Emigration needs to stay as a public policy priority – Fr Alan Hilliard

30 Nov 2004





Emigrant Advice Network (Éan) hosts an international conference today
in Dublin for those involved in supporting Irish emigrants.

Opening the Conference, Fr Alan Hilliard, who is Éan Chairman and Director
of the Catholic Bishops’ Emigrant Agency, commented, “Ireland’s changed
economic circumstances in recent times has allowed us to enjoy extraordinary
levels of wealth creation and this in turn has thankfully reduced our
rates of involuntary emigration.

“However, the development of pre-departure information and advice and the
hazards of unprepared emigration need to be constantly highlighted. The
resourcing of centres, organisations and initiatives that support the
Irish abroad ought not just to continue, but to increase. For those
returning there are hopeful signs in the work done by the ‘Safe-Home
Programme’ and a number of holiday schemes, but we are only scratching
at the surface of the need of those who wish to return.”

In paying tribute to those who work with the Diaspora Fr Hilliard said,
“there are many voluntary groups who have struggled over the last number
of years. While they have received minimal funding, they have done their
best to provide a valuable service. Even more incredibly, we also have
a number of groups whose members are comprised of dedicated volunteers,
yet they receive no funding at all for their extraordinary work.”

Fr Hilliard continued, “we in Ireland – while in the past having no formal
structure under which we could apply for funding – now look forward to
working closely with the new Unit for the Irish Abroad in order to develop
a healthy and insightful structure which should allow us to walk with
confidence into the future. We have been crawling for too long.”

Fr Hilliard paid tribute to the Department of Social and Family Affairs,
“for their assistance to date as we worked together in providing information
regarding rights and entitlements to our emigrant community. The Task
Force Recommendations remind us that the Irish Abroad are in need of
much more than information. That is why we are so happy to see the
establishment of this new Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

Fr. Hilliard went on to say that those attending the Conference suffer
from the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ and do not have occasion to network. It
is hoped that the networking opportunities at this conference will
provide concrete outcomes for all involved with our emigrants.

One of the speakers Mr James O’Malley, an Immigration Attorney based
in New York, spoke on the issue of US visa law in the post September
11th scenario. The ‘zero tolerance’ attitude adopted by the US Immigration
authorities is having a decidedly harsh affect on many people living
in the US or people coming into the US for the first time. This is in
stark contrast to the pre-September 11th 2001 atmosphere when immigration
officials had broad latitude to exercise discretion on a case-by-case
basis. This problem is spilling into other areas of administrative
officialdom such as driving licences, school admission, employment
and social security eligibility, domestic travel within the US and
many other issues.”

Sheila Gleeson of the Boston Irish Immigration Centre and secretary
to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres in the US reinforced much
of what was said in her workshop entitled ‘Myths v Facts of Immigration
to the US in 2004’.

Sheila stated “all immigrants, regardless of their country of origin,
have felt some of the negative affects of the anti-immigrant sentiment
before and since 9/11.” Ms Gleeson continued, “Instances of this would
be the broadening of the definition of aggravated felonies for immigration.”
She also pointed out that “there has been a lack of action on any positive
legislative agenda.” In the present political climate Ms Gleeson noted
that it is “unlikely that any full scale legalization programme or amnesty
will be introduced.”

For those intending to travel to the US her advice is “check the situation
in the State where you are planning to go.”

Mr Ultan Cowley, author of the best selling book The Men who Built Britain
gave a multi media presentation on the hidden history of the Irish in
Britain. “Their monuments endure … canals, railways, roads, dams … but
the men themselves have been forgotten.” He continued, “the craic was
good in Cricklewood – but at what price?”

Professor Mary Tilki, Chair of The Federation of Irish Societies presented
her paper entitled, Looking Back to the Future: Learning lessons from the
Experience of the Irish in Britain. Ms Tilki said that “we need to challenge
the idea of migration as a neutral experience and explore how problems can
be minimised and benefits maximised. We all too often fail to learn from
our mistakes and we don’t always recognise the pain of emigration for the
emigrant or the community that they leave.”

One of the Workshops focused on returning emigrants. Ms Mairin Higgins,
the Programme Director for Safe Home Programme emphasised that, “Coming
home is not for everyone. We have settled close to four hundred people.
There are two important questions for those intending to return to Ireland.
Firstly, will they be entitled to a medical card and secondly, how much
will they have to live on?”

Ms Higgins emphasised, “It is one thing to know this information it is
another thing for returnees to understand these details for themselves
so the right decision can be made.”

Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)
Fr Alan Hilliard Chairperson Emigrant Advice Network (087 7477110)


1. Please see www.emigrantnetwork.ie for the full conference timetable.
2. ÉAN’s Origins
Éan was launched by the then President Mary Robinson in 1996 following
a FÁS-financed conference on migration from which a recommendation was
made that collaboration/networking between agencies in Ireland and abroad
needed both improvement and consistency. Thus evolved EAN, the Emigrant
Advice Network Ltd. The e fada was added to evoke the image of the mobile

This is the first time members of various Irish emigrant agencies across
the world are attending a conference in Ireland on issues of relevance
to the Irish Diaspora.

Éan is an independent emigration network. It comprises statutory and
voluntary agencies as well as individuals and academics interested in
emigration from Ireland and return migration to Ireland. The only
criterion for joining is an interest in this topic. Éan is similar
in structure to the Federation of Irish Societies in the UK and the
Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres in the U.S. It was the singled
out by the Government Task Force on Emigration by name as worthy of

3. THE CONFERENCE takes place in All Hallows College, Dublin from 2p.m.
Tuesday the 30th of November until 5.pm Wednesday the 1ST of November.
Delegates are attending from as far away as Australia, United States,
U.K., Europe. Many agencies and individuals who provide services in
Ireland for emigrants will be in attendance.

The Conference host a number of workshops where representatives of the
different agencies will give inputs highlighting the work presently
being done and objectives being set for the future. There will also
be an opportunity for the delegates to hear details regarding the
Habitual Residence policy that has been put in place by the Department
of Social and Family Affairs. Mr. Sean Farrell, the Director of the
Unit for the Irish Abroad, will also address the gathering.

ÉAN was delighted to see that its recommendations were included in the
final recommendations of the report. In chapter 3, Pre-departure Services,
under Communication and Coordination (3.20) the Task Force considers:
“that there should be effective coordination among statutory and voluntary
agencies in Ireland to ensure the comprehensive development of accurate,
accessible and relevant information for potential emigrants. The voluntary
agencies involved in providing pre-emigration services in Ireland have
sought to achieve this by establishing Éan, an independent national
network of statutory and voluntary agencies as well as individuals and
academics with an interest in this work, to provide a comprehensive
and professional migration information and advice service in Ireland.
However, Éan has no permanent staff or other resources with which to
provide effective coordination or support to its members. The Task
Force recommends that financial support be given to Éan to enable it
to enhance the overall impact of pre-emigration services in Ireland.”

The Task Force also recommended that the Standardised Information
System (SIS) be developed further to improve the design of new
information materials.

The report of the pilot project, funded by the Department of Social
and Family Affairs, in which six agencies participated over a six
month period in late 2002 aimed to profile those seeking information;
identify gaps in the service; assess effectiveness of the service and
eventually be used for analysing and researching migration trends.
There were a total of 1,287 queries recorded by the 6 agencies.
They were broken down as follows:
Emigrant Advice

Mayo Centre for the Unemployed

Community & Youth Information Centre

Galway Youth Information Centre

Newry Youth Information Centre

The main findings included the following:
85% had completed their education to at least Leaving Certificate level;
Two thirds were skilled or professional;
Only 17% were unemployed;
Two thirds cited employment as their current source of income;
Only one client was recorded as a traveller
The most popular destination was the USA (333) with only 56 queries
received for Britain;
Over one quarter had no supports in the countries to which they
intended travelling.
Analysis of the research raises the question as to whether those
agencies with a remit of working with the vulnerable are reaching
their target group or indeed whether the most vulnerable intending
emigrants are in fact using the services and supports available to

6. Minister Brian Cowen announces setting up of the new Unit for
Irish Abroad (15th of July 2004)
‘From September, a new Dedicated Unit will be established in the
Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate the provision of
assistance to our emigrants, and to work intensively with Government
Departments and voluntary agencies to advance the Task Force’s Report.
Our Ambassador in Estonia, Seán Farrell – who has personal and direct
experience of emigration, having himself grown up just outside Manchester
– will be returning to head up the Unit. I am very confident that this
Dedicated Unit will introduce a new dynamic into our collective effort
to advance this important area of national policy.’