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    Terry Prone: Diaspora “a weird lot”

    Friday, October 2nd, 2009

    PR maven Terry Prone is not the most astute analyst of diaspora relations.

    Cleverly coining a new phrase, “diasporation”, in response to the recent Global Irish Economic Forum, Ms Prone declares that all attempts to look to the Irish abroad for any wisdom to guide us out of this crisis are doomed to failure.

    The reason? The Irish diaspora are “a weird lot”. Sure there are some Irish millionaire philanthropists who can be reliably counted on to cough up the cash. But the rest of them? No use at all.

    “The rest of the diaspora is a write off and always has been. One of the best histories of the emigrant Irish makes the point that whereas Italians and other Europeans who, through poverty, had to emigrate to the United States always planned to get home as soon as they made a few bob, the Irish concentrated on singing miserable songs filled with homesickness while staying in Detroit or Dakota or downtown Manhattan.”

    Ms Prone seems to forget that Ireland’s economic boom is of rather late vintage. When there was a need for emigrant labour in the 1990s, the Irish did come back – by the hundreds of thousands. What did an Irish person have to return to, in say, 1870?

    And as for remittances, Ms Prone seems to think they are the object of folklore:

    And, while we’ve all heard the stories of envelopes coming to our great-grandparents with the few bob from the emigrant son or daughter allowing the folks at home to put in a toilet instead of visiting the local field, the fact is that a huge proportion of those who left used their emigration to break all ties with folks from home.

    Proving nicely the old adage that eaten bread is soon forgotten, Ms Prone doesn’t seem to realise that millions of pounds in remittances were reaching Irish homes as lately as the 1960s. But then actual facts don’t seem her forte. This comes from the Supporting the Irish Abroad website:

    In 1961 the education budget for Ireland was fourteen million pounds, that year emigrants remittances that could be calculated form official sources came to thirteen and a half million.

    If we owe the Irish emigrants of the past anything – and we do – surely it must begin with remembering their sacrifices and what they gave to the Irish at home.

    But not for Ms Prone, who clearly resents the Irish diaspora for committing the sin of sentimentality while keeping their money in their pockets. They should visit more, she insists – even as Irish-born people realise that it’s cheaper to holiday just about anywhere else.  And perhaps worst of all, they don’t buy the shamrock-themed tat that she tries to help Irish marketers shill.

    As a corrective, here’s what the 2002 report of the government’s Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants has to say:

    We owe much to our emigrants. Many of them helped their families who remained behind through generous remittances sent home from their hard earned incomes. In recent years, the establishment of voluntary funding organisations abroad and the personal generosity of individual Irish people who have achieved success, notably in the US, have led to the investment of large sums of money in Ireland. Moreover, people who returned to Ireland having gained experience abroad, have contributed significantly to the country through learning and innovation. The Task Force acknowledges this debt and recognises the sacrifices made by generations of emigrants to the economic benefit of Ireland.

    Read Ms Prone’s article: Don’t rely on the Diaspora to rescue us

    Ireland Funds publish diaspora strategies report

    Saturday, September 12th, 2009

    “A comparative review of international diaspora strategies” has been published by the Ireland Funds.  The document examines a number of aspects of individual nations’ diaspora policies and makes recommendations for Ireland. Report authors Kingsley Aikins, Dr. Anita Sands and Nicola White build on a growing body of diaspora strategy work being done around the world, most notably  by the World Bank and, in Ireland, by Mark Boyle, Rob Kitchin and Daphne Ancien at NUI Maynooth.

    The report is comprehensive in its scope and exciting in the possibilities and initiatives it suggests. Among its key points:

    • Ireland has the potential to join India and Israel in the top three nations for diaspora development; India and Israel can serve as valuable models for Ireland in proactively engaging with the diaspora, while Ireland can serve as a model for other nations.
    • The report introduces the concept of “The Global Irish 1000″ – a small number of exceptional people that can make a key difference, but says that this concept and the fact that the communications revolution has enabled large-scale connections are not mutually exclusive.
    • Ireland’s global knowledge network will be key to engaging the diaspora and allowing them to play a role in such initiatives as the Smart Economy and ‘talent acceleration’ programmes.
    • Programmes allowing members of the diaspora to spend time learning in Ireland should be developed – not only for young people, but for older people as well.
    • A certificate of Irish ancestry could give official recognition to those with Irish ancestry who are not eligible for citizenship, along with a number of privileges.
    • A system of recognition should be developed to honour those in the diaspora.
    • Ireland needs to develop its competitiveness in the global cultural arena – and needs to have a profile similar to those built up for other nations by organisations such as the British Council, Alliance Francaise, and the Goethe Institute.

    If there’s any frustration that an engaged reader might feel while reading the report, it’s that some of these initiatives have been suggested many times over the last few years. The award system is one case in point: The 2002 Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigration recommended this, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern discussed it in the Dail in 2007, it’s recommended in this year’s strategic review of US-Ireland relations, and yet there has been no public proposal.

    Much has been achieved since the Task Force, but there remain so many proposed initiatives waiting to be developed.

    One point which is notable for its absence in such a comprehensive review is the notion of political participation by overseas citizens. With 115 countries allowing their non-resident citizens to vote,  it seems inevitable that at some point this will become an issue in Ireland as well. The reports’ two favoured model countries, Israel and India offer interesting case studies on the issue: Neither allow their expats to vote currently, but the topic is becoming increasingly prominent in both nations – and not without controversy. (In Israel, a recently defeated proposal  was favoured by the Right, who believe it will help them; in India the Prime Minister reportedly promised non-resident voting rights in 2006, while another government minister said more recently the issue of accommodating non-resident voting was under discussion.)

    The Ireland Funds has been rebranding themselves to more fully showcase their changed their slogan to “The Global Irish Making a Difference Together”. They note the organisation is “a global leader in the area of diaspora philanthropy”, having raised over $300 million and funded over 1,200 organisations in Ireland and beyond.  They add:

    With such a track record, The Ireland Funds is now looked upon as a thought leader in the area of diaspora engagement and through a range of research, conferences, seminars and presentations is actively contributing to the body of knowledge in the field of diaspora studies, bringing a vital practitioner perspective.

    Download the report from the Ireland Funds website.

    International Conference on Diaspora and Development. World Bank, Washington DC: July 13-14 2009

    Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

    From the World Bank:

    The Migration and Remittances team of the Development Economics Prospects Group and the Migration Working Group of the World Bank are organizing an International Conference on Diaspora and Development on July 13-14, 2009.

    The diaspora of developing countries can be a potent force for development for their countries of origin, through remittances, but more importantly, through the promotion of trade, investments, knowledge and technology transfers. The conference aims to consolidate research and evidence on these issues with a view to formulating policies in both sending and receiving countries.

    The Keynote session will focus on the “Impact of the Crisis on Migration and Remittances”, while there will be other sessions on

    • Diaspora as a strategy for the global mobility of skills
    • Contributions of unskilled diaspora to development
    • Mobilising diaspora investments
    • Deepening diaspora ties
    • Mobilising highly-skilled diaspora
    • Working with diaspora and diaspora associations
    • Diaspora actions
    • Collective remittances: country experiences
    • Circular migration and returns

    The agenda notes there will be an (unnamed) representative from Ireland speaking as part of the panel discussion on diaspora ties.

    Visit Conference website.

    Scotland’s Homecoming reaches peak with Gathering, Diaspora Forum

    Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

    Scotland will welcome 8,000 members of its diaspora later this month for “The Gathering”,  the highlight of its Homecoming Scotland year. In Edinburgh on the weekend of July 23-25, there will be a gathering of 130 clans, a Highland Games festival, and a spectacular clan pageant called “Aisling’s Children”.

    The Scotsman newspaper reports that cynics may scoff, but cites the rewards of  Ireland’s cultivation of its diasporic links:

    For political and business leaders who want to see the country thrive, the bond between Scotland and its diaspora is not just culturally significant. As Ireland has demonstrated, properly fostered, the emotional ties could reap dividends for all involved. Over the last decade or so, the Irish government has explored ways in which the country can tap into the economic, intellectual and social bounty of its ex-pat community. One particularly successful initiative is the Irish Technology Leadership Group, which is comprised of Irish and Irish-Americans in senior positions in Silicon Valley willing to invest in Irish companies.

    There will also be a debate at the Scottish Diaspora Forum, open to the public, which will feature Scottish politicians, journalists, academics, and business people discussing the role of the diaspora in Scotland’s future. There will be a panel debate on whether the Scottish diaspora has a critical role to play in any potential new Scottish enlightenment. There will also be a “Dragon’s Glen” event, where several pitchers try to sell a panel ideas which would bring Scotland’s resident population of five million people together with its diaspora of 40 million people.

    Edited to add:

    US-based Irish tech group signs deal with UCD, Trinity

    Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

    The Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), a Silicon Valley-based group of has signed an agreement with Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin aimed at driving Irish innovation and creating new business opportunities in the US for emerging Irish companies.

    According to a press release, TCD Provost John Hegarty, UCD President Hugh Brady and ITLG chair John Hartnett announced a memorandum of understanding on Monday, 15 June to promote technological innovation, and the goals of the recently announced Innovation Alliance between UCD and TCD, through this partnership.

    The group also announced a summit meeting at the Irish embassy in Washington DC on 10 September, 2009. This meeting will be aimed at devising a programme of collaboration around a number of areas set out in the memo of understanding:

    • To explore and advance new mechanisms for business creation and scaling for Ireland
    • To explore creation and management of a dedicated technology venture capital fund
    • To partner on the delivery of innovation training to the student body of the Innovation Alliance, through case study presentation and mentoring of project work within the Innovation Academy.

    ITLG chair John Hartnett said, “In the midst of Irish and US economic turmoil, there has never been a more important moment to foster and invest in technological innovation. ITLG is delighted to seize the opportunity to pursue that objective in partnership with Ireland’s premier research universities through the Innovation Alliance”.

    Related webpages:

    Diaspora strategy reports, principles of good practice published by NIRSA

    Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

    A series of papers on diaspora strategies has been published by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at Maynooth University. The papers have been published in conjunction with the “Exploring Diaspora Strategies: An International Comparison” workshop, which was held in January this year.

    The workshops included speakers such as Yevgeny Kuznetsov of the World Bank, Ray Bassett of the Irish Abroad Unit, Gurucharan Gollerkeri from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Alan Gamlen of Oxford University, and Mark Boyle, Rob Kitchin, and Aine O’Neill, all of NUI Maynooth.

    In one of the reports, “Exploring Diaspora Strategies: Lessons for Ireland”, authors Delphine Ancien, Mark Boyle and Rob Kitchin make a number of recommendations under the following headings:

    1. Administrative structures in support of diaspora strategy making
    2. Building infrastructure, building new bridges: creating and fostering information flows and portals
    3. Extending citizenship: offering welfare assistance to diasporeans living abroad
    4. Building diasporic Irish-mindedness
    5. Encouraging philanthropy to support Ireland
    6. Developing business and knowledge networks
    7. Encouraging return migration and providing return facilitation services
    8. Developing an affinity diaspora

    The reports include:

    • Exploring Diaspora Strategies: An International Comparison
    • Exploring Diaspora Strategies: Lessons for Ireland
    • The NIRSA Diaspora Strategy Wheel and Ten Principles of Good Practice
    • The Scottish Diaspora and Diaspora Strategy: Insights and Lessons from Ireland

    Download the reports from the NIRSA website.

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