Conference explores diaspora as stakeholders in Irish society


THE IRISH diaspora should be regarded as stakeholders in and contributors to Irish society’s well-being, according to the organisers of a major conference on the issue taking place this weekend.

Martin Russell was speaking yesterday at the opening of the Diaspora Strategies: Encouragement, Evolution and Engagement conference which continues today at the Clinton Institute at University College Dublin.

Explaining the reasons for the conference, Mr Russell said the role and potential of diaspora population was under-explored and little understood.

“If you look at the major issues in the world today, diaspora have a real role to play in their homelands and in their host-lands, that are unique to them. It’s about bringing the idea that there should be engagement with the diaspora, to the agenda.”

The conference will hear papers today from British, French, Canadian, American, Indian and Singapore academics, on such issues as “Claiming the diaspora”; “diaspora media and citizen engagement” and “The issues of language and identity among Polish migrants in Ireland”.

The main speaker yesterday was Prof Gabriel Sheffer, a world-renowned expert on the transnational experience at the department of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He spoke on “Diaspora, Homelands and Host-countries”.

He said diaspora populations were not heterogeneous entities and there were many layers of both formal and informal networks between the diaspora population and their homeland, and between them and their host-land.

“The homeland tends to use the formal networks with their diaspora to promote their interests in the host-land. The diaspora will use informal networks in an economic way, to invest money in both the homeland and the host-land. There are big debates around autonomy of both the diaspora and the homeland – about how much responsibility the homeland has to the diaspora and how much influence the diaspora should have on the politics and society of the homeland.”

He said relations between the homeland and the host-land had a direct bearing on whether or not the diaspora population thrived in their host-land, and referred to how the Irish were less welcome in Britain through the 1970s and 1980s when relations between the two countries were strained.

It was critical, he said, that homelands knew more about their diaspora, to fully engage with the potential benefits to both of the networks and relationships.

“Very few homelands really understand what is happening with their diaspora. In Jerusalem for example, very few realise that the majority of the Israeli diaspora are critical of Israeli policy on Palestine.

Many in the diaspora are wealthy and have means and capabilities that can be used to lobby and influence.

He also referred to the varying levels of interest different layers of the diaspora had in their homeland. Where they were assimilated into the host society they had little interest in homeland affairs.

Where they were integrated and retained interest in the homeland they were more likely to seek to influence issues there, he said.