Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Irish citizens abroad must continue to engage with Ireland

And we must make every effort to engage with them, writes diaspora consultant Martin Russell

Wed, Aug 21, 2013, 00:01


Martin Russell

People often assume that migration and diaspora mean the same thing but, in fact, they are close relatives. In Ireland, we have a broad view when it comes to our diaspora that incorporates not only Irish citizens abroad but multiple generations of Irish folk and those who claim an affinity to “Irishness”.

Emigration is tough – make no mistake about it. It can involve a deep sense of discontent and dislocation causing multiple emotional and psychological impacts both for those leaving and left behind. This vulnerability should not be underestimated, yet it cannot become determinative in the emigrant relationship with home or host country. Perhaps, given the networked nature of the world in which we live, the landscape of emigration is changing and the central actors in this change will be the next generation of emigrants.

So, what does it mean to say that the landscape of emigration is changing? Let’s offer one central thought – the generation of Irish citizens emigrating in recent times and those who will, unquestionably, follow have the potential to be the central stakeholder in their relationship with Ireland. Why? Their capacity to engage (through amalgamation of traditional and new apparatus including platforms such as Generation Emigration) has proliferated. For example, the act of emigration, despite impactful sentiments such as dislocation and sorrow, does not reduce the fact that the next generation of Irish abroad are continually, in one way or another, engaging more often and effectively with Ireland. As powerful as the Irish pub was (and still is in some regions), as important as the GAA remains to those abroad, these networks are being complemented by technologies that enable the Irish abroad to be truly diasporic by being instantaneously “here” and “there”. This new potential afforded the next generation of Irish emigrants is critically important in redefining Ireland’s relationship with its diaspora and brings fresh responsibility for those emigrating.

The rationale behind such networking is on one hand straightforward. They serve a therapeutic function providing a sense of familiarity, comfort, and support that should not be discarded in future plans. But to stay at this mindset would be regressive – there is more to be done at home and abroad. In recent times, the Irish Government has done a remarkably effective job in engaging the diaspora through a series of initiatives and services. Ireland is considered to be among the leading countries in terms of diaspora engagement along with countries such as India, Israel, Philippines, and Mexico.


The general rule in diaspora engagement is that it needs to be mutually beneficial. The next generation of Irish emigrants, as part of the diasporic whole, will have different expectations of what is deemed mutually beneficial. I believe there are two key developments that need to occur to help further deepen the strong bonds between Ireland and her diaspora.

The stories and insights portrayed here on the Generation Emigration blog are a vital part of helping us understand the changing faces of Irish emigration. The more I read these insights there are two steps that keep refreshing in my mind. Firstly, it is time to listen to this segment of our diaspora and secondly, it is time to elevate it. So, what does that mean?

The next generation of Irish citizens abroad are a segment of our diaspora. There needs to be more platforms of engagement, like this, for those emigrating to chart through their uncertainties but also their expectations. However, the simple answer is to revert to government to provide these capacities. It should not be led by government; it is a partnership. If you look across the globe at the proliferation of consultative councils, workshops, forums, exhibitions on diaspora engagement topics, Ireland can get continue to improve in this area. This proliferation, however, is dependent on government and diaspora. There will remain uncertainties and dislocations but by elevating the next generation dimension in Ireland we can chart through these issues and see some sustainable development in areas such as innovation, job creation, and so on.

If the next generation of Irish citizens abroad elevate through their engagement and become the partners they are moving towards then it will be mutually beneficial for both. Ironically, we don’t have to look too far to figure out how to do it. ConnectIreland are doing incredible work in diaspora direct investment by enabling diaspora individuals become connectors. The Ireland Funds Young Leaders Programme is an international leader in networking through and for philanthropy. NGen Ireland is a growing hub of expertise and talent for those at home and abroad.

The emotive currency displayed by the individuals engaging in this forum, at home and abroad, makes me hopeful that the next generation of Irish citizens abroad will continue to engage with Ireland. The potentials are endless if difficult to see at the time of emigration. Yet, the next generation of Irish citizens abroad (remember next generation doesn’t solely mean youth) are a vital component of our diaspora. The changes may be subtle but there is a remarkable global movement in diaspora engagement. The days of “tapping into” your diaspora or “harnessing” your diaspora are eroding. We are now networking with diasporas. Generation Emigration is quickly becoming a leader in this endeavour – why? Because the diaspora are stake-holding partners – the tagline of this forum is “for and by the Irish citizens abroad”. It is time to continue the good work and begin to realise diaspora matters, at home and abroad.

Martin Russell is an associate of Diaspora Matters, a consultancy company based in Dublin that advises governments, companies, organisations and individuals on how to develop strategies and programmes to connect with their diasporas. He served as senior research assistant on the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit and was part of the organising committee for the recent European strand of the Global Diaspora Forum, where he led a workshop on next generation diaspora engagement. He is a former IRCHSS postgraduate scholar and is currently based at the UCD Clinton Institute for American Studies.