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Minister Cannon T.D. Opening Remarks at the UCD Diaspora and Diplomacy Conference

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Dublin. I am delighted to be here with you this morning to formally open this important conference.

Looking through the programme for the next few days, I have no doubt that this Conference will provide an excellent opportunity to harness the best of academic research and countries’ and institutions’ direct experience of working with Diaspora, Diplomacy and Development – it is an important, exciting and growing area. I very much look forward to learning from the discussions.

Since becoming Minister for Diaspora and International Development a year ago, I have witnessed on many occasions how our positive experience of a proud and supportive diaspora can be an encouragement to our development partners.

The Global Irish; Ireland’s Diaspora Policy, launched in 2015, was the first clear statement of the Irish Government’s recognition of the unique and important relationship that Ireland has with its diaspora, a relationship which must be nurtured and developed. At the heart of this policy is our Emigrant Support Programme, through which we support Irish community organisations across the world. Since its inception in 2004, the Emigrant Support Programme has assisted over 573 organisations in 34 countries with grants totalling over €159 million. Grants have ranged from small amounts for small voluntary groups, to major allocations awarded to community organisations operating on a large scale.

The UCD Clinton Institute is one of our long-term partner organisations, and my Department was delighted to offer financial assistance for this conference through the Emigrant Support Programme. I am also delighted that Irish Aid was able to provide funding towards the travel of some participants from our partner countries in Africa. I hope you will find it a valuable opportunity to share knowledge on the ways in which diaspora engagement can inform and advance sustainable development.

I firmly believe that we all benefit greatly from opportunities to share learning and experience, and Governments in particular can learn from each other. I had an extremely enjoyable discussion with my colleagues from Croatia and Macedonia last night, and I would also like to acknowledge a number of other government delegations and representatives who have travelled from various countries across the world to join us here in Dublin. The Irish Abroad Unit in my Department also routinely hosts and shares information with delegations from countries who are interested to hear about Ireland’s experience of diaspora engagement as they build their own strategies to engage with their people abroad.

Ireland draws enormous benefit from a diaspora that has been growing for over two hundred years and now is said to number some 70 million people worldwide. At around 1% of the world’s population, we are a truly global community. Such a large diaspora is both an asset and a responsibility. We never forget the reason that so many left our country - when we were unable to meet their basic needs for food, security and employment. Just as our people found assistance and opportunity in Britain, America, Canada, Australia and elsewhere when they needed it, we work to support those who now need our assistance to escape from conflict and hunger.

The values at the heart of Ireland’s development policy are 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, injustice and migration.

Investing in development cooperation is an investment in our global neighbourhood. It is about our safety and wellbeing. It is about containing disease. It is about helping respond to conflict and displacement, to natural disaster. It is about exporting support for a rules-based international order. It is about helping our friends turn their demographic challenges into dividends, building their economies and in turn creating opportunities, opportunities which we may share.

Through our engagement in the EU and the UN, we work to address the root causes of hunger and migration. For many years, our overseas development programme has focused on fighting hunger and on building societies where famine and forced migration need no longer exist. We have become one of the most generous countries in building the foundations of a more just world.

My Department is working to produce a new policy on international development this year. A new White Paper on international development will underpin the Government’s commitment to the place of development cooperation at the heart of Ireland’s foreign policy. It will build on Ireland’s strengths and reputation with interventions that are true to our values.

The Government is also 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 diaspora engagement, our diplomacy and our development policies are all key, mutually reinforcing pillars of Ireland’s international engagement. To remain relevant, in all three areas our policies must be active and responsive, creating new engagements and harnessing new information and channels of connectivity.

This Conference gives us all a very valuable opportunity to consider those types of future looking policies – to link Diaspora, Development and Diplomacy and to find synergies between them to make a positive future contribution.

I look forward to our discussions and wish you all well for the coming days.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

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