We must learn from diaspora, says Robinson


IRELAND MUST learn from the optimistic attitudes of Irish emigrants to deal with “the sense of national depression” at home, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson said yesterday.

Speaking in London to a University College Dublin-organised conference, Mrs Robinson said the Irish diaspora “can help us greatly to reimagine Ireland” and to “re-establish our credibility, especially in the economic sense”.

The “sense of national depression”, she said, stood in contrast to the attitudes displayed in New York, where people were “picking themselves up and reinventing themselves. We need some of that ability to pick ourselves up. The Irish diaspora can be hugely important in helping us to do that.”

She said a speech she gave as president in 1995 to a joint session of the Houses of the Oireachtas about emigration “went down like a lead balloon . . . ”

“ I went away feeling completely depressed, but then the messages started coming in from all over the world,” she said, adding the speech was the one she was best-remembered for by emigrants, along with her decision to “place a light in the window of the Áras”.

Mrs Robinson yesterday received the John Hume Medal from the UCD John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, to mark her “extraordinary” contribution to Irish life, at home and abroad.

Former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald said many now leaving Ireland had left school early to take well-paid construction jobs, which were now gone. “For a time, there will be a step back to an older form of emigration.”