THE Irish government has measured up to its recent statements about the importance of the global Irish by scheduling a high profile conference for the weekend of September 18 in Dublin.

The reaction to the government invitation to its forum has been excellent, with over 180 business leaders from all corners of the globe agreeing to attend in what will surely be an historic weekend.

It will also be an ideal opportunity to grasp the reins of the diaspora bandwagon which every major and minor politician has now realized has major impact for Ireland in the current climate.

The diaspora awareness truly began 29 years ago when the U.S. Census revealed for the first time in 1980 that 44 million American claimed some Irish ancestry, and 10 million of them were direct on both sides of their lineage.

That story was first revealed in a newspaper called The Irishman in San Francisco, a precursor of the Irish Voice, and was thought of such little relevance at the time that Irish newspapers did not bother to pick it up, or the then Irish government to pay any attention to it.

In the intervening almost 30 years so much has changed, spurred in large part in America by the phenomenal growth in roots and heritage.

Irish American powerhouses like the American Ireland Fund have emerged to create a tremendous new well of contacts for the diaspora, while our publications have put together networks such as the Wall Street 50, Top 100 Irish Americans, Business 100, Legal 100 and many others.

Successive Irish governments have become more interested in the topic. A major breakthrough was when former President Mary Robinson made it clear that the Irish abroad would be a major part of her mission when she became president.

Her often criticized gesture of putting a light in the window as a symbol for all the emigrants who had left became one of the defining symbols of her presidency.

The conference will take place at the official Irish government meeting place called Farmleigh in Phoenix Park, the closest building Ireland has to a White House.

The opening session will be addressed by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen.

Cowen delivered a remarkable testament to the power of the global Irish at a speech at the Wall Street 50 event in New York last year hosted by our sister publication Irish America.

“The great challenge in Ireland today therefore…is how to harness that tremendous font of goodwill, wisdom and expertise that is represented by the Irish diaspora in the world today. How do we establish the new networks that are required, the new relationship that is required,” he said.

That question will be answered in part at Farmleigh when the Irish government will provide the leadership at last that the global Irish seek.

In a press release Foreign Minister Micheal Martin stated, “The primary purpose of the forum will be to explore how the Irish at home and abroad and those with a strong interest in Ireland can work together to contribute to our overall efforts at economic renewal, and to build connections between Ireland and our global community.”

The outcome of the forum will be eagerly awaited from Belfast to Bangkok at a time when Ireland needs its diaspora more than ever. The Farmleigh forum is an important first step.

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