Diaspora matters

Mon, May 20, 2013, 02:00

Diaspora, a term once associated only with the exile of the Jews from Israel more than two millennia ago, has moved to the centre of the global policy agenda in recent years as governments everywhere have woken up to the value of their migrants who have settled in other countries. “Diaspora capital” has many expressions, from the value of remittances sent home to family members - more than $540 billion last year - to the influence of successful migrants in directing investment to their home countries. The Gathering is a candid effort to harness the power of the Diaspora to encourage those with any sense of an Irish heritage to make a visit here during 2013 and the shamrock ceremony in the White House each St Patrick’s Day is an annual monument to the value of the Irish Diaspora in the United States to this country.

In Dun Laoghaire last week, experts, policy makers and members of Diaspora communities gathered for the European strand of the Global Diaspora Forum, an initiative launched in Washington two years ago by Hillary Clinton to explore how Diaspora capital can be better cultivated and co-ordinated. Ireland was an appropriate choice of venue for the forum, not only because, along with those of Israel, India and China, the Irish Diaspora is widely viewed as one of the most sophisticated and developed in the world. The influence of Irish-Americans on the Northern peace process also serves as an example of the potential of the Diaspora to exert a benign influence on politics at home.

Successive governments have sought to cultivate Diaspora links, mostly for economic purposes, but the relationship with Diaspora communities could be enriched by initiatives that tell the stories of those communities to the Irish public. It is also time that we woke up to the value of Diaspora communities from elsewhere that are resident in Ireland and that make up more than 17 per cent of the population of the State. They represent an important conduit to their home countries as well as an enhancement of Irish society.

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