President Michael D. Higgins gave the keynote speech at the launch of Belonging to Limerick Integration Plan, 2018 -2022, by Limerick Integration Working Group and Limerick City and County Council. The launch took place in the iconic Thomond Park Stadium on Friday 28 September.
Eugene Quinn, National Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland is chair of the Limerick Integration Working Group and author of the report and he says the plan aims to create a “vibrant, inclusive and truly intercultural society in Limerick in which all residents belong and are valued equally, regardless of their colour, creed or culture.” The plan focuses on education, information-sharing, awareness and access to public services as priority areas in effective cooperation between all Limerick residents, according to Eugene Quinn.
The tone of the launch was set from the beginning of the event with a performance from The Limerick Gospel Choir as they marched and clapped before those overlooking the pitch in Thomond Park. The crowd numbered over 250, made up of Limerick residents from all backgrounds, local service providers, and representatives of the 19 partner organizations that make up the Integration Working Group. The event included exhibits from local artists from migrant backgrounds, and performances by musicians from the Limerick Filipino and Polish communities.
In his keynote address, President Higgins said: “We do best when we make the effort to understand and accept the complexity of identity. Moving on from simply ‘tolerating’ differences, we can embrace and celebrate what makes the newest ‘citizens of Limerick’ unique; understanding the importance of seeing culture as a process open to change in accordance with time, place and history, no one strand being asked to cede its identity to another.”
According to Eugene Quinn, at the heart of this 5-year integration plan are the concepts of ‘Belonging and Diversity Advantage’. “Belonging encapsulates a vision, a strategy and a future for Limerick and beyond. It is a desire and a hope shared by migrants to belong. Diversity advantage envisages migrants as resources for local economic, social and cultural development, not only vulnerable groups in need of supports and services. Migrants as the subject and not the object of change.”
The authors of the plan believe that migration and diversity offer a huge opportunity for Limerick. The plan emphasises the positive side of the balance sheet, they say, adding, “Migration is good for the economy, addressing skills shortages, adding flexibility, capacity and diversity to the labour force and helping to create a more attractive environment to locate culturally diverse international business and global investment.”
But Eugene Quinn warned against a rise globally in anti-immigrant rhetoric, with states becoming increasingly inward looking and fearful. “There is a tendency to scapegoat those who are different, who do not speak like us, who do not look like us. We must fight the myths and misinformation about migration and the fear that generates. Irrespective of colour, creed or culture we share more in common than that which divides us. Diversity is good, it enriches us, challenges us and teaches us new ways of being and doing. This is why migrant integration strategies like Belonging to Limerick are so important.”
“The launch was a resounding success,” according to Leonie Kerins, CEO of Doras Luimní who expressed her gratitude to everyone who came to support the new integration plan. “The overwhelming support we have received goes to show this city’s commitment to a sustainable integration structure that holds all cultures, languages, traditions and people in high regard. We want this this city’s residents, regardless of their backgrounds, to truly belong to Limerick, and I believe that Friday’s launch was a positive step toward achieving this goal.”
Belonging to Limerick is Limerick’s 3rd integration plan.