Why Irish-America is good for Irish presidency
Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 06:13 PM
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Those of you who have been following Niall O'Dowd's possible bid for the Irish presidency may have read Walter Ellis' ad hominem in Ireland's paper of record The Irish Times this morning.
The surprisingly aggressive piece, in which Ellis criticizes O'Dowd for viewing Ireland as "a brand, not a nation", before regurgitating a series of highly selective quotes from this website and its print publication, The Irish Voice, displays almost as shocking a disdain for the Irish-American community and its values as its author accuses O'Dowd of having for the Queen, and culminates in a sweeping statement that those with ties to the fictional village of 'Glocca Mora' (Irish Americans) are deluding themselves into believing that they have any connection beyond that of 'blood and ancestry' to their genealogical homeland.
I disagree with the piece for a number of reasons.
Firstly, like O'Dowd, and several other prominent commentators (take, for one, maverick economist-cum-columnist David McWilliams), I believe that there is great untapped power dormant in the numbers and scale of the Irish diaspora, and that alienating or deriding these people is contrary to Ireland's best interests.
Irish Americans, many of whom I met interning with this website last summer, have a genuine determination and zeal for all things Irish, and are imbued with great ideas that -- if listened to more earnestly, and taken more seriously -- could make a positive contribution to Ireland's troubling future. Ellis should know that -- he arguably is one himself!
Even those whose families have not stepped on or seen the 'Emerald Isle' for two or more generations have a real understanding that in America, the great melting pot of nations, retaining ones sense of heritage and national identity are of the utmost important, and have a knowledge of what's going on in Ireland and its geography that greatly took me aback when I saw it first hand in New York last summer.
There are, of course, exceptions - as there are to every rule - but Irish Americans have a contribution to Ireland which could be of real benefit to the country if harnessed properly,
This is more or less the same sentiment one Irish university president expressed to me when I interviewed him earlier this year, in which he said that he thought the ideal situation for Ireland's future would be for young Irish graduates to emigrate after completing their third level studies, gain experience and knowledge working abroad, and then return home to apply what they've learned, and seen done better, to help rectify our ailing economy back home.
These people, the Irish Americans, whose exact number and geographical dispersal are still matters of debate and speculation for those who care, are not 'misty eyed', nor do they 'adhere to' a picture of Ireland that includes in its geography 'Glocca Mora'; they are real, tuned-in, and care about Ireland's future.
I remember meeting an Irish-American about my age last summer whose family had never even even visited Ireland, but had as good if not better better a knowledge of Irish geography and politics than I had, naming, without falter, the 32 counties and its past six Taoisigh from memory.
They're certainly far from the imbeciles Ellis describes in his piece this morning, and anyone with ideas to get us Irish out of our current economics mess -- however tenuous their connection to Ireland or distant their heritage -- needs to be listened to, in earnest, and immediately, before they stop trying.
Besides that diatribe, Ellis also criticizes O'Dowd's vision of a pro-active presidency, one which would see the President travel as a 'travelling salesman' convincing Irish abroad to invest -- intellectually and financially -- in our country, before accusing him, by having emigrated Ireland to earn a living in the State, of having 'irretrievably' shorn himself of his Irish nationality.
Nowhere in the Constitution is it written the the President has to amount to nothing more than a ceremonial figurehead, and for me, and others impressed with some of Niall's initial musings on his possible bid, a President who could show a bit more dynamism and boldness would be a welcome complement to our current government, which -- at least compared to the Fianna Fáil cronies it ousted -- has been taking action, even if not always appreciated.
O'Dowd, at least for those of us who'd support his bid hope, doesn't consider Ireland to be some faceless corporation, but at a time when the country is being forced to introduce water charges to adhere to the terms of a loan it's been forced in to by sheer economic ruination, a bit of business sense, not to mention some inward investment from abroad like we saw in previous days, certainly wouldn't go astray.
O'Dowd's political activism, for those who follow it, is dedicated to promoting Ireland and strengthening its ties with the Irish abroad. The argument that by emigrating to the States he has reneged on some sort of national pledge, or constitutional duty, is simply not true; he has done more for Ireland than most that spend their whole lives living there.
For naysayers like Ellis, though, any budge from the presidential orthodoxy, including electing to the job an Irishman who has spent some of his life in the States, would amount to heresy; for me, though, both are positives, and I can only see a willingness to better engage with, and interest the extended Irish diaspora, particularly in the US, as a good thing.
I hope those misty-eyed souls still dream of Glocca Mora would agree.
I'll include an email and link to my Twitter in future posts, as some readers/commenters seem to have difficulty getting in touch: