Ireland may lose access to the White House on St. Patrick's Day if it does not address the wavering connection with the Irish diaspora in the US, the Global Irish Civic Forum has heard.
Addressing the forum in Dublin Castle on Thursday, Hilary Beirne of the NYC St. Patrick's Day Foundation said young Irish Americans are generally "highly educated" and less likely to be involved in Irish organizations than previous generations.
Beirne said Ireland has benefitted enormously from its connection with the Irish diaspora in the US, pointing to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and financial aid sent home ahead of the 1916 Easter Rising in 1914.
However, he said 85% of the Irish diaspora in the US aged between 18 and 35 are not involved in Irish organizations, indicating a weaker connection between the diaspora and Ireland.
"In recent years, because of an aging Irish population, that connection is starting to waver," Beirne told the forum.
"In 10 or 15 years, unless there’s some big engagement with particularly the younger generation and more real engagement here with the diaspora ... Some sort of real engagement with either voting rights in a presidential election or some kind of representation here, the ability of Ireland to have access to the White House on its national holiday may disappear."
Irish communities in the US have been struggling since the introduction of the Immigration Act in 1965, which overhauled the US immigration system by opening up immigration opportunities to the rest of the world while imposing limits on immigrants from Britain and Ireland.
The Queens neighborhood of Woodside, in New York, for example, has experienced a rapid decline in its Irish population due to shifting visa laws. Once as high as 80% Irish, Woodside now doesn't have a single ethnic majority.
New York's county groups, which represent the 32 counties in Ireland during the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade, have also experienced a significant decline in recent years, indicating a disconnect between the Irish diaspora and Ireland.
Many of the groups, once a first port of call for scores of immigrants in decades past looking for jobs, accommodation, and socialization, are now grappling with dwindling memberships due to a number of factors.
Chief among those factors is a lack of Irish emigration to the US due to tighter US visa laws, while the prevalence of technology is also responsible. With a wide range of digital connections available, newly-arrived Irish immigrants are less likely to join Irish organizations for social reasons.
More than 34 million Americans claim Irish heritage - equally almost 12% of the entire country - but the number of Irish-born citizens in the US is falling dramatically.
According to the 2012 US Census, 153,248 people living in the US were born in Ireland. Just 10 years earlier, that figure was roughly 250,000.