My predecessor announced in London in July the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs to deal with issues concerning Irish people overseas. He announced at the same time he was making available a further €1 million for services for emigrants, bringing the total for this year to €5 million.
The issues of concern identified in the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants can best be addressed by a collective effort involving governmental and non-governmental agencies. A core function of the dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, is to give a fresh impetus and focus to this collective effort. The unit is charged with co-ordinating the provision of assistance to our emigrants and to advance effective and coherent strategies in this important area of national policy.
At present, there are three officials assigned to the Irish abroad unit which is headed by a senior Irish diplomat. Since it became operational, members of the unit have had valuable meetings with a range of voluntary agencies which provide front-line support to our emigrants in both the United States and Britain, as well as more general contact with Irish communities abroad. They are also engaged in a round of contacts with the Departments and agencies throughout Ireland that have an involvement in emigrant services. The costs arising from the functioning of this unit are met from my Department's administrative budget.
I am convinced that the new dedicated unit, with its exclusive focus on emigrant affairs, will serve to ensure that our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government, and that our response to their needs becomes quickly and progressively more focused and effective.