The Government has been providing assistance to Irish emigrants in Britain and the United States for many years. In response to concerns about the situation of Irish emigrants in Britain, the Government established the Díon committee in 1984. The Díon fund, which is administered by the embassy in London through the Díon committee, has almost trebled over the past four years — from €592,300 in 1999 to € 2,573,000 last year. A further €150,000 was allocated to the Federation of Irish Societies in London from savings in last year's budget. This brings the total allocation to emigrant services in the UK to €2,723,000 in 2003. The total amount allocated by the Díon committee since 1984 is almost €18 million.
The Government also gives grants, through the Vote for Foreign Affairs, to voluntary organisations in the US who provide advocacy and support to Irish immigrants. Priority is given to the provision of information, advice and outreach services for Irish immigrants. The grants are used for funding the administration of such services. My Department provided a total of €300,000 in 2003, which represents a substantial increase over previous years.
I am particularly conscious of the difficulties faced by elderly Irish emigrants and they are one of the priority groups for assistance from the funds provided by my Department. The Government also recognises that many emigrants would like to return to live in Ireland but that some of them, particularly elderly people, require special assistance to do so. For the past three years, the Díon committee has funded the salaries of workers in two organisations which provide advice and assistance to elderly Irish people in Britain who wish to return to live in Ireland —"Aisling" Return to Ireland project in Camden and the "Safe Home" programme in Mulranny, County Mayo.
In addition, the terms of the voluntary housing capital assistance scheme administered by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, provide that up to 25% of accommodation in new projects undertaken by voluntary bodies throughout the country, assisted under the scheme, may be allocated to elderly emigrants returning to this country.
Irish emigrants have made an enormous contribution to the development of this country and it was in recognition of this contribution that the Government agreed with the social partners, in the context of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, to establish the task force on policy regarding emigrants. The focus of the task force and of their report was directed towards protecting and supporting those Irish emigrants abroad who are particularly marginalised or at greatest risk of exclusion. I welcomed the task force's report, which sets the issue of emigration in a forward looking context and provides a template for addressing the needs of the Irish abroad in the future.
I was pleased to announce before Christmas that I secured an additional provision of €1 million in the Estimates for my Department for this year for services to emigrants. I intend that the additional funds will be concentrated on improving services for the more vulnerable among our emigrants in the UK, US and Australia who require special assistance and support. I also intend that priority will be given to services for elderly people, including those who wish to return to live in Ireland.