This week marks the deadline for submission to the Irish government of ideas for more interaction with the diaspora, the Irish worldwide who by some estimates number 70 million.
Here is what we think on the matter.
First, let’s get serious.
Israel plans to spend $1.4 billion on its diaspora over the next three years, creating interlocking and interconnected networks that cover everything from tourism outreach, business interaction, community outreach and new access to Israel for youth. Israel has a dedicated minister for the diaspora. Ireland does not.
Last weekend Don Keough, the former president of Coca-Cola and the closest thing Irish America has to a diaspora leader, called for a minister for the diaspora in an interview with our sister publication IrishCentral, also carried in the Irish Sunday Business Post. We heartily endorse that call.
Keough talked about the galvanic impact on Irish community groups around the world if such a commitment was given.
He was the man who drove the Notre Dame game in Dublin in 2012 when 30,0000 Irish Americans gave Ireland a glimpse of what the diaspora impact could be. He was also the man who sited Coca-Cola in Ireland, creating much of the American investment momentum that underpins the Irish economy.
Until Ireland commits more resources and has a dedicated minister it is impossible to see the outreach to the diaspora reaching the kind of momentum level where it can have a deep and lasting impact.
Israel has an outward looking, highly focused government, especially when it comes to North America where the real strength of both the Israel and Irish diasporas lie. Irish leaders quite often give the impression they are far more Eurocentric than North American focused which is fine, but such Europhiles should not be running diaspora policy.
On the business front, the leaders of Irish America such as Keough and Chuck Feeney, who has donated over a $1 billion to primarily Irish education causes, have given magnificent service. However, the next generation of Keoughs and Feeneys urgently needs to be identified.
There is no coherent or cohesive effort to do so. Irish American groups working in tandem with the Irish government proved what could be done with the peace process when they first involved then-candidate Bill Clinton.
Without the Clinton intervention it is hard to see how the peace process would have worked.
A similar type of cooperative effort identifying the next generation of Irish business, political and community leaders nationwide needs to be undertaken.
The Irish diaspora needs to be acknowledged with representation in the Irish Oireachtas (Parliament and Senate), preferably the Senate. The issue of votes for emigrants spooks successive Irish governments in utterly unnecessary ways.
Senate seats as part of the 11 seats which the taoiseach (prime minister) is granted in every new Senate would be an obvious way with a set aside for three senators, one from Britain, one from the U.S., and one Australia and worldwide.
Votes for emigrants who have left less than five years ago should be made available for Irish presidential elections.
Such dual recognition of the Diaspora with a Senate set aside and voting in presidential elections would send a powerful message of inclusion.
Finally, Taoiseach Enda Kenny during St. Patrick’s Day showed how the issue of undocumented should be approached by an Irish government, with a determined and totally focused series of lobbying meetings. No time to be shy on this issue.
We believe if the above recommendations were implemented, a transformation in Irish/diaspora relations would occur.