Any emigrants who have departed Ireland for opportunities elsewhere will be given a huge welcome and a helping hand should they decide to return home says the recently appointed Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan.

The former GAA star and long-time advocate for the Irish abroad made his remarks Tuesday at a conference sponsored by the National Youth Council of Ireland in Dublin. Deenihan told the assembled audience that the Irish government “wants to provide opportunities for young people to come home.”

“Losing so many of our young people to emigration is a huge blow to our society,” Deenihan said.

“We lose their innovation, their creativity and their capacity to challenge established norms and ideas. It is vital that we encourage as many of these back to Ireland as possible. We need their fresh thinking.”

Deenihan was named Ireland’s first ever diaspora minister earlier this summer, and will lead the government’s efforts to reach out to the Irish in all parts of the world, many of whom left Ireland due to economic necessity. The Irish Times, quoting figures from the Central Statistics Office, reported that just over 40,000 citizens left Ireland in the year ending April 2014 – with the number ballooning to more than 241,000 emigrating since 2008.

Noting that the Irish economy is slowly emerging from deep recession, Deenihan said, “We are beginning a conversation that would not have been possible a few years ago. We can now welcome home many of those from abroad.

“The return of our young emigrants is an issue of national importance. It’s achievable – let’s make it happen.”

The Kerry native, who formerly served as minister for the arts, said that the Irish must “improve communications with young people overseas. To do this we must connect with young people the way they connect with each other. Resources must be put in place to make sure communications are improved where they can be improved.”

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The Irish unemployment rate currently stands at 11.2 percent, according to the Irish Times, down from a high of 15.1 percent in the early part of 2012. And though employment prospects often dictate whether an emigrant abroad will stay put or return home, a number of those who have departed Ireland spoke about other factors that also come into play, including lack of affordable housing and poor infrastructure.

“I feel sometimes like I’m totally connected to Ireland from listening to Irish news and keeping in touch with friends and family, but I’m not sure I feel like I’m part of Ireland anymore,” one emigrant, Eoin Hayes, now living in New York, told the conference via Skype.

When asked if he’d like to one day return to Ireland he replied, “Absolutely, home is home.”

The Irish government is due to publish a report on the diaspora in the near future. One of its components will include strategies for helping the Irish abroad to return home if they so wish.

Marie Claire McAleer of the National Youth Council says a new way forward to encourage a return to Ireland is desperately needed.

“Any future upturn in the economy requires a pool of well-educated and skilled young people to attract investment and stimulate and sustain economic growth,” she said.

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Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan.Irish Voice