Government wants to hear your views to shape its new diaspora policy

Opinion: A global Ireland must include the global Irish, writes Minister for Diaspora Ciaran Cannon

United Kingdom and Ireland map. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. 3d rendering

United Kingdom and Ireland map. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. 3d rendering

 

As Minister of State for the Diaspora, I am always impressed, and often moved, by the deep sense of connection with Ireland felt by so many people of Irish descent around the world. You can see this whether you are in Newfoundland, Talamh an Éisc, Ireland’s oldest diaspora community, or watching the hundreds of players at the annual Asian Gaelic Games, the newest members of our global community.

The history of modern Ireland is a history of emigration, from the mass exodus during and after the Great Famine, through most of the 20th century, right up to the most recent wave following the global financial crisis which has left few families in Ireland unaffected.

In 2015, a Eurostat survey found that 17 per cent of people born in Ireland live outside the State. Globally, only 3 per cent of the world’s population live outside of their country of birth.

The Government is committed to maintaining our connection with the global Irish. At the heart of our approach is the Emigrant Support Programme. Since 2004, the Department of Foreign Affairs has spent more than €170 million to support the activities of almost 600 Irish organisations overseas.

Each year, in the region of 65 per cent of the Emigrant Support Programme is spent on welfare projects to support the most vulnerable members of Irish communities abroad. We also fund organisations at home and abroad that provide advice and support services on immigration issues, and on moving home.

Other projects help people stay in touch with their heritage and culture whether through support for the GAA abroad, Irish arts and cultural centres around the world, or Irish studies and language projects.

We also propose to extend voting rights in Presidential elections to Irish citizens worldwide. In a referendum in October we will ask our people at home to give that privilege to the 3.6 million Irish citizens living outside the State.

Last year, we published “Global Ireland”, the most ambitious programme since the foundation of the State for developing Ireland’s international presence and global influence. This sets out a commitment to prepare a new Diaspora Policy to be published early next year.

To inform this policy, I am announcing a series of consultations, both at home and abroad. Our network of embassies and consulates will also facilitate consultations around the world.

In Ireland, the Tánaiste and I will be hosting town hall meetings in Galway, Cork, Mayo and Donegal, beginning this month. There is not a family in Ireland that does not have a close relative or strong connections abroad, and we want to hear your views, in person, on how we should support and connect with our diaspora.

It is only by drawing upon the immense experience of those affected by emigration than we can develop a diaspora policy that is fit for our people around the world.

As well as ensuring our continuing support for our most vulnerable people living abroad, it is my intention that this policy will reflect positively the breadth of diversity of the modern worldwide Irish community.

The profile of our diaspora is changing, as the world changes. Into the future, how do we continue to connect with people who feel a link to Ireland? How are Irish communities developing? How will they want to engage with us? Who are the people that we want to connect with, and how do we maintain our relevance to them?

New Irish communities are growing in locations such as the Middle East and in Asia. People that have studied or worked in Ireland for a time represent a new type of return diaspora. Increasingly, more distant descendants of emigrant families are seeking to reconnect with their Irish heritage.

Social media has revolutionised to the way in which the global Irish relate to Ireland and to each other, and these developments represent both a challenge and an exciting opportunity for our country. Our new diaspora policy must evolve and respond to this tremendous energy and dynamism for the benefit of all Irish, at home and abroad.

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Ciarán Cannon is Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development.

Town hall consultation meetings will be held in Galway on April 15th, Donegal on May 20th, Cork on May 27th and Mayo on July 8th. For more information on how to attend, or provide written submissions, see www.dfa.ie/global-irish.

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