Read Alan Shatter's final words as Minister for Justice: 'Integration is the only way forward for changing society'
IRISH society is changing, and part of that change is the number of non-Irish people who have chosen to live and work here. They have come from a large number of countries.
More than 70pc are citizens of other EU countries. They enjoy the right of free movement to Ireland in the same way our citizens can move to other member states. The free movement of persons is one of the essential cornerstones of the EU.
Non-EU citizens migrate here, mainly to take up employment, to set up in business or to study, all of which need the appropriate permission. People may also seek protection here under the relevant human rights instruments which Ireland, like other countries, is a party to.
Migration in the past 10 or more years has resulted in non-Irish people playing an increasingly important role in our society.
This is to be seen all around us, in our schools, hospitals, shops, on the sports field and so on. I am glad to say the great majority of Irish people have accepted and welcomed the newcomers.
But there is too the dark reality of racism. I unreservedly condemn all such manifestations from the petty up to the more serious criminality reported in today’s Herald. It is worth reminding ourselves too that what may appear from the outside to be a less serious incident will often be very hurtful to the victim and to the victim's family. As someone who has been a target for racist attacks, I know this to be true.
Much has been done to combat racism. We have laws in place which criminalise the expression of threatening, abusive or insulting speech likely to stir up hatred and which prohibit discrimination on grounds such as race.
A lot of good work has been undertaken by organisations around the country, and my department has provided funding for projects to counteract and confront racism. One example is the “Show Racism The Red Card” Creative Competition which serves to spread the anti-racism message in schools.
Another is the Holocaust Education Trust of Ireland whose central purpose is to counteract anti-semitism and ensure the barbaric horrors of the Holocaust are not forgotten. The trust also addresses other forms of racism and intolerance.
When I was appointed Minis
ter for Justice, Equality and Defence I made it a priority to establish a ceremony to properly recognise and to mark, in a formal and meaningful way, the granting of Irish citizenship.
The ceremonies have been universally well-received as they provide a sense of dignity and occasion that underscores the importance to both the State and the applicant of the granting of Irish citizenship. Since March 2011, more than 68,000 persons have been granted citizenship.
This is a very important day of celebration for those individuals and families who have resided here for many years and contributed to our economy and society. The lengthy backlog of applications has now been addressed and over 70pc of all citizenship applications are now being processed within the six-month target.
While much has been done to date to encourage individuals and communities to embrace and celebrate difference, and not to be seduced by racist messaging, including the racism all too frequently evident in online commentary, I believe we need to give a new impetus to our efforts. For this purpose, I have recently launched a review of our approach to immigrant integration. An important aspect of this is how we deal with racism into the future.
Information on this review and how to make a submission is on www.integration.ie
Alan Shatter TD is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence