“The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage”- Bunreacht na hÉireann
It is a common cliché that Ireland if it is to be anything must be more global in its outlook. Gone must be the poverty ridden Ireland of our grandparents in lieu of a more agreeable country both for the multinational investment sustaining it and an increasingly secular population. Grappling with this transition will be one of the greatest task facing Irish conservatives in the years to come. The network imposed for sincere reasons of post-independence economic and cultural protectionism imploded by the mid-1960s, forcing Ireland down at path of economic and social liberalisation. There is no going back on these economic reforms – the only question is how we re-orientate this change in favor of an Ireland that is still rooted in itself culturally while maintaining the conditions necessary for a globalised economy to thrive.
The way in which diaspora policy is handled offers a unique opportunity to fulfill that task by mimicking what is seen in fellow diaspora nations like Israel, where a thriving technology driven economy coexists in coordination with the global Jewish diaspora.
Special Affinity? Irish Diaspora Policy in 2018
Despite being essential to Ireland’s soft power arsenal during the Northern Irish peace process and the attraction of multinational corporations, it would be fair to critique our stance towards the diaspora as lacking.
Third generation Irish-American Journalist Rose Foley once lamented her failed attempts at obtaining the right to work in Ireland despite being almost entirely of Irish heritage, this is a common occurrence. Automatic citizenship is restricted to those with only a grandparent born in Ireland resulting in increasing numbers of diaspora Irish being excluded. Minus a few exceptions, there does not exist here a culture of the diaspora travelling home for cultural immersion as is seen in Israel and elsewhere.
Current government plans towards the diaspora were highlighted in the 2015 “Global Irish” policy document laying out a desire to harness the diaspora through cultivating various cultural and business networks. Perhaps most notable is the potential to operate an ‘outreach program” for 18-26 year olds facilitating them to travel to Ireland and immerse themselves in cultural activities forging links with the country. However to the best of the author’s knowledge this has not commenced. Irish political power on the global stage was at one time clustered around Catholicism with the once great Irish Catholic fraternal organisations now being pale shadows of their former glory. As the years go by, Irish diaspora populations understandably have become more distant from Ireland and will continue to do so.
Economists like David McWilliams has emphasized the need for Ireland to engage more with its diaspora almost on a parish by parish level something which to an extent has begun in the Internet age with many Irish towns keeping networks of theirs sons and daughters forced to live abroad.
Naturally it is incumbent for better engagement in cultural as well as economic realm. The Taitleann Games, an entirely forgotten Free State venture of operating a sort of Gaelic Olympics involving the diaspora was wildly successful before being spitefully shafted by De Valera upon coming to power. However absurd on the face of it, there is no reason why the Games couldn’t be revived. Considering the example of the Commonwealth Games for members of the British Commonwealth or how the Olympics themselves were restarted due to actions of classicists historians.
Israel and Aliyah
Similar to language revival Israel provides an interesting study in how to harness a global diaspora. Under the Israeli Law of Return program which allows anyone of Jewish heritage and their spouse to work and gradually obtain citizenship in Israel. This policy was crucial for the state to secure itself demographically as well as to create the modern economy it enjoys today. While chastised as having xenophobic undertones there is no question as to the role the policy plays in providing Israel with a workforce able to navigate the modern economy.
The “Birthright Israel” initiative started in 1999 has allowed over an astounding 600,000 young adults of Jewish heritage to visit the state of Israel forming ties with the country later bearing fruit in adult life. Israel more so than Ireland is famed for its ability to exert influence on matters of foreign policy in America and elsewhere with its diaspora being essential to this process.
Outside of Israel the nation of Japan has commenced similarly bold diaspora policies hoping to even repatriate second and third generation Japanese to make up in the labor shortfall that comes with an ageing population. Under the policy of Dekasegi lump, sums are paid to Brazilians of Japanese extraction to move to Japan, though this has drawn the ire of the Brazilian government.
Any particular model for diaspora policy in Ireland must be firmly grounded in reality as well as tailored to Ireland’s specific needs and there exists plenty of models where ideas could very well be cherry-picked.
Potential for more Paddywhackery?
Any moves at integrating the diaspora fully into Irish life merits a good deal of scrutiny. Ireland is an island of 6.5 million with the opening up of citizenship to potentially tens of millions presenting some major obstacles. Similar to the actor Gabriel Byrne’s castigation of the Gathering as being a “shake down” for funds, cynical observers may see this as an attempt to turn the diaspora relationship into another cash cow cheapening Irish citizenship in the process. Regardless of this, there is no reason why with the right reforms Ireland could not ape the successes of other nations,
The Irish are prisoners of their own history as hinted a reflective James Joyce. If such is the case, what could be better than to turn the tables on our historical misfortunes and help forge a new and more secure place in the world free from some of the downsides of global liberalism while no less economically vibrant.
Since the Flight of the Earls right up to the hammering out of the Good Friday Agreement the Irish have always used their diaspora strategically for the sake of their ancestral homeland. That dynamic still exists however is lacking sufficient vision to be carried through.