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    Taoiseach speaks on Irish in Britain

    By admin | January 4, 2007

    The Taoiseach has spoken about such issues as free travel for pensioners, RTE broadcasting abroad, and support for returning emigrants in an interview with Britain’s Irish Post.

    On free travel, Mr Ahern said that extending free travel to Irish pensioners resident in Britain “remains a priority of this government”, but he did not give a timeline. He did note that from early 2007, an all-island free travel scheme would be in place for pensioners North and South. He added that extension of the free travel was “about recognising the debt of gratititude we owe to the Irish in Britain who helped to build the successful country we now have”.
    He also said that EU laws prevent extending the entitlement to free travel only to Irish-born people living abroad as it would be contrary to legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of nationality; it would also be against EU law to extend the scheme to people receiving Irish pensions outside the state.

    On the issue of supporting older Irish people who are interested in returning to Ireland, Mr Ahern highlighted the role of member agency Emigrant Advice. He noted the updated information guide “Returning to Ireland” which is available through Irish immigrant centres abroad, embassies and consulates, as well as information providers in Ireland such as Citizens Information Centres, F?S offices, and Social Welfare offices.

    Regarding the potential for RTE broadcasting into British homes, Mr Ahern noted that the new Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006 will be enacted early this year. He said the Bill intends for RTE to produce a service that will reflect the content of the channels currently available in Ireland; TG4 will contribute. The means of transmission (terrestrial, cable, or satellite) are not specified in the bill “and RTE will have to explore these possibilities”.

    When asked about the most important issues facing the Irish government in relation to Irish people in Britain, Mr Ahern said the biggest issue is “how we cherish our senior citizens”. He noted that “many of our people were forced to leave Ireland for economic reasons and endured particular hardship and difficulties as a result.
    Of course so many members of our community in Britain have done so well and there are Irish people at the top of every walk of life in Britain but we must also remember those for whom life has not been so fortunate.”

    He noted that the Irish government had provided £7 million to assist the Irish community in Britain, “and the vast bulk of this funding goes to help the elderly members of our community, helping to provide advice centres, social functions, health and housing support and a plethora of other services.”

    He named interaction with second and third-generation Irish in Britain as another important issue, and stressed the importance of a continuing connection with Ireland.

    Mr Ahern also noted the importance of the Irish in Britain in contributing to Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations.

    The Taoiseach concluded the interview by saying that the Irish in Britain are not forgotten: “There can be few houses in Ireland where a candle is not lit to remind them of loved ones abroad and it is this link between home and our community abroad which is ever enduring.”

    Read the entire interview at the Irish Post newspaper site.

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