Laois enterprise office in EU final for helping asylum seekers and prisoners

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Laois enterprise office giving business classes to asylum seekers and prisoners

Portlaoise prison campus, whre prisons due for release can take a course in starting a business.

The Laois Local Enterprise Office (LEO) is up for a major European award for giving business training to asylum seekers and prisoners in the county.

Laois LEO is one of only two Irish finalists, selected in recognition of courses it designed in business start-up training to prisoners and asylum seekers in Laois.

It is a finalist in the Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship category in The European Enterprise Promotion Awards this November in Austria.

It is a huge honour, said Evelyn Reddin, chief executive officer of Laois LEO.

“This award is a great honour for LEO Laois in that not only does it recognise the important work we are doing in focusing on entrepreneurship amongst disadvantage areas of our society but it is the first time a Local Enterprise Office has been nominated as a finalist in this European Competition,” she told the Leinster Express.

She explained why they focused on these groups.

“Disadvantaged groups can face social barriers to accessing employment opportunities. These barriers can arise because of factors as diverse as ages, gender, nationality or criminal records.Self-employment can offer an alternative source of income.

“However, some of the same barriers may also limit the ability of individuals to access information needed to become self-employed.

“We made a decision to adapt out mainstream Start Your Own Business training and mentoring programmes into pilot programmes to meet the needs of these groups in Laois,” she said.

What they produced is the the first Start Your Own Business Programme in Ireland delivered in an asylum seeker direct provision centre and the first Start Your Own Business programmes delivered in Portlaoise Prison and the Midlands Prison.

“Two of the largest prisons in Ireland are located in Laois and we recognised an opportunity to engage with the prison population to develop supports which would allow them explore their options for self-employment on release.,” Ms Reddin said.

It is hoped the new direction will reduce levels of ex prisoners reoffending and returning to prison.

The decision to offer courses to asylum seekers came about after the government changed rules last February so they can now apply for a permit of self employment, in line with the EU Reception Directive.

“The direct provision centre for asylum seekers in Emo has approximately 200 residents of whom over 60 received a permit for self-employment in the scheme’s first month of operation. However, no structures were put in place to advise these recipients on how to register a business, set up a business bank account or sell their service,” the CEO explained.

Both courses were a success she said.

“We are now developing further proposals to focus on entrepreneurship amongst migrants in 2019,” she said.

The European Enterprise Promotion Awards reward promoters of entrepreneurship and small business at national, regional and local level. The second Irish finalist is the ACORNS Rural Female Enterprise Programme.