President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins visited Thomond Park today for the official launch of the Belonging to Limerick Integration Plan by Limerick Integration Working Group and Limerick City and County Council.
Also speaking at the event were Donnah Vuma, Doras Luimní board member, Cllr James Collins, Mayor of Limerick City and County and Eugene Quinn, Chairperson of Limerick Integration Working Group, who headed up the event.
‘Belonging to Limerick’ city and county integration plan 2018-2022 is the third integration plan for the region and will focus on working “towards creating 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 tone was set right from the beginning of the event with a performance from The Limerick Gospel Choir as they marched and clapped before the crowd overlooking the pitch in Thomond Park.
An upstanding crowd warmly welcomed the President, and the Limerick Gospel Choir gave a special rendition of ‘Limerick You’re a Lady’ for the honourable guest, to which he gave special commendation.
In his keynote address at the launch, President Higgins first congratulated the crowd: “I absolutely congratulate you in your hurling achievement. I was talking to Joe Canning’s father and he said to me ‘who could begrudge it to them’.”
He took the crowd on a journey to the Limerick of his childhood, mentioning the streets, shops and characters of Limerick that he came to know as a young boy who visited his parents in the city while he lived with his relatives in Clare.
With Ireland’s long history of emigration and more recent history of immigration he said, when people move in the same way they “are seeking to put down roots and belong, and that is the significance of the fine word that you have on the title of the strategy.”
“I think then that the experience of leaving, of rare returns and exile is very deep in the Irish psyche,” President Higgins said.
In a history lesson for attendees President Higgins talked about the displaced Irish across the world: the deported Irish in Tasmania, Sarsfield’s soldiers and their families leaving banks of the Shannon for further shores on the signing of the Treaty, never to return to Ireland.
“We must think as well about what it must mean when we come to terms in our contemporary world with the displaced people of the world.”
“My hope is that those immigrants who have come to join us in Ireland and their children in generations to come can achieve their ambitions with our help and forge their own identities which will be for the benefit of us all.”
The incumbent President requested of the crowd: “May I suggest that we achieve the best of ourselves when we make the effort to understand and accept the complexity of identity. Then we move on from simply tolerating difference, we can come then to embrace and celebrate what make the newest citizens of Ireland, the newest citizens of Limerick, unique.”
Donnah Vuma of Doras Luimní, Clare person of the year and Place of Sanctuary scholarship recipient at UL spoke passionately about bringing diversity and integration to the region she calls home.
She said: “Newcomers to Limerick must also embrace the local culture in the same way that they hope their cultures will be embraced. Belonging is not only about engaging, it is also about learning.”
Through her participation in courses over the last four years in Limerick she said can look around the room and almost say hello to everyone by name: “like community engagement, education has been an essential part of my sense of belonging here in Limerick.”
Founder of the community group ‘Every Child is Your Child’ Donnah said her three children attend local schools in Limerick “and I have seen them become more confident in the society and more connected to Limerick society.”
The community group ‘Every Child is Your Child’ helps parents in direct provision, help their children by providing essential back to school necessities. This year the group provided school bags, stationary and even voluntary contribution fees to more than 30 children in Limerick and 600 children across Ireland.
Mayor James Collins said to the room representative of the 150 different nationalities living in Limerick: “We are Limerick. Limerick is not about a place, it’s not about buildings, it’s about the people – and we are all Limerick.”
In closing remarks Eugene Quinn of Limerick Integration Working group who wrote the strategy said: “we must fight the myths and misinformation about migration and the fear that they generate. Irrespective of colour, creed or culture we share more in common than that which divides us.”
“Diversity is good; it enriches us, it challenges us and teaches us new ways of being and doing. This is why migrant integration strategies like ‘Belonging to Limerick’ are important.”
A research team from the University of Limerick including Dr James Carr, Dr Elaine Vaughan and Dr Ann Marcus Quinn conducted the Limerick Integration Needs Analysis 2017, which played a part in the development of the Belonging to Limerick strategy.
The two previous integration strategy plans for Limerick focused on promoting a vibrant, inclusive and dynamic society for all Limerick residents and more recently the 2013-16 strategy built on the progress in order to develop Limerick as a “welcoming, inclusive and intercultural region.”
President Michael D. Higgins received well wishes from the Mayor Collins followed by a rapturous applause from the room, for the upcoming Presidential election where he is seeking a second term in the Áras.