Posted by: Martin Russell | October 3, 2011

A Period of Diaspora Momentum: Series of initiatives/events mark continuation of diaspora as a defining aspect of Irish political and social life

On Friday next, the Irish government will hold the second Global Irish Economic Forum. Following on from the initial event in 2009, the Forum is a remarkable tool and opportunity to engage and leverage the highly influential and interested ecomomic diaspora community. It also tells us a lot more.

Diaspora engagement does not happen by accident. It takes time and effort, and then some more time and effort. There will be successes and there will be failures, like most aspects of social and political enterprise it is a learning process. Furthermore, diaspora engagement is a fascinating dynamic in that it is relatively difficult to ascertain where exactly the agency for engagement resides due to a number of reasons. Whilst these debates, amongst others, are expertly examined in the new Diaspora Matters ‘Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit,’ officially launched by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week, even in the most simple of assessments a key ingredient in diaspora engagement is momentum (and in a footnote this usually depends on networked individuals and/or institutions).

Arguably, in such an interpretation we gain access to the importance of this week’s event. Momentum has been building from the first event in terms of strategic diaspora engagement. The Forum has the ability to be at the forefront of a negotiated engagement between diaspora and homeland. Furthermore, it’s strategic nature is informative in terms of the relationship between home, host and diaspora. The need to be both “here” and “there” is a manageable phenomenon or negotiation. A prime example of this would be the emergence of the excellent WorldIrish website in recent weeks which serves as an indication that this negotiation is also plural.

To that end, the interesting if somewhat silent dynamic of the forum is what it represents in terms of diasporic knowledge/participation. This dynamic is also quite simply a challenge. Diaspora engagement changes over time, policy and practices must be aware and receptive to such a feature. The event at Farmleigh this week is a purposeful engagement as it helps tocontextualise changing demands of the home country and diaspora. Additionally, given the economic focus then the host country context of diaspora engagement is clearly present.

Apart from debating the theoretical or practical significance of the event, it is unquestionable that it is effective foreign policy. Measuring this will only be possible in the aftermath of the event when expected outcomes can be weighed against potential consequences, however the event marks a continuation of diaspora engagement as a cornerstone of Irish foreign policy.

Interestingly, given the ongoing debates over external voting rights (which needs to be definitionally detached from any overall label of diaspora voting rights – an issue which current discourse seems to assume rather than note) and other forms of diapora engagement, there are interesting times ahead in the complex space of the Irish diaspora. First port of call is knowledge, we must understand the dynamics of diaspora before any coherent plan can be put in place to engage. Initiatives such as the Toolkit, WorldIrish and Farmleigh are instructive in that sense, others will surely follow – they must. Momentum, much like diaspora, is never static and must never be lost.


For a list of attendees and programme for the upcoming Second Global Irish Economic Forum see


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