An agency providing pre-departure support for emigrants has called on the Government to create a database of Irish people living abroad in an effort to strengthen the connection between the State and its diaspora.
Crosscare, the social care agency of the Dublin Archdiocese, said emigrants are connected with Irish news and their friends and family in Ireland using social media and other online technologies more than ever before, but the State still has little or no contact with them once they leave.
Almost a quarter of a million Irish people have moved abroad since 2008, figures from the Central Statistics Office show.
Presenting the idea for an Irish Emigrant Register to the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade today, Crosscare's policy officer Joe O'Brien said the Irish Government "has not moved with the times".
“Particularly from the point of view of what the State can do, the internet has not been maximised in terms of its capacity to minimise the damage, loss and disconnection caused by emigration,” Mr O’Brien said. “Emigrants abroad continue to feel neglected by the Irish State.”
The Émigré survey of more than 1,000 recent Irish emigrants by University College Cork last year found 48 per cent believe the Government is not providing adequate support for the Irish abroad.
Crosscare is proposing email addresses for emigrants be collected in a database, which could be used to send a newsletter with details of job vacancies and skills shortages here in Ireland as the economy improves.
“The establishment of the Irish Emigrant Register would be a very clear way of saying that ‘we want you back’,” Mr O’Brien said.
The newsletter could also provide updates on other issues relevant to the Irish abroad such as consular services or travel advice, or be used to consult the diaspora on policy issues which affect them, such as emigrant voting rights.
“In the internet age our citizens abroad can be as connected with and invested in political, economic and social issues in Ireland as those of us still living here,” Mr O’Brien said. “Their views could and should be elicited and invited in a more direct manner.”
The proposed register would be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, with input from the Department of Jobs and Department of Social Protection.
Email addresses could be collected using an online form, through Irish embassies and consulates, and other organisations working with Irish people around the world such as welfare charities and business, cultural and sports groups.
Crosscare has suggested the scheme could be marketed to Irish people around the world on St Patrick’s Day next year.
Speaking after the presentation, committee chairman and Fine Gael TD Pat Breen welcomed the proposal and said the committee would write to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan to request funding be set aside for the idea to be developed.
“It is important to remind [EMIGRANTS]that we are thinking of them,” he said.
Fianna Fail TD Brendan Smith said the idea “had great potential”, but it would be important “to ensure it is not just the people who are most literate and technology friendly” who sign up the service, but also elderly and vulnerable emigrants who are less likely to have access to the internet.
Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe said a lot of work would need to be done to “sell the idea” to emigrants who may be resentful towards Ireland because they were “forced to leave”.