The impact of Ireland’s diaspora

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

Posted: 16 March, 2018

As part of this month’s theme ‘Celebrating Ireland’s Diaspora’ and marking St Patrick’s Day, Ciaran Cannon TD has contributed a guest blog. He is Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for the Diaspora and International Development. Minister Cannon is currently visiting Chicago as part of the St Patrick’s Day ‘Promote Ireland’ programme for 2018.

Many countries shape their diaspora, instilling a sense of place and history on pockets of people in far off lands. This has certainly been the case with the Irish diaspora, but I think we are also unique in having in turn been shaped by our diaspora and by the emigrant experience of so many people who identify as Irish.

The impact of our diaspora is therefore evident to me in all that we do. It is in our music, our arts, our culture, and it affects our education system, our business environment and our talent pool. Indeed, for so many people, Ireland is its diaspora – it is our story. Many of us know of these emigrant stories, particularly from the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Less celebrated are those in Argentina or Asia, Spain or Southern Africa. All are individual stories of pain, of hope, of failure, of success, of generosity, of families and friends and of a connection to Ireland, and ultimately all are stories of impact, in many cases lasting and in even more, of positive impact.

During my time as Minister for the Diaspora I have heard these stories and have seen the positive affect that Irish communities have on their environs and their members. We formally recognise the contributions of members of our diaspora through the Presidential Distinguished Award for the Irish Abroad (PDSAs). Every year the PDSAs recognise the service given to this country or to Irish communities abroad by those who live outside of Ireland. The 2018 awards alone showed the range of impacts made by the Irish diaspora: from Professor Bill Campbell winning a Nobel Prize for medicine, to General John De Chastelain’s work contributing to peace on this island and the indefatigable Mary T Murphy’s dedication to development in Africa. These award recipients are at the vanguard of Irish representation around the world and showcase the best attributes we contribute, which I know are replicated over and over in Irish organisations and groups around the world.

In 2018 I hope to see the impact of our diaspora realised and understood in new ways. With Back for Business – a project I launched at the end of 2017 to assist returning emigrants set up businesses in Ireland – we can harness the overseas experience and skills gained by our emigrants and help them start businesses that are sustainable and beneficial to local communities in regions across Ireland. At the other end of the scale, my Department has also partnered with EPIC, the Irish emigration museum, to fund an in-house researcher. This exciting and unique residency will see a researcher conduct pioneering research in the field of Irish migration and diaspora studies, with a view to better understanding the impact that our diaspora has had, historically, and in locations around the world.

Given that we have a seventy million strong diaspora we can only ever hope to appreciate and celebrate but a small portion of its impact. But be under no illusions, this impact is real and wide ranging. I believe our diaspora communities have consistently given back, both to us as a nation and to the locations around the world they find themselves in. As Minister for the Diaspora I have seen this in time and again and I have no doubt that I will continue to see this as I meet more of our people around the world.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Irish Research Council or any employee thereof.