Creating new and meaningful connections between the global Irish and Ireland is the top priority for Irish Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan, who spent five days in New York and Philadelphia last week attending several functions and meeting members of the local Irish community.

During an interview with the Irish Voice and the Irish Echo, Co. Kerry native Deenihan said he sees his role as “giving to the diaspora as much as possible.”
The former sporting hero, winner of five All-Ireland medals with Kerry, has several items on his agenda going forward, including voting rights for the Irish abroad and a solution to the ongoing issue of the Irish undocumented here.

“I would hope that the question of giving votes to the diaspora will be put to the people next year. I’m certainly encouraging that. I was always in favor of it,” Deenihan said, adding that he eventually hopes that the diaspora will be part of the Seanad (Senate) with three senators representing North America, the U.K./Europe and the rest of the world.

“I think that would create a really great connection and dynamic,” Deenihan said. “We want to give people the chance to connect to Ireland, and if you could establish that connection first with votes in the presidential race and the Seanad, that would be very important.”

Deenihan also plans to expand Ireland’s alumni network abroad, and will encourage each county to build new links with its citizens living outside of Ireland.  Deenihan is well-known in New York’s Kerry circles due to his many visits here both on behalf of the government and his county, and says his work has managed to bring positive results to many local Kerry efforts.

“We have a great Kerry network in New York and I’ll be telling the county managers that there’s no reason why they can’t have the same thing,” Deenihan said.

“The county networks here are very effective. And we want people living here to know what’s going on with their counties at home.”

Deenihan says he’s aware that the undocumented Irish issue is a difficult one to tackle given the political rift on Capitol Hill which was further exposed by last week’s midterm elections.  He plans on returning to Washington, D.C. in January to promote the Irish government’s interest in being part of a resolution.

“None of this will be easy. But we will continue to express our concern in any way that we can.  People must realize that at the end of the day we’re just a small country that’s part of a very complex problem,” he said.

Deenihan’s office announced grants of more than $2 million last week to Irish groups in the U.S., bringing the total Irish government commitment since 2004 to $27 million.  “It’s a statement that the Irish government is prepared to put the money in here to look after its diaspora.  Our people are not forgotten when they leave our shores,” he said.

The new round of funding shows a seven percent increase from the government’s commitment in 2013 and also includes several culture and heritage grants, including a grant of $58,500 to the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York, which is rebuilding its home in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

The Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens and Woodlawn received $204,000; the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers $133,500; the New York Irish Center in Long Island City $138,000; Boston Irish International Immigrant Center $259,998; and Chicago Irish Immigrant Support, $195,000.  Several other groups throughout the U.S. were also earmarked for grants.