Archive for Irish Emigration

By the end of March 1963, forty-five families had purchased houses. – Casey

Some of you may know that I worked with emigrants. When I read the work of many selfless men and women I commissioned a book which was researched and written by Dr. Patricia Kennedy of UCD. What started out as an objective work on her part opened her heart and mind to these amazing folk one of whom was Eamonn Casey. If we had their kind around today we’d have the migrant crisis near sorted.

Here is an extract from her book entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’:KENNEDY

© 2015 Patricia Kennedy
Fr Casey soon recognized that Slough had a housing problem as acute as anywhere in the country. He found that a few young couples had, on the arrival of their first baby, been evicted from the singleroom flat they had rented for £5 per week. A close examination of their problems, their pattern of employment, savings and future savings potential, disclosed that with a little financial assistance they could secure a mortgage and a house of their own. He spoke of the thousands of families in caravans who had given up hope and had ‘staked out pathetic little gardens’.7

He recognized that many had lost any hope of homes, families, having children, and reunificationwi th their families. He also realized, however, that a house could be bought with a £200 deposit: ‘This amount was the difference between
appalling conditions and a “normal” life.’ He discovered that people had a difficulty, not with repayment, but with getting money for a deposit. Explaining the origins of the scheme, he laughed at his own enthusiasm and innocence: he had walked into a bank in Slough,and in forty minutes, standing at the counter, he convinced the bank manager to back his scheme. ‘I went into the bank where the church
had its account and I asked to see the bank manager. I explained what many Irish parishioners were facing when trying to buy a house.’ He asked, if he were to lodge £1,000 (which he had received from his own father) as security and wanted no interest, would the bank loan amounts of up to £400 to individuals who had already saved £400
for their deposit, up to a total of £5,000—which would help twelve couples.11 He went on: ‘When the first £1,000 was committed, I lodged another £1,000.’12 He encouraged people to save systematically. He set up his own Parish Savings Scheme, a facility with a dedicated volunteer
which stayed open late on Friday evenings to accommodate the return of men working outside Slough on the motorways and other building projects. They gave Eamonn Casey money, which he put in the bank. Once they had saved £50, eighty percent of it was put into a building society. This helped the individual to save with both bank and building society and establish a reputation as a saver with both. Fr
Casey explained: ‘All these guys would not get home until about nine on a Friday night. They were out working on the roads. I opened myow n savings scheme and a volunteer attended it for fifteen years from 8 pm-12 am on a Friday night.’ In the first year of Fr Casey’s scheme, the bank advanced a total of £4,865 on the strength of the original £1,000 deposit.14 Nineteen families were enabled to purchase their houses. Encouraged by these results, in July 1962, he made another £1,000 deposit provided by local
fundraising efforts and another £1,000 given by a donor, in January 1963.

By the end of March 1963, forty-five families had purchased





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Saint Patrick’s Day in Bondi


A few thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day for 2017…memories from Bondi and published in this month’s Messenger…


Saint Patrick’s Day Bondi

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RTE’s A Living Word, Friday, the 20th January, 2017. ‘The Ultimate Migration’

 ‘The Ultimate Migration’

To listen to Alan’s reflection click here.


St Catherine of Sienna was known for her bluntness. Once she said,

We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that this world is rotten because of silence.

The power-brokers of our world want us to be silent about migration and migrants. They don’t want any more photographs of children dying on beaches; they don’t want newsreel of people dead in trucks or containers. The slick operations now sinks migrant boats and takes people to camps where the local community remains unaware of the conditions of those who live there. And from those camps the complexity of the situation grows as the odour of illegality surrounds the surreptitious placing of people in country towns and villages.

In this year’s letter for World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis refuses to be silent and he consistently refers to the plight of all migrants and in particular this year to the plight of those who are young and unaccompanied;

 The condition of child migrants is worsened when their status is not regularized or when they are recruited by criminal organizations. In such cases they are usually sent to detention centres. It is not unusual for them to be arrested, and because they have no money to pay the fine or for the return journey, they can be incarcerated for long periods, exposed to various kinds of abuse and violence.

Pope Francis has chosen to keep the plight of migrants to the fore despite the inertia of many of his followers. Why? Well one reason I suppose is that his life is a celebration of the greatest migrations of all time which is that of the Son of God who entered directly into our human condition so that he can bring us all to the Father of love…about this wonderful mystery which is the ultimate and most cherished migration… there is little room for silence.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 20th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Thursday, the 19th January, 2017. ‘Kindness’


To listen, click here  -Thursday Alan Hilliard

red-facesWe were standing at the edge of St. Peter’s Square in Rome just beside one of the homeless shelters run by the Missionaries of Charity. It was that time of the evening when those who were to spend the night in the shelter were gathering prior to its opening. Many of the accents were not Italian. They were mostly migrants. Their accents betraying origins in places such as Eastern Europe, Africa even parts of former Russia.

Unbeknownst to her one of the straps of a friends hand bag had slipped off her shoulder revealing her purse, passport and a few other items of value. One of those queuing to get into the shelter noticed what I also had noticed and he moved towards my friend. And yes you guessed right – he tapped her on the shoulder and said in his broken eastern European accent, ‘miss your bag is open and some-one could take something please close it’. He refused any reward and re-joined the queue.

On the 19th of April last year Pope Francis tweeted that ‘Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such’.

Where some have suggested that we find only evil and terror I fortunately, have mostly found goodness, humanity and forgiveness. The Christian vision for our world today rests not in labels or categories or even in theories or great homilies but in our mutual respect for one another as brothers and sisters who share a common home, a mutual respect that I saw so beautifully expressed  in the kindness of a homeless migrant in St. Peters Square in Rome. His simple actions opened my eyes to the true heart of the Church in the midst of its great columns and piazzas.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 19th Jan 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Wednesday, 18th January, 2017. ‘Tying the Knot’

‘Tying the Knot’

To listen click here – Wednesday, Alan Hilliard


‘Ah sure they’ve tied the knot’.  This is a phrase often associated with marriage in Ireland. However it has other origins. In parts of rural Ireland in the midst of a conversation someone might say…’I haven’t seen Micheál or Nora for a while’. The reply might be, ‘ah sure, they’ve tied the knot’. The expression referred to the silent emigration of the poorer members of the community from their home. To ‘tie the knot’ referred to the last act a person carried out before they left their dwelling. A person in the better off part of town might have had a suitcase into which they packed their belongings. In a poorer home a few pieces of clothing and a few small items of memorabilia were wound round one another and tied together with a piece of string. The knot was then tied on the all that the migrants owned and possessed.

The photographs and film clips of those arriving on the shores of the Southern Mediterranean show that even if they had a piece of string there’d be little to wrap up. I know one man who was returned from the UK to Rome under the Dublin Convention (Ironically enough) with nothing only the pyjamas that he wore.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many migrants whose wealth cannot be tied into tidy parcels because their wealth lies within them. Having lost everything, they see their world differently and they live with a profound sense of God’s providence. Like Abraham, Moses and many, many, others in scripture, their uncluttered lives reveal a passion for life that possesses every limb and sinew of their being.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 18th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s, A Living Word, Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 ‘Ships of Hope’

‘Ships of Hope’

To listen, click here – Tuesday Alan Hilliard


In his book Self-Portrait, John B. Keane talks about emigration. He tells of his journey across the Irish Sea and he puts into words what he observed happening all about him on the boat:

Underneath it all was the heart-breaking frightful anguish of separation. It would be a waste of time for me to launch into a description of what went on. A person had to be part of it to feel it.

A person had to be part of it to feel it. It is so easy to separate ourselves from the plight of those who are people before they are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. Today many travel in boats that are laden with their fellow human beings, clinging to one another in sometimes silent and more times chaotic desperation.

Is there much difference, other than time, between the words of our own John B. Keane that we have just heard and those of the Somali poet Warsan Shire:


you have to understand

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

I think that those who make a migratory journey, whether that journey is from West Kerry to Camden or from Aleppo to Ballaghadreen, that they hope for one thing. They live with the hope that what they gain in moving to a new place will outweigh what they lose in leaving the place formerly known as home. This may be difficult for us to grasp, especially if we’ve never wanted for anything but as John B. says, ‘a person had to be part of it to feel it’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 21st January, 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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A Living Word, Monday,16th January, 2017 ‘The Cittle’

‘The Cittle’

To listen, click here – Monday Alan Hilliard


She spoke with the best Queen’s English when she described her work with elderly Irish Emigrants in the Heuston Station area of London. Years spent in religious life and service to the community had given this sister an instinct that saw in these elderly Irish gents the need of for understanding, care and practical aid. She gave out bed-clothing, warm clothes, radios and whatever else brought a modicum of ease to their lives. She also knew their need to tell stories about home and their journey.

‘You came from the west of Ireland’ she recalled asking one elderly gentleman, ‘I did sister and I came with the cittle’. ‘Oh…so you like making your own tea!’ ‘Ah sister…no…you took me up wrong…the cittle was in the bottom of the boat and we were on the top!’

In the midst of their misunderstanding he was absolutely right. It wasn’t an emigrant ship that travelled from Dublin to Holyhead…it was a cattle ship. Emigrants were a secondary consideration. The ‘live’ cattle were loaded and the people followed.

This week we mark the week for Migrants and Refugees. It is an initiative of the Catholic Church and it is a worldwide program of awareness of behalf of those who journey in hope. This year Pope Francis asks us to pay attention to the plight of all migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers and in particular to the plight of ‘unaccompanied minors’.

I don’t know who you bring to mind when you think of young people who travel alone to new locations. My mind and heart think of my uncle, who despaired at the lack of opportunity in Ireland in the mid 1950’s. Five           years previously he witnessed the death of his mother in a hospital bed. Like many others he followed the cattle to Dublin Port and walked up the gangway towards a new future. He had just turned fifteen years of age.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 16th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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Irish Times Article – Return Migration


Returning to Ireland? Don’t expect things to be as they were

While emigrating is difficult, moving back home can be surprisingly harder. Feeling like a stranger in a place you once felt totally at home can be very unsettling and shocking…




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‘I’ve watched men cry about their children emigrating’ Irish Times, Nov. 2014.

‘I’ve watched men cry about their children emigrating’

Finally the impact of loss on the people left behind by emigration is being recognised, writes Alan Hilliard.

Irish Times Generation Emigration. published 19th November 2014

There is something unnerving when you watch a grown man cry. He was in his mid-50s, dressed in overalls and work boots, and spoke to me through the kitchen window as he took a short break from his job. He tried his manly best to hide the tears and the choke in his voice in the mug of tea he was drinking from.

Tonight, he told me, he was bringing the second of his emigrant progeny to the airport. Though adults, these two people were still his “children”. They came home for a family wedding. There was great intensity in their homecoming but there was even greater intensity in their departure.

As families get smaller, the echoes of emigration grow louder in homes throughout the island. Parents will tell you that all the talk about modern communications easing the distance is farcical. Technology is more often a reminder of loss rather than a connector of presence.

The recently published research from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda), entitled The Emigration of Adult Children and the Mental Health of their Parents, is to be welcomed. Of the 2,911 parents involved, 361 saw at least one child emigrate. This amounts to one in eight parents, and is representative of the total population we are told. Put simply, the report tells us that emigration is not just about “them over there” but it is as much about “those left behind”.

It is interesting that the impact of emigration is being talked about now. The initial bright excitement of moving abroad is dimming and now the reality of it all is settling in. Weddings, births, deaths and birthdays are occurring, and as the years pass since emigration started to rise again in 2009, there are fewer opportunities for people to return home for these events. The phrase “maybe next year” is being heard more frequently.

Certainly emigration is not all about pain and loss, but neither is it all about opportunity and adventure. The dominant language of our political and economic systems has mechanisms that squeeze the human heart out of the migration narrative. Isn’t it extraordinary that these same institutions can tug at the heart when they speak the language of “diaspora”, but the heart of the person who emigrates is largely ignored?

During the American Civil War, soldiers were often allowed access to leave because they were diagnosed with “nostalgia”. This was another word for homesickness. The only cure for them was a brief holiday with their families. Both armies supported this measure because the soldiers were made to feel that they fought on behalf of their families.

This didn’t last. As World Wars came to pass it became impossible to repatriate those who were homesick. They were no longer fighting for families, but for a flag. Anyone who remembers M*A*S*H* may recall that visits home to the US by the characters were never recorded. Those in the camp were family. The army provided medical care, chaplains, entertainment and places for occasional R and R. Nostalgia and thoughts of family and friends at home were the enemy of order, stability and focus.

Our globalising world is benefiting from this evolving phenomenon. The market place does not want to hear about homesickness or nostalgia. Feelings of loss and depression are your own fault and it is unthinkable to blame it on a market driven world that wants you to mobile, flexible and loyal.

Multinationals go out of their way to create soft landings. Your office in London, Dublin, Sydney or Rio is decorated with the same colours and furnished with the same furnishings. You can “log-on” anywhere with the same password. These corporations provide “family” where you work. Sports facilities, classy canteens, socials and even places for you to nap fill the gap.

International students who are now the fodder of the globalising universities are told how wonderful the experience is, how travelling is a great opportunity to experience different cultures and become a citizen of the world. But nobody has said it is ok to be homesick; that it is normal to miss your parents, or feel sad when you miss your little sister’s birthday.

The concept of “migratory mourning”’ is one that is emerging in psychology today. It is most likely a clinical name for nostalgia and homesickness. This concept tells us that mourning occurs in those who go, those who are left behind, and those who return. The findings are only giving expression to what we always knew but what we continually find hard to face.

Emigration tears at the heart of families, communities and societies. Emigration – and especially the loss of our young – grinds a country down. We are ground down socially, culturally and economically because as every person emigrates we are losing possibilities for our future.

When the last of the islanders left the Blasket Islands in the 1950s, they said they could no longer stay because all their young folk had gone. Life, in the fullest sense of the word, was no longer sustainable.

The Tilda report is brave; it is saying what many have suppressed. Finally, people are being given permission to say they miss people they love. Finally, scientific research has acknowledged the impact of loss on the people who go and people who are left behind. Finally, loss that many can’t speak about is beginning to be recognised as significant and damaging. Finally, we can see the desire among emigrants to leave in search of a place where they can “be more” leaves others with an emptiness within themselves that may never be filled.

Fr Alan Hilliard is coordinator of the Chaplaincy Service in Dublin Institute of Technology, and a board member of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants.

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We Bring Home With Us: Ireland and her Diaspora

We Bring Home With Us: Great Imagination and expertise is needed of we are to engage the Irish Diaspora.

The recent Global Irish Forum the visits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama to Ireland and the increasing numbers of people emigrating bring attention once again to the Irish Diaspora. Ireland continues to refer to their vast Diaspora, yet attempts to connect with the larger community, lauded as a great resource can be difficult and cumbersome.

Alan Hilliard (Fr.) M Soc Sc
Bolton St.
Dublin 1

Member of the Board of the Irish Council for Emigrants at the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference and former Director of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants.
We Bring Home With Us: Great Imagination and expertise is needed of we are to engage the Irish Diaspora.

The recent Global Irish Forum the visits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama to Ireland and the increasing numbers of people emigrating bring attention once again to the Irish Diaspora. Ireland continues to refer to their vast Diaspora, yet attempts to connect with the larger community, lauded as a great resource can be difficult and cumbersome

It struck me that distant cities are designed precisely so you can know where you came from. We bring ‘home’ with us when we leave. Sometimes it becomes more acute for the fact of having left.
(McCann, Colum, Let The Great World Spin, (2009), p 59.)

There has been a sizable increase in attention to the vagaries surrounding the emigration. The recent publication of the Irish Bishop’s Council for Emigrant’s Resource Pack highlights that once again those at the grass roots of the Irish Catholic Church are called upon to address the subject of emigration. Opinion columns are divided as to whether emigration is a good or a bad thing. Bottom line is that it is all too early to have an opinion. If emigration proves to be a short term rite of passage with a choice to return to favourable employment it could well be a positive and enriching experience. On the other hand if the emigration option is seen as the only option, then the experience is a different matter entirely.

Ironically, while the institutions of the country foster ties with the diaspora, thousands of emigrants are leaving our shores. There is no doubt that it is hugely advantageous to the country if appropriate links are fostered with those who claim Irish heritage across the world. How this is achieved is significant. For a country with a long history of emigration, Ireland is a relative newcomer to diaspora politics. There remains a glaring need to understand the diaspora, engage with the diaspora and to be imaginative if Ireland is to create diaspora policies that prove beneficial to Ireland and to those they claim to reach out to.

These matters provide an insight into the vagaries of the global phenomenon of migration which is of increasing importance to policy makers. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that by 2050 seven per cent of the total global population will be migrants. For a short and unprecedented period of our history Ireland experienced net inward migration. As we return to the more normal net outward migration that Ireland has experienced over the centuries it is fair to say that based on IOM figures our experience of migration will be above the global average. In this climate the IOM recommends that countries take migration more seriously, stating that there is a need to develop policies that adequately deal with migration so that the negatives can be turned into positives. This includes policy for diaspora communities. Considering our experience of migration, Ireland should be leading the field in migration and diaspora policy. While we may not be lagging behind, we certainly are not a world leader in this area when compared to other countries that have large populations abroad.
Understanding our Diaspora.

The term diaspora is used now with increased frequency. Ireland is a case in point. For many years Ireland has experienced emigration. Those who left our shores were seldom referred to as ‘diaspora’. Diaspora does not carry the harshness and weighty baggage of the term emigration. Diaspora is less evocative of the pain and necessity of forced emigration. There remains the further emerging challenge which is to keep a link between the diaspora and the emigrant; they are two aspects of the one reality we call migration. Diaspora denotes those that look in from afar while emigration brings unwelcome attention to a portion of our population that are forced out. Policies for emigration are more challenging than diaspora policies as they demand that a country faces up to the causes behind the push factors of emigration. For a country like Ireland, emigration has acted as a safety valve whereby ‘emigration dispensed with the need to do anything about its causes’ (Fanning, 2009). Talk of diaspora policies can ignore or distract from the painful reality of emigration.

For many years and for a variety of reasons respective governments were slow to address the needs of Irish emigrants and the Irish Diaspora. Apart from the global interest in diaspora policies promoted by organisations like the World Bank, a number of local factors have contributed to the emergence of diaspora initiatives in Ireland. One such factor is the signing and implementation of The Good Friday Agreement. This landmark in Irish history has provided a welcome opportunity for the Irish Government to engage with Irish communities abroad. Prior to the Agreement (and viewed from an Irish institutional perspective) elements of the Irish Diaspora were seen to be cultivated to provide support and funding for Republican organisations. Writing in the Catholic Herald (19/04/2011) William Oddie believes that the support from sentimentalist Irish organisations abroad contributed to the deaths of people during ‘The Troubles’. Another factor that contributed to interest in the Diaspora was the setting up of the Unit for the Irish Abroad at the Department of Foreign Affairs whose brief it is to engage with Irish individuals, organisations and groups living overseas.

While trying to understand the Irish Diaspora one must realise that diasporas generally preserve many aspects of an Ireland they left behind and which may no longer exist in the contemporary experience of those that remain in Ireland. The author Colum McCann describes this when he says ‘we take ‘home’ with us when we leave’. Diasporas not only take their own home place with them but they carry the political and cultural landscape that they were enmeshed in when they or their antecedents departed. What some one sees as sentimentalism is in actual fact a substantial slice of Irish life from another time. These values are more than mere sentiment. For Irish settlers to the United States in the early part of the nineteenth century, Catholicism was practically outlawed by the dominant white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, W.A.S.P. culture. Similarly, in the early days of settlement in Australia, officials such as Dunmore Lang and Sir Henry Parkes argued for limiting Catholic influence and Catholic migration. These adverse circumstances forced people to rely on deeply held beliefs and values that gave hope and strength in difficult circumstances. A valuable coping mechanism, these beliefs and values are often preserved in families and communities across generations. While their slice of Ireland remained largely unaffected by changing social circumstances in the home country, diasporas can express views, opinions, practises and sentiments based what their parents or grandparents passed onto them and less on the current values, beliefs and practices of contemporary Ireland. For instance, those in countries like American and Australia who claim Irish heritage have preserved an Irish Catholic or a Nationalist identity find it hard to understand young immigrants who do not hold the values that their families have preserved over generations.
This aspect of the Diaspora has certain advantages. There are many instances where the survival and continuity of a nation are dependent on the action of Diaspora communities and individuals. When countries experience political turmoil, the Diaspora can offer stability and leadership both during the turmoil and when the turmoil comes to an end. The members of the Diaspora can hold on to a vision for the country based on the values that pre-existed strife and warfare. Oftentimes a future leader can be chosen from the diaspora. Such a leader may have been expelled by those that caused the political discontent or may have chosen exile. One example that comes to mind immediately is that of Liberia. Following a tragic Civil war the new President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, emerged from the Liberian Diaspora community in the United States. Other examples of people who brought ideas back to their home country after spells abroad include Mohandas Gandhi, Kwame Nkrumah and Ho Chi Minh . Indeed Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was brought to the Archdiocese of Dublin as an Irish exile who was perceived as having something to offer a Church whose local management was tarnished by allegations of mismanagement of Child Abuse Scandals. Furthermore recent Episcopal appointments to Down and Connor, Killaloe and Ossory followed this pattern. As The Economist (2003) once observed, ‘now something new is taking place: diasporas are increasingly exerting influence on the politics of the countries they have physically, but not emotionally, abandoned’.

Engaging our Diaspora
In the mind of the diaspora community, Ireland inc. extends beyond the current travails. As a matter of fact the difficulties and troubles of life in the past often preoccupy memories and stories among families and communities abroad. Marketing Ireland means marketing the Ireland that ‘was’ as well as the Ireland that ‘is’. This may go against the grain of our modern sophisticated ways as those who wield power and influence may want to promote to the model of a modern, secularist, value free Ireland that’s currently open for business. Let’s be mindful that if today’s Ireland is to be marketed to our diaspora it needs to connect with the intrigue that members of the diaspora have with the Ireland that formed the character of previous generations. Even modern diaspora studies admit that it is difficult to detach religious sentiments and beliefs from other cultural aspects of diasporic identity. While modern Ireland may want to downplay religious identity, diasporic communities may want to cherish this aspect of Ireland Inc.

A marked absence at the two Global Irish Economic Fora is the voice of the religious organisations who continue to serve emigrants and the broader diaspora communities. While the current administration may value the input of religious based organisations in local communities abroad, they appear not to value the legacy that religious based organisations have made to emigrant and diaspora policy in the past. The Department of Foreign Affairs may want to ‘dumb down’ the pastoral input of some centres it is worth noting that most Irish institutions provide funding for specific Pastoral Care Services. This includes hospitals, schools, colleges and prisons. If one is in any doubt as to the contribution that Irish Church based organisations have made to emigrant and diaspora policy, one only has to refer to a study undertaken by Dr. Patricia Kennedy of the Department of Applied Social Policy at UCD which charted the contribution of service by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain over a fifty year period . The report specifically documents the contribution the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain made to public policy for emigrants and the diaspora. This work is awaiting publication and will be warmly received considering the renewed interest in emigration and diaspora policy. A further reason for involving a broader range of voices including that of the church is that one of the successful outcomes of the first Global Irish Forum namely Ireland Reaching Out (IrelandXO) is parish based. The basic concept which has been developed by the businessman Mike Feerick has encouraged parishes in the South-east Galway region to establish links with the descendants of those that left the parishes in previous generations. Twenty-five parishes have expressed an interest in the project for 2012 .

To understand the nuances of the Irish Diaspora one must realise that like any Irish town or village it has all shades of life. There are those that have power, wealth and influence and those whose power, wealth and influence may not be as obvious. Just as there is the temptation to engage with one end of the town in Ireland so the same temptation might exist when dealing with the Irish Diaspora. The Exclusive events such as the recent meetings in Farmleigh and Dublin Castle should not distract from the influence and support of those who may not frequent these formal gatherings. There are many lives that have created a web of connections and extended family networks that are proud of their Irish heritage. These connection and networks thrive at local level and may not receive the attention they deserve. While it may be important to attract business people to conferences and summits, it is the other cohorts that bring in the tourist dollars.

Compared to the era prior to the setting up of the Unit for the Irish Abroad at the Department of Foreign Affairs those working with and for the Irish abroad have much to be thankful for. The Unit has created a one-stop-shop for emigrant issues and funding by government has increased. However, as with all organisations, further developments are necessary. Firstly, the benefits that arise when people gather together have been lauded by the organisers of the Global Irish Economic Forum. The organisers of the recent forum have widely advertised the positive effects of the engagement of minds and the power of networking for the economic development of Ireland. However, similar events aimed at gathering together those involved in front line emigrant care were discouraged by the Unit for the Irish Abroad. When the Emigrant Advice Network (ÉAN) was in existence two such successful events were organised in Dublin in 2004 and 2005, however the Board was advised that further funding would not be available for future events. At this point in our history when emigration figures are growing steadily a similar engagement of those involved in front line emigrant care could provide immense benefits for those preparing for emigration. Such an event would provide first hand information on the opportunities, procedures and pitfalls for the modern day emigrant. Secondly, the Global Irish Economic Forum has created opportunities for members of the diaspora to sit on boards on companies in Ireland thus underlining the importance of good governance. One of the major shortfalls in policy for the Irish abroad has been the failure to provide funding and training for board members of Irish Emigrant groups and centres. The failure to insist in proper governance has created problems and has contributed to situations of confused accountability. Indeed many of these centres would reap untold benefits if some of those that attended the Global Irish Economic Forum were involved with local emigrant centres. Such a measure would foster good relationships between emigrant communities and what could be perceived as the more elitist diaspora organisations.

Imaginative Policies
The number of diaspora institutions has increased dramatically across the world in recent years. A large number of countries in the Developing World have ministries dedicated to their diaspora communities. No doubt they have an eye on remittances which aid development. Many other countries have sub-ministry level diaspora institutions and others have national and local level institutions. An overview of these organisations and a review of the various diaspora policies undertaken by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) highlight five important elements in diaspora policies. Firstly a countries policy must have a clear set of goals. Secondly, the information about the diaspora is vital. Though difficult to achieve, policy cannot happen without knowledge of the whereabouts, capacities and characteristics of diaspora communities. A communications network that is mutually beneficial to the home country and those living abroad is of the utmost importance. Modern methods of communication offer untold opportunities for the future but they must be engaging and creative to make an impact. Fourthly, coordinated efforts are particularly important when the client group is so widespread and diverse. Policies, information and communications need to have a professional coordinated focus avoiding duplication and providing easy access to resources. And finally, new initiatives must have something concrete to offer to the diaspora communities.

Initiatives such as the one announced by the Taoiseach in New York offering a three thousand euro reward for every job created by individuals will not engage the diaspora. Creating benefits is a necessary step in cultivating diaspora links but they must hold a deeper significance. While members of the diaspora may be motivated by financial reward they are also motivated by recognition and identity that rises above the tackiness of nostalgia and sentimentalism. It must be remembered that the global scene is changing rapidly, emigration is no longer viewed as disloyalty, host nations are more supportive of dual citizenship, and governments of sending countries work more closely with receiving nations on behalf of their diaspora communities. These factors amongst others provide more opportunities than ever to cultivate links with our diaspora; however, one must not underestimate the difficulties involved in creating diaspora policies. The most notable trait in the efforts of various countries to bridge the gap between the homeland and those living abroad is the distance between ambition and capacity. It is difficult for any country to operate outside its borders which in turn contributes to the inconsistency and ineffectiveness of diaspora policies. History shows that there is something quite unique about the Irish Diaspora that recent administrations have lacked the imagination to harness. Looking back at support among the Irish Diaspora for Republican causes and the feverish activity generated by the Irish Hospital Sweepstake (once described by the American edition of Reader’s Digest as ‘the greatest bleeding heart racket in the world’) there is immense potential to make imaginative leaps to cultivate the support of the Diaspora as we chart our way through uncertain waters.

The present focus on business generated links may suit economic agendas but it will not on its own merits capture the imagination of those who claim Irish heritage. Future policy needs concrete measures fuelled by imaginative initiatives that will reach to the hearts and minds of the potential client base of 80 million. Teams comprising people other than business leaders and civil servants are required to share their expertise if these endeavours are to successfully engage the Irish Diaspora. There are many reasons why initiatives should be taken, some of which are offered in this article. There remains however one good reason; it is time to establish if the 80 million whom we constantly refer to actually exist.

Ends /3000 words

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