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Scots Diaspora Strategy: Scotland Can Learn Much From Ireland’s “Irish Abroad” Concept

emigrant-flame-wexford-540pxAs we continue our exploration of world diaspora strategies, we choose to linger a little longer on Ireland.  We should be looking carefully at Ireland’s view of her ancestral diaspora.  We should learn more about our genetic cousins on the emerald isle generally in the hopes of working more closely on issues that concern us both but that is a topic for a different blog post.

Where to begin with Ireland.  A start would be the fact that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs maintains a standing division and program called “The Irish Abroad”.   The government’s Irish Abroad website begins with its defining statement:

Ireland is lucky to have a diaspora who makes a meaningful contribution to our country, whether they’re building economic development, raising awareness of our culture or creating a positive image of Ireland in their adopted homes.  We’re committed to recognising their efforts by engaging with them both practically and strategically”.

Nice.  But to whom do the Irish refer when they say ‘diaspora’?

Under the auspices of a recent  Diaspora Policy Review, the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs has this to say:

Ireland has an enormous Diaspora, estimated by some as totalling some 70 million people worldwide who can claim some Irish descent. The scale and reach of that Diaspora is a result of successive waves of large-scale emigration, over a period of more than 150 years. The Irish Diaspora, however, is not an homogenous group and should not be viewed as such – members of the Diaspora include those who have left Ireland in recent years, as well as those who are descended from emigrants of many generations past; those who left Ireland to develop their careers, as well as those who moved away for personal and family reasons. It includes some who have been enormously successful and some for whom emigration has been a less positive experience.

Engagement with the Diaspora has long been of enormous importance for Ireland. It has been a distinctive feature of efforts to bring a lasting peace to the island. It has built economic links resulting in trade, investment and tourism. The achievements of the Diaspora, both Irish born and those of Irish descent, have enhanced Ireland’s profile and reputation internationally, and are a source of pride to people in Ireland. Members of the Diaspora have shown Ireland, and Irish culture and sports, in all parts of the world.”

Very nice.  When the Irish say “diaspora” they mean a true ancestral diaspora.  We can also see without wandering too far into the website that Ireland really loves its diaspora.  In fact, Ireland likes Irish people who have left Ireland – and their descendants – so much that they have given this enomous group a much more family oriented name than ‘diaspora’.

In 2002, the Irish government published its diaspora policy task force report titled Ireland And The Irish Abroad concluding that Ireland faced “a new context in which to view the phenomenon of Irish emigration” that presented an “opportunity to put in place a new approach to meeting the needs of Irish emigrants.”

Specifically, Ireland And The Irish Abroad concludes:

“[t]his approach should encompass not only the needs of Irish-born people who have emigrated but also people of Irish descent who wish to express their Irish cultural identity and heritage. Throughout this report, these are referred to collectively as the Irish Abroad. There are many different communities among the Irish Abroad, with different needs.  There is no single approach that will meet all of these needs and a variety of responses are required. Meeting the needs of the Irish Abroad should take into account their rights and respect their views.”

The key recommendations section of the Ireland And The Irish Abroad report encourages Ireland to “support the Irish Abroad who wish to express and share the Irish dimension of their identity.”

Ahhh.  “Irish Abroad” doesn’t have so much of that fingernails across a chalk board feeling as does the word ‘diaspora’.  It is a warmer, kinder expression and one that conveys a willingness to accept that many people have left Ireland in her past that may or may not have wanted to leave and those Irish people had children.  The children still care.  Adoption of the phrase “Irish Abroad” to refer to all of those people, though they number in the tens of millions, is significant.

One of the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs “Irish Abroad” standing programs is called The Emigrant Support Program.

The Irish Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) supports cultural, community and heritage projects that foster a vibrant sense of Irish community and identity.  Who qualifies?  Five areas of interest for the Irish government are directly related to front line humanistic help for the most vulnerable of Irish emigrants.  The remaining areas of interest of the Irish Emigrant Support Programme are:

  • Heritage and community activities that promote Ireland’s identity and maintain vibrant Irish communities abroad
  • Research projects that add to the existing knowledge about Irish emigrant communities
  • Fostering greater links between Ireland and the global Irish

So there is a bit of a summary look at Ireland’s “Irish Abroad” diaspora strategy.  Right off the bat, a few things appeal, including the threshold recognition that an ancestral diaspora exists and that a national diaspora policy is a desirable thing.  The Irish have placed responsibility for diaspora relations in one place – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  Scotland currently presents a ‘shared’ approach to diaspora relations that might call for one governmental department or Quango or another depending upon what Scotland wishes to gain from the relationship.  Not so comforting.  “Irish Abroad” at least has the potential to build a warm and welcoming relationship with the Irish diaspora.

While Nicola Sturgeon’s government has expressed interest in exploring ideas to improve the existing Scottish approach to the Scots diaspora, it has also been careful to point out that at present, there is no budget ….  Of course not.  To that we say two things:  1.  There is a good deal of progress that can be made with little or no ‘budget’ at all, and 2.  Like Ireland in 2002, Scotland today finds itself in a national and global context that calls for a revisit of its diaspora strategy to identify to opportunities presented by today’s context.  Those opportunities should be seized by an energetic new Scottish government.

One response to “Scots Diaspora Strategy: Scotland Can Learn Much From Ireland’s “Irish Abroad” Concept”

  1. Julie Love says:

    Hi, I’m really interested to speak with someone from the organisation regarding this article. “Scots Abroad” It would be amazing to emulate the Irish model. I totally agree a lot of this can be achieved with little or no budget.

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