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Address by Minister Deenihan at opening of the first Global Irish Civic Forum

Global Irish Civic Forum

Minister Deenihan – Welcome address

3rd June 2015


Thank you very much Niall, and good morning everyone.

Can I extend a very warm welcome to you all to Dublin Castle, for this, the very first, Global Irish Civic Forum.

I would like to express particular thanks to those who travelled long distances to be here. Originally we anticipated that we would have 90-100 participants, today we have 185 representatives from 17 countries - from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and more.

We even have someone who has travelled all the way from New Zealand just to be here.

Whether you travelled from Nairobi, Newfoundland or Naas, the fact that so many of you have invested so much time and energy just to participate is a reflection of the importance of what we are trying to do and your commitment to that cause.
So, thank you. We sincerely appreciate it.

As I approach the twelve month mark in my role as Ireland’s first Minister for Diaspora Affairs, I think it is timely and appropriate to take stock of this past year and perhaps pose a few challenges for the year ahead.

In essence, if I was asked to sum up my first year in office, I would say the Irish diaspora landscape has changed.

How Ireland engages with its diaspora has changed.

How our diaspora engage with us has changed.

And, significantly, how our diaspora engage with each other has changed.

That is not just about my own appointment as Minister; or the publication of our first diaspora policy; or indeed the fact that all of you are gathered here – together - for the first time.

Those are certainly milestones, and it is only right to recognise them.

But I think the change is reflective of a shift in the underlying relationship between Ireland and its diaspora which has moved from the individual, with stories and connections maintained at the family level, to more of a national appreciation and an international understanding of our global family as a whole unit.

This global Irish family can stand together on issues, more linked than ever before.

We all experienced that connection, visibly and emotively, just in the last couple of weeks, with the home to vote movement capturing our hearts and minds.

But we also experience that increased, transnational bond, day in day out, as we work together on issues such as mental health and welfare without the divides that geography and time zones imposed in the past.

Thanks to modern technology we are more connected than before though we live further apart than ever. But, that said, there simply is no substitute for meeting someone in real life, rather than just tweeting each other occasionally, and that, in essence, is the primary purpose of this event.

We wanted to bring you all together as, while we already have relationships with most of the people in this room, we see huge potential for sharing of your experiences and best practice among and between you.

Everyone in this room can bring something different to the table. But we all share values of supporting and enriching the lives of the Irish community overseas.

So, I cannot even begin to imagine what ideas will be generated over the next two days but I am already excited by the potential of what could be achieved.

Alongside building a network of Irish community practitioners, there is of course another purpose for this event. The meeting in itself has value, in terms of bringing people together and sharing experiences, but this meeting is also part of the policy process.

It is a listening and learning process for us.

And, a policy shaping process for you.

We are very clear in the diaspora policy – that we fully appreciate the need to evolve our practice to respond to the needs of Irish communities which themselves are constantly in flux.

We are open to new ideas and new ways of working. So, this event is something much bigger than just two days of networking and building relationships for us.

This conversation, and the influence you have, reflects that the Government takes your views seriously and welcomes your input. I know, looking at the people in this room, I do not need to say this, but please do use this opportunity to its fullest.

Our programme offers some signposts such as:

- addressing the challenges facing new emigrants;
- protecting and promoting Irish identity and heritage;
- reaching out to Irish citizens overseas;
- promoting positive mental health; and,
- supporting those who wish to return to Ireland.

But do not feel constrained. There is scope within the panels to raise a range of issues and ideas and also within the working groups. Especially, there is lots of time for networking and building contacts over the breaks and this evening in Áras an Uachtaráin.

While I mention the Áras, I am deeply grateful to President Higgins for his warm and generous invitation this evening. Of course his enthusiasm to meet you all is not surprising. He himself, like so many in Ireland, has seen generations of his family emigrate. He has therefore a deep interest and personal solidarity with the Irish abroad as seen by his regular visits to Irish Centres in Britain.

So, as I was saying, this is your opportunity. I am about to start my second year in office and you can shape that.

Of course the cornerstone of the Government’s commitment to the diaspora, the Emigrant Support Programme, will remain. The Programme, which is focused on supporting the Irish overseas to make the best lives possible in their countries of residence, has provided over 125 million euro of funding since it was established in 2004.

But, your very presence here today shows how we have progressed from just having a funding relationship to working in partnership, and that too is a milestone that should be noted.

The Irish community have clearly articulated a desire to remain connected to and involved in Irish life. How this actually happens is often through organisations like yours.

We appreciate your work.

We value your energy and commitment.

We are motivated to continue to improve our engagement and therefore we are open to ideas, to suggestions and to criticism.

I hope to speak to as many of you as possible over the course of the Forum.

Engaging with the diaspora is about building for the future. I think it is fair to say, the future looks bright.

Thank you again and I am looking forward to participating over the next two days.