Irish Emigrants: Presentation.

The second item on the agenda is a discussion with officials from the Irish abroad unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs on the current situation as regards Irish emigrants. The officials are welcome. Before we commence, I advise them that whereas Members of the House enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly as regards references of a personal nature. I am sure the officials are well aware of this. We have with us Mr. Ray Bassett, Mr. Jim Carroll, Ms Síle Maguire and Ms Caroline Delahunt. I appreciate their attendance. We send our best wishes to Mr. Seán Farrell who was with the unit. I note that Mr. Bassett has taken over. I understand Mr. Farrell is now consul general in Chicago. We send him our good wishes and thank him for all the work he did with the committee. He was very helpful in the arrangement of visits both to the United States and destinations in Europe, to Britain in particular.

The officials will now update the committee on the current situation with regard to the Irish abroad and brief us on the work of the Irish abroad unit in 2006 and the plans for 2007 in helping Irish people overseas who need assistance. It was established by the Government in 2004 as a dedicated unit to assist Irish emigrants, particularly those who, for whatever reason, had become marginalised in other societies.

We often hear of the success of our Irish emigrants in many parts of the world, and we are rightly proud of those who have been successful. However, we hear less about those who have difficulties of one sort or another and who find it difficult even to survive in their adopted countries. We all welcome the establishment of the unit, as well as the funding provided by the Government to enable the unit to carry out its work. Many of us on this committee are only too aware of the plight of our emigrants, especially in Britain and the US, but also in Australia and other parts of the world. In 2006, the committee visited Irish communities in Britain and the US.

As Ireland becomes a country of immigration rather than emigration, our Irish communities abroad are in danger of becoming more isolated as they are no longer supported by new Irish emigrants. In this light, the Government's decision to provide funding to help Irish communities overseas is even more vital. I call on Mr. Ray Bassett to update the committee on what the Irish abroad unit is doing to help members of Irish communities abroad.

Mr. Ray Bassett

Thank you, Chairman. I will pass on your kind remarks about Mr. Seán Farrell.

We appreciate the opportunity to come here and explain what we have done in 2006 and what we will do in 2007. We value dialogue with Members because we act in the name of the Oireachtas, which provides us the with the power and the finance to operate. This committee has taken an active interest in the areas of responsibility of the unit. Members have particularly been interested in the undocumented Irish in the US, as well as the welfare of the Irish community in Britain. In visits to the US and Britain, their engagement has been welcomed by the Irish communities in those countries.

I wish to concentrate on the undocumented Irish in the US and on what we are doing in Britain. The Government places the highest priority on the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US. We are strongly committed to securing the passage of legislation which would enable them to regularise their position and provide a path to permanent residency in the US. Along with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has led an intensive lobbying campaign on behalf of the undocumented community. He has ensured that the issue is raised in all contacts with the US Administration and the US Congress. Even when we meet state officials, we raise the issue of the undocumented. It is the priority issue for the Department of Foreign Affairs in the US. That commitment will be reinforced during the forthcoming St. Patrick's Day celebrations. In between visits, the ambassador, the officials of the embassy and the consulates continue to be very active on the issue.

We are conscious that this is not a partisan issue. We have enjoyed complete cross-party support in the Oireachtas. Both Houses passed a resolution supporting the Kennedy-McCain approach last year, which was very helpful. We know we are acting in the national interest and that there are no major differences between the parties here on the issue.

I have spoken to many committee members in the past year, both individually and at the committee. They will remember the highs and lows of the year. The highest point was in May, when the Senate passed a Bill, known colloquially as the Hagel-Martinez Bill, which included key elements of the Kennedy-McCain approach. It was not perfect, but it looked after our essential interests. It divided the undocumented into three groups as follows: those who had been there for more than five years; those who had been there for between two and five years; and those who had been there less than two years. A different approach was taken for each group. The Bill was welcomed by the Irish community and by ILIR, as it provided a path to permanent residency for the vast majority of the undocumented Irish in the US. However, the situation in the House of Representatives was not as conducive to passing this Bill as we would have liked.

The Sensenbrenner-King Bill, which was essentially about enforcement, had gone through. At this stage, we hoped there would be a conference between the Senate and the House of Representatives in which to bring the two Bills together and reach a compromise solution. The House decided, however, that it would not engage in such a strategy but would instead take public soundings on approaches to immigration. This essentially killed the Bill and no further progress was made before the end of that congressional term.

Following the mid-term elections, the complexion of both the Senate and the House of Representatives changed. From the State's perspective, we are always keen to ensure we do not appear to be partisan in our discussions with the United States on such matters. This does not prevent us, however, from articulating our concerns and promoting the interests of our citizens. The changes that have occurred make the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform more likely. The Senate was always amenable to major immigration reform and the House of Representatives less so. The Democrats now have a slender majority in the Senate and a far more comfortable one in the House of Representatives.

The other key developments is the change in the chairmanships of committees. Senator Patrick Leahy, the new chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, through which new legislation is initiated, is a strong friend of Ireland. Senator Edward Kennedy continues as a high-ranking Democrat member of the committee. We are cautiously optimistic about the change of atmosphere in the House of Representatives. We are aware, however, that the hopes of undocumented Irish people in the United States have been raised in the past only to be dashed. This year, we will be cautiously optimistic in our attitude to the prospect of change.

The Presidency is the third House of Congress, and President Bush is very much in favour of comprehensive legislation on immigration reform. It seems, therefore, that the Houses are lined up and that there is potential for immigration reform. There is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip, however, and events may change. Nevertheless, the situation is better than it was before the election.

In an important signal of intent, the new Senate majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, introduced a sense of Congress resolution on 4 January, which called for immigration reform. Such resolutions do not have a legislative effect. The new Senate minority leader, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, supported this resolution and identified immigration as an important domestic issue that remained outstanding from the previous Congress. Within the Senate, the coalition that passed the Hagel-Martinez Bill is essentially intact, if not slightly strengthened, and the composition of the House of Representatives is more amenable to reform. From this perspective, this year looks far more promising than last.

Staff in the various offices, including those of Senators Kennedy, Leahy and McCain, are working together to prepare a draft Bill, which they hope to introduce at the end of February or beginning of March. Members are aware, however, of the tendency for slippage in any legislative process. It is likely the Bill will be considered by the full Senate in late spring or early summer. If passed, it will then go to the House of Representatives. The United States system, where legislation is initiated in the House, means there will always be a variety of Bills. There is a possibility, therefore, that the House Bill may be slightly different from the Senate Bill and that a reconciliation conference will be required. If the Senate Bill goes through by early summer, it will most likely be in September or October that the legislation is passed. I am constantly reminded to be cautious in this regard, however, and I reiterate that caution for the benefit of members.

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform plans a series of public meetings in the United States in coming months. The purpose of these meetings is to keep the undocumented informed of developments in Washington. The lobby will work to keep in touch with its support base, maximise Irish community support for its campaign and reach out to members of Congress in various districts. The next day of action is 7 March. We maintain close contact with people in Washington, including Senators Kennedy, McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton. They believe that the Irish presence, as part of the campaign for major immigration reform, has been beneficial. It has probably been most beneficial in respect of us, but they have also brought in people like Poles to show that this is not a single country issue.

The Government has very warm relations with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, ILIR. When it was set up, the unit helped the fund get off the ground. Since then, like the children of Lir, it has taken off. Initially, we donated almost the entire amount of funding, but now we would not even pay for one quarter of its budget. Corporate donations are coming in and I am glad to see that even people from Irish industry have given some support to ILIR. The people running ILIR, including Niall O'Dowd, Grant Lally and Ciaran Staunton, have done a very good job in mobilising the community and keeping it together. We have avoided that perennial Irish difficulty of the split so we have all stayed together.

Overall, the next year in the US for illegal immigrants offers hope and opportunity. The President and the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives are now behind the legislation long advocated by the supporters of comprehensive reform. Seeing the passage of the legislation will not be as easy as that. Significant challenges will remain, but the Government is cautiously optimistic.

I will turn to the second major item, which is Great Britain. Clearly, the unit has considerable interest in the welfare of Irish people in Great Britain. People will remember the RTE programme on Arlington House Hostel and the conditions in which people were living. The programme provoked quite a reaction in Ireland. I know members have travelled to Irish centres in Great Britain and are very aware of conditions there. We have made an enormous contribution to Great Britain and as the Chairman said, most of the publicity about people who have emigrated always focuses on the success stories. However, many people have not been successful and as a rich western European economy which benefited during our troubled times from remittances, there is a moral onus on us to help our less fortunate people abroad when we can now do so.

In recognition of that, the Government has massively increased finances. We started the programme in 1984 and since then, €40 million has been spent in Great Britain, 80% of which has been spent since 2000. Last year, €10 million was given to community organisations in Great Britain. It is having a tangible and positive effect. Sometimes it is hard to measure the alleviation of poverty, but there are one or two things I should probably mention.

The Simon Community, which carries out surveys on homeless people, estimates that the number of homeless Irish people in the central London boroughs has fallen by a factor of six. In 1999, it found that 600 Irish people were homeless, while in 2006, it found that the number was 100. The Simon Community has not been slow in ascribing this to the Government. We put a question to the Irish embassy yesterday. There are approximately 200 workers in Great Britain dealing with social matters who are funded either directly or partly by the Government so a massive effort has been made. A total of 140 Irish community organisations from Glasgow to Portsmouth are now in receipt of Government support.

Support has extended beyond the traditional Irish communities in Manchester and Birmingham. We have spread out much more and have concentrated very heavily on supporting older Irish members of the community. We all have relations and know of people who went over in the 1950s and 1960s and worked on the lump, did not integrate very well into UK society and formed defensive communities of their own people where they did not interact very well with the British state. I would not say these communities were ghettos. These people are now coming to the age when they need state services. With Irish organisations, we have helped bring them into the welfare state. We do not try to recreate the welfare state because Great Britain already has one. We help Irish migrants to access the available entitlements. The number of people who have not managed to do so is surprising.

As funding has increased, we have broadened our activities and are looking at funding and reaching Irish clubs and centres. I do not believe there is an enormous difference between welfare and helping Irish centres and organisations on the capital structural side because these places provide venues for Irish people and fight social exclusion. When I lived in Australia, I remember how the Irish club in Canberra organised games of 25, which seems a very simple thing to do, but people who had worked in the Snowy Mountains schemes came to the club and it revitalised them and brought them back into communities. Since 2004, the Irish Democratic League of Great Britain clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire have been financially supported. The membership of those clubs, the first of which was established by Michael Davitt during the Irish Land League's struggle in the 1880s, comprises mainly older Irish people who have settled in the north of England and second generation Irish. We want to keep people of Irish background involved and identified with Ireland.

The Minister has extended grants to a number of capital projects. In this way, the Government has supported community groups in their efforts to secure and maintain properties that will serve their communities well into the future. In 2006, 13 Irish community organisations received capital funding of €1.27 million, which they have used to leverage more money from local authorities and, in one or two cases, to access European funding. Good examples include the Luton Irish Forum, the Emerald Centre, Leicester, and the Cricklewood Homeless Concern, London.

We have established good links with the GAA, which plays a significant role in the Irish diaspora, as it does in Ireland. Recently, we announced that we will help to support three youth coaches in north America. We regard the GAA as playing a role in bringing the community together. It helps social inclusion rather than being just about sport; we term it "sport plus social inclusion". It helps to bring together the children of Irish people in places like Boston.

I will briefly outline what we are doing elsewhere. Since 1990, funding allocated to Irish centres in the United States has provided information and support services across a range of issues. The problems we face in the United States are not of the same magnitude as those we face in Britain. If one were to visit Yonkers and Woodside, one would often find old Irish people living in traditionally Irish areas, but everyone else has moved out. A small scattering of Irish people live in apartment blocks that have since become Hispanic. Those people are becoming isolated. We have worked with the centres to employ outreach workers to visit people and keep them in contact with their communities.

In Australia, we work with three groups in Melbourne, Sydney and Woolongong. We have also extended our funding to Canada. I met people in Toronto who were members of a seniors' club, as it is called there. They complained about how they would have received money if they had been on the other side of the lake in Buffalo. A man named Pat Rooney, who has brought together 200 Irish pensioners in a club, asked why they could not get money in Canada, which was a reasonable question.

We have started our first programme in Argentina, the Irish population of which moved there a long time ago. There has been no recent migration, but there is an active Irish community. We have three projects in Argentina. We have helped to get new equipment for the local Irish newspaper, theSouthern Cross, the main organ keeping the scattered community together. We have also paid for someone to work full-time with the Irish clubs and provided €15,000 for the renovation of a number of clubs, which went a long way in Argentina last year.

We have a small programme in southern Africa that relates somewhat to missionary issues. We have given €40,000 to Irish organisations in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In Mashonaland, where missionaries in isolated areas sometimes find travelling dangerous, we have paid for a bus to bring them to the Bulawayo Irish Society. We have done the same in South Africa. We also support groups based in Ireland. We have spent approximately €320,000 on a programme to advise emigrants and to help returnees.

In terms of outreach, we have covered the majority of traditional Irish areas. An application for assistance has been received from Irish pensioners in New Zealand, to which we will take a sympathetic view, but I cannot foresee the unit starting programmes in other areas. In the Estimates, we have been given €15.1 million, an increase of €3 million, for next year. We intend to maintain our strong welfare bias in that our number one issue is the relief of distress. With increasing resources, we would like to assist, for example, Irish clubs in Britain, many of which are approaching the end of their useful lives because they were built in the 1950s and must make a transition to a newer type of community. We would be interested in assisting them in that regard.

I thank Mr. Bassett for the introduction. We welcome the work undertaken on the undocumented Irish in the United States. We worked on the matter for some time last year and will be following progress this year. We will contact ILIR, of which Mr. Bassett reminded me when he referred to the children of Lir, and promote its work. It is important that a reasonable approach is adopted. We came close to that last year but time ran out. Committee members are interested in the new legislation that is proposed, which we welcome.

Mr. Bassett refers to the number of people in need of help with serious problems in Britain. We visited them, as the delegation is aware. We must also retain cultural links with other groups of people and we can do more now that additional money has been provided. With just a little help one can give great encouragement to the Irish working in African programme countries. We met Irish groups in Uganda and Zambia, who need much help with the work they are doing. The delegation might keep such groups in mind when developing policy. The missionaries and volunteers are other examples of the Irish abroad and have been very helpful to Ireland.

I compliment the officials from the Department for the enlightening report and the work they do in conjunction with the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which the Chairman will recall from his time as a Minister. I welcome the prospect of general immigration reform in respect of the undocumented Irish in the United States. I am concerned that it will take a long time. Hopes have risen and plunged on countless occasions in the past. The intricacies of politics, particularly domestic American politics, may lead us down a cul-de-sac. We must identify a goal in this matter. The undocumented people are in danger of losing heart, becoming dispersed throughout the country, losing their identity and becoming victims to various predators. Once immigration policy is linked to Mexico it increases the likelihood of resolution.

I have been listening to the same story for a long time. One can compare the case of Irish emigrants to British emigrants. As long as the Irish are linked to the general immigration policy and treated in the same manner as Mexico, a country that presents a major problem that must be resolved, we will not see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The other issue referred to by Mr. Bassett is important, namely, keeping in touch with emigrant families who have been away for many years and over many generations. I do not know to what extent it is possible to make contact with the undocumented Irish. It is a contradiction in terms that we know about them if they are undocumented. However, ways and means exist of contacting them. It is of critical importance we maintain that contact with those cut adrift from the society in which they live and are afraid or unable to come home. Since the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 it has become far more difficult for all emigrants to travel into and out of the country. I know work is already being done, but I ask for an extra-special effort to ensure contact is maintained.

When I visited Irish clubs in Boston and New York I was struck by how appreciative they were of a visit other than on St. Patrick's Day. I suspect it is because everyone visits them on St. Patrick's Day and they are a focal point. While they appreciate that, they are far more appreciative of visits they receive at other times of the year because they feel one inquires after their welfare and is willing to take more time as opposed to merely celebrating.

Other groups may not be in as dire a situation as those in the UK but they require attention and support on a regular basis. As can be stated about all emigrants, we do not have an excuse for not recognising them now. Going back over the centuries, and 25, 30 or 40 years ago we did have an excuse, but we do not have one anymore. We have a moral obligation to empathise and identify with them and recognise their position and plight whatever it may be. It is of major importance and benefit to this country that we maintain contact with them, identify those who drop out of the system or are in danger of doing so and give them the social, financial and moral support they need.

The UK is much closer to home and has a greater number of Irish emigrants than other places. It is in the mind's eye more because of this. Have we established the full extent of the liaison we should have with them? I know a great deal of work is being done. However, one should not rest on one's laurels. One should work to a greater extent and identify personal situations such as those shown on television previously. When we visited we saw first-hand the dire situations of unfortunate people who live in isolation and severe poverty.

Canada was mentioned previously and it is not somewhere much attention was paid to in the past. However, we must do so now. Whether we like it or not, Ireland is a wealthy country and as such we must recognise the places we went to when we were not wealthy. We must remember we were not always and may not always be this way. It is important to establish contact with people who may be in a less favourable position.

I discovered two groups of people exist in Australia. The first group comprises those who went in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, some of whom are not documented. The Irish clubs in Melbourne and such places have a great sense of loneliness and people inquire about "the homeland". They will never return but they always ask about the place. They become melancholy because of the circumstances under which they left. They had to go and now they hear things are great at home. We must take a hands-on approach to looking after the welfare clubs there.

The second group comprises those whose ancestors were Irish. I remember visiting an isolated part of Australia which was populated several generations ago by people who left this country around the time of the Young Irelanders. The people of that place cried when they saw us because we were the first Irish representatives ever to meet them, and one would swear they only left Ireland a couple of years ago. We need to recognise the importance of establishing strong contacts with the worldwide Irish community and especially those who, due to their isolation, have not yet met anybody representing this country.

I support the Chairman's welcoming remarks to the representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs. I also welcome Mr. Carroll in his new position as head of the Irish abroad unit and acknowledge the outstanding contribution of his predecessor, Mr. Seán Farrell who, with Ms Maguire, effectively kick-started this process in 2004. The work they did, while operating out of a small room containing two chairs and a typewriter, was not always publicly acknowledged, so I am glad to hear the Department is providing more resources to the unit. For Mr. Bassett's information, I did not learn that from either Mr. Farrell or Ms Maguire. I am happy to see the unit is operating effectively in a variety of areas.

Mr. Bassett noted that the process commenced in 1984, whereas it actually began in 1979 with the establishment of the Committee on Welfare Services Abroad, of which I was a member. In 1984, the then Minister for Labour, Deputy Quinn, changed the dynamic of the committee by establishing what is now known as the DION committee. When the membership of that committee is reviewed later this year, its composition should be investigated. I know its members are carrying out extraordinary work, particularly those based in the UK, such as Mr. Michael Forde in Manchester, but given the significant increase of €15 million in Government funding, a study should be conducted on DION's operations because it has not changed in terms of membership or mandate since its establishment in 1984. Some three quarters of the €15 million in funding is going to the UK, which suggests the need for a wider and more representative membership in the UK to support the development of DION's capacity and expertise.

I have always supported and acknowledged the work of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department with regard to the undocumented Irish. However, the political activity which takes place at lower levels is not always acknowledged. I appreciate the power of the Government and the way its tentacles influence all areas of the media, but regular exchanges are also being made with politicians across the Irish Sea and in the United States. I was in the UK on Monday and Tuesday as a member of Committee D of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. As the co-chair of that committee, Deputy Carey, could attest, the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body has played an active role in trying to raise awareness of the Irish in Britain, particularly among our colleagues in Westminster. It is a tribute to the efforts of Deputy Carey and others that the head of Committee D, Lord Alf Dubs, is driving an agenda which includes the preparation of a report on the needs of Irish emigrants to the UK.

I found it a salutary experience on Monday to sit with officials from Manchester City Council and three Members of the Westminster Parliament who were fighting on behalf of Irish emigrants. Interestingly, one of the officials on the other side was once an employee of Wexford County Council; that person is now a key figure in Manchester City Council and a trustee of the Irish World Heritage Centre. I am sure the officials know to whom I am referring.

Legal documents between Manchester City Council and the Irish World Heritage Centre trustees, led by Michael Ford, will be signed tomorrow. Mr. Ford is an outstanding Irishman — if we had awards in this country he would get a load of them for the work he is doing in the Manchester area. As a result of the signing, work will now proceed on the construction on an £8 million heritage facility encompassing an arts centre, a social centre, playing fields, a hotel and a museum outlining the story of the Irish diaspora. This is being directly supported by Manchester City Council and the Irish Government has donated some €1.2 million to the fund. In light of its immediacy, I thought it important to mention it.

As regards undocumented Irish in America, apropos of my remarks earlier about Irish politicians, it should be acknowledged that politicians of all parties have been proactively involved in this issue since it first arose some years ago. An all-party Oireachtas committee, chaired by Deputy Cregan, has been actively supported by all parties and the Technical Group in the Dáil. They have all been at the last day of action in Washington. Unfortunately, these matters have not been reported by the media and it may give the impression that politicians on the ground are not as involved with this as they should be. That has nothing to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs. As Deputy Durkan said, when Irish politicians travel to the US — they do so frequently and at times other than St. Patrick's Day — the people there are appreciative of it. I cannot add much more to the undocumented Irish issue. Mr. Bassett has outlined the position as it stands and I share his cautious optimism.

Arising from the discussions that I and others have had, I suggest that the Irish abroad unit deal with a number of issues in Britain. These may form part of the submission to the plenary session of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body by Lord Dubs and his committee. It has become apparent that health among the elderly Irish in Britain is an issue. As they grow older and frailer, they rely more on a variety of health services. The new primary care trusts, PCTs, which are part and parcel of the health scene in Britain, do not seem to have any statistics relating to the health problems of the Irish. They do not seem to be aware that there are any mental, psychiatric or physical problems among the Irish. This is partly because they are white, English-speaking and have historically tended to blend into the community.

As Mr. Bassett said, for traditional reasons, an increasing number of the elderly Irish did not engage with state agencies. Mr. Bassett's unit is funding a range of agencies and individuals and these are providing access to these health services and that is to be commended. Perhaps greater emphasis could be put on engaging with the PCTs and the British Department of Health, demonstrating that there are issues affecting Irish immigrants and will continue to affect them as they grow older.

Deputy Durkan and others mentioned clusters of elderly Irish who traditionally lived in certain areas. While Deputy Durkan may have been referring to the US, it is also widespread in Britain in the traditional cities of emigration. A more culturally sensitive approach to the needs of the elderly Irish is now required. Much of this refers to clusters of elderly women who have outlived their men folk, although that is not to say that there are not lonely, elderly Irish men too. Increasingly we hear that in Manchester, Coventry, Birmingham, London, Sheffield and other urban areas where the Irish traditionally gathered there are clusters of elderly Irish who require a variety of state health services but who are somewhat reluctant to engage with officials unless the person is Irish. We have been told that if an elderly Irish woman answers the door to a Bangladeshi, a Pakistani or someone from any of the other ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, or even an English person, she is not as inclined to engage with them regarding her needs. There should be a greater emphasis on supporting the existing services on the ground. The community care service in Leeds, for example, which is run by Ant Hanlon, is doing outstanding work in that regard. That is one of the issues that arose with it.

There is also the question of the confusion surrounding the identity of second and third generation Irish. In recent years, however, there is an increasing emphasis on the cultural dimension in terms of the Government funding, as Mr. Bassett outlined, through the GAA but also through traditional music and Irish dancing. There is an identity issue. The second and third generation are still attempting to work out if they are British or Irish. There is not the same comfort zone that we have here. For example, we have no difficulty in referring to the Irish Americans. Irish American is an accepted expression but we do not have an expression to describe the Manchester Irish or the Luton Irish. Having a different accent can sometimes militate against them returning to this country where they are identified by their own people as being not Irish, yet we have no problem with those with an American accent who describe themselves as Irish American. I am not saying all those problems can be resolved.

I am grateful to the Chairman for allowing me to indulge myself somewhat. I suggest there should be some review of the way we engage with local authorities throughout the United Kingdom. A number of organisations do that on a bilateral basis but there is now a real concern in this regard. For example, Hammersmith Council is now Tory controlled; traditionally, it was Labour controlled. It intends to withdraw its funding from the Hammersmith Irish centre, which provides a wide range of cultural and other activities for the Irish community in west London seven days a week. The council's mandate in the elections is to reduce poll tax but it is getting around race relations laws by saying it does not have the resources, that it has 35 different ethnic groupings in west London, it will not single out the Irish and therefore it is not discriminating against them but I believe it is.

There is a real need for a lobby group to represent the Irish in Britain. I am not just talking about disseminating information. I am talking about a proactive lobby group, made up of the existing organisations that would engage with local authorities where there is a threat to funding, as Mr. Bassett outlined about the additional funding being provided. From what we can gather that real threat exists and a more proactive approach could be taken.

I join with others in welcoming the representatives. I was very impressed by the presentation from Mr. Ray Bassett. I appreciate not only the facts he gave us but also the obvious commitment and enthusiasm with which he presented the material. That was self-evident. I join also with those who paid tribute to Seán Farrell, who was most helpful to us when we visited London and other locations of the Irish in Britain, and to wish Jim Carroll and all the other staff well.

Many good points have been made by my colleagues. The committee is well served by the kind of contributions we have heard, which are so well-informed regarding the Irish emigrant experience.

The Irish abroad unit is understaffed. Occasionally, I have confused the small number of staff — I believe it was three at that particular time — by asking a question that might have been a consular question. There is still no clear distinction between what are consular and welfare functions. All we know about it is that there is a small number of bodies at the end of the telephone line, who are always courteous and, perhaps, answering questions that should have been directed to another section. The committee should note the importance of the unit's work but also the unit's gross under staffing, both in terms of the range of material directed at it and the sheer volume of inquiries.

A couple of points should be made. The committee must accept that any mature view of the development of services for the Irish abroad is probably best structured in a context in which there is an international legal regime that regards the work of all migrants as important. We could speak with more credibility and conviction if we ratified the international convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families.

Hear, hear.

Internationally, there is now a growing body of protection for migrant workers. That includes the convention and the European instruments that exist.

The Department faces an issue, and it is one we dealt with when I and the committee's delegation went to "the Hill", as it is called. When we were lobbying the issue was the context in which we were making our case. There was a choice to be made. One could make what might be called a niche case, that is, to say the Irish were special. However, if one were to deal with this issue it would be necessary to deal with other immigrant groups, the largest number of whom were Mexicans. I am not interested in anything other than a rights based approach.

The issue was simple — people were being used, with their bodies and their labour, to produce within the United States economy. They paid their taxes and reared their children there but they were not accorded rights. In other words, they were welcome to work and pay taxes in the economy but they were deprived of citizenship. We are doing that here in many respects, and we should stop it.

In Gort in the adjoining constituency of Galway East, for example, there is a large, well integrated and welcomed Brazilian community. The people have been there for a long time but their children who wish to continue their education after the leaving certificate must pay non-EU fees to attend third level institutions in Ireland. They are, effectively, being prohibited from getting third level education. It affects them in many other areas as well. I will not dwell on the issue because we will have other opportunities to do so. However, a legal environment that ratifies the international conventions and accepts other protocols that exist to protect migrants, their families and their children is the safest way to proceed. It is also consistent with the Irish position as taken over the years in the larger discussion of this issue at the derived agencies of the United Nations.

My second point is one in which I must confess an interest. My postgraduate research at Manchester University was on migration. It amazed me that, at that time, no third level institution in Ireland offered a course on the sociology of migration. The attempt to establish an archive of the Irish migratory experience, which was established in Cork, was disgracefully ended for lack of funding. The person running it is, I believe, now working in the geography department of University College Cork. It is extraordinary that a country such as Ireland would not have such an archive.

I can give an example of where this arises practically. There is not a single stream of Irish migration but, perhaps, a dozen streams. It is not generally realised that only a few hundred people from the west of Ireland emigrated to the United States before the Famine. They could be identified, to some extent. At that time there was great seasonal migration, which is circular migration. People talked about a once and for all migration to the United States with people saying goodbye forever. However, in reality people flowed between Ireland and Britain during that period, with their rents rising the more they earned, etc. The curious aspect of this is that much of the scholarly work has been done by people in the United States, apart from that done by people like Cormac Ó Gráda and others. We have made no attempt at establishing a proper archive of that experience, but I will not go into all that.

I wish to speak about an issue I know something about, one that should cause us to straighten our backs and adjust our attitudes to migrants coming into Ireland. Between 1955 and 1960 there was no year in which the number of people emigrating from Ireland to Britain was fewer than 45,000. The figure was 56,000 in 1955 alone. Over a period of five years 250,000 Irish people, mostly males from rural backgrounds, worked in Britain. Gross anti-Irish prejudice in Britain, most of which was on a religious basis, probably ended sometime around the 1980s, but prejudice still existed on a social basis at that stage and notes were still put in windows refusing entry to the Irish, blacks and dogs. This should have taught us a lesson about our treatment of immigrants coming into Ireland to work.

I recall also that in many cases the Irish in Britain were exploited by their own. In one case they had the not very edifying example of watching an Irish lump contractor on his way to Old Trafford in his Rolls Royce stopping off at the Tory club while the people who worked for him could not afford to buy an ordinary ticket to go to a soccer match. It is for us to speak plainly about immigration.

I do not wish to go on, but I agree with Senator Mooney that we should approach local authorities on the issue. We should remember the time the centres were nearly closed down and that this was as a direct result of Mrs. Thatcher's decision to abolish the Greater London Council. When the Greater London Council was abolished, the next move was to withdraw funding from the different ethnic groups.

I remember being in London in the 1980s and putting together a "green" and "black" alliance to try and put an end to her proposals. Politics is a part of this issue. It was Tory politics then, and today it is Tory politics that again represents a threat to future funding of the centres. Whether we like it or not, in the future the centres will be multi-ethnic because they are there to provide a service for anybody who needs it. Politics is involved in the refusal to fund them, but the issue for us is that we must increase our credibility with regard to immigration at home so that we can better and more forcefully speak abroad.

I would like to mention some of the interesting issues that arose when we visited the centres. People want to keep in touch with the home community and retain a network. They realise that under the speculative environment here people at home cannot buy a house, not to speak of a returning migrant. Therefore, that is not what they want to do, but they want to visit in the summer. It is a great indictment of bureaucratic thinking that we have not been able to facilitate this.

If we take those who emigrated in 1955 as an example of the 250,000 who migrated, the members of that group are all well into their 70s now. If they come to Ireland, they are too old to get insurance and will not be able to rent a car. How can they then, on their meagre inadequate pensions, get from point A to point B? We could have set up a pilot scheme with regard to travel for the summer for them. The old argument that we would have to do it for the whole of Europe might have been raised, but we could have done it and invented bureaucratic reasons to justify it. We could, for example, have said it would provide an opportunity for reviewing social welfare entitlements and that people had to make one telephone call when they came home. This would have satisfied the necessary conditions under European law. However, the imagination and the will were not there. What our emigrants are asking is that they will be able to come home in the summer to visit. They are also asking, in this day of satellite communications, to be able to listen to RTE programmes, an issue on which we have not made progress.

We should note little things that are happening. With the advance of the welcome technology at home such as mobile and electronic technology, letter writing is decreasing. I suggest this would be a good subject for research. The letters are coming from one direction as contemporary Irish people are writing fewer letters to the Irish abroad. I support the efforts being made on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the United States. It was an effective, well-organised lobby. We are particularly indebted to Senator Ted Kennedy's office. In the end it was Senator Kennedy on the floor who showed the best performance in getting what was nearly a resolution. It is possible to resolve all these issues.

I worry about Australia. We should put some money into researching the sources of the different migrations to Australia. An aunt and uncle of mine are buried in Australia, my uncle in Toowoomba and my aunt in Warwick. Irish people went there to build the railways. I have nephews in Australia but my connection with Australia is not through my nephews. I would like to think it was through my uncle as well. However, there is no place where one can get information on those early established streams of migration to places like Australia.

The committee has had regular correspondence from the Irish community in Argentina. They simply want to be able to come to this country and talk about their history. This is a very good year for doing something in this regard because of the event in honour of Commander Barry. I hope this can be done. I agree with Senator Mooney on the question of cultural, sport and recreational connections. For example, women in Rosmuc ran a project in which they created the story of Connemara and they travelled to the United States. However, they were nearly ready for the coffin by the time they had finished filling in forms. Why should it be so difficult? I have heard reference to the Irish diaspora being pronounced like Aspro or aspirin. If people want to make connections it can be through archives, scholarship, research and adequate connections. It should be made easier for people to build on the connections that are already there.

I will be brief because the previous speakers have covered in great detail aspects of the issue of the Irish abroad.

I congratulate Mr. Ray Bassett, his team, Ms Maguire and Mr. Jim Carroll, for their great work abroad. I emigrated when I was a 16-year old student to work on a building site in London, mainly because I was able to play a bit of hurling and I used to hurl over there in Glebe Farm in Birmingham and New Eltham in London. I remember three books in particular when doing the leaving certificate. One wasDialann Deoraí by Domhnaill MacAmhlaigh. The sufferings of the Irish abroad in many cases were caused by their inability to communicate. This book refers to a man being treated in hospital by a surgeon. Domhnaill MacAmhlaigh was a porter in the same hospital. The surgeon could not persuade this man to talk to him and as a result found it very difficult to diagnose what was wrong with him. Domhnaill explained to him that the man’s reticence was due to the shyness of the lack of education. Irish people had a difficulty in expressing themselves to someone with a different accent. Domhnaill MacAmhlaigh emphasised that people at home also found it difficult to talk to the educated if they were not themselves educated. This is still the case. I remember two other books. In Rotha Mór an tSaoil by Micí MacGabhann as Dún na nGall, the author wrote about emigrating to the Klondike. In Peig, Cáit Jim went to the United States and there is reference to the American wake for those never to return. I met many people who could never return and have never returned to Ireland. I met a fellow from Connemara who was quite annoyed when I tried to speak Irish to him because he said, “Ní mar a cheile mo Ghaeilge agus do Ghaeilge”, meaning, your Irish and my Irish are different. There were significant differences between the successful Irish, to whom Deputy Higgins referred — those who drove Rolls-Royces — and the ones who were picked up outside The Crown and driven 50, 70 or 80 miles to dig channels on the streets.

I would like to tell Mr. Bassett about the difficulty I have in this regard. Outreach workers are very important. I am reminded of the difficulty I had at parent-teacher meetings when I was a teacher. I seldom met the parents I actually wanted to meet. The parents I did not need to meet were the first to come to talk to me and stayed the longest. If we do not employ many more outreach workers, we will not make contact with the people in Cricklewood, or elsewhere in London, whom we need to meet. If such persons are isolated in the first instance, they will be too isolated to come forward and somebody will have to locate them. It is obvious that I am familiar with the GAA and Mr. Bassett's work in that regard. When I lived in London, I used to meet many Irish people at mass on Sunday evenings. I never heard of an evening mass until I went to London — there were no evening masses in Wexford, although there might have been in Dublin. We did not go because we were avid churchgoers, but because we could meet Irish people there. I wonder if those who work with the Christian churches are involved in trying to discover the undiscovered poor Irish. I agree with Deputy Higgins that services should be rights-based, but we are talking about a cultural identity.

The Setanta Sports television station has started to televise less glamorous Gaelic football fixtures in recent times. When it broadcast the recent match between Wicklow and Carlow, it was a wonderful success story. There was a capacity crowd at the match because Mick O'Dwyer has recently taken over the management of the Wicklow team. Setanta Sports showed the match between Wicklow and Wexford last weekend and will show the match between Wicklow and Dublin this weekend. If the station or a similar body such as RTE — I do not care who does it — were to be given some financial aid from the Department of Foreign Affairs or some other group, it could help the development of a television link between Ireland and England for minorities. Perhaps football in Carlow is one of the minority sections within the GAA, although I do not want to insult those involved in that area.

Mr. Bassett

There is a woman from Carlow at this meeting.

I am aware of that. There must be a role for television and radio in this regard. I know Senator Mooney is familiar with such matters.

Has an age profile of the poor Irish, particularly in London, been compiled? I have been told by people involved with the GAA such as coaches working with young Irish, English and Anglo-Irish persons that very few young people are emigrating. Reference was made to "the American-Irish", but I do not know of a similar phrase to describe people of Irish descent living in England. One often hears about the Anglo-Irish — people of English descent who are living here — but I am not sure what term is used to describe people in the opposite set of circumstances.

Has an occupational profile been compiled of Irish people in the United States? That is important. Deputy Durkan asked how people can be documented by the Department of Foreign Affairs if they are undocumented in the United States. I assume the Department has links with the Irish lobby abroad. When we are fighting this case, we should emphasise the fact that Irish people have made a substantial contribution in the United States. For example, Irish-owned firms in the United States employ 80,000 Americans. I would love to get details of the occupational profile of Irish people in the United States because it is something that is often overlooked. Is there a connection between the old Irish diaspora in places such as London or Manchester and the young Irish there who have briefcases and Filofaxes?

I am interested in Argentina which has close connections with County Westmeath and north Wexford. A group from Ballygarrett in County Wexford emigrated to Argentina many years ago and there are existing links between the two places. I will talk to the officials about the possible connections in that regard after the meeting.

Does the Department have a role in integrating the different groups such as soccer, rugby and hurling clubs or the church? Are these groups integrated? The efforts to help those who most need help often lose their effectiveness because they are not made in a focused and integrated way.

I welcome our guests and thank them for their contributions. I agree with virtually everything that my colleagues have said. I support the trenchant remarks of Deputy Higgins, in particular. It would be useful for the committee to request the ratification of the convention on the rights of migrant workers, a matter I have mentioned on the Order of Business in the Seanad. This committee which is non-partisan should bring the convention to the attention of the Department as a matter of urgency. I suggest it consider taking this step at this meeting. It would not be an excessive request to make, nor would it be regarded as antagonistic to Government policy to shore up migrant workers and raise this issue in the line of priorities. I request the Chairman to consider if it is technically possible to write a letter asking that Ireland ratify the convention.

I also support Deputy Higgins in his comments on what I understood to be the right to free travel for elderly emigrants returning to Ireland. This issue has been raised with me a number of times, for example, by an elderly married couple, constituents of mine, who live in the North.

They will have a right to free travel from the end of March.

I strongly welcome that development. It is an excellent move, of which I am glad to hear. It should be extended to people living in England and elsewhere, many of whom have strong connections with Ireland. It is important in humanitarian terms that such persons are able to visit their relatives and so forth.

Although our links with Argentina are relatively unknown here, they are cherished on the other side of the ocean. It was with considerable surprise that I learned on my first visit to Argentina that a large number of Irish people lived there. I did an interview with a newspaper,Southern Cross, and visited its office. It is extraordinary that so many third and fourth generation Irish people with names such as Don Eduardo O’Farrell live in Argentina. They speak perfect Spanish but have wonderful Mullingar or other Irish accents when they speak in English. Speaking on radio the other day, one of them used the word “yiz”. It was marvellous. I heard one fellow, a third generation emigrant, say he felt more Irish than Argentinian after three generations.

The Irish admiral who founded the Argentinian navy is celebrated in Foxford. A significant number of Irish Argentinians have asked for special treatment to allow them to visit and work in Ireland and acquire Irish citizenship but we have ruthlessly spurned them. We could do something to acknowledge the strong links they feel they have with Ireland. It is foolish to neglect this terrific resource. We should encourage this group of talented, committed young people who have strong, positive feelings towards Ireland.

With regard to the other material, I am particularly taken by the fact that special financial provision has been made for elderly Irish emigrants in England. This is a very vulnerable group. I am old enough to remember clearly what it was like before the boom. It was a time when people were squeezed out of this country. Many of those who left were very vulnerable because they were given no training or understanding of the world into which they were moving, even in basic matters such as budgeting. They worked extraordinarily hard — like slaves — and while some of them managed to earn good wages, they did not have the educational background to be prudent or know what to do with their money. They would send money home but the rest would be spent on boozing. This has resulted in a number of unfortunate casualties. We did not prepare them for the life into which many of them were catapulted in the 1950s while still in their teens. Now, owing to the changing demography and ethnic make-up of cities such as London, elderly Irish people are often isolated in areas in which they no longer have relatives, friends and neighbours from their home place. Instead, they may have Polish or Zimbabwean people living next door to them.

I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Mooney. I heard a number of interesting radio programmes in which human stories emerged. I liked the fact that they were positive and one heard about the achievements of Irish people and their commitment to being Irish. The campaign to make Irish people aware of their social welfare entitlements is important because isolated individuals often lack awareness.

To raise a slightly parochial issue, I was head for a time of the national Irish gay organisations and am aware that between the 1960s and 1980s many young people were forced out of the country by hostile attitudes towards their sexual orientation. They remain abroad and are a vulnerable and disparate group. Attempts to do something for them in one American city were stifled by the local Irish community for puritanical reasons. That is a pity. We need to be more broad-minded and look after this community too.

It is important that ethnic arrangements are changing in London and other big cities. Deputy Michael D. Higgins made the extremely good point that even though Irish use of these facilities may drop as the client base dwindles they are a wonderfully valuable institution to look after other groups and the principle remains the same. Would it not be a great Irish contribution to continue this work and give a headline for how these centres should operate? Instead of closing them down when the last Irish tatie hoker croaks we should pass them on to the other communities in a positive manner.

While my next question is a constituency issue, it is useful because these are real human beings who write to me with particular problems and this subject has not yet been aired. There was a group called Glór na Deoraí which wanted votes for emigrants. Is there a view on this? Some of those seeking votes did not leave in difficult economic circumstances, but are young talented graduates who go abroad to contribute to the international community, through either the European Union mechanism or the United Nations and they are unusual in Europe in not being allowed to vote from abroad.

I have a letter from one young man who writes that as a Trinity College graduate and Irishman he looks forward to voting in the next Seanad elections. He says this will be all the more important to him since it is now the only vote he has. He moved to Paris over two years ago to work for an international organisation of which Ireland is a member. Despite his background, his status as an Irish citizen, his possession of a passport, the fact that the work he does is partly on behalf of Ireland and that all of his family is in Ireland and he hopes to return here, he is cruelly denied a vote in general elections and referendums. He says that the word "cruelly" might seem like exaggeration but rejection is cruel, particularly by one's own country and its men and women.

He adds that some day perhaps France would be glad to accept him as a citizen and he will feel French although he doubts that. Until then he demands the right to vote and his vote remains in Ireland. He says that when he travels on an Irish passport he feels like a fraud. What does it mean when he cannot even vote? He does not wish to over-emotionalise the situation but he wants to give a sense of how important this issue is to a person's identity and what a beautiful gift a vote is. He goes on to say that Ireland is the only country, with the possible exception of Portugal, not to allow this — that is not true, there are two or three other countries. We are, however, in a small minority.

It is not a great difficulty to allow people who work in similar circumstances to vote in the embassy. The Americans do it here. Do the witnesses have any views on this, have they been approached about it, or is there any realistic way in which we can advance this proposal?

I wish to be associated with much of what other members have said and to compliment the unit on its work. The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body is working on this issue and we have just come from a meeting at which Lord Dubs was bringing us up to date on Senator Mooney's work. We expect to have a comprehensive report for the March plenary session in Dublin.

I spent part of the Christmas visiting my extended family in Coventry, Leeds and London. I was able to visit some of the centres incognito. I was struck by the little acknowledgement of the centres' users of the assistance from the Government. In Cricklewood I was asked was the Government doing anything for those Irish people sleeping rough in London. I am pleased to now have a comprehensive reply.

The Deputy is likely to be asked a similar question in Dublin.

I know but at least I can refer them to my constituency colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with special responsibility for housing and urban renewal, who will give a comprehensive answer.

He will shoulder the burden of responsibility.

A lot done, more to do.

As Deputy Michael D. Higgins and Senator Mooney pointed out, several London local councils are under the control of the Conservative Party, which has led to a reduction in the level of services to all ethnic groups. I visited the Brent Centre, which we support. While it is providing a good integrated multiethnic service, some concerns exist it may not continue.

Many of the elderly Irish in London and elsewhere worked on the lump, never paying taxes or buying social insurance stamps. Unfortunately, there is genuine suffering among this group as the level of pension they are living on is meagre. The basic British state pension is a good deal lower than ours and they cannot avail of the pre-1953 pensions initiative introduced in Ireland.

We should examine the availability of Irish radio and television in the UK. Of course, there are Irish solutions to Irish problems. I watched RTE on New Year's night in a pub beside Wembley. It was explained to me that it was done through a deflector system rather than a satellite system.

In Leeds and Coventry, I noted the multiethnic membership of many of the Irish centres. Work must be done to help some of the Irish who find it difficult to integrate into a multiethnic environment. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of some Irish people in England to engage with anyone but the Irish themselves.

I am interested to hear what Mr. Bassett said about the new legislation that will give citizenship to the undocumented Irish in the US. It is a serious issue.

That will continue to be a priority of ours and the Department of Foreign Affairs during the year.

I compliment the officials on the work they are doing. In fact, it is a recognition of their contribution that we now have such a team. It is completely different from in the past when we did not provide for recognition, as we were not in a position to assist financially. I was once in Australia and the issue was raised with me by people living in Melbourne. I told them frankly that my mission was to raise money for Ireland rather than the other way around, as there were no funds available in 1990. There were high expectations at the time, but we could not deliver, as we were in cutback mode. Now that we have funds more readily available, it is certainly welcome to see the spread of our activities around the world. Emigrants contributed to making Ireland what it is today and they should now get their reward.

I met representatives of DION in Britain. I very much agree with the structure, whereby the First Secretary, Michael Lonergan, chairs the group. This provides for continuity through the State instead of a plethora of voluntary groups and ensures accountability when it comes to the distribution of large sums. We have a full list in respect of the funding which has been very welcome.

Deputy Carey is joint chairman of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. As Senator Mooney said, I was recently in Britain taking evidence from Irish organisations in the House of Commons. The group concerned, under Lord Dubs, will shortly produce a report tying up a great many issues. The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body is doing a tremendous job, visiting Manchester and Leeds at the weekend, in addition to previous work done in London. Its report to which we have contributed will be very welcome. I will not repeat the issues that I raised at that forum, which provided a great opportunity. Deputy Carey is overall chairman of the organisation.

Compensation for abuse suffered in residential institutions has been widely distributed in Britain. As far as I know, a number of claims have been submitted from UK-resident adults abused in such institutions as children. They received an apology and compensation. That too is a welcome change, since they probably never expected it to happen in their lifetimes.

Deputy Higgins mentioned the Brazilians living here. There is a very large Brazilian community in Roscommon which is very well integrated, playing an important role in the economic development of Roscommon town. In many cases, members have married into the local community. The Deputy makes a very good point when he says their families would not be able to avail of free third level education. That issue will have to be tackled, since they could not otherwise afford it. It returns us to where we were in the past and I hope it can be addressed in the election manifestoes that will shortly be issued.

I commend all committee members regarding the situation of the Irish in America. As Senator Mooney said, it is a cross-party group and the entire Oireachtas is involved. I know Members were concerned with it before I arrived. On St. Patrick's Day this year, when the Taoiseach once again goes to Washington, he will highlight the issue. We all know the difficulties suffered by those returning and the attacks of 11 September 2001 have made it more difficult owing to additional passport controls. There are a few Americans here seeking work permits and we are seldom gracious enough to grant them quickly. We must be very conscious of this. There is a case in north Mayo of a person from the USA who wishes to work here. We should welcome that person too, since there are very few such people. There has been no great effort made on the part of the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist in this regard.

The reforms regarding pre-1953 social welfare contributions have provided a major boost. Approximately €120 million has now been sent to Britain, something that has not been given the recognition that it deserves. It returns and repays moneys that we received in the past. The free travel scheme must be extended to include returned emigrants during the summer. It would not cost much. I was surprised at the reaction when I raised the issue and tried to obtain free travel for people coming to Ireland for three or four months. That, too, should be considered.

The final matter which will form part of Lord Dubs's report is the relevance of repatriation to housing. There are now about 30 local authorities and no co-ordination of assessment. When I was a member of Roscommon County Council, I wanted to see that. We are providing houses now for returned emigrants, but it would be better to have one co-ordinating group carrying out the assessments. It could then inform to the local authorities that an assessment has been carried out on a particular applicant and this would be the certification for that person to be rehoused. It is a matter of streamlining this organisation's work — and perhaps Mr. Bassett might look at that — so that 30 local authorities are not assessing all the applications submitted. We are working in the right direction in this regard. It is a matter of keeping up the good work.

I was very impressed on visiting the Irish centres in London at the number of wonderful committed people there. I am also very proud of the funding being provided by the Irish taxpayer to help those who helped us in the 1950s.

There are some matters on which to ponder and reflect. If there are any comments, the committee would be glad to hear them. Obviously, we are concerned about a convention on the rights of migrant workers. It is the unanimous opinion of the committee that this should be moved on. The unit might let us have a briefing on the present position and the committee will write to the Minister.

The last reply to a parliamentary question in this regard indicated that matters were being held up by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which was assessing with other Departments the modifications required under Irish law. However, we should do it.

I will ask Mr. Bassett to reply. I must emphasise that the unit now has much scope. Last year it got an increase of 45% in the budget for the Irish abroad, and this year there is a further 26% on top of that, bringing the figure up to €15.165 million for 2007. This means there is considerable room for development in the work.

Mr. Bassett

That is very true. I thank the committee for the kind words about the unit. Much has been said by individuals and we shall go through the report and review each of the points raised. I will just make a few brief comments.

As regards the undocumented, we will continue to work very hard. The Minister has been to the United States 12 or 14 times and he will continue to work hard and give priority to that area. I hope we did not give the impression that we do not value or recognise the work done by people outside the Department, such as parliamentarians, in going to the United States and Britain. It has been an invaluable part of the national effort.

The Chairman raised the matter of people outside the countries for which there is a programme. I agree that we cannot exclude people because they may live in Zambia, for instance, where there are not large numbers of Irish. We hope to talk to the Minister about an omnibus programme which will cover all other areas. There are the traditional areas of Irish migration and then there is the rest of the world, to which €100,000 or €200,000 could be allocated for organisations there. As we build up capacity we naturally tend to concentrate on those areas of traditional Irish migration.

We have given special attention to the programme countries in Africa. When the unit is reviewing the omnibus programme, it might look on those as a special group because as a country we have focused a good deal of attention there, as has this committee. This package should not be lost sight of within the total omnibus approach.

Mr. Bassett

I agree. When we looked at southern Africa, the first people I spoke to were those in our development co-operation area to find out if there could be some synergy between us. They are tackling poverty among people who are born and reared in those countries and yet we have pockets of deprivation among people from an Irish background. It is an area on which we can certainly work together.

On issues such as RTE, free travel, etc., the Government is in favour. It is a question of how we proceed from here. We have extended the centenarian's bounty outside the State for those who reach 100 years of age. It will take imaginative thinking to get around some of the obstacles, but we are committed to work with the relevant Departments to assist these people. There is a political and administrative will to do it, but we need the mechanisms to get there.

I was struck by the amount of comments on Argentina. We have only recently started on that country and we have particular problems there, as Senator Norris mentioned. The Irish community in Argentina is just a bit too long there to get citizenship. Its members raise this with us regularly, but it is due to the grandparent rule. There are very few people in Argentina whose grandparents are from Ireland, as most of them are one generation further removed from that. It means a lot to them and we will try to do our best.

A comment was made about the changing political composition of some of the London boroughs. We have an emergency application from Hammersmith and I will speak to the Minister about that. The Irish community there is feeling the pinch and we have to look at the situation. I lived in Australia for a long time and the Irish there can identify themselves as Irish-Australian. The Irish experience in Britain is unique and is changing. It is becoming more like the Irish experience in America. For many generations, many Irish people in Britain did not claim to be Irish. This change is not a new phenomenon, but it is certainly growing and we have to come to terms with it in our psyche. We do not have a term such as "British-Irish" to describe them, but we would encourage centres to integrate more locally. We are all in favour of integration, not assimilation.

I have not seen the statistics on the health of Irish people in Britain, but I generally accept that Irish people who emigrate to Britain lower their life expectancy. It is the one instance in which people who moved to a more developed society saw their social indicators disimprove relative to the population that already existed there. We must give more thought to this and we must get our workers in the field to pay more attention to it. I agree completely on the culturally sensitive issue-----

On the question of statistics, it would help if the unit sought the information on the basis of gender, marital status and age. There is an argument developing in technical journals that Irish rates are confusing because not everybody is using the same samples. If one homes in on unmarried males over 60, the statistics totally change across a series of categories. It is useful to request the information in categories, as it will tell us more.

I understand that the same traits in health also appear in the second generation, even though they are more affluent and are better educated.

Mr. Bassett

We will follow up on that. We do not have enough statistics. Having lived in Australia, I echo Deputy Durkan's point about outbackareas, where the people long for contact with Ireland. I was struck by the fact that they had much more records there. One Australian commented that it was a one-sided love affair, in that the Australian-Irish loved Ireland, but the Irish did not love the Australians. That is changing now.

There is an interesting reason suggested for that, which was that the letters from America had money in them, while the letters from Australia did not have money, so the Irish stopped writing back.

It may be due to Australian Rules football.

I have written about this.

Mr. Bassett

I do not wish to deal with everything, so my colleagues can speak about some other areas.

Mr. Jim Carroll

I wish to make two points about the profile of the Irish. The 2001 British census is being examined by people in the Federation of Irish Societies, so we will get that profile based on gender, occupation, education and so on.

Some of the difficulty in regard to outreach services is that many people are becoming reclusive. It is a major challenge to ensure outreach services are accessible to those who have fallen out of the loop. Welfare services tend to deal with specified groups or categories. We are examining what more can be done to improve outreach services. It is a challenging area.

What is needed is an expansion in the capacity and scope of these services. My understanding, based on anecdotal evidence, is that outreach service providers are now liaising with church authorities to identify those who are isolated. More personnel are required, which is a capacity issue.

Mr. Carroll

That is a fair point on which we aread idem. It is something that is under operational consideration.

I spent the past five years living in Britain, where there is something of a rebellion against poll tax. One of the political campaign slogans employed by opposition parties there involves a promise to reduce this tax. The success of such campaigns is evident in Hammersmith and Camden, for example, where the Conservative Party has secured seats. That party scored goals by promising lower poll tax. A direct consequence of this is that the £200,000 in funding which previously came from Hammersmith and Fulham for the Hammersmith Centre is no loner forthcoming. We must consider who will step up to the plate in such cases. Will the Government do so? As Mr. Bassett said, this is an issue we are considering.

We did not discuss the question of post-prison experience for Irish migrants who leave prison or treatment centres, particularly those held indefinitely and facing deportation. The delegation might examine this issue and provide some recommendations in the next report it gives to the committee.

Mr. Bassett

The Minister has commissioned a former Minister of State, Mr. Chris Flood, to compile a report on Irish prisoners abroad. He is expected to issue that report in the next several weeks and the Government will examine it before agreeing a response to this issue.

For the information of the committee, the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body received submissions on this issue at the meetings to which Senator Leyden referred. Details of these submissions will form part of our report and we hope to include some recommendations in this regard.

Mr. Christy McGrath, who has been in prison in England for seven years, returned to Ireland this week to serve his sentence here. Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs, particularly Mr. Barrett, and in the Irish Embassy in London have been a tremendous support to him. I have visited him twice. This young man's case is serious.

We were informed of it.

I am updating the committee. He was admitted to Mountjoy Prison this week and I understand he will be transferred to Portlaoise Prison shortly. He wrote to me a month ago and said he would like my parliamentary party colleagues who supported his case to visit him in prison in Ireland. His is a lonely life. He was only 21 years old when he got into this horrendous situation. He has completed seven years of his sentence and will probably serve another seven or eight. His family is still fighting for an appeal although his decision to transfer to a prison in Ireland means he is technically not entitled to one.

Mr. McGrath needs people to be kind to him. He is an Irish person who ended up in a most horrific situation. He pleaded guilty because he received appallingly poor legal advice. He needs our support. The plight of Irish people in British prisons is an important issue because at a certain level of society in that jurisdiction, being Irish leaves one vulnerable; such racism is still evident there. Mr. McGrath was called a "Paddy" and told to go back to Ireland. This is what sparked off the brawl in which he became involved.

It is good that he was able to transfer to a prison in Ireland.

Yes, I am pleased to inform members of this development.

This issue was raised in the context of funding and threats to funding. The relationship between the younger, newly arrived Irish, who are professionals, and the traditional Irish was previously raised in this committee. As those of us who have travelled over and back will attest and as the Chairman is aware, there is no great dialogue, dynamic or synergy between these two groups. Where the Government has funded more and more workers on the ground, they are beginning to identify the professional Irish and their areas and are forming corporate, professional Irish groups whose main mandate, at least initially, may be to create funding mechanisms and charitable donations through activities to help fund some of these centres. I know the unit is monitoring this, but I hope efforts will be made to accelerate this synergy. The committee in general would be very committed to this view. This might be one way of harnessing the professional Irish, who are more affluent and would like to give something back. However, it seems somewhat abstract at the moment because there is no vehicle or mechanism other than where there are good people on the ground trying to do it. The Irish abroad unit, DION or the Department of Foreign Affairs might be able to initiate in general terms some sort of structure to encourage the professional Irish to get more actively involved with those from the previous generation.

I thank Senator Mooney for his contribution. We must wind up at this stage because we have some further business to attend to afterwards.

I intended to raise the issue of Argentinians and Brazilians working in this country, although it is not specifically the responsibility of this committee. I ask that the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has a good reputation in respect of humanitarian matters, might become involved. A number of people from Africa and eastern Europe have had their primary and second level education in this country and find that on completion of their second level education, they become undocumented and unemployable as they cannot work. Having lived here for virtually all their childhood, they find they are non-citizens who are being prepared for deportation in a way which is humiliating and puts them at risk.

I have raised this issue, as I am sure have Deputy Michael D. Higgins and the rest of my colleagues. People with no visible means of support and for whom nobody cares are being deported. Of all the nations on the face of the earth, we surely must have had experience of this kind of treatment in our own emigration days. We should be the last people in the world to allow these things to happen. It might be helpful if members of the delegation could intercede with their colleagues from another Department.

Yes, to take care of unaccompanied minors.

Exactly. I ask members of the delegation to ask their colleagues to deal with these people in an humanitarian way.

Another issue gives me cause for concern. If someone is to be deported, there is an appeals system available. A person can appeal within 15 days, but during the course of this appeal he or she can be deported, notwithstanding the existence of the appeal. I have never heard of any other such system. It is totally incongruous. For instance, the person could be murdered when he or she is deported but could win his or her appeal afterwards. The situation is crazy and I ask members of the delegation to bring it to the attention of their colleagues. The way we deal with this kind of situation does not reflect well on us. All my colleagues here have already referred to it. I intended to raise to it in respect of African countries in particular, with which I have had most dealings.

I support Deputy Durkan. It is not directly relevant, but we have all had experience of this. There are Kafkaesque situations throughout the entire system. I had a situation involving someone who had been allowed in as a refugee and given refugee status, has been living here for five years and is a very respectable professional man with a brother here with his family who are accepted as Irish citizens. The man in question applied for nationalisation, was denied it and told that he could appeal but that he must give the reasons for the rejection. When he asked for the reasons for the rejection he was denied them. He is told he can appeal but must give the reasons, but they will not give him the reasons. There are a lot of very bizarre occurrences.

If our guests have not been able to address other points, could they supply the committee with a briefing note? As our guests can see, members have displayed genuine interest in and support for what the Department is doing because this is a matter of widespread concern. We hope to do a great deal of business with our guests during the year. We thank them for attending today's meeting and spending two hours with the committee.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.25 p.m. and adjourned at 1.50 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 January 2007.