The attendance of the Irish president, taoiseach (prime minister) and key members of the Irish cabinet at the Global Irish Forum in Dublin last weekend sent the right signal.
At the conference dinner on Saturday night Taoiseach Enda Kenny outlined the Irish abroad role as similar to the “meitheal,” the old coming together of farmers and farmers’ sons to help a local farmer who was in need in rural Ireland.
The expatriate Irish were again answering Ireland’s call, Kenny told the assembled crowd. From Seattle to Singapore to Sydney they had showed up, and Argentina and Vancouver and Turkey too.
Also there were young Irish leaders like Paddy Cosgrave, whose Founders tech conference later this month will see 10,000, including hundreds of top tech company leaders, assemble in Dublin.
Liam Casey, a Cork native who runs Apple’s biggest supply chain from China, was also there. His company will surpass a billion dollars in revenue this year.
Denis O’Brien, Ireland’s most successful businessman as founder of Digicel and a deeply humanitarian one who gives tens of millions to good causes, was also there in the eclectic mix. Little wonder entrepreneurial sparks were flying.
Kenny’s speech and his government’s attention to the event was a clear recognition of the Irish nation abroad and its ability to impact the economic situation in Ireland.
Clearly, the notion of harnessing the power of the diaspora has struck home in Ireland, especially given the reverses of recent years.
Bringing together close to 300 business leaders from across the globe and Ireland led to a focused, often intense discussion on what directions Ireland should be taking in the coming times.
The suggestions ranged from fewer universities to much more focus on math and science, to finding new destinations and airlines to fly into Ireland, to continuing The Gathering in its present form.
The economic prospects are slowly improving in Ireland. The impact of The Gathering, a previous Global Irish Forum initiative, has played a significant role in that this year.
There was also discussion of a new minister for the diaspora, a focus on financial incentives for bringing new industry to Ireland as Connect Ireland currently does, and many other job creation ideas.
Unlike previous forums, this one featured many Irish-born entrepreneurs who had emigrated to create their fortunes.
The upshot was that in today’s wired world, the Irish abroad are capable of accessing Ireland in milliseconds now, have much to contribute and are anxious to do so.
That outreach needs to be reflected in Ireland. With the Irish Senate still in existence after last week’s referendum, there needs to be senators elected from that diaspora in order to inform and educate on emigrant matters.
A minister for the diaspora like the Israelis have is also something to be considered. When we see the massive impact of men such as Irish Americans Don Keough and Chuck Feeney on the Irish economy, the need to upgrade and focus on the potential of the diaspora has never been greater.
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