Irish Consul General Barbara Jones and Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan at last week’s launch of the National Archives of Ireland exhibit at the Irish Consulate in New York.Irish Voice

Representatives of Irish immigrant support groups from the U.S. and around the world will take part in a Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin hosted by Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan and the Irish government – one of the many new initiatives undertaken by Deenihan’s department to foster closer links with the Irish abroad.

During an interview with the Irish Voice last week in New York, where Deenihan was based for a number of community engagements, he said that the forum, scheduled for Dublin Castle from June 3-5, would present a unique chance for emigrant support leaders to exchange ideas.

“They will be able to share information and hopefully we’ll have a website where they will be able to communicate with each other and share good practices going forward,” said Deenihan, adding that the Irish government plans on unveiling its international plans to celebrate the anniversary of the 1916 Rising at the forum.

Deenihan is also putting into motion plans for every county in Ireland to connect with its natives living abroad to create new networking groups. The first of these groups will launch in the minister’s home county, Kerry, at the end of the month.

“I’m asking each county to develop their own network and to service that network through their local enterprise offices,” Deenihan said.

“The link to a county is often stronger than the link to Ireland. We’re launching in Kerry because I’ve been building a network for years. It’s all verified, and we’ve had a number of meetings.”

Members of the county network will be asked to spread the word abroad, and if investment or job creation was to eventually result, all the better Deenihan said.

“There’s nothing expected, but maybe at some point someone would be able to help their county and that would be great,” said Deenihan. “It’s all about keeping and growing connections.”

Deenihan is also intent on growing Ireland’s network abroad through the various alumni associations connected to Irish colleges and universities that have educated foreign students, and developing further ways to connect via social media channels, he says.

With regards to emigrant voting rights, a referendum on the issue is likely to happen during the lifetime of the next government which will take office after the election in 2016. The presidential election in 2018 is potentially the first one qualified Irish abroad could vote in, if a referendum is approved.

“A referendum will happen. We have to look at the logistics and the problems it could face and be ready for that. So we have time between now and the 2018 election to prepare,” says Deenihan, who feels that extending voting rights to Irish abroad would also help to grow existing diaspora networks.

Deenihan has made several trips abroad since becoming Ireland’s first minister for the diaspora last year.

“Everyone I’ve met is not only anxious to keep their connections to Ireland, but they want to increase the contact as well,” Deenihan says.

“People are very engaged. It’s not just first generation Irish either – it goes beyond that. It’s hugely encouraging.”