About €500,000 to be awarded to projects promoting integration

Grassroots developments can have stronger impact that criminal legislation, says Minister

School children take part in the 2018 Indoor Diversity Games which were held in Athlone in January. Photograph: Offaly Sports Partnership

School children take part in the 2018 Indoor Diversity Games which were held in Athlone in January. Photograph: Offaly Sports Partnership


More than €500,000 in Government funding for organisations promoting migrant integration across Ireland will be announced this week.

The Communities Integration Fund, which was established as part of the 2017 Migrant Integration Strategy, will award more than €500,000 to local sports, arts, culinary, educational and cultural projects which encourage Irish and non-Irish people to engage with one another.

Last year, more than €515,000 was awarded to 131 groups in 26 counties following more than 300 applications for funding. The average grant was €3,950 per project and an estimated 62,500 people participated in the events. Some 115 organisations are expected to receive funding this week for the coming year.

Despite the positive response to the Communities Integration Fund, the 2017 Migrant Integration Strategy was strongly criticised last year with an expert on hate crime warning that Ireland was at risk of “sleepwalking into a racist and segregated society”.

Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton says legislation which punishes those guilty of hate crime has “certain limitations” and that grassroots projects can play a much stronger role in promoting acceptance among different communities. “What I’m trying to do with the migration strategy is to come at it from the other end so that communities accept and get to know new arrivals and then racism doesn’t happen,” Mr Stanton told The Irish Times.

“It allows people to get to know each other on a human level. It’s a two-way process, both the migrant and the person living here years must work together and meet each other half way.”

Eamonn Henry from the Offaly Sports Partnership used the €5,000 grant to organise the State’s first indoor diversity games in Athlone IT in January. Nearly 300 school children from counties Laois, Offaly, Sligo, Meath and Galway took part in the sports day which stipulated that all schools involved ensure that at least 50 per cent of entrants came from ethnic minorities.

While the group was grateful for the funding, Mr Henry said further investment was needed to promote integration through sport and warned that many potentially high-class athletes from migrant backgrounds were at risk of “falling through the cracks”. A “systematic approach” is needed to ensure children from ethnic minorities can excel in their sport and potentially go on to represent Ireland on an international stage, he said. “Sports, like athletics or soccer, is a universal language,” said Mr Henry. “Generally when people grow up with it there’s no issue of skin colour or religion on the playing field.”

While the overall response to increased diversity in children’s sports has been positive, Mr Henry has witnessed some racism towards participants with African backgrounds. “I’ve been involved in this for the past six or seven years and in the early days if children of African background looked slightly older there was a questioning of their age. I ended up going to races with children’s birth certs in the glove compartment. That’s still happening to a certain extent.”

Mabel Chah, who received a €5,000 grant for the Sligo Global Kitchen, says the money allowed the organisation to hold events in spaces around the community, buy new equipment and provide training in food health and safety for participants. She hopes to receive further funding to expand the project which holds cooking events for asylum seekers living in direct provision.

“We could definitely do with more money. I do all this work as a volunteer so it can get exhausting. We’d like to try and work in neighbouring counties like Mayo and Donegal. Cooking can feel very empowering and you get to meet with the community over a meal. It’s also good for the mental state of people to get out of the centres.”