Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership

This page will provide an overview of the activity and discussion which took place at the first NISMP conference, held on the 19th of April 2012 in Newtownabbey. For additional information about the conference, or to recieve information about future NISMP events, please contact Bethany Bradley at b.bradley@nilga.org

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The first conference of the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership was held on the 19th of April, 2012 in Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey. Attendees came from the voluntary, community and statutory sectors to discuss the importance of immigration issues being explored at a local level. The beginning of the day explored the potential of the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership to help emphasise and address the specific regional needs of Northern Ireland in regards to immigration and integration, while the afternoon sessions featured specific actions on how the Partnership, the statutory and voluntary sectors can collaborate and cooperate to promote integration and support migrants.

NISMP Panel Session

During the first session, Board Members from the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership presented their priorities and objectives on issues of migration and integration, as well as outlining the work their own organisations have been doing in these areas.  The panel featured: John O’Kane, SDLP Councillor from Fermanagh District Council; Mike Golden, Assistant Director for UKBA in the region of Scotland and Northern Ireland; Jo Marley, Director of Bryson Intercultural; and Maurice Rooney, Assistant Director of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Key points:

  • The importance of recognising that while the rapid growth in migration has slowed recently, there continue to be increases in numbers of asylum seekers presenting in Northern Ireland and a growth in the rate of birth to mothers from outside the UK and Ireland. It is important that NI continues to prepare and adapt based on these demographic changes.
  • The centrality of joint-working and communication across sectors to ensure best practice.
  • The potential for the strategic migration partnership to be a central point of information and collaboration on migration and related issues and the need for more to be done to promote the work of the NISMP and raise awareness of the partnership’s potential.

‘Policy Toolkit’ Presentation from Derek Mitchell, Manager of the COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership in Scotland

Derek Mitchell presented to the conference on the COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership’s ‘Policy Toolkit’, which is an ongoing project to support local authorities in developing appropriate policy approaches to migration and integration based on the specific needs of that council area. The toolkit provides comprehensive information on specific policy issues, and the partnership provides practical support to local authorities when requested. The project, which was developed over a number of years using data gathered in conjunction with the General Registrar’s Office in Scotland, is supplemented with financial support from the Scottish Government. Mr. Mitchell outlined some of the challenges faced by the Scottish Strategic Migration Partnership since its inception more than 10 years ago, and remarked on the progress made by the NISMP in such a short time. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here, and the policy toolkit can be downloaded here.

Key Points:

  • Projects like the Policy Toolkit take a lot of time and background preparation, additional funding, and the cooperation of board members as well as other partner agencies. Developing strong working relationships across sectors is crucial to developing effective projects and utilising the regional partnerships to their maximum potential.
  • Making the case for special regional needs to the Home Office is possible (for example, Scotland has a separate Shortage Occupation List for Tier 2 migrants); however a strong evidence base is central to this.
  • Other regional strategic migration partnerships around the UK have been functioning for several years, and are happy to share their experiences and best practice.

‘Migration Information Portal’ Presentation from John Bell from Institute for Conflict Research

John Bell, lead researcher on the Migration Information Portal project recently commissioned by NISMP, presented an outline of the work which ICR will undertake on behalf of NISMP over the next several months. This initial research will provide a baseline for a central information database on migration and related issues on the NISMP website. Mr. Bell invited delegates to contribute ideas for evidence collection to the partnership and outlined the importance of establishing contacts within sectors to maintain an open line of communication and information sharing. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here.

Key points:

  • The project is only a starting point and will continue to change and develop as more information becomes available and better networks of information sharing are built
  • The issue of promoting integration of ethnic minority groups resident in Northern Ireland which are not necessarily migrants was raised. It was acknowledged that this will be important in the future, but that this initial project is more about establishing a strong foundation of data sharing.
  • The project will be about consolidating existing information, making information more accessible and highlighting relevance to certain sectors, and identifying gaps in data.

Keynote Speech: Ben Gidley

Ben Gidley, senior researcher from the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), delivered the keynote speech on the importance of local authorities and communities in integration. He highlighted the key role of political leadership, community action and integration as a two-way process based on the findings from the UK report of the European-wide Attitudes to Migrants, Communication and Local Leadership (AMICALL) project. A copy of Ben’s presentation can be downloaded here and the AMICALL report can be accessed here. Dr. Gidley’s contact details can be found here.

Key Points:

  • Integration must be a proactive process, and is better on a very local level
  • Local Authorities where there is strong political leadership and positive messages about migration have better rates of integration and more positive attitudes towards migration within the community.
  • Positive media images about migrants and migration are important to integration.

Thematic Break-Out Sessions

Delegates divided into three small groups with three different themes: Joined-Up Working; lobbying government; and integration at a local level. Each group was asked to go over the key issues in each category and come up with three action points which could be presented to the NISMP Board for consideration in this year’s strategic plan. A paper detailing the actions from each group can be downloaded here. Session leaders were: Ivy Ridge of the Ballymena Interethnic Forum; Leish Dolan, Good Relations Officer at Belfast City Council; Justyna McCabe, Good Relations Officer for Newry and Mourne; Jolena Flett, Advice Manager at Belfast Migrant Centre; and Claire Bradley, Policy Support Officer at Northern Ireland Local Government Association.

Key Issues:

  • NISMP could be more proactive in reaching out to the VCS and statutory sector through publication of minutes of board meetings and inviting groups to come to Board Meetings as observers.
  • NISMP is well placed to promote integration policy in Northern Ireland and to facilitate lobbying between sectors and various levels of government.
  • Use of best practice is important in all thematic areas discussed throughout the day.

Panel Session: The Importance of Joint-Working between the VCS and Statutory Sector

The final session of the day was a panel of individuals from the voluntary, community and statutory sectors discussing joint-working. Panellists described what they believed were the most important issues in joint-working, described the biggest challenges and identified some best practice. The panel was made up of: Les Allamby, Director of the Law Centre, NI; David McIlveen, MLA and chair of the All Party Group on Ethnic Minorities; Helena MacCormick, Policy Officer at NICEM; Marian Hall from the Social Services Board; and Fiona Milligan, head of the Diversity in Action Project at the National Children’s Bureau, NI.

Key Issues:

  • Both sectors must have better understanding of each other’s limitations and restrictions.
  • Resources continue to be major issue for both the voluntary and community and statutory sectors.
  • NISMP should be proactive in helping to promote and disseminate best practice in joint-working, as well as helping to facilitate it in areas where it is not as prevalent.
  • Improving access to information will aid joint-working.
Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership