I propose to take Questions Nos. 20, 69, 94 and 103 together.
The Government has been providing assistance to Irish emigrants in Britain for many years. The DION fund, which is administered by the embassy in London through the DION committee, has provided almost €18 million for welfare services to the Irish in Britain since its establishment in 1984. More than half of this has been allocated since the present Government took office in 1997. The DION fund has increased from €760,000 in 1997 to €2.75 million last year, an increase of 350%. This year, the DION fund will increase by a further 30% to €3.58 million.
As regards the implementation of the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants, action is currently being taken on more than two thirds of the recommendations. A number of recommendations fall within the areas of responsibility of other Departments and I have asked those Departments to examine them to determine what progress has been made in implementing them. In this regard, my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, is implementing the recommendation that the Government give priority to the link between migration and social exclusion during our Presidency of the EU by organising a Presidency conference on reconciling mobility and social inclusion next April.
As regards other recommendations, the following examples will illustrate the progress that is being made: a key recommendation of the task force was that all funding for emigrant services abroad should be brought together under the Department of Foreign Affairs. This was done last year with the transfer of the DION fund from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; I secured an additional provision of €1 million in the Vote for Foreign Affairs for services to emigrants in 2004. This brings the overall expenditure by my Department on emigrant services this year to just over €4 million, an increase of one third on 2003; the task force recommended that financial assistance be given to AN, the umbrella group for voluntary agencies providing information and advice to potential emigrants, to enable them to provide more effective support to their member agencies. I recently announced that part of the additional funds made available this year will be allocated for this purpose and the task force also recommended that the Government continue its political engagement with the authorities in the United States in regard to undocumented Irish people in that country. We are doing this on a continuous basis both through our embassy in Washington and my own discussions at political level.
I would not exclude the establishment of an agency for the Irish abroad as recommended by the task force. However, the most effective way of using the available funds is through the voluntary agencies that are providing front line services to our emigrants. They are in the best position to direct these resources to where they can be of greatest benefit to those who are most in need. The task force itself estimated that the annual cost of such an agency would be in the region of €2 million. As I said in the House on 27 January, I do not believe that, in the context of a significantly increased budget for support for emigrants of €4 million this year, the majority of it should be expended on administrative structures at this time. Instead, I intend to establish a dedicated unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs later this year to work with the voluntary agencies at home and abroad to help maximise the impact of our collective efforts.
There are many other things that can and will be done. I intend that, in allocating the additional funds which I have secured, priority will be given to improving services for the neediest and the most vulnerable among our emigrants, particularly in Britain, in line with the recommendations of the task force report. I have also directed that increased emphasis be placed on providing assistance to returning emigrants, and on projects to promote more effective networking and information sharing between statutory and voluntary agencies providing services to emigrants.
I am particularly anxious to ensure that voluntary Irish agencies are able to increase their own capacity to access funds from other sources, as well as to improve the effectiveness of their services. I have recently allocated an additional €150,000 to the Federation of Irish Societies in Britain to enable then to launch a major five year capacity building project. This is critical if the federation and its affiliated bodies are to maximise their access to statutory and voluntary sources of funds in Britain.
I am also happy to make available the report of the interdepartmental working group which examined the task force's recommendations, and will place this on the Department's website at an early date. I assure the Deputies that I will continue to implement the report of the task force and to work in partnership with the governments of the countries concerned and with voluntary Irish agencies at home and abroad, to support our emigrants overseas.