Ireland's Diaspora Policy: Statements

I am pleased to address Members of the Seanad this evening and to update them on the recent launch of Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy and my plans for its implementation over the next two years.

The policy was launched this day last week and, as a commentator in The Irish Times said, it is a "historic development for the Irish abroad". Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy is our first comprehensive statement of Government policy on the diaspora. When one considers the scale and depth of the Irish overseas, and our long history of repeated ebbing and flowing of emigration from our borders, we can all agree that having a comprehensive Government policy in place is timely and welcome. I am grateful for the opportunity to update Members on the process we used to develop the policy, to present the key elements of the policy and to highlight some of the actions I will implement. Throughout the policy we reiterate our desire for feedback and comment. I look forward to the Senators' feedback during the debate, but I especially hope that they will remain interested and involved throughout the implementation process in a meaningful way.

In October 2013, the Government announced that a review of our diaspora policy would be undertaken. In the course of a public consultation over 130 submissions were received, including submissions from Members of this House for which I thank the Members. Two key themes emerged from the consultation, namely, representation and communication. Under representation, there were clear demands for the appointment of a Minister with responsibility for the diaspora, and in July 2014 this was responded to with my appointment. There were also demands for voting rights for the Irish overseas. Some sought a vote in presidential elections and others sought designated Senators for the Irish abroad.

On the former, the Constitutional Convention, in its fifth report, recommended extending voting rights in presidential elections to citizens outside the State, including those in Northern Ireland. This would certainly be welcomed by the Irish overseas. Since my appointment, I have travelled extensively and the message from our citizens overseas is the same the world over. They want to deepen their engagement with, and connection to, Ireland and play a more active role in Irish society. They feel that voting would give expression to that desired connection. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this is not straightforward and there are a number of policy, legal and practical issues that must be thoroughly considered. The Government has asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, in co-operation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and myself to analyse these issues and report back to it. That is what we will do.

Regarding the suggestion of having Senators directly elected by the diaspora, Members will be aware that a working group on Seanad reform, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, was established by the Taoiseach in December 2014.

This group is exploring ways of reforming Seanad Éireann and the manner in which it carries out its business and has been asked to report back to the Government not later than the end of March 2015. I look forward to its report and any proposals it may produce in this regard.

The other key theme which emerged from the consultation process was communication. There were calls for the Government to communicate more, and more effectively, with those who have left Ireland, and to facilitate communication between Irish communities around the world. With modern technology, it is more important and more possible than ever to engage with Irish communities globally. People want to feel connected and they want the Government to play an active role in achieving this. The communication technology advances in the last ten years have given us the tools. It is up to us to use them.

Since my appointment I have made a deliberate effort to reach out to the main technology players based in Dublin. I have met with some of the tech and social media companies including Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter to discuss how they can support us to better connect with our people overseas. We have also started developing a range of communication tools designed to reach different people in different places, with different interests and needs. For example we have just launched an online global Irish portal which is an easy-access source of information on how to remain connected to Ireland through sport, heritage, culture and media. It also provides information to help emigrants settle in their new homes, and, indeed, how to come home for those who are considering that. The portal will continue to evolve in response to users' demands. We are also going to issue a global Irish newsletter directly to those who wish to receive it. People can sign up on the global Irish website. We will increase our social media presence - initially on Twitter - allowing our Irish abroad to interact with us in a direct and immediate way. We are also finalising the details of the new global Irish media fund to support media coverage of diaspora and emigration-related experience.

We took the submissions seriously and included many of the recommendations in the policy. We intend to deliver on the actions we have committed to. The policy is also wider than those two broad themes. We want to support, connect with and recognise the diaspora, facilitate diaspora engagement and continue to evolve the policy to meet changing diaspora needs. I will now highlight some of the actions under those themes.

When we talk of supporting the diaspora we have to consider the needs of those departing and returning emigrants but also the second, third and subsequent generation Irish around the world. In 2014 we provided almost €12 million in financial support to 210 organisations working with emigrants and the diaspora in over 20 countries spread over five continents. Funding is delivered through the Emigrant Support Programme, ESP, which has provided €125 million in grant assistance since its inception in 2004. The new policy confirms that welfare will remain at the heart of the ESP. We will also pay particular attention to specific vulnerable groups such as aging communities, Travellers, prisoners, the undocumented and those with mental health needs. In budget 2015 funding for the ESP was maintained at €11.5 million with an additional €1 million for new diaspora projects and initiatives.

I have already outlined some our communication strategy, which falls under "connecting with the diaspora". Our links are also strengthened by our language, music, dance, sport, literature and so on. As we are all aware, more than any other aspect of our island, our culture reaches all corners of the world. It is one of the most effective ways of connecting with the global diaspora, strengthening links to home and maintaining expression of Irish identity through generations. St. Patrick's Day is one focal point, but throughout the year Irish sports and cultural organisations maintain that connection. The Government will continue to support them and the necessary infrastructure to facilitate their work. This year, we will also support our diaspora to commemorate the creation of the Irish State. Many of the 1916 leaders were part of the diaspora at different times in their lives, some having been born abroad and others having lived overseas. We want to remember the role the diaspora played in those events and in the founding of our State.

To facilitate diaspora engagement, we will work in partnership with organisations of varying sizes and roles which share our common goal of making lives better for Irish people at home and abroad. These organisations can reach people in ways the Government simply cannot. Organisations with which we work closely include the Emigrant Services Advisory Committee, Irish in Britain, the GAA worldwide, the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers in the United States, and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann which is represented here by Senator Ó Murchú.

In 2015, we will convene our first global Irish civic forum to bring these and other organisations together to discuss the challenges facing the Irish abroad and to capture the voice of ordinary Irish emigrants. This will take place in June. The year 2015 will also see the fourth global Irish economic forum, which will bring together members of the global Irish network. The network has played a significant role in contributing to Ireland's economic recovery and in rebuilding our economic representation. We will continue to work with the network to ensure it has a continued involvement in our ongoing recovery. In 2015, the forum will have better gender balance and greater participation from younger people.

The Government will also continue to support Irish business networks around the world. These networks vary in reach and composition, but they all help Irish businesspeople and professionals to connect with each other, seek out new opportunities and ultimately to advance themselves and their businesses. We will continue to facilitate that success. For example, we support the Irish international business network to deliver the Irish executive mentoring programme, an online tool which fosters new executive and entrepreneur talent amongst the diaspora.

There are already some initiatives in place that recognise the diaspora. The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad was initiated by the Government in 2012. It provides recognition by the President of persons living abroad who have given sustained and distinguished services to Ireland or to Irish communities abroad. So far, 30 remarkable individuals have been honoured but it is very important that the awards continue to attract high quality nominees. There are so many Irish people doing great things all over the world and these awards offer an opportunity to recognise them.

We also have the certificate of Irish heritage scheme, which is an acknowledgement of the importance the Government attaches to recognising people of Irish descent. Uptake of the certificate has been disappointing with fewer than 3,000 certificates produced to date. In 2015 we will undertake an evaluation of the operation of the certificate scheme.

I wish to stress that the policy will continue to evolve. We need to listen and be responsive to real need. I remain open to new ideas so that the policy can evolve to meet changing needs and times. For example, we are open to receiving proposals on how to connect with new diaspora communities to help the Irish there retain their identity. We will also try and build better and stronger links with alumni from Irish institutions overseas as they have enormous potential for the institutions and for Ireland as a whole. In 2015 we will launch an alumni challenge fund to provide seed funding to new collaborative initiatives by Irish institutions to target their Irish and non-Irish graduates working internationally.

I have outlined some of the actions contained within our new policy. Their implementation will be overseen by an interdepartmental committee that I will chair. This committee will ensure a whole of Government approach, will report to the Government on progress and will review the implementation fully after two years.

I thank the Chairman and Senators for the opportunity to address the Seanad this evening. I am grateful to have the opportunity to outline the work I have done since I was appointed Minister of State with special responsibility for the diaspora, and to highlight some important upcoming work. I look forward to our discussion this evening and any feedback or questions on the issues I have outlined.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. It is timely that we are having a debate on the Irish diaspora this week. We are on the eve of St. Patrick's week, when our Ministers will rightly be travelling to the four corners of the world. The purpose of those visits is to acknowledge, support and celebrate our Irish people and their achievements in their adoptive countries. As we know, the Irish nation is not confined to the island of Ireland. It consists of all the people on this island and Irish people spread throughout the world.

That is the reason it is important we take time to reflect on our responsibility to the diaspora, while at the same time considering its needs and potential. We cannot say there are 70 million people of Irish extraction throughout the world without looking at their make-up. As there has been emigration from Ireland for well over 150 years, we are talking about several generations. We are talking about first, second, third, fourth and fifth generation Irish. What is important is that they have different needs and potential.

When the Government decided to appoint a Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, it was a step in the right direction because it reminded all those who wanted to identify with what they saw as their homeland that they had not been forgotten, that they were important and would form part of the country's future, as they did of its history. I cannot think of a better person to fill that role than the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. He has brought huge vision and energy to this role, in starting from zero, so to speak, and bringing us to where we are today. It is clear he devotes almost every waking moment to this job. He has travelled to many places and is still being asked to visit many others.

To return to the make-up of the diaspora, it is important to reflect on the fact that there are people who need support and help. The Irish abroad section of the Department has been doing a fantastic job in this regard and I hope that work will continue into the future.

The Minister of State has rightly said culture and sport are very important elements of the status of the diaspora. In the past few months I had the privilege to be in Dublin Castle when Irish ambassadors from around the world returned for a conference. I was present for the module on culture. Each ambassador who stood up could not have emphasised more the importance of culture, sport, literature and so on to the status of the Irish abroad and the image of Ireland. Very often they are the fuel of the engine of tourism. Surveys conducted during the years have shown that culture and sport are very high on the priority lists of tourists to this country. They have opened many doors in the context of promoting industry and trade.

Today I received an invitation to attend a performance by a well known Chinese group in Dublin. On the front page of the brochure I received there was a reference to traditions dating back 5,000 years. That is exactly the claim we make. Great treasures, including the Ardagh chalice, the Book of Kells, our great writers, sportspeople and musicians, attract such attention to a small country such as this.

The diaspora played a huge role in the peace process. President Clinton would not have invested as much time in or taken such a hands-on approach to the peace process but for the impression the Irish in America had made on him. They were mature and wanted to be inclusive in the country they had adopted. President Clinton and his advisers realised it was very important to keep in touch and today we have peace on the island of Ireland.

I was delighted to hear the Minister of State talk about the civic forum. It is the right way to go. Those working at the coalface have most to offer in facing everyday challenges and monitoring potential. That is one of the reasons I am glad that we are looking at the concept of giving them a role in the election process. The idea of having a vote in presidential elections should be kept high on the agenda. I hope that, when Dr. Maurice Manning comes back with the report, it will contain a recommendation that at least one person representing the diaspora be a Member of the Seanad, even if only as a Taoiseach's nominee. We did this in the case of Northern Ireland and it proved to be a very good way to keep in touch. It is important to remember that people of Irish extraction want constant and regular communication with Ireland. There are many ways, in particular through social media, by which this can be achieved, but the best way to achieve it is to send people who could interact with various organisations in differents countries. Incidentally, we are not just talking about America, Britain and Australia, as there are many other countries in which people claim Irish extraction and they must always be kept in mind.

I sense momentum which I think is also being sensed among people from Ireland who are living abroad. We have a whole new generation – hundreds of thousands of young people - who have emigrated. Incidentally, members of the diaspora did not always leave because of deprivation or the lack of work. They also left because they wanted to live in a new environment and because of their professional skills. However, we need to pay particular attention to the new emigrants to America, Britain, Australia and elsewhere. Interestingly, in the 1950s and the 1960s, there was, so to speak, homogenous interaction among those who emigrated, but the position is somewhat different today. New means must be found to engage with the young Irish people who have left to introduce them to the social and cultural life of America. That is what the Minister of State is doing. He is receiving publicity in the mainstream press, the ethnic press and on local radio. That is the way to get the message across. I wish him well in the future and have no doubt that he will leave an important footprint on his journey.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Seanad. Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy was launched last week by him and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. It is the first clear statement of the Government's policy on the diaspora. The policy recognises the unique and important relationship between Ireland and the diaspora and sets out actions to nurture, develop and improve this relationship and engage with the diaspora. The new Global Irish website contains a wealth of information for the diaspora on support services, living abroad and, importantly, staying in touch and returning home to Ireland. A number of new initiatives contained in the policy include a new global Irish media fund to encourage and support media coverage of the diaspora and its emigration experience and an alumni challenge fund to provide seed funding for new collaborative initiatives undertaken by Irish institutions to target their Irish and non-Irish graduates working internationally.

The Minister of State has confirmed that there will be a fourth global Irish economic forum held in Dublin this year. Speaking at the launch of the policy, he noted the continued emphasis in the policy on welfare and associated actions. He announced Ireland's first global civic forum, which will be held in June.

It will bring together Irish community leaders and members of Ireland's emigrant and diaspora communities to discuss the challenges facing the Irish abroad.

The Global Irish policy defines the Government's role in driving and fostering engagement with the diaspora in every way. I note that the Minister of State will establish an interdepartmental committee to oversee implementation of the policy which will be reviewed after two years. It will be a good idea to do this to see if it has been successful or needs to be tweaked. In connecting with the diaspora we will explore working with Northern Ireland connections and others to pursue an engagement to benefit the island of Ireland. It is intended to convene an interdepartmental committee on the Irish abroad, which will include external stakeholders as required. It is also proposed to support local authorities in identifying and connecting with the diaspora. That is a good initiative. No doubt this policy will help to improve communications and connectivity between Ireland and the diaspora. Two-way communication is central to this engagement and so important for our benefit. The Minister of State proposes to convene a global Irish civic forum to discuss the challenges facing the Irish abroad and capture the voices of ordinary Irish emigrants. The forum will be complemented by resources for Irish organisations worldwide, beginning with those funded under the emigrant support programme.

I was at the event at which the Minister of State launched a website for prospective emigrants, based on input from 500 young Irish emigrants who had opened up about coping with emigration, what they had encountered, their views and experiences. They were from different walks of life and had had different experiences of emigration. The loneliness and homesickness experienced by young Irish men and women who have left to find work abroad have been laid bare on the new website to help to support others who are planning to leave. They emphasise the importance of planning and identifying what needs to be identified in whatever city to which people plan to emigrate, whether it be Chicago, New York or Sydney. I was delighted to be present at the launch, on which I congratulated the Minister of State. The website seeks to assist future emigrants by providing simple but effective advice and tools to deal with the inevitable challenges they will face. I did not realise how great they were until I heard the young people concerned open their hearts and tell us about some of them, from pre-departure preparations to the early days abroad, when their initial experiences did not match their expectations. For those who are experiencing particular difficulties, practical advice is provided on coping mechanisms. Both current and future emigrants will find it a useful portal which provides the tools necessary to navigate the often challenging experiences of emigration. I have never had to emigrate, but I have children who have done so and know about their experiences.

The website was developed following extensive consultation with 500 recent emigrants from various walks of life, young men and women, on how they were coping emotionally in their new lives. With a guarantee of anonymity, their honest responses paint a picture of sadness and a longing for home that Skype and other social media have not been able to overcome. They were asked for feedback on how prepared they were before they left, how their expectations had changed after they had arrived and how they had coped with the emotional upheaval of leaving. The majority, 71%, said they had regularly experienced homesickness, while 64% stated the experience was harder than they had ever expected. Over half of the participants stated the level of emotional support available abroad was worse compared to that in Ireland. Missing family, friends and home was the most commonly cited challenge. They advised emigrants to spend time with family and friends before leaving, to tell loved ones that they loved them, to take time to say goodbye to everyone about whom they cared and to try their best to leave on good terms with everyone. On a more practical note, one person advised them to set up Viber and Skype accounts before they went, especially for their parents, and to write down their usernames and passwords down in case they forget them.

Mar mhíniú don Aire Stáit, mar gheall ar Sheachtain na Gaeilge, táim ag labhairt i nGaeilge amháin sna Tithe an tseachtain seo. Beidh mé ag tógáil m'aithisc ar fad i nGaeilge agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé liom. Cuirim fáilte roimh an bpolasaí. Sílim go bhfuil go leor rudaí maithe ann. Tá go leor rudaí a bhí ann roimhe seo tarraingthe le chéile ó eagraíochtaí éagsúla agus mar sin de agus tá roinnt rudaí nua ann. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go bhfuil urlabhraí ag an Rialtas ar son an diaspóra agus fáiltím roimh an obair atá an tAire Stáit ag déanamh. Tuigtear dom go bhfuil foireann an-bheag ag an Roinn atá ag plé leis na gnóthaí seo agus gur dúshlán faoi leith atá ann dóibh an obair seo ar fad a dhéanamh.

Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil suas go 70 milliún duine ar fud an domhain a bhíonn ag rá go bhfuil bunús Éireannach leo. Tá formhór acusan le fáil sna Stáit Aontaithe. I Meireaceá Thuaidh tá 35 milliún sna Stáit Aontaithe agus 4.5 milliún i gCeanada. Tá pobal ollmhór sa Bhreatain: tá 600,000 duine ina gcónaí i Sasana faoi láthair a deir go bhfuil saoránacht Éireannach acu, ach deirtear go bhfuil bunús Éireannach le duine as chuile ceathrar sa Bhreatain ar fad. Tá os cionn 2 mhilliún duine san Astráil, sin 10% den phobal ar fad. Tá pobail Éireannacha ar fud an domhain, i bhfad ó bhaile agus gar do bhaile. Tuigimid agus aithnimid chomh maith céanna an obair iontach a bhí ar bun ag eagraíochtaí carrthanacha, eagraíochtaí pobail, agus na hambasáidí agus ár gcuid taidhleoirí ar fud an domhain sa réimse seo. Molaim an obair sin ar fad. Tá taithí fada ag Sinn Féin freisin le bheith ag déileáil agus ag comhoibriú leis an diaspóra agus tá an-tábhacht ag baint leis sin ó thaobh na tacaíochta gur féidir linn tabhairt dóibh agus an cúnamh a thugann siadsan dúinne, go háirithe nuair a bhreathnaítear ar a leithéid de phróiseas na síochána.

Níl aon dabht faoi ach go bhfuil rud an-mhór in easnamh sa pholasaí seo agus táim ag ceapadh go dtuigeann an tAire Stáit é seo. Is é sin na cearta: cearta vótála agus cearta ionadaíochta atá an diaspóra ag lorg le fada an lá. Tugaim faoi deara go bhfuil cuid de na heagraíochtaí tar éis a rá go bhfáiltíonn siad roimh an tuarascáil ach go bhfuil an-díomá orthu nach bhfuil an Rialtas tar éis gníomhú ar an gceist maidir le cearta vótála agus go bhfuil sé sin chun baint ó na moltaí dearfacha ar fad eile atá ann. Ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhfuil sé seo déanta. Tá 136 tír ar fud an domhain a thugann cearta vótála dá gcuid saoránaigh agus iad taobh amuigh dá dtír dhúchais. Ní thuigim cén fáth nach féidir linn é sin a dhéanamh anseo in Éirinn. Ba mhaith liom fáil amach ón Aire Stáit céard atá i gceist aige a dhéanamh. Tá faitíos ar go leor Éireannaigh thar lear a raibh mise ag caint leo go bhfuil an tAire Stáit tar éis an liathróid a chiceáil síos an bhóthair agus an cheist seo a chur faoi bhráid an Aire Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil le breathnú air. Níl ach bliain fanta ag an Rialtas seo ar an gcuid is mó agus b'fhéidir nach mbeidh réiteach ar bith ar an gceist seo chomh fada is atá an Rialtas seo i bhfeidhm. Ní fheicim ach an oiread aon chaint ar na daoine Éireannacha thar lear nach bhfuil a gcuid páipéir acu, go háirithe i Meiriceá Thuaidh. Tá comhdháil físe againn amárach ar an gceist seo i mBuswells ag a 2 p.m. le féachaint ar na ceisteanna a bhaineann le hÉireannaigh atá i Meiriceá Thuaidh ach go háirithe nach bhfuil cáipéisí imirce acu agus céard atá an Rialtas sásta agus chun dul a dhéanamh faoi sin. Ní fhaca mé mórán faoi sin.

Bhí mé i láthair nuair a sheol an tAire Stáit an suíomh Idilín mindhowyougo.ie le Crosscare an lá faoi dheireadh. Áis iontach maith í sin agus molaim an obair atá ar bun ansin. Molaim an obair atá eagraíochtaí ar nós Irish in Britain ag déanamh chomh maith céanna. Bhí cur i láthair an-suimiúil an tseachtain seo caite ó thaobh an GAA agus an obair atá sé sin ag déanamh ar fud na cruinne mar gheall go bhfuil an oiread Gael imithe thar lear agus na clubanna ag treisiú. Tá borradh ag teacht faoin tacaíocht atá sé sin ag tabhairt. Ní hamháin tacaíocht spóirt atá i gceist ach tacaíocht sóisialta, cultúrtha, oibre, eacnamúil agus mar sin de. Ceann de na rudaí a luadh ag an gcur i láthair ná go bhfuil gá an clár atá ag an GAA ó thaobh cúrsaí meabhairshláinte agus cúrsaí sóisialta a leathnú taobh amuigh d'Éirinn. Tá ag éirí go maith leis anseo ach teastaíonn é a leathnú taobh amuigh den tír.

Tá Sinn Féin ag tabhairt Bille os comhair na Dála an dá lá seo maidir le cearta vótála i dtoghchán na huachtaránachta. Bheadh súil agam go mbeadh an tAire Stáit ag tacú le sin. Ní fheicfinn cén fáth nach mbeadh sé ag tacú leis. Tá an tAire Stáit chomh láidir sin ar son an diaspora, bheifeá ag súil a thacaíocht a fháil don Bhille sin nuair a thiocfadh an vóta amárach. Ó thaobh an tSeanaid de, ní thuigeann an diaspora cén fáth nach bhfuil ionadaíocht acu anseo. Luaigh an Seanadóir Ó Murchú é seo chomh maith céanna. Bheadh sé éasca go leor. As na hainmniúcháin a bheadh déanta ag an Taoiseach, d'fhéadfadh duine nó beirt a bheith ainmnithe ansin. Ar ndóigh, tá muid inár bpáirtí ar son leasú i bhfad níos leithne ar an Seanad agus an chaoi a dtogtar daoine ach, idir an dá linn, tá agus bhí deis ag an Taoiseach é sin a dhéanamh. Ní dhearna sé é sin agus is mór an trua í. Tá bealaí Dáilcheantair faoi leith a dhéanamh ó thaobh na Dála de chomh maith céanna. Tá bealaí go bhféadfadh vóta a thabhairt do dhaoine agus ionadaíocht a thabhairt do dhaoine Éireannacha thar lear sa Dáil. Tá an-áiféala orm nach bhfuil sé sin le feiceáil sa stráitéis, beag ná mór, i ndáiríre. Tá roinnt Éireannaigh a d'imigh le blian nó dhá bhliain anuas atá ag filleadh le vótáil sa Reifreann. Is rud an-mhaith é go bhfuil siad ag teacht ar ais. Ceapann siad go bhfuil sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeidís ag vótáil ar son an reifrinn sin. Cén fáth nach mbeadh sé de chead acu é sin a dhéanamh ón áit ina bhfuil siad ina gcónaí faoi láthair.

Tá bacanna fillidh ar dhaoine. Tá deacrachtaí ag daoine atá ag iarraidh teacht ar ais. Tá deacrachtaí faoi leith ó thaobh chúrsaí leasa shóisialaigh. Ní fhaca mé é sin, cé go bhfuil píosa leis an Aire Coimirce Sóisialta ag tús na tuairisce. Níor thug mé faoi deara go raibh aon rud suntasach ann maidir leis na bacanna atá ar dhaoine atá ag iarraidh teacht abhaile nó go mbeadh siad i dteideal liúntas leasa shóisialaigh, cárta leighis, tithíocht sóisialta agus mar sin de. De réir mar a thuigim, sin ceann de na bacanna is mó roimh dhaoine a bheadh ag iarraidh fillidh. Ní bheadh, b'fhéidir, an oiread sin acmhainní acu. Is mór an trua í sin agus sílim gur rud é sin gur gá dúinn oibriú air.

Nílim ag iarraidh bheith ró-cháinteach. Is léir gurb í seo an cheist mhór. Is léir gur lig an tAire Stáit an liathróid áirithe seo sciorradh uaidh. Is an-trua í sin ach b'fhéidir nach bhfuil tacaíocht iomláin an Rialtais aige. Molaim na moltaí eile atá ann. Beidh muid ag tacú leis na moltaí eile. Tá an rud is mó a bhí ag teastáil fágtha in easnamh, áfach, agus is mór an trua í sin.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and also welcome him as the first Minister in this country with specific responsibility for the diaspora. It shows the commitment this Government has to the diaspora and the future of our relationship with the diaspora.

I will start by quoting from a document I will be bringing to the Minister of State's attention. This is an information memorandum on the idea of an international diaspora centre to be based at the Carlisle Pier at Dún Laoghaire Harbour in Dublin. This memorandum points to the fact that the dispersal of the Irish throughout the world, and their contribution to the economies and cultures of those lands, is one of the defining moments of our nation, past and present. The Irish diaspora, or scattering, is estimated to be in excess of 70 million people and is the largest in the world. It exceeds the Greek, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Jewish and other diaspora. The document goes on to list a number of the better known of the Irish diaspora. These include John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, William Brown, Bernardo O'Higgins, Paul Keating, Brian Mulrooney, Ernest Walton, who is an Irish physicist for those who may not be into sciences, Grace Kelly, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O'Neill and others. I, on the other hand, want to mention the diaspora who never reach those elevated heights.

When I was studying economics in UCD in the years between 1977 and the 1980s, at that stage 10% of the Irish gross national product was comprised of emigrants' remittances. In other words, money was sent back to this country by ordinary folk, ordinary Irish people, who had left this country and who were supporting Irish families at home. We should never forget this.

As Senator Brennan has done, and I do not wish to go over old ground, I welcome the policy the Government announced in March of this year, Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy, and acknowledge the fact that it is the first clear statement, as has been said, of the Government's policy on the diaspora. The Government recognises in the policy that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with its diaspora which has to be nurtured and developed. I welcome, as Senator Brennan did, the move to multi-annual grants under the emigrant support programme. I was part of a recent delegation from the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs to London to talk about the idea of a British exit. We met members of the Irish community abroad, including the Irish in Britain organisation. I was somewhat shocked to be told that to this day Irish emigrants in the United Kingdom have the worst health record of any group of emigrants in the United Kingdom. This is something we must bear in mind when we talk about the welfare of our emigrants abroad. I welcome the focus on the mental health of emigrants and the support available to better equip those who are leaving the country. I also note the Crosscare research. I welcome the convening of an inter-departmental committee on the Irish abroad. I also welcome the idea that local authorities, in particular, should be involved in identifying and connecting with the diaspora abroad. We all welcome the importance of improving communications and connectivity with the Irish diaspora.

Like Senator Ó Clochartaigh, I also wish to highlight the issue of what we mean by representation. I was also a member of the Constitutional Convention and I am aware of its recommendations on Irish emigrants and our diaspora in the election of our President. I do not believe this goes far enough. A number of organisations representing the Irish abroad think it does not go far enough either. I had the pleasure of meeting representatives from Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad, VICA, and I know the comments of the organisation Irish in Britain. These organisations are clear on the fact that they want rights to be given to the Irish diaspora to vote in Irish elections.

I want to bring to the Minister of State's attention a recent report by the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. It is an important report and one which goes further than the Constitutional Convention. It states, for example, that Ireland is among a minority of EU member states which have not extended voting rights to citizens abroad. This debate took place in the context of our obligations as members of the European Union. However, the recommendations of the committee go beyond this. The electoral systems of other countries have been amended to accommodate the diaspora. While electoral systems remain part of our national competence, there is a consensus that the restriction placed on the voting rights of our citizens abroad within the European Union may be challenged in the European Court of Justice. We have a large diaspora yet our definition of citizenship does not take into account the rights of our citizens abroad. It does not allow for a right to vote within certain periods of time, reserved constituencies and so on.

I am not just talking about the Presidency. I know that Senator Ó Murchú mentioned the Seanad. There is nothing particularly unusual about other countries giving their diaspora representation. I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister of State the final findings and recommendations of the joint committee. These were that the Government should accept the principle that voting rights should be extended to Irish citizens abroad, and not just Irish citizens within the EU, and that the Government should proceed to design a system which would be workable in an Irish context. It also recommended that an electoral commission should be established to implement the recommendations of the joint committee's report. Will the Minister of State, given his position, try to forward that particular agenda? This is important. I know from the people I have met that there is very little point in making empty promises when what people actually want is representation in the affairs of their country.

I note that in the document on the global Irish that was referred to there is no reference to the establishment of an international diaspora centre. I intend to make a pitch for the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company's proposal that such a centre be located at Carlisle Pier. There is no more iconic location in Ireland than Dún Laoghaire Harbour, it being the last view of the country for so many who left on the mail boat, particularly those who went to Britain. It would be a most suitable location in which to honour the diaspora.

The final issue I wish to raise relates to the representations to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality made by a delegation of mixed race Irish people who were victims of institutional abuse, many of whom now live outside the jurisdiction. We have a very poor record in acknowledging the severe prejudice experienced by mixed race Irish people in institutions here and the particular type of abuse they suffered. These are members of the diaspora who suffered terrible abuse in this country. I ask the Minister of State, as part of his responsibility for the diaspora, to take on board their particular circumstances.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am delighted that he is the first person to be appointed to office under any Government in a role with specific responsibility for the diaspora. I was delighted, too, to be appointed by my party as the first spokesperson on the diaspora in either House and to play a part in producing, in July 2013, the first policy paper on the Irish overseas by any party. In October 2013 the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, indicated his view that a Minister of State should be appointed with special responsibility for the Irish abroad and the diaspora. In 2014 Sinn Féin produced its first policy document on the diaspora. The Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, was appointed last July, his function being to co-ordinate all aspects of policy on to the Irish overseas and the diaspora.

As noted in our policy paper, the capacity to vote in democratic elections is the most fundamental issue when it comes to citizens' rights. If one is a citizen of any state, one should be entitled to have a vote in that state. It is 186 years since Daniel O'Connell secured Catholic emancipation and almost 100 years since women were enfranchised in 1918. Some 46 years ago people marched in Derry to secure a vote. That we are disenfranchising millions of citizens simply because they do not reside in the State amounts to a fundamental failure of the nation and the political system. It is not beyond our capacity to remedy this and it should be done. The Constitutional Convention recommended that it be done in respect of presidential elections. My own view is that voting rights should also be extended to Seanad elections, but extending them to presidential elections in the first instance would be a good first step.

Our record in this regard is very poor when compared with the arrangements that prevail elsewhere. There are 196 countries in the world, 120 of which give voting rights to their citizens living outside the state. Of the 33 member countries of the Council of Europe, only four do not give voting rights to their citizens overseas, namely, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and, unfortunately, Ireland. The Constitutional Convention has proposed that we extend voting rights in presidential elections to citizens living outside the State. Only nine countries limit voting rights for citizens overseas in presidential elections, but all nine of these presidencies involve executive roles similar to that of the American President. In Ireland's case the President has important powers, but they are not as powerful as those assigned to the Presidents of other nations. In other words, we are proposing to extend to Irish citizens abroad the lowest form of expression of democratic franchise.

It will not, however, be done in the Government's term. There is a proposal to lower the voting age to 16 years but no proposal to give voting rights to citizens living in the North, Britain and beyond. That is a failure not of the Government but of many Governments and the political system. The Minister of State has indicated that he is in favour of extending voting rights and hopes to see it done in his term. I am sure it is not for the want of trying on his part that this will not now happen. We have no difficulty in encouraging companies such as Google, Intel and Facebook to come to Ireland on the basis that we are problem solvers who can get things done. In the case of extending voting rights to citizens abroad, however, we are told there are legal and technical issues to be overcome. Of course, there are such issues; it is like saying we breathe in oxygen. It is a statement of fact. However, if 120 countries, six of them in the Pacific, 13 in Africa and a range of others in the Middle East and Asia, can overcome these problems, how is it that Ireland has failed to do so and will continue to fail to do so? The Minister of State spoke about extending scholarships and bringing people back in a similar way to how the birthright programme worked. There was reference to the great work being done by organisations such as Comhaltas Ceoiltóirí Éireann, in which my colleague, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, has been prominent for many years, and the GAA and through initiatives such as Ireland Reaching Out and ConnectIreland. All of this work is being done independently but with the assistance of the Government.

An issue I ask the Minister of State to take on board will probably present particular legal and technical issues and, most pressingly, will probably not find favour with the permanent government. It has to do with consular representation. Mexico, to give an example, has consulates in every one of the 50 states of the United States. In the case of Ireland, some of our consulates have to cover 13 states. Some 40% of the foreign direct investment we attract from the United States comes from the bay area of San Francisco, but there are only two officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade based there. As well as having ambassadors in every European country, we should have honorary consulates in every US state, all of the provinces of Canada and locations in Australia other than Sydney. This is necessary to assist Irish communities in these locations and offer a means of communicating with the Department. That network of consulates could bring the message to people about ConnectIreland, Ireland Reaching Out and all of the other great initiatives undertaken. We not only need our ambassadors in the capital but also people on the ground. That is one of the issues that I hope will be examined in future proposals.

Extending voting rights to citizens abroad is the fundamental expression of their rights and would show they were part of the nation. The failure of the political system to facilitate this is a disgrace.

I thank Senators for their contributions which reflect their personal interest in the subject. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú has been connecting very successfully with the diaspora for many decades, while Senator Mark Daly is one of the best known Irish politicians on Capitol Hill.

Only in the Minister of State's wake.

The Senator has made a major effort to engage with people there.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú referred to the celebrations around our national holiday.

St. Patrick's Day gives us a huge opportunity to connect with the world. No other country connects to the world on one specific day and we must capitalise to a greater extent on the opportunity. Some 200 iconic buildings all over the world will be greened. That we are allowed to do this is a statement about how we are respected in the world. In the Department I worked in previously, I brought together a group that examined how we could capitalise on St. Patrick's Day, have a more co-ordinated approach and be more on message as a country. I have continued that work since I came into this Department and I will accelerate the work after St. Patrick's Day. I also reference it in the policy document. It gives us a unique opportunity that is the envy of every other country in the world. We are the only country that gets access to the White House on our national day. In America, the UK, Australia, Canada, Moscow, Beijing, Berlin and Amsterdam so many new events and parades are taking place. It is important we support the committees and perhaps they should be on one site where people can look at what is happening in various cities. People who want to travel as performers could offer themselves if that information was available. People looking to go from Ireland could find where to go using that mechanism.

I take the point raised by the Senator Ó Murchú that it is a great opportunity. The Senator also emphasised the value, apart from the fact that people are Irish, of the culture, games and literature, which are great calling cards. There is a value for tourism and a connection with tourism. It is positive to see the numbers coming from America exceeding all limits. Last year was a record, at over 1.3 million people, and it looks like demand this year has been very high. Bookings have been very high. Whether we go to the US, UK, Australia or the Middle East, countries I have been to, people are positive about Ireland. They admire the fact that we paid our way although there was a lot of pain for many people. Irish people are proud of the fact that, as a country, we paid our way. The reputational damage done through unscrupulous people, whether bankers or contractors, has been repaired. Much of it was done through cultures and artists and through reaching out around the world. There is great pride in people who have left and who see that their best opportunity of coming back to Ireland is if the economy is going well. When they read the indicators, in the Financial Times or in other media that are available instantaneously, they hear that the balance of payments is in good order and the economy is creating jobs. That excites them and they know they have a better chance of coming back if they want to do so. They also take pride in the fact that they can boast about Ireland having the highest growth rate in Europe, 4.7% last year and continuing along those lines.

I am glad the Senator recognises the value of the civic forum. We must not forget the people who left Ireland and made huge remittances to Ireland. In some cases, they have fallen on challenging times and we must not forget them. In the UK, which provided huge remittances in the 1950s and 1960s, we have spent €86 million since 2004. The former Minister, Brian Cowen, set up the immigrant abroad unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the emigrant support programme has been very effective. Even when the country went through a challenging time economically, we maintained the level of funding for the diaspora. It made a positive statement to the diaspora that we were concerned about them and prepared to continue our funding of them, especially for welfare purposes.

Senator Ó Murchú referred to sending people out as the best means of communication. When I was in opposition, I remember being in Silicon Valley. My hometown is twinned with Las Gatos in the Silicon Valley and, over a number of years, I went there at my own expense. I remember Ministers were being attacked by those in opposition at the time about leaving the country. I was in San Jose from where, as pointed out by Senator Mark Daly, 40% of our investment comes. However, no Minister had gone there that year and the importance of Ministers going out and meeting people representing Ireland was pointed out to me. I have always been supportive of Ministers going abroad, even when it was more popular in media circles for me to go the opposite way. It is important to go out, promote Ireland and communicate with people. When we leave Ireland, we wear the green shirt and any time I went out when I was in opposition I spoke from the same hymn sheet as if I was representing the Government of Ireland. It is important that we support each other when we go abroad.

Senator Terry Brennan welcomed the fourth Irish economic forum. The civic forum is important in sending out the message that welfare is at the heart of our policy, that we are concerned about people who are challenged. We must also look at our diaspora as a challenge and an asset. Looking at the next global economic forum, which will be in November, it will be the first forum where we can report to the diaspora that things are beginning to turn in Ireland. As the Taoiseach said, our recovery to date is fragile but we are going in the right direction. The diaspora will get a sense of satisfaction from having been involved in this. They have been a part of supporting the recovery in various ways. The diaspora forum or the economic forum will be positive and upbeat from that point of view. There was a commitment to bring in young people and women into it. I will strive, as the line Minister of State for the economic forum, to ensure that happens. More young women, who are doing very well all over the world, will be present, as will young people generally.

The Senator mentioned a review of the diaspora policy after two years and we will certainly do that. Things are changing so quickly, including our relationship with the diaspora in a world of continuous flux, that we must change our policy to meet that change. The Senator also referred to preparation and the Crosscare migrant project launched last week. It is important because preparation is vital for young people going abroad. They must have a job and accommodation and know the people they are going to and the geography of the location. They must be really psychologically prepared, as well as materially prepared by ensuring they have money with them, which is not always the case. They must also be insured. One of the points made strongly to me in Australia in the centre in Bondi, is that people are turning up without insurance.

That creates major difficulties for both the centres and for the people themselves if anything happens to them. I am involved with the American ambassador in advising J1 students they are important ambassadors for Ireland, as well as using it to prepare for their own futures and possible job opportunities in America. There are the occasional media headlines concerning some J1 students’ behaviour. While it is small in number, I hope next year there will be no examples of what happened in San Francisco last year. These are mainly isolated cases as most J1 students are good people who enjoy their experience. It is a good learning experience for them, preparing them for the future. They are also great ambassadors for Ireland.

Preparation is very important in this regard. When I was in Abu Dhabi and Dubai recently, it was emphasised to me by Irish emigrant groups that young Irish people going there need to realise it is a Muslim country and that some of the ways they entertain and enjoy themselves back in Ireland may not be acceptable there. Once they realise that, they will not get into any trouble. It is very important to know the culture of the country one is going to and to understand their laws if they are different from Ireland's. While Ireland has a good democracy with great freedoms, it might be different in other countries and people need to realise that.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh as ucht an méid a dúirt sé faoin bpolasaí agus faoin gcearta vótáil. Tá suim mór agam sa topic seo. It is certainly a policy that I will be progressing. The Government asked the Convention on the Constitution to consider extending the franchise in presidential elections. We must be mindful the next presidential election will be in 2018 which means there is plenty of opportunity to put an extended franchise in place. The Cabinet considered this and decided, rather than putting it to a referendum now that would not be prepared properly, especially when there is a long lead-in period to the next presidential election, it assigned the subject to the line Minister, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and myself to consider. We will examine the logistical problems such as who would vote, where and how they would vote. We have to examine all of these challenges and progress it to the next stage. While we have plenty of time, it may not be in this Government's lifetime as there are two referenda this year. The next Government should commit to a referendum on extending the franchise. The people will decide on this, not the Dáil or Seanad. I will come back and consult with the Seanad when the logistical issues have been considered.

Senator Ó Murchú proposed including the diaspora in the Taoiseach's appointments to the Seanad. The Irish in Britain organisation strongly recommended three Senators be elected by the diaspora, one for the America and Canada, one for Australia and Asia and one from the UK and Europe. This proposal is worth considering and would not have to go to a constitutional referendum. Former Senator Maurice Manning’s Seanad reform working group is examining this.

I disagree with Senator Daly on the presidency. The President is an important position, being the commander of our armed forces and signing Bills into law. The President is also a major figurehead abroad for the Irish nation too. When the President visited the UK for the first time last year, it got significant coverage. In the past, taoisigh have gone there but have not got the same amount of coverage or recognition. The President is a very important figure and it is important when people vote in presidential elections that it is very well thought through and the position is valued.

Senator Aideen Hayden acknowledged the remittances sent home by emigrants, a point often forgotten. These had a major impact in supporting their families at home such as by improving housing conditions, supporting younger family members going to college or purchasing land. Many of our emigrants made this significant contribution which afterwards was not fully recognised when they looked for support. There seem to be particular health issues with some Irish emigrants, particularly in the UK. Up to €86 million goes towards supporting the various Irish welfare centres in the UK which are doing major work. We also need to identify the different aspects of the Irish diaspora that require a special connection. Recently in New York, I met with the three Irish centres and the GAA there. We are providing funding through the immigrant support funding programme and, together with these organisations and Pieta House, a professional mental health service will be provided to the diaspora. I hope it will be successful because it could also be replicated in London and the UK. The European affairs committee's recommendation for the extension of voting rights to the Irish abroad is being taken seriously by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and myself.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, recently made an announcement about the national diaspora centre. He feels there should not be just one centre as the diaspora came from many counties, predominantly in the west, and each county could claim to have its own centre. The Irish Family History Foundation has discovered people searching their family history like to get directions to their ancestral homes or villages. On the other hand, the Minister stated that if an organisation like the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company wanted to set up a centre, then there is nothing to prevent it from doing so. I understand Dún Laoghaire has funding arranged for such a centre.

Senator Daly is very well-known on Capitol Hill, being probably the best-known Irish politician over there. He has worked very hard over there. The voting rights issue is important with our diaspora.

It is not the only issue of importance to the diaspora but it is a very important one. If the right process and logistical arrangement can be put in place it could be a very significant way to connect with the diaspora. In reply to the Senator's reference to birthright, we plan to have a pilot project on the birthright issue. We are reaching out to people who have made suggestions in this regard. I hope that by the end of the year we will have the first of these young third and fourth generation people from whatever part of the world coming to Ireland to participate in an education programme in Irish culture and heritage. They will visit different parts of the country and gain an understanding of how our Republic evolved and of the current political situation in the island of Ireland. It is hoped that the pilot programme will become a programme such as is held in Israel. I have received many and very positive responses from all political parties about this programme.

The Government is considering the question of the number of consulates general in America and in Australia. I have been speaking to the ambassadors to America and Australia. Individuals offer their services as honorary consuls and such offers will receive serious consideration.

I thank Members for their attention. I will return to the House when we have developed our ideas on the issue of the voting rights.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Leath uair tar éis a deich maidin amárach.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 March 2015.