The joint program for government issued by Fine Gael and the Labor focuses on Irish diaspora issues in several places.

First off, it is disappointing that the government chooses to kick the issue of emigrant voting rights down the road and refer it to a commission.

The program then says that the voting under consideration would only be in the Irish presidential election, a relatively meaningless office in the sense that it wields little power and currently occurs every seven years.

Emigrant voting rights advocates will be unhappy with that stance, and it is hard to see why the new government could not have been more generous.

The number of Irish who would vote would be small in any event, and having to vote at Irish embassies or consulates would be a further hindrance.

There is already an anomaly in the law where a National University or Trinity College graduate living abroad can vote in an Irish Senate election by postal vote. Surely the same facilities should be afforded recent emigrants to America who have left their homeland under tough circumstances.

Other news from the program for government is better. The decision to recall all ambassadors within the first 100 days for a think-in on how to sell Ireland in all its facets abroad is a very good one.

A coordinated message at this point could prove valuable for Ireland, Inc., and the need to encourage more positive press coverage worldwide is a very real need.

The new government should take a hard look at the distribution of Ireland’s embassies and the personnel numbers staffing them.

It is abundantly clear that there should be a far greater focus on the U.S., where only 4% of Irish diplomats currently serve, and also that key cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco, near Silicon Valley, should have a far higher level of staffing.

In an economic downturn you fish where the fish are, and certainly a greater emphasis on beefed up staffing in the U.S., China and other large potential markets would appear to make perfect sense.
The decision to focus on roots-based tourism, with a specific emphasis on genealogy, is also an important step.

Speeding up the release of the 1926 census will allow millions around the world to connect on a deep and personal level with Ireland.

It is disappointing to note that in the program’s study in Ireland section, the main thrust appears to be attracting students from the Middle East and China.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of Irish American students who would welcome and love an opportunity to study at a higher-level college in Ireland if they were made aware of the opportunity.
Let us hope this government doesn’t ignore such obvious realities as it struggles to rebuild the Irish economy.

There are mixed messages in the program for government, but in fairness it was thrown together at very short notice and much of what is mentioned can certainly be built on.

The need to renew the links with the Irish diaspora, to deal with issues such as undocumented Irish in the U.S., is a genuine one.

Also, the need to handle issues such as attracting more Irish American students to Ireland and voting rights in elections are very real for the Irish abroad.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out after this government is in place on March 9.


Fine Gael's Richard Bruton celebrates his success at the RDS, Dublin