Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership

Improving the consultation process and promoting participation

 

Consultation is a cornerstone of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which provides a legal framework for inclusivity within the wider policy making process. Two main issues were highlighted by the Equality Commission’s Section 75: Effectiveness Review, 2008 which related to consultation:

  • Relying heavily on established organisations while excluding the majority of voluntary and community groups from the process and

  • Consulting ‘representative organisations’ rather than the primary stakeholders. 

In addition to the need for government agencies to continue to improve practice around consultation, voluntary and community groups also need to effectively communicate their needs, and take into consideration a diversity of views and experiences. Training for groups who wish to participate in the policy making and consultation process  is available through voluntary and community groups, including the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities.

The Equality Commission website provides guidance on effective implementation of the Section 75 statutory duties. The Northern Ireland Local Government Association website provides information on ongoing consultations, and consultations are also listed on each government department’s website.

Improving Access to Services

Migrants can face a range of difficulties when trying to access services, due to language barriers and a lack of understanding and experience of local systems. To ensure that there is equality of access to services for all residents, it is important that materials are accessible to speakers of other languages and that interpretation services are provided when required.  ‘Improving Government Service Delivery to Minority Ethnic Groups’, a 2006 report from OFMdFM in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the British Council (Ireland), proposes a framework for improving public authority provision in Northern Ireland. OFMdFM has also produced Guidance for Monitoring Racial Equality which presents a standardised framework to help public bodies gather the information needed which will facilitate the monitoring of inequalities, development of evidence based policy and planning of service delivery.

It is important to note that issues of access are not limited to publicly provided services. A 2012 report on Financial Inclusion amongst new migrants in Northern Ireland examines the extent, form and consequences of financial exclusion amongst new migrants and develops policy recommendations to promote financial inclusion in the future.

Meeting Language and Interpreting Needs

Language difficulties remain a key challenge in promoting equality of access for migrant service users. Interpreting services are provided by all public agencies, including:

Interpretation services are also provided by private and not for profit organisations, such as STEP,  a community development organisation based in Dungannon, which provides interpreting and translation services throughout Northern Ireland.

The Scottish Translation, Interpreting and Communication Forum has information on a number of good practice guidelines for statutory bodies  on the use of interpretation and communication to the wider public.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is available free of charge to asylum seekers at colleges of further education. However, ESOL is not included as an essential skill in Northern Ireland and so other migrants will be charged if accessing courses provided through FE colleges. There are, however, a number of ESOL classes provided through voluntary and community groups which are free of charge. EmbraceNI have produced a list of free and fee paying ESOL classes available throughout Northern Ireland.

 

 

Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership