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Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, TD - Remarks at Alumni Event, Toronto

Dia dhaoibh go leir a chairde. Tá an áthas orm a bheith anseo libhse inniu. It’s a pleasure to be with you this evening.

As Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for the Diaspora and International Development, I am particularly delighted to be here in Toronto, a city with a long Irish history and tradition, and with such a vibrant diaspora community.

Toronto has a thriving Irish community with estimates suggesting that more than a million people living in the province of Ontario claim Irish heritage, with the bulk of those living in Toronto.

Canada, and particularly Toronto, has been a home away from home for Irish people stretching back to when the city opened its arms to those people fleeing famine and terrible conditions in search of a better life.

Canada again opened itself up to Ireland in the aftermath of the economic downturn, and as a result Ireland has an extremely generous allocation of Working Holiday Authorisations under the International Experience Canada programme, which I know is how many of you came to be here today.

As Minister of State for the Diaspora, much of my work focuses on working to assist Irish communities abroad to remain as connected as possible to Ireland and to each other, and of course this includes Irish alumni communities.

My Department has been working closely with the Department of Education, Education in Ireland, and with Enterprise Ireland to further develop alumni engagement as part of our wider diaspora engagement, to create new opportunities to connect not just with Irish alumni, but with people of all nationalities who have spent time in higher education in Ireland.

Events such as these offer us an opportunity to reach out to alumni of different nationalities who have attended Irish HEIs, and to demonstrate that we as a country appreciate your connections to Ireland, and that we want to encourage and assist you to maintain those connections wherever you may go.

This is the second event in the series of alumni events we have planned. We hosted a well-attended alumni event in Washington last month. Our third alumni event will be held in Bangkok later this year.

This evening’s event is particularly important to me as I have previously served as a Minister of State in the Department of Education and Skills, and so I know better than anyone that studying in Ireland has many advantages for Irish and international students alike.

Ireland has a great story to tell when it comes to our education system. The Irish Government invests over €782 million annually in research in our higher education institutions. The impact of this funding is that Ireland's higher education institutions now lead the world in an increasing number of fields.

Ireland’s worldwide reputation for high quality education is built upon a commitment to excellence. Irish universities are in the top 1% of research institutions in the world in terms of research impact in 19 fields, spanning natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities.

The Government’s International Education Strategy, published in 2016, is called ‘‘Irish Educated, Globally Connected’’. This strategy details the ways in which the Irish Government is working to increase the number of international students studying in Ireland each year.

A key tenant of the strategy outlined in “Irish Educated, Globally Connected” is the commitment to enhancing Irish Higher Education Institutes’ (HEIs) international alumni networks. Specifically, it tasks the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to work with Enterprise Ireland and the HEIs to use ‘‘existing networks to facilitate improved networking connections between alumni and their institutions.’’

This evening’s event is also about finding an innovative way to reach out to our diaspora, using the Alumni networks. You have all experienced our Third Level Education system, and have gone on to have successful careers in a vast number of areas- finance, law, technology, media, tourism…I could go on.

Your presence here tonight will provide you with access to a network of the Irish diaspora that you may not have had a chance to meet before this event.

I would like to encourage everyone here tonight to share your personal experience of our education system among your own networks of friends, particularly those who may have an interest in considering a course of study in Ireland.

Of course, if you’re joining #TeamIreland and encouraging young people to come to Ireland to study, you’ll need to know what we have to offer, and we have a lot:
• Education has always been a part of the Irish identity.
• Irish people are renowned for such innovation, creativity and collaboration- we’re not known as the land of saints and scholars for nothing!
• We have a unique cultural heritage steeped in tradition and with a global reputation in literature, music and the arts.
• We are an English speaking country, and therefore we are a natural fit for Canadians wishing to complete their studies in English.
• Our education system has had a long history of national and international engagement and is globally respected.

I don’t want to take up any more of your time, as I know you are all keen to meet and get to know each other, but I would like to take a moment to thank the Embassy and our Enterprise Ireland colleagues Neil Cooney and Marianna Costello for co-hosting tonight’s event.

As part of my role as Diaspora Minister, I want to work to help you to remain as connected to home as you can be, and to ensure that if or when you decide to return to Ireland to live, that the door is open for you and a welcome waiting.

I encourage all of you to remain networked into the Irish diaspora, whether it is by joining Irish community groups in Toronto, by playing Gaelic games, becoming a member of the Ireland Canada Chamber of Commerce Toronto, or simply by staying connected with your alumni offices.

The connections that we form at events such as these are of value to us all as individuals. They also help to underpin the continued success of our diaspora engagement abroad, and the promotion of Irish Higher Education Institutions.

I would also like to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to be with us this evening, and I look forward to meeting you at similar events in the future.
Enjoy the evening, Go n-eirí libh go leir

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