The demise of the Irish government’s Irish heritage certificate will come as a surprise to few.
Estimates originally were that hundreds of thousands would be sold. The true number was a little over 3,000.
What went wrong?
Firstly, the concept was a partnership between the government and the private company Fexco, and they were uneasy bedfellows to begin with.
Fexco wanted to sell as many certificates as quickly as they could, but the government insisted on tight rules and regulations governing the sale. Never the twain did meet.
The certificates were for those ineligible for Irish passports, which meant recipients had to go back to great grandparent roots to prove a relationship before they could be issued with one.
The onus was on the Irish American to make that connection due to Irish government lawyers insisting that no bogus certificates be handed out.
The cost was already prohibitive at $140 for a framed certificate. Adding the requirement to positively identify an ancient relative made the transaction very difficult. Going back three generations demanded considerable time and knowledge which most Irish Americans understandably lacked.
There was also the matter of the marketing of the certificates. There was very little actual marketing done in the mistaken belief that Irish Americans and others would flock to pick them up.
But this was not a Guinness t-shirt or Claddagh ring that could be purchased on the spot. There were significant hurdles before the person could claim a certificate.
While the rules were relaxed in later years, the dysfunction that existed between Fexco and the Irish government as to how the scheme should be carried out was plain to see.
It was probably not a good idea to begin with. There is a benighted view in some Irish circles that Irish Americans will throw money at any Irish item that helps them celebrate their heritage. They are not as gullible as all that.
What could have worked, in tandem with the Internet, was a series of programs on searching heritage and genealogy by a panel of experts funded by the government. Irish Americans’ curiosity about their roots remains the keystone of their interest.
Such a program could have been beamed worldwide and broadly advertised, allowing millions to enter the quest for roots which would have become a compelling search for so many.
Nurturing the Irish identity in America is about far more than certificates. It is about imparting knowledge and allowing those who take part to have a solid base for further research and reflection.
Printing out heritage certificates had little to with that, so we should not be surprised that the initiative failed.