Speech Material for Mr Tim O´Malley, T.D., Minister of State at the official opening of the JOIN Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here today to officially open this important transnational conference on Equality and Anti-discrimination issues in Health Care.

The conference forms part of an ongoing programme of work undertaken by the JOIN project over the last 18 months.

The JOIN project is a European Union funded transnational project co-run by Access Ireland in this country, the Finnish Ministry of Labour in Finland and the Roma and Sinti Union in Germany.

A conference of this nature is an excellent example of pan-European cooperation and collaboration and it is particularly significant that it should be taking place in Dublin during the Irish presidency of the European Union.

I understand that the conference is part of JOIN´s very extensive work programme, which is being undertaken by the three Project partners. This programme has a number of elements. The first of these involves the development of key innovative sub-projects in each of the three countries.

Inter-country staff-exchanges, intra-country seminars and international conferences, like this one, are key components of the JOIN Project.

This type of collaboration between countries, learning from each other and sharing knowledge and experience, surely encapsulates the ethos and philosophy of the European Union since its inception.

The theme of the conference focuses on tackling the challenges involved in promoting equity and fairness in the provision of a quality, people-centred health and social service for minority groups in society. This theme complies with the fundamental principles of the Health Strategy, launched by my Department in 2002.

Therefore, the Health Strategy underpins the efforts of Access Ireland – and all the voluntary and statutory sectors working in this area-, in their concern for equity, their commitment to diversity and their determination to end poverty and disadvantage.

This involves many challenges for health service personnel.

Cross-cultural communication is one such challenge. Access Ireland has sought to address this challenge in its Join sub-project, by training members of the new Irish from minority ethnic groups as cultural mediators to assist health and social service providers in their work with people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

This approach avoids misunderstandings or conflicts due to cultural and linguistic differences that can pose actual or potential barriers between people of different backgrounds and service providers. Misunderstandings that can sometimes lead to claims of racial discrimination against service providers.

Before establishing the cultural mediation course Access Ireland undertook a comprehensive cultural needs analysis with both the users and the providers of these services.

This needs analysis formed the basis for the course curriculum and the training programme involves experts from both the service user and provider groups.

Therefore a mutual respect and understanding has been fostered and developed from the start of the process. This has led to a very positive response to the first graduates of the cultural mediation course within the services.

I understand that currently there is a steadily growing demand from different public service agencies for the services of cultural mediators. These requests involve the input of mediators in providing intercultural training for staff, as well as, helping staff respond sensitively to the needs of individual ethnic minority clients.

Examples of the latter include assisting staff in telling parents that their child has a serious disability, and explaining the fostering procedures to a family whose daughter is being placed in temporary foster care. Practical help for social workers and foster parents in maintaining and respecting the cultural identity of foster children is also an area of involvement that cultural mediators have a potentially important role to play.

These are just a few examples of key service areas where cultural mediators have an invaluable role to play.

I want to acknowledge here the role of the Northern Area Health Board (NAHB) and Mr. Frank Mills, Director of Social Inclusion, South Western Area Health Board for the vision shown in recognising the value of a cultural mediation service and in supporting its development.

A key feature of the JOIN project is that it emphasises the benefit of bringing together people working across the broad equality agenda at a national and transnational level. In that context, I am delighted to welcome here representatives of groups working to prevent discrimination and inequality on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation from both within Ireland and overseas.

The speakers for the conference include, Dr. Philip Crowley who will share with you his insights from his experience in the health services both here and in the UK. You will hear too from Dr. Yvon Luky from Cáirde, who can share with you his unique perspective as a member of an ethnic minority group in Ireland, who is also a medical doctor. Your programme for the day also includes speakers for the other JOIN project countries and from Northern Ireland.

The workshops in the afternoon will give everyone an opportunity to learn and share their individual perspectives on the important issues being explored today.

The conference is therefore an opportunity for sharing experiences and learning from each other.

An old Irish proverb comes to mind, “Ní neart go cur le chéile”. In English this means: “Co-operation is the secret of success”.

I wish you an enjoyable and successful conference.

Thank you.