The Irish Diaspora- Its Importance
Speech17 August 2019
I feel privileged to be a Minister responsible to the people of Ireland, at home and abroad. I am truly delighted to be here in the company of so many of you who proudly retain the Irish identity of your parents; grandparents; great grandparents; and even great great great grandparents!
As the modern Irish writer Colum McCann would have it: “There's a part of me that thinks perhaps we go on existing in a place even after we've left it”
That is certainly true of the relationship the Irish Diaspora has with Ireland; there is a place at the heart of our collective consciousness in Ireland for all those who left our shores, both in recent years and in centuries gone by.
This special place is also echoed in the Constitution of Ireland specifically “cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage”.
Some estimate that the Irish diaspora may total as many as 70 million people. The greatest verifiable number is to be found in North America, with some 35 million people having a degree of Irish heritage in the United States.
The Diaspora is of enormous importance to Ireland. It has supported economic growth and development for decades. The US Irish Diaspora is definitely one of the most significant in that regard.
This role is acknowledged in my Departments new US and Canada Strategy which considers the Irish Diaspora as one of the main strengths and areas to further engage with - setting a goal to doubling the impact of this collaboration in the period to 2025. (Strategic Objective 3 Partnerships with our diaspora in the US and Canada)
The Diaspora has also given Ireland a strong voice in the countries where you have made your home – and, consequently, a stronger voice in the world.
The story of the Irish in Milwakee is a clear example of a Diaspora that succeeded in contributing to their new home and keeping Ireland at heart.
The historian David Holmes described Milwakee as “a city of hardy Irish folk, keen to work hard and willing to make a success of their new city”.
As they put down roots, the Irish engaged in their state’s affairs but remained concerned with events at home. In 1852, the state legislature’s Irish caucus succeeded in passing a motion condemning imprisonment of Thomas Francis Meagher after the events of 1848.
The diaspora experience can be diverse, and many of your relatives left Ireland with no financial support, to build lives far away from friends and family. It is a tribute to their hard work and tenacity that so many succeeded in establishing families and businesses.
Many others encountered difficult circumstances and needed the solidarity of a supportive community to simply survive and for their families to have some prospect of opportunity.
The Emigrant Support Programme, which is managed by my officials in the Irish Abroad Unit who work closely with our diplomatic missions, was established in 2004 to provide support to organisations around the world to cater for the different needs of the Irish Diaspora.
Since the inception of the Emigrant Support Programme, funding to the tune of €34.37 million was awarded to the US alone. This support ranges from promoting Irish culture and heritage thus enhancing the sense of community to services to support the most vulnerable Irish.
The ‘Strategic Diaspora Project’ funding stream supports the work of our Embassies and Consulates in extending our engagement with diaspora groups in innovative ways. It assists in developing new diaspora contacts, in particular through reaching out to non-traditional or previously under-represented diaspora groups.
The current Government’s 2015-2020 Diaspora Policy is coming to an end. A new and ambitious Diaspora Policy in 2020 setting out ambitious targets for engagement with Irish communities, particularly with young people is underway. The policy will propose a range of new measures for Diaspora engagement, as well as enhancing those we have in place already
There have been 30 consultations with Irish communities to inform this policy. 8 consultations occurred here in the US. One of the important questions being considered is how to encourage people like yourselves to continue to feel connected to Ireland.
Our engagement goes far beyond self-interest, it is about developing and deepening long-term relationships between Ireland and its children oversees.