Minister Flanagan with Barbara Jones, Paul Finnegan, Congressman Joseph Crowley and Ambassador Anne Anderson at the New York Irish Center, earlier this year.Irish Voice

The Irish government will maintain the level of support it provides to diaspora communities abroad, Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed on Tuesday after the Irish budget was unveiled.

“I am also extremely pleased that in line with our recently launched diaspora policy Global Irish, Budget 2016 will see my department maintain its steadfast support for Irish community and diaspora groups in very many corners of the world through €11.6 million in funding under the Emigrant Support Program,” said Flanagan.

The budget also provided funding for ongoing modernization of the Passport Service, and further development of consular assistance capacities.

Flanagan also confirmed that Irish job creation, export growth and promoting Ireland’s attractiveness for investment, tourism and education will remain and develop as key priorities for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ireland’s network of diplomatic missions. A seven percent increase in Official Development Aid budget has brought the overall budget up to €640 million.

“Passport demand has surged in the last 15 years – up from 388,000 in 2000 to 630,000 in 2014. Already this year 580,000 passports have issued, up 8.7% on the same period last year. As demand for passports continues to grow, I want to ensure that our Passport Service continues to deliver the very highest levels of customer service and to maintain the integrity and excellent international standing of the Irish passport,” Flanagan said.

“I intend to introduce new, world-class technologies to radically re-shape how Irish passports are delivered over the next three years and €4 million has been secured in Budget 2016 to achieve this goal. The next phase of modernization will include a more streamlined passport applications system, a facility for online renewals, a stronger focus on first-time applicants and tightening up even further against any attempts at passport-related fraud. It will also ensure a more seamless and consistent service for Irish citizens wherever they apply for a passport around the world.”

Flanagan also committed to ensuring that Ireland’s consular services abroad remain strong and ready for immediate assistance. He said some 1,600 Irish citizens each year seek consular assistance while abroad – the most tragic in the U.S. this year being the Berkeley balcony collapse that resulted in the deaths of five Irish students and one Irish American.

“To ensure that we can sustain this quality in the face of new global challenges and anticipated additional demand for consular assistance in non-traditional geographic locations and on increasingly complex issues, we will use our 2016 budgetary allocation to reinforce our consular crisis response capacity. This will focus in particular on communicating in new and better ways with Irish citizens traveling abroad and on developing innovative methods of providing advice and services quickly to those who need help most,” Flanagan said.