Government must now establish “Agency for the Irish Abroad” – Bishop Hegarty

22 Dec 2003





The Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty has called on the Government – as a matter of
priority – to establish an “Agency for the Irish Abroad”. Bishop Hegarty was
responding to the findings of an RTE Prime Time documentary “Ireland’s Forgotten
Generation”, broadcast tonight, which will highlight the poverty and depressing
conditions that many post-war Irish emigrants to London continue to endure to this

Bishop Hegarty, who chairs the Irish Episcopal (Bishops’) Commission for Emigrants
(IECE) said, “Ireland must now give more than just lip service to our emigrants,
they must feel supported. As emigration touches every Irish family, political
will is now needed for results. The effects of post-war emigration are still
with us. Over many years Irish emigrants have demonstrated their commitment to
this country in the form of remittances, (estimated at IR£3.5 billion during the
1950s and 1960s) and this income constituted a substantial part of our macroeconomic
earnings in those leaner days.”

Bishop Hegarty continued, “The reporting of the Task Force on Emigration* in mid-2002
offered hope to both emigrants and those working with Irish communities across the
world. However the implementation of the report’s recommendations has been slow.
For example, the recent budgetary provision of €1 million for emigrant services falls
far short of the €18m advised in the original Task Force recommendations.

“The Irish Chaplaincy in Camden – based in the Irish Centre – which is jointly
operated by the IECE and Westminster Archdiocese, has lobbied for many years on
behalf of the vulnerable and marginalised Irish in London and assists in providing
accommodation, meal services and counselling to our clients. The findings of this
Prime Time programme mirror our own research and experiences of the Irish in London
and points to:

* alarming rates of mental illness;
* the highest mortality rates of all ethnic groups in the UK;
* an above average suicide rate compared to other ethnic minorities; and
* high levels of alcohol abuse.

“In summary, the services provided in London by the various voluntary agencies are
effective but are greatly under resourced. The IECE is now calling on Government

* Establish a Review Group, without delay, to oversee the implemention of the 19
recommendations of the Task Force;
* To establish an Agency for the Irish Abroad – as recommended by the Task Force –
in order to co-ordinate services at home and abroad for our Diaspora. It is of
particular concern to the IECE that the Irish abroad, especially those who are
marginalized and vulnerable, are central to future planning and policy;
* This Agency ought to be the specific responsibility of a Minister of State
with responsibility for the Irish abroad;
* The €8m recommended by the Task Force for Irish emigrant services in England
should now be provided for and expedited to support service providers in Britain.
* IECE supports Deputy Eoin Ryan’s suggestion (The Irish Times 20/12/03) that the
Custom House be used as a museum to honour the achievements of the Irish Diaspora,
when the Department of the Environment is decentralised to Wexford. In these
circumstances the Custom House should also be the home for the new Agency for the
Irish Abroad.



* The Irish Episcopal (Bishops’) Commission for Emigrants is an agency of the
Irish Bishops’ Conference and is based in Maynooth, Co Kildare;
* Bishop Seamus Hegarty is the Catholic Bishop of Derry;
* *Recommendation 7.7 (p61) of the 2002 Report of the Task Force on Policy
Regarding Emigrants, states that an: “Agency for the Irish Abroad be established
under the aegis of the Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate the provision
of services to the Irish Abroad.”
* Article 2 of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, as amended by Referendum held
following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, provides that: “It is the entitlement
and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its
islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement
of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland.
Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with Irish people of
Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.”

For further information please contact:

Director of Communications Martin Long 01 5053010 and 086 1727 678
Director of the IECE Commission for Emigrants
Fr Alan Hilliard 01 5053055 and 087 747 7110