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Minister McHugh addresses Irish Network USA Annual Conference during visit to San Francisco


Minister McHugh addresses Irish Network USA Annual Conference during visit to San Francisco

  • Minister emphasises the important role of the Irish Diaspora in meeting the current challenges facing Ireland
  • On his first visit to the US as Diaspora Minister, Minister McHugh visited Silicon Valley & met with US investors
  • Minister discussed the role of technology in assisting the Irish Diaspora at meetings with LinkedIn, Facebook & the Irish Technology & Leadership Group

In San Francisco today (Friday), the Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, Joe McHugh T.D. delivered the keynote address to the Irish Network USA 4th Annual Conference.  This is Minister McHugh’s first visit to the USA in his capacity as Minister for the Diaspora.

In his address, the Minister explored the evolving nature of Ireland’s Global Diaspora and the importance of the Global Irish community, particularly in the US, in addressing the economic and political challenges facing Ireland. 

He emphasised the important role of the Irish Diaspora in Ireland’s economic recovery and continued growth, praising the role of the Global Irish Network, the Global Irish Economic Forum and the Global Irish Civic Forum. 

Minister McHugh addressed the audience on a range of topics including Ireland’s approach to Brexit.

Minister McHugh stated:

“It was a real pleasure to engage with the participants at the IN-USA Annual Conference.   This is my first visit to the US since my appointment as Minister for the Diaspora and it is an excellent and timely opportunity for me to discuss key economic and political challenges with influential members of the Irish and Irish-American community.  

“I have also had a wider discussion with participants at the Conference on the role which the Irish diaspora can play as we develop our national response to the many global challenges facing us today”.

In the course of his visit, Minister McHugh met with a number of influential Irish leaders operating in Silicon Valley as well as leading US multinationals who have invested in Ireland, the Minister said:

“Over the course of my visit I have met with LinkedIn and Facebook as well as the Irish Technology & Leadership Group (ITLG) to hear their perspective on how technology can assist our diaspora in the future.  I am anxious to explore further how new technologies and social media can increase the connection our emigrants feel with home and can facilitate better communication between our Global Irish family.”

In the course of his visit, Minister McHugh met with several Irish community groups in the Bay Area.  He emphasised the Government’s commitment to working in partnership with the Diaspora and promised to continue to implement its Diaspora Policy – Global Irish


Press Office

16 September 2016


Notes for editors

Irish Network USA (IN-USA), with 21 chapters across the US, is a key diaspora organisation composed of young Irish and Irish-American business leaders.   The organisation receives funding under the Department’s Emigrant Support Programme

This engagement is the centrepiece of the Minister’s visit to the Bay Area which also marks his first visit to the US since his appointment as Minister for the Diaspora. 

Over the course of his visit the Minister has also met a number of key Irish community organisations operating in the Bay Area to thank them for the great service that they provide to the Irish community and to discuss the evolving needs of that important community.  

He also had the opportunity to meet influential Irish leaders operating in Silicon Valley as well as leading US multinationals who have invested in Ireland.  These meetings were an opportunity to recognise the great contribution these companies are making to job creation in Ireland and to discuss potential opportunities for investment in Ireland and for Irish companies wishing to do business in Silicon Valley.

Given their expertise in the area, the Minister also discussed how best to utilise new and innovative communications technologies to better connect with and network the Global Irish.

The Minister’s full address to the IN-USA Conference follows:.   



Irish Network (IN) USA Annual Conference

San Francisco, 16 September 

Keynote Address by Minister of State for Diaspora

& International Development Joe McHugh T.D.


I am delighted to be with you this morning to address the 4th annual conference of the Irish Network USA. I think it is worth noting that my first visit to the US as Minister for the Diaspora is to the great city of San Francisco and to this annual conference. This is testament to the high regard to which IN USA is held as a key partner in connecting and engaging our Global Irish throughout the US.

Since its inception only a short time ago, INUSA has become an essential part of the rich tapestry that is the Irish in America.  It is the new thread in a loom that has patterned this country for generations.  A thread that runs from here in San Francisco all the way across the continent, north, south, east and west and back across the ocean to Ireland and to Irish communities in other parts of the world.  It has tied the new Irish to the old, bridging the generation and geographical gaps.  Along your thread connections are made that link experience and expertise and which are reinvigorating Irish communities in places like Seattle and here in San Francisco.

So at the outset, let me pay tribute to IN USA, its chapters all over the country and all its members for the fantastic work you are doing to engage and network the Irish community and to facilitate and maintain their connection with Ireland. In particular, I would like to thank Steve Lennox, your chairperson, for his dedication, personal commitment, hard work and infectious energy. I am proud that my Department has been able to support the great work of IN USA and help it grow.

Today, I want to talk to you about our Global Irish, what we have achieved together but also the importance of constantly seeking to rethink and evolve our community in the context of a changing world and Ireland’s place in it.

Ireland’s Diaspora Policy

In March 2015, the Government published its first clear statement on the diaspora which recognises that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with its diaspora that must be nurtured and developed. Drawing inspiration from our constitution, we have set out a strong vision of a vibrant, diverse global Irish community, connected to Ireland and to each other. Our aim is to support Irish emigrants, helping them and their descendants to develop and maintain their connections with Ireland, their proud sense of identity and, working in partnership with them, to contribute to continued peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.

Many of the actions set out in policy are being implemented:

The Emigrant Support Programme has made a substantive difference to the lives of Irish communities overseas, enhancing their welfare and wellbeing, connecting them with their cultural heritage and building and sustaining support networks, including our business networks. Since its inception in 2004, the Programme has provided over €138 million to over 220 organisations in 27 countries.

We have improved our communication with our diaspora through the Global Irish hub, our newsletter and the Global Irish twitter account. But more is needed and I am anxious to explore the potential benefits of a ‘Digital Diaspora’.

We have also made strong progress on facilitating a range of activities at local, national and international level designed to build on and develop two-way diaspora engagement. The Global Irish Network and the Global Irish Economic Forum have been vital to our economic recovery and rebuilding our international reputation.

The first Global Irish Civic Forum was held in Dublin in June 2015.  It brought together 186 people from 19 countries who are working at the coalface in delivering supports to our diaspora. I am delighted to announce today that the second Global Irish Civic Forum will be held in Dublin next year on 2-3 February. This will be another opportunity to hear the views and concerns of the Global Irish so that we can best address their needs.

There is, however, some outstanding work to be completed, most notable on extending voting rights in Presidential elections to the Irish abroad. I am very keen to see work on this issue progress. Personally I hope to see a referendum held sooner rather than later but of course that decision is one for the Cabinet and then afterwards ultimately for the Irish voters to decide upon. Our first priority, therefore, must be to complete the report to Government setting out the policy, legal and practical implications of extending voting rights. I am hopeful that this report will be completed in the coming months.

But there is no doubt that we have come a long way since March 2015 and as we look ahead to the review of the implementation of the diaspora policy in spring 2017, I believe that we must maintain this momentum and build on our achievements. We cannot rest on our laurels. I believe that our diaspora remains a key part of Ireland’s response to the range of challenges we face and we in Government will continue to facilitate you in making this vital contribution.

Ireland’s Economy

That important role was nowhere more evident than in the contribution our diaspora made to our economic recovery. Ireland’s economic recovery is now firmly established, with key economic indicators pointing to continued and strong economic growth. The strength of the recovery is perhaps most clearly evident in the labour market. In August it was reported that – for the first time since Quarter 4 in 2008 – there are now two million people employed in Ireland.

Skills Shortage

I am also encouraged to see that for the first time since 2009, more people have moved to Ireland than emigrated with a 74 per cent increase in the number of Irish emigrants returning to Ireland compared to 2015. However, we are anxious to see more of our emigrants return and have committed in the programme for Government to facilitate the return of 70,000 of our people in the coming years.

Clearly, the main motivation for anyone to return to Ireland is to be close to their family again but having a job and a career to return to is also central to any decision. On that front, the latest employment figures are encouraging but there remains a skills shortage in Ireland across a number of areas, including in the ICT sector. Despite our efforts, including last year’s Government campaign ‘Home to Work’, more work is required to match our Irish people abroad with the skills required at home. I believe that networks, such as INUSA, can play a helpful role in this area.


Challenges remain, therefore, for Ireland’s economy, not least the looming British exit from the EU.  The “leave” decision is clearly not the outcome we wanted, or that the Irish government campaigned for.  But it is the outcome we all have to deal with. The challenge for the Government is to ensure that Ireland’s interests are protected in the protracted negotiations that lie ahead.

Two things are crystal clear:  firstly, Ireland will remain a deeply committed member of the European Union.  The EU is our chosen home and has provided the setting and support system which has allowed us to develop and prosper over more than forty years.

The second point is equally clear.  Given the unique ties between the neighbouring islands, Ireland’s interest lies in having a future relationship between Britain and the EU that is as close and constructive as possible.

British withdrawal will undoubtedly have profound implications for Ireland’s economy, and it will take time for the full ramifications to become clear.  But the implications for Northern Ireland lie at the heart of our concerns. For our Government, the priority is clear: we do not want a situation where the border between the two parts of our island hardens.  We have come too far, and too much has been sacrificed, for that to be allowed happen.  The focus of the Government’s efforts will be to protect all the progress achieved through the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements, and build on it further.

The immediate priority is for the Irish and UK Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive to work urgently and intensively together to find solutions to the various challenges that a UK exit will present. That work has now commenced and I anticipate that there will be intensive engagement over the coming months between the administrations in Dublin, Belfast and London as well as with our partners in the EU.

Apple State Aid Case

I am sure you will all have read with interest, if not some alarm, the coverage in recent weeks regarding the European Commission’s decision regarding the Apple State Aid case. This decision has led to negative references in the media to Ireland and “tax deals”. It is regrettable that so much of the media coverage of Ireland’s economic relationship with the United States is viewed from the perspective of the taxation issue.  This is a gross distortion of the truth.  Few, if any, countries enjoy the level of closeness and collaboration that our two counties do in the economic sphere.  This is nowhere more evident than here in the Bay Area and - in no small part - is thanks to the joint efforts of our state agencies, especially the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and our Consulate. 

San Francisco is a sister city of Cork. San Jose a sister city of Dublin.  Bay Area companies have bases across the island of Ireland.  Most recently Uber established a presence in Limerick and Apple just turned the ground on a new data-center in Athenry in Galway. This is complemented by growing Irish investment in the Bay Area.  Where we stand today - the San Francisco headquarters of Cork’s PCH led by Dan Casey and all the innovation that is being fostered here at Highway 1 - is evidence of the greatness that our cooperation can achieve.  Just up the road in Sacramento, Cork’s Voxpro, which provides sales and support services to the Silicon Valley firms in Ireland has just opened an operation that is bringing jobs back to America that had previously been offshored to Asia. 

In the audience here today are many Irish entrepreneurs and founders of start-ups who have come to Silicon Valley to avail of capital and know how-to take their Irish businesses global - companies such as Intercomm and Datahug.  We have all heard of the success of Irish founders of companies like Stripe and Gamegolf. Less well known is the extent to which innovative Irish manufacturers are supplying parts and materials to cutting edge Silicon Valley companies like Tesla.

With so much to celebrate we cannot and should not allow the current debate around taxation hide the truth. Ireland did not give favourable tax treatment to Apple.  No State aid was provided.  Ireland does not do deals with taxpayers.

It is also important to stress that the Commission’s decision does not call into question Ireland's general tax system or its corporate tax rate. Only last week, the Dáil reaffirmed our commitment to measures that underpin the 187,000 jobs in IDA Ireland client companies – namely our 12.5% corporation tax rate, the Research and Development tax credit, and the Knowledge Development Box.

It is also important to underline the significant work that Ireland has already undertaken to address the failings of the international corporate tax system. Domestically we have closed tax loop-holes in successive budgets and internationally we have played an active role in global work to reform the international corporate tax system.

The Irish Government therefore disagrees profoundly with the Commission’s decision and has decided to appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice. This is a necessary step to defend the integrity of our tax system and to provide tax certainty to business.

Immigration Reform

We all know the extraordinary warmth of the relationship between Ireland and US, demonstrated most vividly by Vice President Biden’s recent visit to Ireland and our strong political and economic ties.

And yet, immensely positive though this picture is, there is one area of continuing deep frustration: the lack of progress on immigration reform.  We have knocked on so many doors; we have made our case over and over; we have felt ourselves on the verge of a breakthrough only to be set back again; and for months now, there has been an extended stalemate as the November elections cast their long shadow.  The Supreme Court decision in June, which stymied President Obama’s executive action on immigration, was another grievous blow. 

I am conscious of how deeply this frustration is felt in the community who know people who are affected, who are trapped in their lives in the shadows, and who, every single day, feel and live the consequences of Congressional inaction.  As we try to predict the future, there are no certainties: over the past months of the Presidential campaign, the anti-immigration rhetoric we have heard in some quarters has been shocking. 

But yet, quite apart from any appeal to generosity of spirit, one has to hold on to the belief that logic, common sense, economic self-interest, will ultimately prevail.  The November elections will hopefully prove a catalyst for tangible reform.  2017 could be a pivotal year and if things are indeed to move in 2017, now is the time to redouble our efforts to achieve positive change.  As far as the government is concerned, I can pledge that nothing will be spared and I am sure we can rely on the support of our diaspora here in the US as we try to move this forward.

Global Challenges

While the challenges facing Ireland and our people, both at home and abroad, must remain our priority, I think it is also important to look at ways we can work together to address the many global challenges we face today.

As you know, my portfolio combines responsibility for Irish diaspora affairs and Ireland’s International Development policy and programme. I see great opportunities for connections between my two areas of responsibility – not only in strengthening our links with members of the Irish community who work tirelessly in many countries for the global good, but also in providing an opportunity to draw on the extensive global knowledge and expertise of our people worldwide to inform and improve our work.

The scale of the humanitarian challenge facing us all is staggering. An estimated 125 million people are affected by conflict and disasters around the world; 65 million people are displaced from their homes; and despite a tenfold increase in funding over the last two decades, the humanitarian system is struggling to keep pace.  The Syria crisis is the largest single crisis of our generation.

I believe Ireland brings a unique perspective to humanitarian assistance and conflict resolution. This undoubtedly stems from the devastating consequences of the Great Famine, our tradition of missionary work, and in more recent times the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

Even in times of economic hardship, Ireland has therefore never wavered in its commitment to development cooperation and to improving the lives of the most vulnerable, particularly in Africa, affected by hunger, poverty, climate change, conflict and violence. We are committed to seeing progress for these people and their countries and will draw on all our resources, including you, the diaspora, to see our goals fulfilled.


Let me finish by reflecting on 2016, a seminal year for Ireland as we commemorate the centenary of the 1916 rising. The centrepiece of the centenary celebrations in the US was a major three-week festival of Irish art and culture at the Kennedy Centre entitled Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture. This was complemented by many community events throughout the US, in particular in New York as well as San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

These centenary commemorations have been immensely important in honouring the 1916 legacy and helping us to examine our one hundred year journey.  But beyond that, we have all been energised and inspired by the strengthened sense of purpose and identity.

I believe it is now important to build on this success and in doing so reflect on the role the Global Irish, including in the US, can play in the future of Ireland given the central role it has played in Ireland’s past. As we know, America is home to some 36 million people of Irish descent.  They take great pride in the massive contribution Irish people made to building this great country and rightfully so. 

There is no doubt that the voice and views of Irish America will continue to resonate strongly. However, we must acknowledge the evolving realities.  With the demographics in this country changing, the percentage of Irish Americans in the overall US population is declining.  And, as avenues for legal immigration from Ireland have narrowed over recent decades, there are markedly fewer first and second generation Irish.

Against this background, the challenge for Irish America is one of constant renewal – valuing our roots, but being ready to reimagine. If we are to ensure that Irish America remains vibrant and future-focussed, I believe we must embrace equality and inclusivity; creating an environment that is generous and open, where all daughters and sons of Ireland feel equally cherished; and where young people will feel they can grow and breathe and connect to what it means to be Irish in the 21st century. 

I believe that IN USA encapsulates these values and goals. So my message to you today is let’s take inspiration from the last 100 years and together continue to forge a vibrant and diverse Global Irish that can help us all face the challenges in an ever changing world for the benefit of all Irish people, both at home and abroad.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.