Joe McHugh appointed Minister of State for Diaspora
Former teacher from Donegal has first-hand experience of living abroad
Joe McHugh set up the first GAA club in the UAE while working in Dubai in the 1990s. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
He is the second person to hold a ministerial position representing the Irish abroad, after Jimmy Deenihan became the first to be appointed Minister of State for the Diaspora in 2014.
A former geography and maths teacher, McHugh has served as a TD for Donegal since 2007, and as a senator for five years prior to that.
As a non-Irish speaker, the decision to appoint him Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht in the last Dáil was met with sharp criticism. But he defied all expectations by taking lessons and becoming fluent in the language.
Voting rights for emigrants will be one of the first issues to cross his desk as Minister of State for Diaspora, as calls from advocates in favour of extending the franchise to overseas citizens intensify.
In its pre-election manifesto, Fine Gael pledged to “fully explore the matter of voting rights for Irish citizens resident outside the State, with a view to holding a referendum on giving them the right to vote in presidential elections”.
The party also promised to “identify and address the needs of emigrants wishing to return home to Ireland”, work with Irish business groups abroad to provide mentoring and networking opportunities for emigrants, advocate on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the US, and support local communities and counties in Ireland to strengthen relationships with their diasporas.
A commitment to a second year of the Gathering diaspora tourism initiative in 2019 was also pledged, as well as continued financial support for organisations working with the Irish abroad through the Emigrant Support Programme, which provided €11.5 million in funding last year.