The Irish Diaspora: Us and Them

A forecast by Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment predicts that 27,000 more people will leave the country next year than will enter it. This, reports the UK’s Sunday Times on Nov 29th, will lead to the first net emigration in 12 years. It seems that the end of the building boom in Ireland and the general economic downturn is driving the Irish abroad once again. What implications might this have on the Irish Diaspora? That it is again active, that it is being replenished in a way that wasn’t happening during the Celtic Tiger? Through that recent period of economic success in Ireland, it became a net importer of people reversing the movement of men, women and children established centuries ago. But the impact of 27,000 people into a global population of 70 million hardly seems worthy of mention. It’s less than half of one percent of the total population. The real implication lies less with the Irish Diaspora and more with the Irish in Ireland themselves. The Celtic Tiger brought about a change in Ireland’s perception of itself perhaps. No longer was she a nation defined by hardship and long-standing emigration – she was now a positive, vibrant and successful place. In fact, Ireland and the Irish found them-selves to be far better off financially that those places paved with gold that the Irish landed on in harder times. Ireland could hold its head up and expect to be looked upon differently. Will this still be the…

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The Irish Diaspora is not an inexhaustible resource

Last week I attended the Irish Diaspora Forum in University College, Dublin. It was an interesting event with a great many people from what could be called the Irish Diaspora industry. Niall O’Dowd of the Irish American Magazine had organized the event so perhaps it was only natural that the United States would dominate many of the sessions. Indeed, with 40 million Americans having some kind of Irish heritage it is only reasonable that the US gets the attention it does. However, it was not this that got me thinking. It was the Irish themselves. And how they see the Irish Diaspora. The Irish nations (both north and south) view the Diaspora in a very particular way. In general, they view the Irish Diaspora as a quasi-natural resource, a resource that is to be exploited for the betterment of the Irish nations. The product of this exploitation is primarily Foreign Direct Investment into Ireland. Indeed, many of the speakers dealt with the issue of how Ireland would further mine this resource in an uncertain economic future. Even the election of Barack Obama was seen largely through the prism of apparent threats to US Foreign Direct Investment into Ireland. But this view of the Diaspora as an exploitable resource strikes me as flawed. While the seventy million people around the world may well seem to be an inexhaustible resource, we all know that there is no such thing. All resources are finite. Emigration may once have been enough to replenish it,…

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Obama for the Irish Diaspora

RTE (the Irish state broadcasting company) has put on hold its plans to launch ‘RTE International’ (reported in The Irish Independent this week).  What’s been called ‘Diaspora TV’ has been shelved as RTE can’t afford the Euro 2m per year it would take to keep the channel going.  The plan was for launch on St. Patrick’s Day 2009 but not any more.  They will launch it (there’s a statutory obligation to do so following the 2007 amended Broadcasting Act), though there’s no commitment to when. The primary audience for the channel is the 850,000 Irish born people living in Great Britain.  I’m not an economist but a simple calculation has me wondering why at Euro 2.35 a head, per year, the Irish born residents of Great Britain can’t afford to do this on their own.  And what about asking the non-Irish-born in Britain to club together, that’d bring the price down even further. Why stop there?  It’d be even cheaper if they offered it on the net and the seventy million people calling themselves Irish around the world chipped in! It’d cost less than 1 cent per person, per year. Not bad, even if all you watched were the Father Ted re-runs. The big question is:  Why do we need the ‘State’ to deliver this channel at all?  Why can’t we do it on our own?  Seems to me, what we’re missing is not a TV channel from RTE but leadership.  The USA has Barack Obama, the Environment has Al…

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The Irish language, back for good

We know through our own SEVENTYMILLION social network (www.seventymillion.com) that there are efforts across the global Irish community to learn and keep up the Irish language.  One day soon, we hope to have a blog in Irish, but for now we’ll have to make do with one about the Irish language written in English. Apparently, the Irish language is witnessing a re-birth (’Ireland’s Language Dilemma‘ by Don Duncan).  In Irish education, the fastest growing sector is ‘gaelscoileanna’ – schools where all the lessons are taught in  Irish.  Gaelscoileanna make-up 5% of schools but their numbers have tripled since the early 1990s.  Today, between 5 and 10% of the 4.2 million people living in Ireland speak Irish on a daily basis, and many of those are students who speak it in school. But as the language has been rejuvenating itself over the past twenty years there’s been another dynamic happening in Ireland – immigration.  More and more foreigners (from China, Nigeria, Poland, etc) have been arriving on the back of the Celtic Tiger:  In fact between the late 1980s and today, the percentage of foreign-born residents in Ireland grew from around 1% to almost 12%. Ireland has an obligation to integrate its increasingly immigrant population and it’d be nice to think that all can be a part of this new interest in the Irish language.  This beautiful and poetic tongue could be used as a tool to bring disparate peoples together and unite them with a shared interest in the land they…

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