who stated that their nationality was other than Irish.

Such changes are exciting. So much of everyday living in Ireland has changed for the better as we welcome new cultural influences – in food, in dress, in music, in dance, in art, in sport, in literature. We are have truly become a multicultural society and as we look to the future we hope that the society we continue to build is good for everyone, a cohesive society based on solidarity between all its members.

In my inauguration speech, I said that my Presidency would seek to achieve an inclusive citizenship which values each individual with their attributes and talents and facilitates them as far as possible in achieving their potential as human beings.

An inclusive society that encourages the full participation of everyone in Irish society in all its aspects – employment, education, political activities, community life, sporting bodies - and welcomes and celebrates the fact that people from different cultures will bring to the table their own distinct backgrounds and perspectives.

I believe that the Irish who have emigrated epitomized this in that they and their descendents so often retain a very strong Irish identity while at the same time participating fully and enthusiastically in the life of their new country. Just a few weeks ago for example on my trip to New York and Boston, I met with people of Irish extraction, many 3rd and 4th generation but characteristically with a great pride in their Irish culture and identity.

In looking to how Ireland has responded to the major social and demographic change that recent immigration represents, I am encouraged by the scale of the responses within local communities in mobilizing to welcome and support newcomers. Is cúis mhór áthais dom mar Uachtarán na mílte saoránaigh bríomhara a thugann lámh cúnta do dhaoine nua inár measc a fheiceáil anseo. Cuireann na daoine seo tograí i bhfeidhm a chuirfidh go mór le pobail dhifriúla a bheidh níos láidre agus níos cuimsithí sa todhchaí.

[It is heartening to me as President, to see so many very public spirited citizens who see the need to reach out to new members of our society and to put in place measures that will promote stronger, more cohesive and, yet, more diverse communities for the future.]

This is evident not solely in our bigger cities but also in towns such as Tralee. In the case of Tralee International Resource Centre, personal support is provided to immigrants as is information on topics like the asylum process, working in Ireland, relevant services, as well as training in the English language and in IT skills. I notice that the Centre’s website contains advice on mental health issues, such as stress, which often affect immigrants and asylum seekers as they come to terms with their new and uncertain situations.

I salute the interagency steering group that runs this Centre with involvement of bodies such as HSE, Tralee Women's Resource Centre, Kerry Rape Crisis Centre, Community Gardaí, Kerry Volunteer Centre, the Integration Centre and North East Kerry Development. This brings together a very broad range of expertise and talent in pursuit of the Centre’s objectives and these creative partnerships are at the heart of transforming our institutions and communities so that the focus is on integrated approaches and responses to those who need support and services.

We need to be conscious that, within immigrant communities, some will experience greater difficulties in adapting to their new life in Ireland than will others. The Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy, which were adopted by the European Union in 2005, describe integration as a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States. That is, it has to involve the participation of the host society and the immigrant if it is to be successful. So, in this spirit, I would encourage you all to engage actively with life here in Tralee and in Kerry. In this way, new relationships are established and a sense of a common identity is forged in the pursuit of shared goals.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Mary Carroll, Co-ordinator of Tralee International Resource Centre, for inviting me to attend today’s event. My compliments too to all her collaborators in the work that has to be done to bring this impressive and worthwhile event to fruition.

It remains for me, then, to declare the ‘Many Faces of Africa’ event open. Bainigí taitneamh as an bhféile.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.