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Minister Cannon T.D. speech at the ESP Annual Reception in London

I am delighted to join you again at this annual reception. It is lovely to see so many familiar faces and to have the opportunity to meet also with some first time attendees. By coming together here at the Embassy on an occasion such as this, it is an opportunity I believe to acknowledge and celebrate the range of work being taken across so many different areas to support Irish emigrants and the diverse Irish community. And let me add my thanks to John Devine and his fellow musicians in Comhaltas for the wonderful music that has added to the warm atmosphere here this afternoon.

A lot has happened since we gathered here at the Embassy last year. In addition to my various visits to London, I have travelled to the US and Canada, mainland Europe and Africa including Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa and then on to the Middle East and even Fiji! We Irish truly are everywhere. It has made me very proud to see at first hand the role played by our global Irish community. I have worked hard to develop the Government’s support for the Diaspora and for those who wish to return home to Ireland. Much of this work goes on behind the scenes, whether it be our funding of support programmes, evolving and implementing related policies, or deepening our research and understanding of the newer Irish communities around the world. It was important for me that we brought all of this together into the Report on Support for the Irish Abroad which I published in July. This gives a good sense of the range and depth of what we do to develop and maintain connections with the Irish abroad, and which is available for you to view on my Department’s website.

In March of this year, I published a report on addressing challenges faced by returning Irish emigrants which my Department commissioned and which was independently prepared by economic consultants Indecon. This report is an important contribution towards the ongoing work of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Irish Abroad in informing our policy decisions and actions we can take to make returning to Ireland as easy as possible for those who want to do so. We have a dedicated section on the Global Irish website with advice and signposts to information and assistance for returning emigrants, which includes advice notes on aspects of returning to Ireland.

Also since we last met, I launched a pilot programme, Back for Business, a mentoring programme to support entrepreneurial activity among emigrants returning to Ireland. 45 participants, 26 women and 19 men were selected for the pilot, which concluded in May. The response from the participants and the mentors was overwhelmingly positive and we have decided to continue work in this area for at least another two years. The work of supporting returning emigrants touches many Departments – my job is to bring coherence and impetus to that work.

Importantly also, the Government has taken the decision to hold a referendum next May 2019 proposing a change to our Constitution to allow Irish citizens resident outside the State, including in Northern Ireland, to vote in Irish presidential elections. The Government and I will be campaigning for a yes vote in this election, and I believe the participation of Irish people around the world in the debate, in particular the Irish community here in Britain will be crucial in securing a positive result.

These are all steps in our overall work to build and deepen links between those who live in Ireland, those who live outside Ireland and those who move between.

As I stand here this afternoon in front of you who represent the best of the work being done to support the Irish in Britain, I am delighted to announce grants of over 5.2 million pounds to 108 organisations in Britain, an increase of over half a million pounds since last year. The diverse range of projects funded reflect the Government’s continued commitment to these organisations, in particular those which provide frontline advisory services and community care to those in greatest need of support. They, and indeed you, offer invaluable support to our emigrants, especially the most vulnerable through the programmes you offer. As you may be aware, this year, for the first time, dedicated funding was provided to collaborative projects which brought together a range of organisations to address a particular need. In addition, grants have been made to Irish cultural and sporting organisations as well as business networks. It is my hope that this funding will assist in the promotion of a vibrant and active Irish community in Britain, whose contribution the Government values highly, and who have an important role to play in the challenging period ahead.

On that note, I would like to mention one person in particular who has joined us today - Breege McDaid from Irish Community Care. Breege is to be recognised for the service she has given to the Irish community, including Irish travellers, across Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan when she receives a Presidential Distinguished Service Award at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin in November. The award is recognition of her sterling work with Irish Community Care since 1987 but also, more broadly, because she is an inclusive community leader, whose positive outlook and mindful generosity inspires others and promotes deeper understanding and empathy towards vulnerable people in society.

While she is not here with us today, I think I should also mention the second British based Presidential Award winner for 2018 Edna O'Brien who is as you all know a renowned Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer. She has published 18 novels, including the Country Girls in 1962, and has won many other awards in her outstanding career. Her international renown and numerous awards offer ample evidence of her sustained and distinguished service to Ireland in the field of literature.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to say a few words about the particular challenges that face our Irish community in Britain as the deadline for the British exit from the EU approaches.

The Government has been clear that Ireland strongly wishes retain its uniquely close economic, political, cultural and people-to-people links with Great Britain in the post-Brexit situation. Much of the cooperation we have enjoyed over recent years has come from working together within in an EU context. While post-Brexit, we will no longer have these structures to bring us together, there is an onus on both countries to continue this “habit of cooperation” and to breathe new life and imagination into the structures that exist for us to continue to be close friends and neighbours.

As Minister of State for the Diaspora, naturally my thoughts are with the large and vibrant Irish Community here and their particular concerns over their future. The Common Travel Area or CTA as it is known, since its establishment in the 1920’s, has been the mechanism through which thousands of Irish and British citizens have moved between these islands to work, study or travel. This longstanding arrangement has endured and indeed will endure after the UK has left the EU. Both the Irish and British Governments have made public commitments that the CTA will be maintained and indeed work is ongoing with the UK to ensure the CTA continues to function effectively post- Brexit.

It is also important to note that Irish citizens living in the UK do not have to apply for settled status in order to continue to exercise their right to work, study or travel to the UK, although they can do so if they wish.

The Government is working to ensure the balance of the relationships on and between these islands as we work through the Brexit negotiations. Things will change but we are determined to build on our very strong relationships at all levels to ensure that when we meet next year and in years to come that we are continuing to celebrate the vibrant and rich relationships we enjoy.

Let me conclude by offering my thanks to the Ambassador, Adrian O’Neill and his colleagues here at the Embassy, in particular the team working in the Community and Cultural Section. I know that, like me, you appreciate very much their hard work and advocacy on your behalf. Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís!

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