Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, TD - Irish Community Reception, New York
Speech26 September 2018
Thank you Ciarán and I’m delighted that I’m here with you on my first evening in New York. It’s going to be a busy few days but I think the energy generated by this gathering is just what we need.
My most recent visit to New York was for the launch of Ireland’s campaign to join the UN Security Council for 2021 to 2022. This campaign is a significant focus of my visit to New York this week and I feel it’s important to mention that the campaign launch took place against the backdrop of Ireland’s gift to the UN – the sculpture by John Behan depicting Irish emigrants disembarking from a ship. It brings together many of the themes of my work and it celebrates the lasting legacy that Irish people have had around the globe, including here in New York. You here in this room are part of that legacy and represent Ireland to the world through what you do and the values that you bring.
A lot has happened in the year between my last visit to New York and this one. I visited many destinations to meet with the Diaspora – from the US, the UK and mainland Europe to further flung locations in Africa such as Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa, the Middle East and even Fiji! Irish people truly are everywhere. It has made me very proud to be Irish and proud to witness what our Diaspora brings to the world. I’ve also put considerable focus on developing the Irish Government’s support for the Diaspora and for those who wish to return home to Ireland. A lot of this work goes on behind the scenes, whether it be our funding of support programmes, evolving and implementing Diaspora 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 first Annual Report on Support for the Irish Abroad which gives some 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 our 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 running this programme 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, to convince citizens at home of the importance of extending the franchise to our citizens, our family, outside the State, 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.
And for those of you who want to stay here in the US and have made it your home, there are infinite opportunities that life here offers but there are also challenges for some of you. There are many in our community, indeed many in this room, who continue to work hard on immigration reform. I am all too aware of the continuing uncertainly for those who are undocumented, and of the impact this has on their lives and the lives of their families. As a Government our priorities are clear: relief for the Irish undocumented and seeking to ensure a path for future legal emigration from Ireland to this country. We will continue to work with the immigration centres and all those active in supporting the undocumented members of the Irish community and I would like to assure you of that here this evening.
I have just met with some inspiring young people from the first New York Chapter of Foróige. I’m really delighted that the first Chapter in New York has now launched in the Aisling Irish Centre. I’m sure you will recognise them around the room but maybe the Foróige members would give a wave! Well done to Ruth and all involved in getting the Chapter up and running and best of luck with your endeavours.
In February of this year, I had the absolute pleasure of launching the first US Chapter of Foróige in the Irish Immigration Centre in Philadelphia. For those of you unfamiliar with Foróige, it’s an organisation that has been on the go since 1952 in Ireland which seeks to enable young people to develop leadership skills, to get actively involved in society and to be consciously involved in their own development. It’s always really heartening to see more ways for young people to engage with their Irish heritage and with Ireland opening up here.
There’s one thing that has become so evident to me in this past year as Minister for the Diaspora, and that is how incredibly valuable the contribution of you all to the development of global society truly is, and none so strong as here in New York. Irish Tatler ran an article last week on Irish women living in New York and it was just a small sample of how much is going on here that involves the Irish. We are very lucky to have really a motivated, creative and dedicated Diaspora here in New York – you are an example of what Ireland has to contribute to the world. The challenge to us now is how to build on all of that in a way that reflects who we are as a modern Irish people. I’ll look forward to continuing to work with you all through my team in Dublin and here in the Consulate agus go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís.