Barry Corr is the CEO of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce
A few years back, over the 2012 Christmas break, I wrote a piece regarding “The Changing Face of the Irish in Australia”.
In that, I talked about how Ireland has always had a significant number of her children travel to all parts of the world seeking employment, building skills and experiencing new things – I did it myself following university. While the spectre of forced migration that re-emerged from 2008 was obviously unwelcome, the mobility of the “Global Irish” is often a positive thing and there are many benefits to be gained for both our homeland and our adopted home countries as each generation enhances their capability, reputation and builds more links in the global business community and the global Irish network.
We provide support for each other, we facilitate better business links in an increasingly small world, we create employment, we create opportunities and we manage to do so in a way that other nations find engaging and enjoyable but professional.
Some in the Diaspora might have felt Gabriel Byrne’s comments in 2012 were justified when he talked about the bridge between the Diaspora and those living in Ireland as being broken and the sense of “shake down” in the sporadic nature of Irish government engagement with us but we retained that sense of Ireland and carry a little bit of her in the back of our mind as we continue on our journey.
In 2010, in response to the significant numbers of recent arrivals from Ireland, not all by choice, we created a national Mentoring Program to support the rapid mobilisation of those new arrivals in Australia. That 2010 pilot grew to a stage where now in 2016 we have helped hundreds of alumni reach their potential in Australia. What’s even better is that many of them are now moving on to play their part in another story of Global Irish successes in other places. The unique, high touch, way the program operates has been studied by our colleagues in sister organisations and has inspired a number of similar programs elsewhere. This is a positive thing as it has built communities of practice and seeded a “raison d’être” for those seeking a more positive and sustainable way to express their sense of heritage beyond a big day in March.
2015 saw the inaugural Irish Australian Business Awards take place. We first tabled this in a proposal to the Irish government regarding a Diaspora Business Awards initiative which could recognise and share the successes of the Global Irish, create deeper links amongst us in various locations without having to always rely on Dublin to make the introductions, provide an accurate succession plan for invitations to future editions of the Global Irish Economic Forum and provide IDA and Enterprise Ireland with a pre-qualified target list around the world. We’ve done our bit here in Australia and our friends in other locations have their own equally admirable programs. Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring it all together?
Last year we published a White Paper on strategies to help support Returning Migrants. From this, with the support of a number of private sector partners, we created a Returning Migrants Program, the first of its kind amongst the Global Irish. We have developed structure and practical support through this to help make an aspiration for return a reality for program participants. We are often asked why we would be investing effort in those who are leaving but that goes to the very heart of the role we all can play.
We are all “of Ireland”, wherever we may be and regardless of however many generations back we have to look for the last member of the family to live there. We have much to offer and we still feel Irish. In some research we conducted in 2014, respondents still strongly identify themselves as Irish – 93% identified themselves as Irish Citizens living in Australia; yet 81% also had Australian citizenship or permanent residence.
That’s why the Diaspora retain such an interest in the situation back in Ireland and that’s why the time is right for us to have a genuine voice of representation to underpin the rebuilding of those bridges referred to by Mr Byrne back in 2012.
The Global Irish can be greater than the sum of our parts if we develop our links with each other and support each other. But to do that most effectively we need to have genuine partners in government who will make our voices heard. The hackneyed argument around representation being linked to taxation holds no water for many of those who came to Australia in recent years. Thousands found themselves paying tax in two countries but, if they were here on a 457 visa, having a vote in neither. Surely we can do better.