Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Well-being of Irish Citizens Abroad.

Jim Higgins


19 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Labour if he will consider the introduction of an establishment payment in order to enable those compelled to emigrate to establish themselves in their new country of residence; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I should point out that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has overall responsibility for the well-being of Irish citizens abroad. My brief is limited to welfare consideration relating to Irish workers in Britain. Although I am in sympathy with the Deputy's general aim of attempting to smooth the passage of involuntary emigrants. I do not consider this suggestion to be feasible for several reasons.

Government policy is aimed at bringing involuntary emigration to an end through increasing the level of employment available at home. For those who have the skills, qualifications and financial and other resources which will give a reasonable chance of success should they emigrate, the Government, through FÁS, have introduced a comprehensive pre-departure information service. Ireland is obliged, under EC law, to facilitate those who wish to exercise their right to seek employment elsewhere in the European Community.

My particular concern is for the young, the unqualified, the unskilled and the disadvantaged who are at serious risk should they emigrate. If such persons approach FÁS for information or advice every effort will be made to dissuade them from emigrating. As well, FÁS have a film, used as part of a module in training programmes for the educationally less qualified, highlighting the dangers of emigration. Attractive Youthreach programmes have been introduced by FÁS and the Department of Education to encourage potantial drop-outs to stay on in school and acquire qualifications.

There is a real risk that a grant scheme for emigrants would encourage those most at risk to take the decision to emigrate. I know that no one in the House would wish to see anything being done which could unintentionally result in further human misery. There is also the question of how it would be decided as to whether any particular person had been "compelled" to emigrate. While some emigrants have been unemployed before leaving, many have given up jobs to do so. A person in a job which they regarded as unsuitable might consider that they had been obliged to emigrate.

Does the Minister realise that that long-winded Civil Service jargon is of little benefit to the thousands of young people who in the countdown to Christmas are homeless in London, Birmingham and Manchester? Has the Minister read this particular supplement to The Sunday Press in which there is an article entitled “The Streets of London?” This shows——

I must dissuade the Deputy from displaying an article of any kind.

——that hundreds of young people are living a "cardboard" existence in the Embankment in London. Does the Minister not acknowledge that the emigration of 30,000 people from this country last year has saved the Government £45 each on unemployment assistance, amounting to £7 million per annum? The least we might do is give these people a primary grant equal to ten weeks dole or £450, to enable them to set themselves up in accommodation.

We spoke about this matter before. It was raised by a number of people some years ago and it was considered at that time by the Department of Social Welfare that it would be neither advisable nor an easy thing to do. If that money was paid it would be in lieu of social welfare payments. I know there is a number of people in the House who are concerned about this matter, but I have been through "cardboard city" a number of times and it is quite difficult to find an Irish person there.

We were over there.

I know Deputy Deenihan was being honest, but it is not that easy to find an Irish person there. We spent an hour and a quarter going through that area one night.

What about Seamus Maguire's bus?

The policy of the British Government at present to provide an extra £47 million towards housing giving priority in particular to people in "cardboard city", has been a great help. That is not to say there are no difficulties but it is far better that we do our utmost to identify the people who are at risk here. It is these people who are also at risk when they go abroad. Not many people who are faring well here end up in "cardboard city" when they go abroad, and all the people in the emigrant services will tell you that. These people continually ask us to try to identify people at risk, to keep them in the education system and to assist them as best we can. For the people who do go abroad there are welfare sevices to assist them, and I acknowledge the great work of these services. We should not exaggerate that there are thousands of people involved.

In view of the reply the Minister has given to Deputy Higgins as regards giving emigrants a start in England, I would ask him to request the Government to ensure that the "goodbye" money paid to emigrants in travel tax on leaving this country should be returned to emigrant services. I think this is a very plausible request.

I will investigate that. It should be said also that the welfare services in many instances act with discretion in assisting people who are going abroad. I know the welfare officers have a discretionary role in this regard and that they are quite helpful to people emigrating.

I acknowledge that the Minister has done a considerable amount and that he has doubled the DÍON fund. However, does he acknowledge that he has received very strong representations from the Irish Episcopal Conference on Emigration and that they instanced, as the number one priority, the difficulties faced by young people who go to England in the teeth of a recession without any money in their pockets? They start and end up on the streets and, too often end up in the canals. This point has been made to the Minister, in very forceful terms, by the Bishops' Conference.

That is why we give most of our money to the chaplaincy services but I agree with the Deputy that we must work harder in this regard. The best solution is to try to identify these people while they are here before they go abroad and run into further difficulties. Some of these people are often on the run from the security forces, they are a small group of people easily identifiable. I give a commitment to the House that we will redouble our efforts to assist these people.