5 November 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard


The adoption by Monaghan Co Council on Monday of a new Migrant Integration Strategy is a timely step in the address of an important social issue. In a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has become the ubiquitous concern, the need to respect the rights and dignity of all human beings and to ensure that unity rather than division hallmarks the way in which our increasingly cosmopolitan demographic knits together has demanded its own place in public preoccupations.

The Black Lives Matter campaign has made its voice heard throughout the world. It has confronted us with some uncomfortable truths and challenged us all to reconsider how our attitudes, language and behaviours might contribute, however unwittingly, to fostering inequality and even racism as we move through our daily lives. The force of that campaign and the common challenge being faced by all cultures, creeds and colours on the planet at the current time have combined to heighten awareness of the importance of integration.

If there was ever a time in the history of our species that we needed to put differences aside and work together, it is now. When the pandemic eventually passes, perhaps the most valuable legacy it will leave is the particularly close sense of solidarity that comes from sharing troubles – the neighbourly familiarity that those who have been on the battlefield together carry with them for the rest of their lives. Some among our readership might wonder why there is any need for an integration strategy for the county at all.

We now count among our neighbours, work colleagues, friends and teammates many people who have come to live and work among us from other parts of the world who for a long time now have been making an important contribution to our economy and our community life. Our schools are filled with the children of economic migrants who came here from other nations, and these Co Monaghan-born young people are the best examples of, and ambassadors for, integration in practice, moving easily between the cultures of their inheritance and their birth-right and broadening the understanding of the rest of us as they make their way through life. But while there is much evidence of people from new communities becoming part and parcel of the fabric of Co Monaghan life, there is still much work to do on the integration front. For all the people that we do see and mix with who have come here from other parts of Europe as well as Africa, South America and Asia, there are many who remain invisible.

These might be those among the economic migrant population with limited language skills and qualifications who make their living in poorly paid and uncertainly structured employment and who live lives of social exclusion beyond the reach or detection of community supports. Or they could be the people living in Direct Provision or in emergency accommodation as they wait for their asylum application to be adjudicated on – we are aware of them certainly, and them of us, but how do we get to know each other better, understand each other better, and become friends? If we don’t figure out the answer to that question, then there will always be a section of the migrant population in our county who will be looked at, when we see them at all, with some degree of fear and suspicion. And they will look back at us the same way.

So, much work on integration still remains to be done, and the document adopted by Monaghan Co Council on Monday will hopefully be one of the starting points for it. A welcome feature of the strategy is that it is informed, at least to some degree, by consultation with local migrant communities themselves – although, as Social Integration Officer Bernie Bradley honestly pointed out in her presentation to Monday’s Council meeting, such engagement is hampered by the fact that there is no established forum among the very diverse Co Monaghan migrant population to facilitate regular interaction and consultation with the broader community.

In one sense this is understandable from the points of view of diversity of experiences and origins and needs. While there are undoubtedly strong support networks among some of the predominant nationalities of our new community members, there is little evidence of network interaction and that is a pity – it would be a strong source of mutual solidarity as well as an important means for wider community engagement if there was a representative body formed among our migrant population that could advocate on the issues identified in the migrant strategy document as significant barriers to integration. It is clear from even a cursory glance at these that urgent attention needs to be given to providing language skills education and information on how to access local training and employment opportunities to all spheres of the county’s migrant population.

The quality of many people’s lives could be hugely enhanced if they were given even a small degree of practical help with the language and knew where to go to study or get work, and how to access health and social care services when they needed them. The adoption of the integration strategy by Monaghan Co Council on Monday was not unanimous. Independent councillor Seamus Treanor strongly dissented from its approval and in a contribution that will undoubtedly provoke community comment and controversy articulated his strongly held views on the dangers of what he described as uncontrolled immigration. Councillor Treanor’s comments, reported along with the views of the other Council members in full in our newspaper this week, are provocative but they raise issues and questions that must be confronted, discussed and clarified if real progress is to be made on making our Co Monaghan community a more integrated and ethnically harmonious one.

At least some of what the Independent local public representative, who is certainly articulating views held by a sizeable portion of the local population, had to say is open to challenge and interrogation, and it is very important that such debate takes place. It would be particularly welcome to hear what people in our diverse migrant community have to say about Councillor Treanor’s views, and about the strategy as a whole, and the columns of this newspaper are at the disposal of any migrant voice who wishes to put forth their own view, opinion and determination.

We are confident that the majority of our readership will hail the actions and objectives set out in the integration strategy document. But a minority that is perhaps more substantial that many think will align themselves with Councillor Treanor’s viewpoint on at least some of the issues that irked him on Monday. And that is where we seem to be on the integration issue – much done, more to do, plenty of good will but not enough practical supports. And facts and figures, myths and misinformation, fears and suspicions all vying loudly for

Fáilte go Muineachán?

What do the people of Co Monaghan’s new communities think?

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