Irish American leader Don Keough calls for Irish Diaspora minister


Don Keough thinks Ireland should have a Diaspora Minister, saying it would transform Diaspora/Irish relations.

He also wants to see Notre Dame back in Dublin playing football in the next couple of years. Tourism leaders will surely salivate after 30,000 US fans showed up the last time they played.

He has just helped raise $3 million for a world class 1916 Rising documentary prepared at Notre Dame and already bought by RTE Public Television in the US and the BBC.

He also believes that Ireland faced the worst crisis any western government had after the economic collapse and that American business leaders are keenly aware of how well they have handled it.

He is the man who brought Notre Dame and Coca-Cola to Ireland. He also brought Bill Gates and Warren Buffett his lifelong friend too, hosting them at the K Club on their first ever visit. He serves on Berkshire Hathaway’s board with Buffett and is still an advisor to the board of Coca-Cola, the company he served for 40 years.

As president of Coca-Cola he blazed the multinational trail to Ireland in the 1970s. As Chairman of the Board at Notre Dame he created the Keough-Naughton Irish Institute in 1994 and their Dublin campus and laid the groundwork for the university to play in Dublin in September 2012.

At 86 he is far from a back number. He is Chairman of the Board of Allen and Company, the New York investment bank, and co-hosts their annual Sun Valley retreat attended by world business leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch.

He divides his time still between New York and Atlanta, his home, and keeps a schedule a younger man would surely tire of. Every year he visits his beloved Ireland with his family and recently paid a visit to New Ross in Wexford and the famine-era replica ship like the one his great-grandfather Michael embarked on back in the 1840s.

He has come a long way from Michael’s lonely journey. Warren Buffet once stated that two men he met in business, Jack Welch and Don Keough, could have become president of the United States if they had chosen a political rather than a business career.

Keough demurs, but there is little doubt that he has been Ireland’s greatest advocate in America for decades now. His sense of the potential of the Diaspora was uppermost in his mind during our New York interview.

How would you approach the Diaspora if you were the Irish government?

If a person wants to be part of that Diaspora the Irish government needs to acknowledge that.  A good start would be a Minister for the Diaspora, who would be charged with creating that welcome and outreach.

I know when you become an Irish citizen in Ireland there is an event around it. If you announce you are of the Diaspora and coming to Ireland that is important too.

Israel has a minister of the Diaspora, I read in the New York Times, where and I quote, “Over the next five years the Israeli government will spend $1.4 billion on a range of initiatives to strengthen Jewish identity abroad and Jewish connections to Israel and vice versa.” That is the kind of thinking we need.

There should be someone as Minister who is a constant part of the Diaspora, who is reporting back to cabinet.

It is an asset that needs to be used. Just to announce that minister would be huge all over the world.
I was delighted to see Irish President Higgins mention and dedicate his trip to the Irish Diaspora in Britain in his remarks during the state visit.

We are everywhere across this world, this Irish army waiting to help this small country their people left from.

Think of it – 70 million people worldwide, millions of whom are seeking a relationship with their ancestral home. What an opportunity!

If the Notre Dame game can bring 35,000 people to Ireland what could a massive outreach do?  The Notre Dame game demonstrated what was possible. It was the ultimate power of the Diaspora that they didn’t just come to the game – they captured the country.

I was at church last week in Atlanta. A couple who came to the game came up and told me they were returning again, they fell utterly in love with Ireland. They are just one small example of what I’m saying.

What is the upside potential for the Diaspora do you think?

I think within a matter of five years you would double the number of people who would visit Ireland.  That would be my goal.

It needs preparation; Diaspora packages need to be put together. A self-proclaimed member of the Diaspora should feel like Notre Dame fans do, part of something bigger, greater than the sum of its parts. There should be special discounts, meetings, and outreach.

Look what we did with Notre Dame – 35,000 came and there was a massive range of activities.

The visit to Ireland is always enjoyable, despite the weather sometimes. Ireland and what it continues to represent is the best argument for itself.