Dublin City Council was drawing up a new integration strategy for the city, said a statement on its website. 

The Green Party Councillor Hazel Chu, who was then lord mayor, had chaired a webinar with all kinds of stakeholders to brainstorm, it said. 

There would be a public consultation in the following few months, said a Facebook post alongside a screenshot of that Zoom meeting, shared through the official Lord Mayor of Dublin’s account.

That was late January 2021, about two years and nine months ago.

But that wider public consultation is yet to happen, and – more than halfway through the period that is supposed to be covered by the 2021–2025 strategy – the council has yet to publish any document.

Last year’s census data showed that more than one in four people living in Dublin were born outside of Ireland with some pockets like the north-inner city with even greater diversity.

Amid recent tensions around Hardwicke Street, Somali restaurant owner Ahmed Abdalla said last month that much better integration efforts are needed: “People need to be connected to each other, they need to be influenced by each other.”

A Dublin City Council spokesperson said that national policy guidelines are being developed, which would allow the council to progress with the strategy. 

Meanwhile, the council “remains committed to the advancement and support of Integration and Social Inclusion through the Community Development and the Integration Office”, said the spokesperson.

Falling quiet

In the months after the 2021 webinar, council officials were plugging away on a strategy show meeting minutes for the council’s Local Community Development Committee (LCDC), which is overseeing it.

In June 2021, Dublin city councillors at a full council meeting approved a “framework”. The plan would be developed, a report said, on the basis that the city celebrates and supports diversity among those who live here. 

And, on the basis that the city “will ensure that all residents are empowered and enabled to fully and equally participate in the city’s cultural, social, economic and political life, and that all can access and benefit from the services they need on an equal and culturally appropriate basis”. 

Council departments and units would have concrete actions to take, it said. And, the LCDC was working with the UN International Organization for Migration on a pilot Migrant Forum for Dublin, it said.

The LCDC expected the strategy to go out for a robust public consultation, with lots of Dubliners chiming in, said the document approved by councillors.

But the council then went quiet. There was no mention of the strategy at LCDC meetings in 2022 and 2023, show minutes. 

A spokesperson for the council said that it now has to wait for national guidelines to be issued before it can press ahead with its own strategy. The government is also behind in launching its national migrant integration strategy.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality said it had launched a public consultation on 20 October for drawing up a national migrant integration strategy.

It’s open to submissions until 30 November, and they’re inviting anyone interested to contribute, they said. 

Next year, it will set up a working group tasked with framing a national strategy based on those inputs, the spokesperson said. 

Chu, Green Party councillor, says the 2021 framework drawn up for the local strategy might need some updates to factor in societal shifts. 

It is conscious of discrimination and racism, but far-right parties have risen globally since, she said. “Ireland is not immune to this.” 

Hostility towards asylum seekers and refugees is now more visible and commonplace, Chu said. “We have seen various protests outside direct provision and refugee centres where people of different nationalities are targeted.”

Still things happening

Close to 44 percent of residents of the north inner-city were born outside of Ireland and the United Kingdom, show 2022 census figures. 

Almost 14 percent of people living there said they don’t speak English well or at all, the figures also show. (Citywide, it is close to 11 percent.)

Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor for that area, says that not having an integration strategy doesn’t mean that there aren’t efforts.

But “when the tensions emerge, that’s when the headlines get written”, said Horner by phone on Friday. 

There are multinational football games, and the early learning programmes run by the National College of Ireland serve parents from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures, Horner said.

The council has dedicated this week to celebrating diversity, calling it Inclusion and Integration Week and throwing events.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t concerned about the lack of an integration strategy, she says. It affects where funding goes, she says. 

“I think it’s really important that we’re clear in our ambitions,” said Horner. “I’m very worried that there are not proper resources.”

She worries that council executives may not give proper weight to the importance of diversity and integration, she says. “That there’s maybe not a proper commitment to integration in senior figures.”

Maria Elena Costa Sa, human rights and community development lead with the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR), says that she is deeply worried about delays. 

Having a roadmap forces the council to commit on paper so it can be held into account if it doesn’t deliver, she said.

That’s especially vital for things like diversity among staff, she said. “We want to see our communities being represented.”

When tensions heighten in areas of the city – as they have in recent times amid anti-immigrant protests – migrant community workers can help calm situations, says Costa Sa.

Adrian Cristea, executive officer at Dublin City Interfaith Forum – a network for promoting diversity – says similarly, that they’re pressing ahead with integration work on the ground even if there’s no strategy.

“We have developed programmes like Safe Haven,” he said, which is a project responding to hate crimes.

An integration strategy can help, he says. “It gives more clarity for rolling out actions and projects,” said Cristea. 

Racist episodes are on the rise, he says, and combating them needs proper planning.

Gonchigkhand Byambaa, who works with Mongolian immigrants in the city, said she wants to see diversity quotas for council workers and political representatives in the new integration strategy when it drops.

As the local election edges closer, she and another colleague have been searching for funds to make people living at direct provision centres aware of their voting rights through INAR.

“We need to include the minorities,” she said.

They’ve run a few workshops, Byambaa says, where they found people were unaware of their voting rights and surprised to learn about them. “It makes them feel included.”

After one workshop, which wasn’t even about voting, Byambaa says, someone chased after her. “Saying, ‘Look, show me how to register my vote.’”

Three people registered to vote that day, she said. 

Chu, the Green Party councillor, said the council needs to do things to nudge more minoritised people to run in the upcoming local election, even without an integration strategy. 

Faces in the council don’t mirror a Dublin that has grown more diverse, she said. The council should work to normalise the idea that it should, said Chu. “We represent the community, and we need to continue to represent the community.”

Meanwhile, the council’s north-east inner-city intercultural development coordinator, Joy Eniola no longer works there. Although the Dublin North East Inner City (NEIC) website says she does.

Horner, the inner-city councillor, says Eniola’s position hasn’t been filled yet – and that’s concerning.

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at shamim@dublininquirer.com

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