Op-ed by Ciarán Cannon TD, Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, July 2018.

This week I was very pleased to publish the first ever ‘Annual Report on Supports for the Irish Abroad’. This report, compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, showcases the Irish Government’s serious and sustained support for Irish communities around the world.

For me as Minister, it is vitally important that Irish communities abroad are better informed about the links that exist between Ireland and the global Irish and the possibility of support through Government funding. I hope that through this report, a greater awareness of the work that is being taken forward all over the world will inspire people to get involved - leading to more ideas, to more innovation and more collaboration between diaspora organizations on projects, making a real and lasting impact for our citizens and communities abroad.

The numbers in this report speak for themselves, but underpinning the €12.5 million that we spent supporting Irish diaspora communities and organizations is a sense that Ireland’s relationship with its significant, diverse and vibrant global Irish community is on the cusp of entering a new phase.

I was pleased to approve over $4.7 million of dedicated funding to the United States in 2017, which builds on funding of over $13.4 million over the previous five years.  Last year’s financing supported 57 different organizations spread across the United States and supported projects ranging from frontline welfare to Irish arts, culture and heritage. I was particularly pleased that we were able to continue supporting the Irish Arts Center in New York to undertake an ambitious redevelopment project to construct a new state-of-the-art Center. The new Center will be a cultural flagship in a key global city, and will permit established and emerging Irish artists across a range of disciplines to have a permanent creative home in the United States. In tandem with this funding we also supported a wide range of welfare organizations in several American cities, which targeted support for vulnerable members of the Irish American community, including our undocumented citizens, and which provide a range of tailored and professional welfare services.

Having been appointed Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development just over a year ago, I have been fortunate to engage with Irish communities across the globe, from New York to New Zealand, and also Africa and the Gulf States in between. I have taken these opportunities to meet Irish people engaged in community and humanitarian work as well as those working across the fields of education, business, culture, science and engineering.  This last year has convinced me that we are on the verge of the next great leap in diaspora engagement, building on our efforts and successes since the publication of ‘Global Irish - Ireland’s Diaspora Policy’ in 2015. This was the first clear Irish Government policy on the diaspora which recognizes that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with its diaspora that must be nurtured and developed.

Last year, Irish Central hosted a substantive online survey, carried out by Amárach Research and part-funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on our young Irish American diaspora in the USA.  The extensive data confirmed the vast strength of affection for Irish American heritage. 57% of those who participated in the survey were third generation or further removed and 59% had chosen Irish American identity over other possible ethnic identities in their families.  The survey confirmed for me that engagement online, through contemporary expressions of Irishness and through grassroots Irish organizations are vital to maintain a strong connection with our Irish American community.

As a Government, we have worked tirelessly in supporting more and more Irish people abroad and the future of this work is being framed in 2018 in more strategic ways. The intended launch later this year of two whole-of-Government strategies for the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions will see the role of our diaspora reaffirmed and enhanced going forward. Furthermore, and more significantly, the recently launched policy ‘Global Ireland - Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025,’ affirms the importance of our diaspora and it rightly sets out a role for them as we work to expand our overall engagement on the world stage by doubling Ireland’s global footprint.

I have already seen this strategic centrality of our diaspora in action over recent weeks. At the beginning of July, I was in New York at the launch of Ireland’s campaign to join the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member in 2021-2022. I was proud to see our campaign launch - based on the three themes of Empathy, Partnership and Independence – receive so much international support. I believe these themes are inherently informed by the Irish emigrant experience and, at the same time, it is also clear to me that there is a role for our diaspora in supporting our global engagement at the highest level.

The campaign launch took place against the backdrop of John Behan’s “Arrival”, a sculpture depicting Irish emigrants coming ashore, gifted by Ireland to the United Nations in 2000.  “Arrival” celebrates the deep and lasting effect that Irish emigrants have had across the world, a legacy that our diaspora continue today. It was wonderful to meet members of the Irish diaspora in New York who were supporting our bid for the Security Council. Irish diplomats, artists, aid workers, students and business people gathered to hear our message and to support Ireland in our bid to join the United Nations Security Council.

As we seek to double our global footprint by 2025 we will also be putting the citizen at the heart of our expansion.  Within the USA, it is hugely welcome that we have announced a new Irish Consulate for Los Angeles and increased resources for the Consulates in New York, Austin and Atlanta.  Given the size and population of Ireland, it is remarkable to reflect on the fact that one in ten Americans, over 33 million, actively identify as Irish or having Irish heritage.  Through our Embassy in Washington DC and our six Consulates in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin and Atlanta, we are working all the time to explore ways to better engage and connect with our diverse global Irish community in America.

I said in the foreword to the ‘Annual Report on Supports for the Irish Abroad’ that the story of the Irish abroad is above all a human story. I firmly believe this to be true and am constantly reminded of this, in positive and wonderful ways, through my travel and my engagement with our people abroad. We have come so far together as a people, at home and abroad, and the story of the Irish is now legendary the world over. I look forward to helping write the next chapter and am excited to see where it leads us next.

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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.

Ciarán Cannon TD, Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development