Ireland’s first Minister for Diaspora accomplished much – and the post should be retained

Representatives of groups working with Irish people abroad have called for the post of the Minister of State for the Diaspora to be retained. Minister Jimmy Deenihan’s electoral loss prompted a Generation Emigration roundup of commenters heralding his accomplishments and citing the impact of his work and the importance of the position. Those commenting include representatives of Irish In Britain, Get the Boat to Vote, National Youth Council of Ireland, Crosscare Migrant Project, IN-USA and several others.

Many of the correspondents mentioned the Global Irish Civic Forum as being among the highlights of Minister Deenihan’s tenure. Nearly all called for the continuation of the role in the next government.

Our comments are below – this can also be found with the rest of the contributions at the Generation Emigration blog.

 

Noreen Bowden
Founder of GlobalIrish.ie and co-founder of VotingRights.ie

Jimmy Deenihan knew when he was appointed as Minister that his tenure was likely to be short before the next election. He pledged to move fast, and he leaves behind a record of accomplishment. The launch of the Global Irish Diaspora Strategy and the Global Irish Civic Forum stand out as obvious highlights, for example.

I personally treasure the Minister’s active role in ensuring that the needs of RTÉ’s longwave listeners in Britain and beyond were not ignored when RTÉ announced that it wanted to prematurely shut down this valuable link with home. His attention to the outcry, and subsequent announcement that the Government would fund research into the needs of this community, many of whom are elderly and isolated, was a most welcome move. It demonstrated Mr Deenihan’s responsiveness to the needs of Irish communities abroad, and his respect and concern for some of Ireland’s more vulnerable citizens, to whom Ireland owes a tremendous debt.

It would be an enormous step backward if the post of Minister of State for the Diaspora were to be abandoned. It would certainly be a move that would not go unnoticed by the Irish abroad – many of whom will be expecting increasing political inclusion to match both Ireland’s intensifying economic diaspora outreach, as well as changing realities of global norms regarding emigrant citizenship and political participation.

Instead, the post should be made permanent and strengthened, and accompanied by an emphasis on increasing the awareness of the needs, aspirations and contributions of Irish citizens abroad throughout the political system. The retention of the Minister for the Diaspora post should be just one of many steps the government should undertake to strengthen the relationship between the nation and its overseas citizens, particularly the one in six Irish-born citizens who have lost the right to vote through emigration. We are, of course, awaiting moving forward with the Constitutional Convention’s recommendations on emigrant voting in Presidential elections, as well as the policy review on emigrant voting as outlined in the Global Irish diaspora strategy. The Seanad Reform Working Group’s recommendations, which would extend the Seanad vote to citizens abroad, also remain outstanding.

The appointment of Jimmy Deenihan as Minister of State for Diaspora Affairs was a genuinely innovative step that was welcomed by so many in the diaspora. Ireland needs to continue to demonstrate how seriously it takes its relationship with the Irish abroad – this is more urgent than ever as we commemorate the events of 1916, and contemplate how closely we adhere to the ideals of a movement that called for a Republic “elected by the suffrages of all her men and women” and made a commitment to cherish “all the children of the nation equally”.

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