Ireland’s Minister of State for the Diaspora Ciaran Cannon calls on Irish America for their ideas on how Ireland and the diaspora can stay better connected.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.
So remarked the most famous of Ireland’s emigrant sons on his inauguration as US President in 1961.
Today, as Ireland’s Minister of State for the Diaspora, I want to reframe those words for a new generation of Irish-Americans, by asking: what we in Ireland can do for you as part of our global community, and what you, in turn, can do to support us in sustaining and enhancing the special ties between our nations?
I’m always impressed, and often moved, by the affinity with Ireland felt by so many people around the world, no matter how removed by geography or generations. The size and vitality of our diaspora reflect the resilience and creativity of our people, as much as our history of emigration. Nowhere is that truer than in the United States, where so much of what the world celebrates as Ireland’s culture first bloomed.
After all, the first St Patrick’s Day parades were not in Galway, Cork or Donegal, but in Boston, Florida and New York. The success of Riverdance owes as much to Chicago as to Limerick, the world’s largest annual festivals of Irish culture are not in Mayo or Dublin, Ireland, but in Milwaukee and Dublin, Ohio.
For generations, Irish men and women found in America the possibility of building better lives, and in doing so contributed to the building of a nation. While becoming proud Americans they retained a deep and distinct Irish identity and passed their pride in that heritage to their children and grandchildren.
Today 33 million Americans claim Irish ancestry - 10% of this nation’s population and seven times that of Ireland! Our Government is determined to remain connected to that unique community, and to all those with a special affinity to Ireland.
At the heart of our approach is the Emigrant Support Programme. Since 2004, we have spent more than €170 million supporting the activities of almost six hundred Irish organizations across the world, including over $38million in the United States.
We also propose to extend voting rights in Presidential elections to Irish citizens worldwide. In a referendum this October we will ask our people at home to give that privilege to the 3.6 million Irish citizens living outside the state.
Last year, we published “Global Ireland,” a strategy designed to double Ireland’s global impact over the next decade. It commits us to preparing a new Diaspora Policy and to publishing and introducing it for St. Patrick’s Day next year.
Our new Diaspora Policy must acknowledge that the profile of our diaspora is changing, that it includes not only those who trace their ancestry to Ireland but those who have studied or worked for a time in our country, only to return home.
It will consider how, in an increasingly connected world, we can better engage people who already feel a connection to Ireland.
Critically, it will reflect on how we can foster such connections with those who, for whatever reason, have lost touch with their Irish heritage.
A Diaspora Policy should be grounded in the views of a diaspora. To better support and connect with Irish-America, we need to draw on the experience and ideas of Irish-America.
To that end, with the support of our Embassy and Consulates, we are undertaking consultations across the US. We also want to encourage written submissions, through our dedicated webpage: dfa.ie/global-irish/consultations/.
Today’s Ireland is a global island, but we have long been a global people. The second article of our constitution affirms how integral that is to our identity, stressing that our nation ‘cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad.’ Our new diaspora policy is about giving substance to that affirmation.
We want you to help us make it a success, and thereby do something to benefit both the country of your heritage and that of your home.
Ciarán Cannon T.D. is the Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development and is based in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin. You can keep up to date on Minister Cannon’s work through Twitter by following @ciarancannon or @Globalirish.