Irish success depends on the diaspora, ex-diplomat says

Irish United States Alumni Association event told of threats from Trump and Brexit

Ireland must engage in a deeper way with its diaspora in order to prosper in a world of increasing uncertainty, Tim O’Connor, a former senior Irish diplomat, told a gathering of Irish-Americans in Dublin on Tuesday evening.

Ahead of Donald Trump’s presidency in the US and the UK’s forthcoming departure from the EU, he said that now was “not a moment to be thinking small.

“We have a chance now to imagine the next stage.”

Speaking at the Ireland United States Alumni Association's (IUSA) annual conference and dinner, at which the departing US ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley, was guest of honour, Mr O'Connor said the Irish in Ireland failed to understand the Irish in America.


He said Irish-Americans were not really interested in our politics, but were deeply connected to Ireland and Irishness in an emotional and cultural way. He said that this could play to our benefit.

Mr O'Connor was a diplomat in the US. He also worked on the Belfast Agreement negotiating team and was secretary-general to president Mary McAleese.

He said that Ireland needed to re-imagine its relationship with its diaspora.

“Our people are everywhere in the globalised world,” he said.

“We will be the custodians of their heritage and the heritage of their children and they in turn will be the pathfinders of our place in the new world,” he said.

“The power of The Gathering was the power of the invitation from the homeplace.”

He also noted that a full 20 per cent of all US investment into the EU comes to Ireland.

Gina London, a former journalist with CNN who is now a Cork-based communications consultant, said the danger with Brexit was its potential domino effect.

She also said the right reaction to Mr Trump was , “WTF! - [as in], will they focus?

"Will the pharma companies in Cork focus on the challenge of Trump to their industry; would the Democratic Party focus on what it needed to do to win the upcoming mid-term elections?"

She said that journalists needed to stand together to protect themselves and their profession from Mr Trump.

“It’s not fake news just because you don’t like it,” she said, of the tendency by Mr Trump and others to dismiss and disparage facts that did not suit their agendas.

In reference to the recent interview with Mr Trump by former British minister and Brexit campaigner Michael Gove, she told journalists: "Don't get caught into some sycophantic fantasy just like our buddy Mike Gove did.

“Anyone who thinks they are going to be impacted by Brexit or this new presidency, it’s not the time to say we are OK with post-truth, it’s not the time to say that we’re ok with Twitter-types of diplomacy. That’s not the new normal.”


Speaking before the dinner, Mr O’Malley said he had been “blessed” to represent his country in Ireland.

“Looking to the future, one thing I know for sure is that America’s relationship with Ireland will continue to thrive because the ties that already exist are so deeply rooted, very strong, and growing in many ways every year,” he said.

“Our relationship with Ireland does not depend on any one person. Ours is a fabric of people-to-people connections that has been woven and nurtured and refreshed over the centuries.

“I look forward to continuing to build on, broaden, and strengthen our Irish-American friendship in the years to come.”

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times