Global Irish Civic Forum, opening address by the Tánaiste Micheál Martin
Speech20 April 2023
**Check against delivery**
An tAire Fleming, Aíonna Oirice
Tá an-áthas orm fáilte a chur romhaibh go léir go Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath don Fhóram Cathartha Domhanda Éireannach seo. Is é seo an tríú fóram dá leithéid, ag leanúint ar aghaidh uathu siúd in 2015 agus 2017.
Minister Fleming, Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests
I am delighted to welcome you all to Dublin Castle for this Global Irish Civic Forum.
This is the third such forum, following on from those in 2015 and 2017. It is great to be here and that is reflected in the theme of this Forum, “le chéile arís, together again”.
I don’t want to overly dwell on the reason for the delay in convening this forum, but I do want to remember those members that your organisations and your communities lost to the pandemic.
I also want to acknowledge the way that your organisations and your communities responded to the unprecedented challenges you faced during that difficult period.
I would like to thank you on my own behalf, and on behalf of the Irish Government and people, for your untiring efforts in assisting those members of your Irish communities who were most in need.
I also wish to acknowledge the additional workload many of you are still facing, supporting communities struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and the pressures on staff and volunteers who have had to move from one crisis to another.
From the Government’s perspective, it was important that, through our COVID Response Fund for Communities Abroad, we were in a position to provide financial support to aid your efforts.
That our contribution could be allocated and distributed so quickly and effectively underlined the value of our sustained investment in community organisations and networks over the past two decades.
Your response did not surprise us, of course, with Irish communities all over the world invariably and regularly rallying around in times of need.
I recall from my previous tenure as Minister for Foreign Affairs how the members of the Irish diaspora from all over the world gladly offered their time, expertise, and influence to aid the national recovery effort in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis.
The establishment of the Global Irish Network and the convening of four meetings of the Global Irish Economic Forum showed just what the Irish diaspora is capable of.
On a day-to-day basis, your organisations have long been important partners for the Department of Foreign Affairs and our diplomatic missions in their support for citizens in need of assistance.
We deal with a high and sustained number of consular cases each year, including cases of arrest, imprisonment, missing persons, serious injury, mental health difficulty and death.
Many of these cases are complex and require significant ongoing engagement and your support on the ground is hugely important and greatly valued.
Nor have you been found wanting on the political front. We have, as you know, this week been marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
In Washington, D.C, London, Ottawa, Helsinki, Pretoria and across the world, we are acknowledging the international support that helped achieve the Agreement, support that was, in large part mobilised by, and led by you, our Irish diaspora.
And of course, the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution, agreed as part of the Good Friday Agreement, explicitly acknowledges the diaspora.
During his historic visit here last week, US President Joe Biden - himself a proud member of Ireland’s diaspora - spoke of his deep and abiding affection for this island.
He spoke of the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, of how a whole generation has grown to adulthood out of the shadow of violence and that Ireland’s young people are “writing a new future, a future of unlimited possibilities.”
To have helped bring about a future of unlimited possibilities is a powerful legacy for Ireland and its diaspora to share.
In his remarks to the Houses of the Oireachtas, President Biden also encouraged us all to “set our eyes squarely on the future”.
The next two days are an opportunity for us all to do just that and to think and reflect about the “unlimited possibilities” of the global Irish family.
For our part, as a Government we remain absolutely committed to supporting and sustaining our diaspora into the future and strengthening the relationship between Ireland and our diaspora.
We look to you this week and every week to guide us on how best to do that.
The most tangible expression of our support has been our Emigrant Support Programme.
Since its establishment in 2004, the Programme has assisted over 530 organisations in some 37 countries with grants totalling over €220 million.
Grants have ranged from small amounts for grass-roots groups to major allocations awarded to voluntary and community organisations operating on a large scale.
The programme will continue to provide significant funding to community, cultural, sporting, business and other Irish community groups, with care for the most vulnerable and marginalised Irish emigrants remaining its primary focus.
We have introduced changes to the Programme this year to streamline the process and make it more straightforward and we will continue to adapt it as needs be in the years ahead.
I am sure that your discussions here this week will also look at the expanding horizons of what it means to be Irish.
In that regard, we look to previously under-represented groups, to those with no familial links but a very strong affinity to Ireland, to all who see themselves as part of an inclusive and diverse global Irish family.
Regardless of where our Irish ancestry or Irish connection comes from, each individual story of connection with Ireland is rich, complex, filled with light and shade. This complexity is a world story, a story of the Irish family all over the world.
And we truly are all over the world.
You can find placenames like Belfast and Clonmel in Jamaica.
Surnames like Ofarril and Odonojú can be heard across the Andean region and in Mexico.
Argentina is home to the largest Irish diaspora outside of the English-speaking world, as well as long-established hurling and Gaelic football clubs.
Across Europe, the traces of the Wild Geese are to be found, in Irish colleges in Spain, in Belgium, in vineyards in France, in military histories, and stories of pilgrims such as St Killian.
Irish communities old and new, as rich and as varied a nation as our history of emigration would suggest.
We may not emigrate in the numbers we once did, and that is a good thing, but many do still leave these shores looking for adventure and experience, enriching the pool of Irishness abroad as they go.
And Irishness at home is being enriched by inward migration. Almost 18% of the population of Ireland was born abroad. Ireland is a place that is now a more open and diverse place immeasurably enriched by what they add to our national story.
It is imperative to maintaining the strong bond between our diaspora and our people at home that each reflects the other and each remains recognisable to the other, and that is very much the case today.
In that regard, I want to thank your organisations which are pursuing new streams of work linked to the priorities of the Government’s Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025, in particular work with underrepresented groups.
Irish people retain a fierce love for “the home place”, expressed in many different ways, whether through culture, business, education and many other channels.
For many Irish people living overseas, the GAA in particular continues to provide the connection to home and an Irish sporting and social outlet that they need and they love.
For Irish emigrants and their descendants, the GAA is a bridge to home and to their heritage. For others, it is a gateway to Ireland and to Irish culture.
The Department of Foreign Affairs recognises the uniqueness of this Irish global network and we have, since 2012, been operating a joint partnership with the GAA, through the Global Games Development Fund.
This initiative is now supporting over 100 projects worldwide and is an exemplar of what a global, well-serviced network can achieve.
I am delighted to see fellow Cork man and GAA President Larry McCarthy here with us this morning.
Let me take this opportunity to wish Larry well in this the final year of his very successful term in office.
And to also wish his club New York GAA men’s senior football team all the best as they take on Sligo in two days-time in the Connacht semi-final, following on their recent historic win over Leitrim.
More than half of the New York panel that beat Leitrim were US-born. Which on the one hand is a vindication of the GAA’s great work in promoting the games globally and keeping the connection to Ireland alive.
But it is also indicative, on the other hand, of changing emigration patterns, a topic which I am sure will get plenty of airing here over the next two days.
As emigration patterns change and populations age, diaspora communities evolve, as do our relationships and engagements with them.
The cornerstone of our engagement is our Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025.
We are now at the mid-way point of that five-year strategy and your discussions and deliberations here over the next two days will feed into our ongoing assessment and recalibration of our strategic approach.
What are we doing right? What is not working so well? Are there things we should be doing that we are not doing?
The previous iterations of this forum, in 2015 and 2017, have been of immeasurable help to us in guiding our diaspora engagement and diaspora policy development. I am sure that this one will be of similar value to us.
I am particularly pleased that we have with us today a number of government representatives from countries which are interested in hearing about Ireland’s diaspora engagement and what Irish community organisations are doing on the ground.
You are very welcome, and I hope that you will see something over the next two days that will give you some ideas for you own diaspora engagement.
I am also pleased that we have representatives of a number of our own local authorities here today, conscious of how important the local aspect of diaspora engagement is and how active a number of them are in this area.
So, a rich conversation awaits us.
This is your forum and we want to hear from you.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir. Thank you.
20 April 2023