Dublin City Council Starts to Draw up New Integration Strategy

The context was different when Dublin City Council drafted its last integration strategy, for 2016 to 2020, says Mary Lynch, the council’s integration officer.

“The landscape wasn’t as diverse as it is now. Our education is much different now because minorities are much more vocal and are saying what they want to change,” she says.

“We have an absolute opportunity to capture people’s lived experiences now,” says Lynch.

At the moment, the council is in the early stages of drawing up its new integration strategy, which will be in place for 2021 to 2025.

The council is doing “internal consultation” at the moment, says Hazel Chu, the lord mayor of Dublin and a Green Party councillor.

That means staff in different departments are talking about possible objectives.

If the new policy is led by “various departments within Dublin City Council”, Chu said, all internal teams should work together to forge an understanding.

After that, there’ll be a public consultation.

The strategy touches on many areas. “Housing is a huge one, educational and other training facilities as well,” says Chu, and even the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Unlike the last strategy, the new one will include Travellers and plans to support their inclusion in the city.

“It goes across the board, minority groups, Roma and Travelling community,” says Lynch, the council’s integration officer.

The Last Strategy

The last integration strategy listed four themes to work on: information and training, language and education, employment and inclusive community-building.

It had 52 actions that were needed to support inclusion and indicators of success.

Like helping to find office space for migrant advocacy groups and publishing a policy for removing racist graffiti in the city, says the document, under the information and training header.

The number of migrants availing of training courses offered by city libraries was an indicator of success in educating the city’s minorities under the language and education theme, it says.

Producing a job-seeking 101 booklet for migrant Dubliners and helping the city’s migrant homeless on their path to find employment were among the actions recommended under the employment theme.

Figures for progress on some of those were available from the council but not for others.

During the running period of the last strategy, 2,607 people registered “for a range of English language courses in the library”, says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

The council has not recorded reports of inappropriate graffiti by category the spokesperson said. But “racist, offensive or political graffiti reported to us will be removed within 48 hours, and take priority over other reports”.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries about any overall evaluation of the past plan.

Teresa Buczkowska, an integration team coordinator with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said the council needs to assess the success of the last strategy before drawing up the new one.

“Evaluation is essential. We don’t know if the previous strategy worked, how many people it targeted and who benefited from it,” says Buczkowska.

“Taking accountability” for failed policies and practices is a crucial part of progress, she said.

Chu, the lord mayor, said that the council has evaluated the success of its first policy but dwelling on “past failings” can thwart progress.

“What really matters in developing any strategy is that you make it fit-for-purpose of what needs to be done and move forward from it,” she says.

The Meaning

To understand what it means to integrate, Chu doesn’t need to look that far, she says.

“My parents who came over here 45 years ago as immigrants would’ve had language barriers, would have housing issues, would have problems trying to find jobs,” she says.

Having those critical needs met is at the heart of Chu’s perception of integration, she says.

It is about more than forging social connections between locals and newcomers because that is not something that all minority groups want anyway, she says.

“Some people don’t want to integrate; they have their own people who they prefer to be a part of,” says Chu.

The idea behind the word integration in the new strategy is that those who prefer socialising with their own people would have their basic needs met and feel like “they are a part of the community” regardless, she said.

For Ammar Ali, who ran as a Fianna Fáil candidate for the council in 2019’s local elections, integration means people from diverse backgrounds winning meaningful representation.

Ali, whose parents are from Pakistan, says people from minority groups should be encouraged to sign up with political parties and run for office.

If elected, those people can lead the city’s integration crusade with a clear understanding of the obstacles in the way of change, he says.

Like when Eileen Flynn got a seat at the Seanad, Ali says. “She knows what the Traveller communities are facing better than anyone else.”

Finding the Money

The council is “currently trying to look for funding from the Department of Children and Integration”, says Chu, and from its own resources.

The council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, has been supportive, says Chu. “I think he understands that it is a big issue.”

Translating council material into different languages so people who don’t speak English as a first language can understand it is another measure she wants to see in the new policy, she says.

“I would like it if people from the migrant background didn’t have to rely on Google Translate to translate some of the services that are on Dublin City Council’s website,” she says.

As well as that, north inner-city tensions “are constantly on my mind”, Chu says.

Shane O’Curry, the director of Irish Network Against Racism (INAR), says housing inequality and poverty are two motivating factors behind the inner-city’s bike thefts and targeted assaults on migrant workers, including Deliveroo riders.

“The best way to address that is to start building lots of houses, you know, for working-class people of every colour,” he says.

Chu says similar, that class inequality is at the heart of inner-city racial tension, and an integration strategy alone can’t address it. “As much as I like to think this integration strategy will ease things.”

“When your society is inherently unjust, and there are inequalities in it then there will always be tensions,” she said.

“So, there’s going to be a push for building public housing, and that is what we need to do,” Chu said.

But the integration strategy can help to ensure that people forced to leave unwelcoming communities have access to appropriate support, said Chu. That “there is support in place so that people feel like they belong”.

Meanwhile, the Immigrant Council wants Dublin City Council to help inform city employers about conditions for hiring migrant workers, Buczkowska says.

“Training more employers about the working rights of people on different visas and shifting the responsibility on other stakeholders would be interesting to see,” she said.

The council, she said, should also offer a solid commitment to “diversifying their staff” and “investing more on voters’ education”.

Hope for the Future

In late January, Dublin City Council hosted a webinar about the integration strategy.

It was focused on a “knowledge exchange” to inform future steps for preparing the strategy, said an email sent to participants after.

Sixty-six representatives from 45 organisations attended the webinar. Among them were An Garda Síochána, the Arts Council, Dublin City Community Co-op and some inner-city, interfaith and migration groups and NGOs.

Only five people spoke, though.

Aga Wiesyk, communications and network development officer at INAR, says it was “an initial meeting to bring people together”.

She attended but didn’t get to speak. People were asked to fill out a survey and offer their feedback after the event though, she said.

Buczkowska was somewhat disappointed, she says. “It wasn’t very engaging.”

Chu says the meeting was insufficient but said that Lynch, the integration officer, has been separately in touch with different people, asking for input.

“We have said to any group that would like to contact us and speak on the matter or provide a suggestion or comment please do,” Chu says.

Lynch is hoping to “engage as many people as possible”, she says.

“I didn’t have to pull anybody kicking and screaming, everybody offered to help us,” Lynch says.

So far, she has spoken to people who, despite negative experiences trying to fit into the city, have high hopes for the future and are enthusiastic to change things.

“So that their children wouldn’t have to deal with those issues,” she said.

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