The Irish Times view on Irish diaspora during the pandemic: Stories of hardship

Absence of ‘Irish abroad’ from public discourse in past 18 months has been striking

For many emigrants, the challenges of living under stressful, restrictive conditions overseas were compounded by a loss of access to home. Photograph: Alan Betson

For many emigrants, the challenges of living under stressful, restrictive conditions overseas were compounded by a loss of access to home. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

When the history of Ireland’s Covid-19 crisis is written, the experience of the diaspora will merit far more attention than it has received during the pandemic itself. Even in normal times, the State’s rhetorical commitment to its residents living overseas far exceeds its will to tend to their particular needs, but the absence of the “Irish abroad” from public discourse over the past 18 months has been striking nonetheless.

People living in Ireland were affected in different ways by the pandemic; the same naturally goes for emigrants, for whom there is no single experience of the emergency. But for many in the community, particularly those who retain close ties to home, the challenges of living under stressful, restrictive conditions overseas – often in places with much worse epidemics than Ireland’s and with health systems ill-equipped to respond – were compounded by a loss of access to home.

Some of those pressures are captured in a new report by the Crosscare Migrant Project, which documents the stories of Irish emigrants in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia during the pandemic. It is a story of selflessness and fortitude – Irish healthcare workers were on the frontlines across the world – but also of loneliness and financial struggle. Older, more vulnerable emigrants found themselves isolated, while many of the Irish who work in temporary roles, particularly in hospitality, had to cope with sudden financial insecurity because their immigration status did not entitle them to income or social welfare supports. Many recount having to watch the funerals of loved ones online.

The diaspora has always been an important emotional and symbolic part of Ireland’s self-image. In recent years the State has begun to think about the overseas Irish in a more serious and considered way, with formal strategies that seek to ensure the welfare of emigrants while extending Irish influence through those overseas networks.

Some of those ties will have frayed over the past year-and-a-half. Mending them should be a priority.

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