The Global Irish Economic Forum which met at Farmleigh in September reported back with 37 specific recommendations. These include:

  1. Establishing a Global Irish Network consisting of leading business and cultural figures from the global Irish community.
  2. Creating a ‘Gateway Ireland’ website to project Irish business, culture, and sport to the world using advanced technology and design.
  3. Founding a world class centre or university for the performing arts and Irish culture housed in a landmark building in Ireland, to become a global centre for artistic and creative education, innovation and technology.
  4. Launching a Farmleigh Forum Overseas Graduate Programme capable of supporting up to 500 young Irish graduates annually in securing jobs.

These initiatives are very welcome and it is great that things are starting to happen in the wake of the Farmleigh event, but a question which has not been sufficiently considered to date is the extent to which diaspora policies will consolidate, rather than reverse Ireland’s ever growing regional inequality and patterns of uneven development?

A Diaspora strategy has the potential to further consolidate uneven development within countries by channeling resources to centres of population and government, and linking them into global networks.  Yet, paradoxically, given that it is often peripheral and weaker regions that shed populations, it also has the potential to promote balanced regional growth.

Diaspora strategies are most often conceived as being properly located at the level of the nation state.  But they scaled in more complex ways in at least two main ways:

  • Firstly, even if set at the national level only, diaspora strategies have different effects on different parts of their respective countries – as a reflection of the different locations of origin of migrant groups and the different business and other opportunities different areas present.
  • Secondly, different tiers of state are actively involved in formulating diaspora strategy. This might involve local, regional, national, and supra-national levels of government. Whether different scales are better or worse, more or less suitable, for different functions of diaspora policy making and execution needs consideration.

Perhaps the county which has shown most leadership in formulating a much more localised diaspora policy is County Donegal.  Since 1997 Donegal has been active in establishing a network of overseas diasporeans and keeps in touch via a monthly magazine. It also publishes the excellent ‘Donegal – Community in touch’ ezine. The Donegal Diaspora Network is in fact a model diaspora strategy, focussing as it does on social, cultural, political, and economic connections, and not just business links.

Noreen Bowden, an expert on Irish diaspora policy, has heaped praise on Donegal, pointing to the value of promoting activities such as:

  • The launch of “The Fid”, the Moville Emigrant Monument, commemorating the thousands of Irish who went to New Brunswick, as well as a schools programme linking schoolchildren in Moville and New Brunswick
  • The MacGill summer school and a related publication
  • The first-ever reunion of Falcarragh people from home and abroad
  • A new social organisation called Go Irish Boston, comprised of Irish and Irish-American people
  • The launch of Fado, a memoir by Irish-American musician Kevin O’Donnel, the child of Donegal immigrants.

But our question is how to get from Farmleigh to Donegal?  If addressing regional inequalities is a productive offshoot of diaspora strategy, then it is imperative more attention is given to the nesting of a diaspora strategy at different geographical scales and the regionally differentiated impacts of national diasporic initiatives.

Somewhat ironically many countries view Ireland as the model country for diaspora engagement and yet the conversation about a formalised Irish diaspora strategy is still in its infancy.  That conversation needs to include, we feel, a focus on regional policies and programmes.

For an international comparison of diaspora strategies, including an analysis of the Irish case, see here.

Mark Boyle and Rob Kitchin