Irish diaspora is exceptional and inspiring

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Colm Brophy TD
Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and the Diaspora

IT IS wonderful to have an opportunity to address the Irish community in Scotland for my first Christmas as Minister for the Diaspora. Since my appointment as Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora in July of this year, I have had the opportunity to witness the exceptional and inspiring response of the Irish community across Britain to the challenges posed by Covid-19. I commend your efforts in keeping the community spirits alive in Scotland, and in supporting our most vulnerable during a very difficult year.

The Government of Ireland prioritises the welfare of our people abroad and central to this is our support to the wide range of Irish community-based organisations who play a vital role in helping the Irish abroad. In 2020, grants totalling almost £5.4 million in funding were made to 105 organisations in Britain in support of a range of projects through the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) managed my Department. In addition to this ongoing support, we also established the Covid-19 Response Fund to help welfare and community organisations meet immediate needs resulting from the pandemic.

For many of the Irish abroad, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has placed a renewed emphasis on their relationship and links to Ireland and I am profoundly aware of the importance and depth of this connection to individuals and groups across Scotland. We are fortunate to have a dedicated group of Irish organisations in Scotland. The strength of the networks across branches of Comhaltas Ceoiltóirí Éireann and Scotland GAA is to be celebrated. The volunteers, members and supporters keeping our cultural traditions alive are central to the Government of Ireland’s plans for future engagement with our communities in Scotland and around the world.

This Christmas, I am delighted to launch a new online initiative ‘To Be Irish at Christmas’ (#ToBeIrish@Christmas) to engage the Irish abroad, in particular those who may not be able to return home over the Christmas holiday period. This initiative will run from the December 21-31, 2020 and will feature a wide-ranging programme of events that showcase and celebrate Irish culture, craft, community initiatives and seasonal traditions. For more information visit www.tobeirish.ie

Last month, the Government of Ireland published our new diaspora strategy, setting out what the government will do over the next five years to support and engage with our communities around the world. Ireland is today a more diverse and multicultural country and so too is our diaspora.

The contemporary diaspora includes Irish citizens living overseas, both those born in Ireland and those born abroad to Irish families, as well as the heritage diaspora, those many millions of people of Irish descent around the world. The strategy takes a broad and inclusive definition of the diaspora, reflecting the diversity of the global Irish community. This is something we cherish and will celebrate.

The welfare of our most vulnerable and marginalised emigrants is at the heart of the diaspora strategy and the Emigrant Support Programme remains the foundation of the Irish Government’s commitment to our communities abroad. The changing experience of emigration is acknowledged in this strategy. While people will still go abroad, when they want to come home we want to make that an easy process and we will address barriers facing returning emigrants.

The diaspora strategy commits to a referendum on voting rights for citizens outside the State in Presidential elections in order to strengthen the connection between Ireland and the Global Irish. We also aim to develop educational and work opportunities in Ireland for members of third- and fourth-generation Irish diaspora and promote Irish studies programmes and networks worldwide.

Recognising that culture is the common thread that binds Ireland’s diaspora, and also our special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad, the strategy details commitments to supporting Irish culture and heritage among our communities abroad.

I look forward to engaging with organisations and individuals in the Irish community in Scotland as we work to implement the measures and commitments outlined in the new strategy. The Irish-Scottish relationship is an important one for Ireland. Our two nations are intertwined, historically, culturally, and most importantly, through our people. Community and Diaspora is one of the five strands addressed in the joint bilateral review of Irish-Scottish relations, undertaken by both governments and due to be finalised in the coming weeks. Through the recommendations in the Ireland-Scotland Joint Bilateral Review and the new diaspora strategy, I look forward to working with and for the Irish community organisations in Scotland in the coming years.

I would like to take the opportunity to wish you and your family a very happy and safe Christmas and a wonderful new year.

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