In Ireland, emigration has long been an historical fact of life. However, immigration particularly in the 1800’s and 1900’s, was practically invisible and had little impact on population statistics.
In 1994 this situation changed. The number of immigrants exceeded the number of emigrants in a trend that has continued unabated ever since. The arrival of these new immigrants has had a dramatic effect on Ireland’s population diversity and it is most noticeable in its rural towns and villages, particularly in counties with small populations like County Monaghan (61,386 people, census 2016).
In County Monaghan, where the Irish PoliRural pilot is taking place, the migrant population almost doubled between 2005 and 2011, growing from 6% to 11% in the time. The migrants who live here are an eclectic mixture of migrant workers (mainly from Eastern Europe and South America), UNHCR refugees (from the Congo and from Syria), asylum seekers (from all across the world) and others who have chosen Ireland as their home for a variety reasons (e.g. some have married into the country, others have returned to the land of their ancestors, etc). The reality for many rural counties is that without migration, many of our areas may see population decreases over time, often resulting in a prolonged spiral of decline for the area.
The migrant population have brought new skills and talents that they have used to create employment and generate wealth. They have lowered the average age of the population and their children have ensured that many of our rural schools have been able to retain teachers. They have enriched the cultural life of our communities.
Not everyone appreciates this fact and the rapid change in our society has the potential to stoke fear and resentment. That is why good integration policies are needed to give people a sense of belonging in their community. With this in mind, Monaghan Integrated Development led a collaboration with local government, local agencies and migrant representative groups to access LEADER funding for a migrant integration strategy, that now complements and feeds into the region’s PoliRural Foresight plans.
The strategy was launched online in November 2020 and charts a course for belonging and integration actions in Co Monaghan for the next 5 years. It contains 6 Objectives and 38 actions. Each action has a lead agency who will oversee its implementation in the years ahead.
Speaking at the launch, Lalini Veerassamy, Chief of the International Organization of Migration mission in Ireland, emphasised ‘the importance of integration as a two-way process as mutual adaptation between migrants and host societies from all levels, the social, cultural, political but also economic point of view.’ These sentiments were echoed throughout by various speakers including Sunday Abel Adoyeji, representing New Communities on the Monaghan Integrated Development CLG Board, Chairperson of LINC, a social enterprise and Cultural Champion. He mentioned his own positive experience of being a migrant in County Monaghan and said ‘successful integration of migrants is, in fact, about successful interactions. It’s about communities that offer a generous welcome. It’s about the willingness and, sometimes, bravery, to accept that welcome’.
The strategy can be downloaded here.