The report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants is being implemented progressively. As my predecessor noted in welcoming the report, it contained many detailed recommendations that are wide-ranging and whose implementation can only come about on a phased basis over several years.
Already there has been considerable progress, with action initiated on a large number of the recommendations. I am particularly pleased to say that a dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, has now been established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and is fully functioning. The unit is charged with co-ordinating the provision of assistance to our emigrants and advancing effective and coherent strategies in that important area of national policy. The officials assigned to the unit are working in close consultation with Departments and voluntary agencies engaged in the delivery of services to emigrants. Since it became operational, members of the unit have already had productive meetings with a range of voluntary agencies that provide front-line support to our emigrants in both the United States and Britain. I am convinced the unit will ensure that our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government and that our response to their needs will become quickly and progressively more focused and effective.
Key recommendations of the task force called for a strategic and integrated approach to meeting the needs of the Irish abroad under three headings: pre-departure services intended to ensure, as far as possible, that people who emigrate do so voluntarily and on the basis of informed choice, and are properly prepared to live independently in a different society; services to Irish people abroad, particularly those who have emigrated involuntarily and find themselves vulnerable or at risk of social exclusion; and services to returning emigrants, especially the reintegration into Irish society of elderly emigrants who wish to come home.
I am happy to report that progress is being made in all three of those key areas. The Department of Social and Family Affairs actively supports organisations that provide pre-departure services and services to returning emigrants. This year, for instance, it has provided grants to ÉAN, the umbrella group that provides support for emigration and return migration information providers, and to Emigrant Advice.
My Department will also grant €50,000 towards a conference organised by ÉAN to take place at the end of November.
As regards funding, my predecessor announced in July an additional €1 million, on top of the significant increase in funding already provided for emigrant services in 2004, bringing the total to some €5 million. That money will be disbursed before the end of the year, the bulk of it going directly to front-line service providers in Britain. The DION committee, which considers applications for funding in Britain, has also been asked to give a higher priority to providing assistance to older Irish emigrants in Britain who may wish to return to Ireland. To date, €1.2 million has been allocated to services for the elderly Irish in Britain. In addition, €182,000 has been allocated to projects aimed at assisting people who wish to return home to Ireland.
With regard to the recommendation on free travel within Ireland for our pensioners living abroad, this is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who set out the position in reply to a question on 6 October.
The Deputy can be assured that the Government's commitment in the entire area is strong, growing and long-term.