Belfast Telegraph

Issue of migrant workers tops Sir Reg's agenda at Dublin talks

By Andrea Clements

Issues surrounding migrant workers and innovation funding were set to be on the agenda today at a meeting in Dublin between Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey and his southern counterparts.

Sir Reg was due to meet the Republic's Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin, and the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin to discuss issues relevant to both sides of the border.

Sir Reg said he hoped the Executive could learn from the Republic where he said hundreds of thousands of non-national workers were employed.

"I'm aware that migrant workers are doing lots of jobs the local community no longer wish to do," he said.

"But there are also highly qualified professional and technical jobs which local employers say they are finding difficulty in filling from the indigenous population.

"But what will happen if there is an economic downturn and migrant workers and locals are competing for the same jobs, creating tensions?

"We need to get ahead of the game and learn lessons by sharing information."

With the number of non-national children attending schools in Northern Ireland increasing by 40% per annum, Sir Reg is aware that the amount of money spent on those who do not speak English as a first language is growing dramatically.

This, as well as the strain it puts on teachers, was being discussed today.

And also on the agenda was the £40m funding for innovation in Northern Ireland that the Dublin Government has pledged.

Sir Reg wants to discuss where the money may best be spent.

He said: "I'd like to see significant amounts used for R&D and to boost collaboration at university level in areas in which we struggle so that we can compete on a worldwide basis."

Sir Reg said he also hoped to develop cross border growth and boost employment in border areas.

"If we can assess what the local employers need in terms of skills, any information we can gleam will make the labour market more efficient.

"We can also go to local colleges to talk about the courses needed."

Belfast Telegraph