Bishop Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, Chairman of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants gave the following address yesterday at the UK Launch of Returning to Ireland at the London Irish Centre, Camden. After thanking Minister Seamus Brennan for inviting him and acknowledging the commitment of the Irish Government to the care of Irish Emigrants, he said: Two years ago I visited this centre and I launched the Irish Bishops' SIA campaign. Government spending was at that time a little over two million euro. This year it runs to over eight million euro. There is no doubt that since setting up the unit for the Irish abroad at The Department of Foreign Affairs we have had significant increases in the resources placed at the disposal of many of the Irish Welfare services across the UK and indeed throughout the world. I am well aware that it was the Department of Social and Family Affairs that showed due regard for the emigrant community over the years. As an information provider you realised you had a commitment to Irish people abroad. In order to make informed decisions emigrants need reliable, up-to-date information on which those decisions can be based. Today's launch is an example of that sustained commitment. I wish to endorse what the Minister has said and commend highly the work of Emigrant Advice; an agency of the Archdiocese of Dublin that has served emigrants since the 1980s. The publication is of the highest standard and will be well received by those who work on the front line. Minister I wish to express my gratitude to your staff and in particular the wonderful contribution of Ms Rita Morrissey. This Department also took brave steps as they offered the pre '53 pension to many Irish people living abroad. Much has been achieved. May I appeal to the Minister on behalf of what one would consider to be a small number of our Diaspora; those Irish citizens who live abroad and reach the grand old age of one hundred years. I know that those who reach this age, their families and Irish communities across the world would be greatly honoured if those most revered citizens were to receive some acknowledgement from their homeland on reaching this most significant birthday. As chairman of the Commission for Emigrants I have travelled this year to the US where I visited many Chaplaincy centres and other welfare bodies and I saw first hand the great work of many people. Similarly over the past few days I have had an opportunity to see the tremendous growth and development of projects that support our emigrant community here in the UK, particularly to those most vulnerable. The commitment of Government I spoke about earlier has assisted and facilitated this progress. On my travels I have been greatly impressed by the active engagement and commitment of Embassies and Consular staff who I am on the record as saying provide a 24/7 service to Irish people abroad. They have always received me with the utmost courtesy and I acknowledge your great contribution at many levels. When Church and State working together espouse and support initiatives each contributing its respective expertise and resources be it of personnel, vision, shared objectives or material resources, those most in need at any particular point in time are the main beneficiaries. This week we marked the 20th anniversary of the Irish bishops' Commission for Prisoners Overseas. This service extends worldwide. Here we see a concrete example whereby a combination of resources by Church and State reach particularly marginalized groups of emigrants and their families. It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to commend the work of those who act on behalf of the Irish Episcopal Commission for emigrants here in Britain. In this regard I pay tribute to the outstanding leadership of the Director of the Chaplaincy service, Sr. Lucy Troy and her staff. Her presence and contribution is greatly valued by all here. I also pay tribute to all of you who are in any way implementing the vision of our SIA campaign - Supporting Irish Abroad. May this continue into the future. See www.emigrantadvice.ie for further information.
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