I welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue. Racist incidents can gain momentum quickly, in particular because of the extra oxygen provided by social media. Their effects can be devastating on individuals and can last a lifetime. The majority of Irish society has been remarkably open and welcoming to migrants and, over the past two decades and more, we have welcomed people from across the world.
The ESRI's latest monitoring report on integration, which I published in November 2018, confirms the diversity of Ireland's population. Some 17% of people living here were born outside Ireland and many have been given the opportunity to acquire Irish citizenship. Ireland is one of 13 EU member states that offers citizenship where an applicant has been resident for five years, and one of 16 member states permitting dual citizenship. Approximately 120,000 people have received Irish citizenship since 2011, with the latest cohort participating in moving ceremonies this week in Killarney. This represents more than 2.5% of the total Irish population. Those lucky enough to attend citizenship ceremonies see at first hand the joy migrants feel on becoming Irish citizens.
I reported last week to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD, in Geneva on the actions Ireland has taken since 2011 to promote equality and combat racial discrimination. The Government supports CERD's work to create a world where all can enjoy opportunities, free of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or nationality. The report to CERD set out the range of measures the Government and its predecessor has taken to strengthen the rights infrastructure so that it can challenge racism more effectively. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 introduced the equality and human rights positive duty. Public bodies have a duty under section 42 of the 2014 Act to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect the human rights of service users and staff. Public bodies must set out in their statements of strategy how they intend to fulfil this duty. As such, the legislation provides structural underpinning for action by public bodies on equality, human rights and the combatting of discrimination, including racism.
In parallel, An Garda Síochána has undertaken reforms to strengthen its capacity to respond to the needs of minorities. In October 2019, the Garda Commissioner and I launched the Garda Síochána diversity and integration strategy for 2019 to 2021. The themes of the strategy focus on protecting the community, developing robust data systems, upskilling the police force to understand the needs of diverse communities and respond to crimes perpetrated against them. The strategy includes a working definition of hate crime, in line with international best practice, aimed at enhancing positive engagement with persons from minority groups and diverse backgrounds.
The Garda national diversity and integration unit, GNDIU, is monitoring the reporting and recording of all forms of hate crime on PULSE, the Garda recording system.
I also commend Garda Commissioner Harris on An Garda Síochána's recent decision that, subject to operational, and health and safety obligations, its policy on uniform is being updated to take account of religious and ethnic requirements in order to encourage candidates from minority communities. An Garda Síochána is allowing the wearing of the turban for members of the Sikh community and the hijab for members of the Muslim community.
The Government recognises the need for further action to combat racism. I have established an anti-racism committee which will be chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell of UCC. It has a mandate to review current evidence and practice and make recommendations to Government on how best to strengthen its approach to tackling racism. The committee will be a broad-based partnership of State and non-State actors, including employers and unions, religious, sports, arts and community groups and media organisations. Its purpose is to develop an understanding of the nature and prevalence of racism in Ireland today and to work towards achieving a social consensus on actions required on the part of the member organisations and others. The committee will hold its first meeting in January 2020 and I have asked for it to submit its first report to the Government within three months.
The threat of racism is not experienced by migrants only. Travellers and other ethnic minorities can experience racist incidents in our society and have done so. The Government has worked actively to promote opportunities for Travellers and to recognise their rights. As I reported to CERD last week, the landmark development has been the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority. Those members of Dáil Éireann who were present on the night of 1 March 2017, when the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, made the statement recognising Travellers as an ethnic minority, will agree that it was a truly memorable event, with all political parties united in support of the Taoiseach's statement. Recognition of Traveller ethnicity has been a symbolic step forward in the State's acknowledgement of the uniqueness of Traveller identity and culture and generates mutual understanding and respect between Traveller and non-Traveller communities. Recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority will not remove overnight all of the obstacles that have prevented them from experiencing full equality within Irish society. However, it has created a strong platform of respectful dialogue and pathways towards equality for Travellers. It demonstrates the commitment of Government towards recognising the contribution that Travellers have made to Irish society and culture and removing the barriers that have limited their opportunities.
The Government has worked actively to address structural issues facing minorities. To ensure a whole-of-government approach to delivery, it has adopted a strategic approach to policy on migrants, Travellers and Roma. The migrant integration strategy, which I launched in February 2017 and which runs from 2017 to 2020, provides the framework for action to support migrant integration. It commits public bodies to take action on employment, education, access to public services, political participation and immigration. It requires all public bodies to mainstream integration issues into their work. It includes specific actions to tackle racism, from the review of hate speech legislation to requiring local authorities to remove racist graffiti and to ensure that there is migrant representation on joint policing committees. I chair the strategy committee, which includes representatives of NGOs and public bodies and meets quarterly to monitor implementation of the strategy and to press for delivery of specific actions.
The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, NTRIS, which I launched in June 2017, is also a whole-of-government strategy aimed at improving the lives of the Traveller and Roma communities. The NTRIS has focused in particular on education, recognising the linkage between educational attainment and life opportunities. A two-year pilot project has been established in Galway, Dublin, Wexford and Cork to target attendance, participation and school completion in specific Traveller and Roma communities regionally. An additional €500,000 was provided to my Department in budget 2019 to support this vital initiative, bringing total expenditure on the pilot to €2.2 million. As such it provides an important example of how the strategic approach enables Departments, agencies and NGOs to work together to tackle structural issues. All the Traveller NGOs are represented in the implementation of NTRIS and they are making very important inputs into the work of the strategy.
I strongly believe that one means of combatting racism is the development of community initiatives which bring communities together in support of integration and diversity and, most importantly, allow people to get to know one another. To this end, I launched the communities integration fund in 2017. This fund supports local initiatives by migrant and non-migrant groups to promote integration. Some 124 organisations received funding from this initiative in 2019. Initiatives are being funded which are explicitly intended to challenge racism at grassroots level. I have also sought to strengthen the participation of community groups in welcoming refugees to Ireland. I was inspired by the community sponsorship model developed in Canada, whereby local communities sponsor refugee families to settle in their towns and villages. When I visited similar projects in the UK, I saw at first hand how integration outcomes are improved for refugees when communities and neighbours take part in the resettlement process. Following a successful pilot programme in Meath and Cork, I formally launched Community Sponsorship Ireland on 15 November this year. I invite colleagues in the Oireachtas to acquaint themselves with this programme and to act as leaders in their own communities by helping to bring refugee families from Lebanon into their communities and by using this initiative to help them resettle. Community Sponsorship Ireland is a fantastic programme that is really positive and really works. Not only do the refugee families benefit hugely from it, local communities and sponsors also tell me they get huge personal satisfaction from involvement in this programme.
Combatting racism involves the broader public as well as the Government. As the Irish proverb says, "Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine"; people live in one another's shelter. I believe that strengthening communities to work together to promote integration will build the capacity within our society to recognise the common need for shelter and belonging, and so will challenge racism and protect the rights of minorities.
I also wish to commend the communities and leaders across the country who have set up friendship groups and welcome groups linked to accommodation centres. The most recent of these are in Borrisokane, Ballinamore and Ennis. People who came in from outside and are now living in the communities are experiencing a very positive welcome. Last Friday I met public representatives and civic leaders from Borrisokane. I was really moved by their initiative, their commitment and their welcome for the stranger in their midst. I saw the same in Ballinamore. They had lots of challenges. We met and we listened, and the community has now come together. The same has happened in Ballaghaderreen and Wicklow. Throughout the country, such centres work extremely well when local people get involved. When they get to know migrants, they really embrace and welcome them. We want to see more of that.