Irish Roots


August 31 2015

The late, unlamented Certificate of Irish Heritage

John Grenham

When the recently-defunct Certificate of Irish Heritage (heritagecertificate.ie) was set up back in 2011, it attracted ill-informed begrudgery from many people, including me. The vision of a cash-strapped government flogging "Kiss me Officially, I'm Officially Irish" hats to gullible Yanks was irresistible. It was also grossly inaccurate.

The origins of the scheme were purely laudable. When article 2 of the Constitution was revised in 1999 as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, as well as dropping the territorial claim so offensive to unionists, the new article stated "the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage".

This was a simple recognition of the uniqueness of the historic Irish diaspora and the enduring connection many still feel after multiple generations.

After the economic collapse of 2008, the Farmleigh Economic Forum suggested the government should explore ways of recognising and cementing that connection. The certificate, which would offer official State recognition, was one such way.

The idea was handed to the Department of Foreign Affairs, who appear to have held it between thumb and forefinger at arm's length. I suspect they could see leprechauns on the horizon. Initially, the procedure to qualify was far too cumbersome, involving piles of official documents, notarised copies, affidavits sworn before a law officer . . . and a hefty fee. It was harder than getting a passport. The historic diaspora's affection for Ireland is genuine but soft. No wonder take-up was tiny. By the time the requirements were relaxed, it was too late.

But the most basic problem was the official Ireland offering them recognition has only a distant relationship to the Ireland their ancestors left.

After all, the Republic is very young, represents only part of the island and only part of the Irish identity, and was selling, in effect, a bureaucratic box-tick. It's a pity it wasn't handled better. If only because any revival is likely to come from the National Leprechaun Museum.

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