Cherishing the Diaspora

Sat, Mar 22, 2014, 01:01

Eamon Gilmore’s decision to open a strategic review of all aspects of the Government’s engagement with the Irish abroad is most welcome, however belated. The Minister for Foreign Affairs appealed for submissions from “those at home and abroad who are interested in and affected by issues of emigration, and the wider questions of engagement with the Diaspora”. The department’s statement expresses what might be called a holistic aspiration: “The review will examine how the Diaspora can continue to feel connected and actively engaged in the development of Ireland. ”

All very well as long as that is indeed the message being sent. There are two sides to potential engagement, both important, but a danger the message will be received simply à la Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There is nothing wrong with asking what your country can do for you, and a community that feels genuinely cherished and appreciated, and one that does not see itself perceived simply as a soft touch, suckers for any appeal to wrap the green flag round it, is likely to respond far better to the appeals to help Ireland in its hour of need.

It’s a matter of emphasis. Pitch the Gathering as a tourism wheeze to reel in the old cousins and earn a few bucks? Or pitch it as a means to reconnect long term with family and friends, to express the sense that there really is still here a place for them in some form? There’s a world of difference. Does the prioritisation of “structured engagement with the Diaspora geared towards economic development, through the Global Irish Network and Global Irish Economic Forum” perhaps come across as the fostering of a two-tier Diaspora – a special relationship with the moneyed, “who matter”? And they do matter. Their philanthropic contributions, support of disadvantaged communities and corporate expertise need to be encouraged. But, cultivating such contacts should go hand in hand with talk about rights and help for all our emigrants. Votes? Fees for universities? Welfare rights for returnees?