From the mid 1990s Ireland became an immigrant rather than an emigrant country. For the first time, Ireland began to attract significant numbers of migrant workers from all over the world. At the same time, asylum seekers began coming to Ireland in increasing numbers during the 1990s.
Both economic immigrants and especially, applicants for protection, found themselves in a country which had no policies and no services for them. Asylum seekers themselves had, and continue to have, no choice about where in Ireland to live. Asylum seekers were not and are still not allowed to work. While asylees were initially granted access to normal social welfare allowances based on need in the same way as other residents of Ireland, this changed in 2000, with the introduction of a system that the state calls “direct provision”.
The new regime gradually withdrew asylum seeker access to all normal social welfare allowances, including child benefit, and replaced these entitlements with weekly pocket money of IR£15 per week per adult, IR£7.50 per child. These amounts have not changed – in 2012, asylum seekers continue to be accommodated for years in residential institutions designed for stays of six months or less, run by private companies where they receive an allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child per week.
It became clear that immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers needed services and assistance that were not being provided by the government. In Cork and in other cities and towns, local people became involved in filling some of the gaps which Government policy had created. Between 1998 and 1999 a loose coalition of organisations, academics, religious orders and individuals both immigrant and Irish began to meet in Cork in what was effectively a grassroots movement. Three individuals in particular spearheaded this and went on to found Nasc; namely Piaras Mac Einrí of the Migration Studies Unit at University College Cork; Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll of the Society of African Missions (SMA) and Brendan Hennessey, who later became Nasc’s first employee and full time Coordinator.
The catalyst which provided the big break-through came in Spring 2000, when the Sisters of Mercy donated the use of a building and made a financial contribution to get the organisation off the ground. Further support came from the SMA Fathers, other religious and other sources in the months, and years that followed. To this day, Nasc is funded entirely by donations from philanthropic individuals and organisations. We are not, and never have been, funded by the state.
Nasc opened its doors for the first time in June 2000, at St. Marie’s of the Isle, where we remained until June 2005. Nasc established itself as a place of independent and trustworthy advice where migrants could also meet to organise themselves around important issues. The organisation also secured enough donations to expand its remit and to help people to find accommodation, education and training opportunities.
At this time, the work of the organisation was structured around community groups; the Women’s Group, the Speaker’s Panel, the Country of Origin Project, the Policy and Campaigning Group and the Social and Cultural Group. The groups began to involve themselves in various trainings and projects, writing external policies, organising seminars, conferences, public forums, etc. Nasc also catered for around 120 clients a month on a one to one basis during these early years. At the same time, Nasc’s advocacy work continued at a national level, where the organisation advocated for better integration, immigration and asylum policies, based on the needs of its members.
In 2005, with great gratitude to the Sisters of Mercy, Nasc moved from St Marie’s of the Isle to Enterprise House, 35 Mary Street. The move was made possible thanks to the support of the One Foundation, and it marked the beginning of a long and productive relationship that continues to endure.
2005 saw the production of a number of creative projects: a book of writing by migrants in Cork entitled A Safe Harbour?; a film about the lives of women living in Direct Provision made in conjunction with Frameworks Film-making Company called Who are we Now? and a play called As a Matter of Culture. In 2005 we were also delighted that many of our members, women in particular, were granted leave to remain on the basis of having an Irish-born child. Nasc was a member of CADIC, the Campaign Against the Deportation of the Irish-born Child and organised locally-based campaign seminars about this issue.
2006 was a landmark year, as Nasc began to attract further significant funding; following the One Foundation‘s commitment of long-term funding the previous year, Atlantic Philanthropies came on-board. Thanks in large part to these two major sources of funding, the organisation was able to hire key staff, namely a Coordinator, a Legal/Information Officer and a Community Development Officer.
Early 2007 saw the commencement of Nasc’s professional personal advocacy service. That service has continued to experience exponential growth: in 2010, the service assisted more than three hundred people every month, providing information about a range of immigration-related rules and procedures, and assisting people with complex application processes, such as applications to reunify their families.
In 2007 Nasc was also granted funding from Pobal for a Project Officer and Assistant Project Officer for a project working in the area of strategy/policy at a local level in the area of Education, Employment and Enterprise.
Click to visit Nasc Through the Years – a gallery of our staff, members and activities over the years