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Minister of State Cannon T.D. speech at the Ireland's Edge Conference, Dingle

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be back here in Dingle, in this beautiful part of the country, to open today’s discussions at Ireland’s Edge.

As Ireland’s Minister of State for the Diaspora I have been consistently amazed as I have travelled around the world to meet Irish communities and the millions of people who have never set foot on this island that retain their incredibly strong sense of Irishness. Within the last two months alone I have been to places as far apart as Newfoundland – the only location outside Ireland with its own placename as Gaeilge, Talamh an Éisc –and to Bangkok at the Asian Gaelic Games, where the scale and enthusiasm of the Irish community to celebrate their Irishness have to be seen to be believed.

On this island at the edge of Europe, we are just six million people with seemingly limited opportunities to have a global impact. However with our Diaspora approaching eighty million people worldwide we become over 1% of the world’s population. Our Diaspora is a huge asset to us, in most parts of the world our small island is instantly recognisable. It is also something which we must cultivate and protect.

The timing of this conference, as we approach the end of the year, affords us an opportunity to look back, and to look forward to the year ahead.

We cannot talk about our diaspora without recognising our history of emigration. The historical story of Irish emigration is a story about the challenges of poverty, conflict, injustice, and migration. We have to recognise that in the past Ireland was unwilling or unable to provide for all its people. Our history is intricately linked with emigration, from the death of one million of our people and the emigration of two million more, during the famine, one of the defining and most catastrophic events of the nineteenth century, to the most recent wave of emigration during the global financial crisis. Thankfully, we are now seeing these most recent emigrants return to Ireland to work and live in massive numbers, and that is as it should be.

The Government of Ireland remains strongly committed to the global Irish through the implementation of Ireland’s diaspora policy. At the heart of this policy is our Emigrant Support Programme, through which we support Irish community organisations across the world. Every year, the Irish Abroad Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade uses this fund of €11.6 million to support about 250 different Irish community organisations around the world.

The values at the heart of Ireland’s development policy are also deeply rooted in our country’s history of famine and migration. Our determination to respond in a spirit of solidarity and respect to others' poverty draws on the historical, political and social experience of Ireland, and how we ourselves came to understand the challenges of poverty, conflict and migration. Just as our people found assistance and opportunity when they needed it, we are now working to support those who need our assistance to escape from conflict and hunger.

We presently meet at a time that is one of profound change, not least for our nearest neighbour, with whom we will continue to be as closely connected in the future as we have been in the past, simply because our people and our families are so closely intertwined. Great challenges await us in the coming decades – we are now being confronted with the consequences of our economic and behavioural models on the global temperature, consequences which will only grow ever more serious.

In the past year, the Government published “Global Ireland”, the most ambitious renewal and expansion of Ireland’s international presence ever undertaken in terms of diplomacy, culture, business, overseas aid, tourism and trade. The plan commits to double Ireland’s international presence by 2025, a massive statement of intent about Ireland – we are an open, connected, cosmopolitan, generous, international nation. With our history of emigration and our diaspora spread all over the world how could we be anything but?

As part of this expansion the Department is currently managing the opening of 13 new Irish Embassies and Consulates General.

The first phase of this expansion started in the last year and includes: the opening of the new Irish Embassy in Wellington, the opening of the Consulate General in Vancouver, the opening of Embassies in Bogotá, Santiago de Chile, and Amman in early 2019. Further into 2019 we will also open new Consulates General in Frankfurt, Los Angeles, and Cardiff; and new Embassies in Ukraine, Morocco, and the Philippines shortly thereafter.

This is huge expansion in a very short space of time. The world is moving rapidly and we have to move to keep up.

Our expanded network will enhance Ireland’s visibility globally, extend our influence and will position us for trade and investment growth in new and existing markets. It will also benefit travelling citizens and engagement with the Diaspora and will involve reaching out to our Diaspora to explore new and creative platforms for engagement. Expanding our presence and influence abroad is also about a broader re-doubling of our effort in the fight against global poverty and hunger and for sustainable development through the Irish Aid programme.

The Global Ireland document sets out a series of commitments, building on these initial investments. Of chief concern to me among these is the commitment to prepare a new Diaspora Policy in 2019 for introduction in 2020. This is a pretty big undertaking.

In a changing world, how do we continue to connect with people who feel a connection to Ireland? How will they want to connect with us or need us to support them? How are Irish communities changing? Who are the people that we want to connect with and how do we maintain our relevance to them? My ask to you today is consider this in your discussions, and to send me the answers!

Of the Irish who emigrated to America, Patricia Harty wrote “Fleeing starvation with few or no material possessions, they brought their music and song and tales of home as they spread out across the land, until there was not a corner they didn’t touch or leave their mark upon. They became American. And, yet, despite their identification with the American way of life, they continue to have an interest in their Irish heritage, and a sometimes poignant emotional connection to the land of their ancestors.”

Phillip has spoken to us about how our emigrant communities carried our culture overseas when they had nothing else. At Ireland’s Edge, co-located as we are with Other Voices, we have a unique opportunity for the people who lead on carrying our culture to consider with us more broadly how that culture can be cultivated and maintained, not just for us but for the millions of people of Irish heritage overseas, and in a way that continues to keep us connected.

Strategic and meaningful engagement with our Diaspora also has to be about more than one government department. It is also about rural development, about enterprise, about the arts and culture, about innovation and tourism. It’s also about extending voting rights to our people worldwide, to give them a voice in choosing our President, a President for the Global Irish nation and in a referendum in May of 2019, we will ask our people on this island to do exactly that, to extend that privilege to our people worldwide.

So the Government is committed to expanding Ireland’s global footprint, a footprint that is in many ways defined by our people and our values. Our footprint is in our music, our movies, our writers, our teachers, our talent, our business, our agriculture: it is us, it our reputation, our stock in trade. We are custodians of the rich story of what it means to be Irish and what we represent as a country.

Our estimable poet Desmond Egan wrote “listen; there is famine in our music; famine behind our faces; it is only a field away”.
I very much look forward to hearing your responses to some of these questions I have left you with, and I look forward to hearing the result of your discussions today.

And I hope you all enjoy the weekend in Dingle.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

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