Global Irish Forum Kick-Off

I had the pleasure of attending the kick off for the Global Irish civic forum on Wednesday night. The forum is a gathering of various government and social organisations and individuals whose collective goal is to help Irish diaspora globally.

The panel discussion was entitled Global Irish Communities, Connections and Conversations: The Undocumented Irish Perspective”, with a particular focus on the undocumented Irish in the US. Although I am not, thankfully, undocumented, it was interesting to hear the personal stories and contrasting experiences of that segment of the diaspora.

The panel discussion kicked off with Minister Joe McHugh reinforcing his commitment to maintaining the momentum that has built in supporting all diaspora and the cross-departmental appetite to engage in this conversation. The panel of five representatives then gave their perspective. Billy Lawless (Senator, Chicago) spoke about the goodwill that exists in the U.S. and advised the importance of enhancing personal relationships. This was interesting for me given the clamour for Enda Kenny to shun the Patrick’s Day visit. There is a balance to be struck between expressing your position strongly and respecting long term relationships.

Celine Kennelly (Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, San Fran) spoke of how important it is to ensure the undocumented do not feel forgotten. This is one of the reasons I write and publish this. In common with us returning emigrants, she also stressed the need to make it as easy as possible for emigrants to return home. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way and I hope the forum comes up with pragmatic solutions to problems diaspora everywhere have in common.

Michael McMahon (Families of the undocumented in America) struck a chord with me. In my Irish times series I write about the challenges posed as a returning emigrant. But at least I had the choice to return. I became more grateful during the few minutes he spoke. Michael’s son has not been back to Ireland for 17 years. I count my blessings that I could return whenever I wanted during a similar time period. This is a deprivation of freedom I had not considered. The undocumented do not seem to officially belong anywhere. I have the dilemma of belonging to two places and having to choose one. Thankfully the government is interested and actively engaged. The message from Michael is that there are fifty thousand people stranded – and time is running out for them to see family who are aging. My gratitude for feeling like I belong and for freedom of choice is renewed.

Ronnie Miller (Irish International Immigrant Center, Boston), spoke of the anxiety and inaccurate information in the community. The countering need then is to provide a calm and accurate source of information and support. People have taken up Irish classes in great numbers recently. It is indicative of a need for community and belonging in the increasingly insecure environment.

What followed was indicative of some of the challenges and opportunities in what is a complex area.

Michael Lonergan (Embassy of Ireland, US) provided an insight into the current political environment, and the balancing act of continuously campaigning versus sounding like a broken record. Relentlessness – and expectations – in the face of current opposition needs to be carefully managed.

There followed discussion about the ‘waiver option’ (which I confess to not being familiar with). The conclusion reached after considerable back and forth among various parties in the room is that waivers are assessed on a case-by-case basis and applicants must leave during the assessment. This poses risk for any undocumented individual. This fact seemed to be somewhat new information to some present. As the discussion concluded I asked myself a couple of questions.

  1. What is the source of truth for such questions? Who distributes the official reliable information? As an emigrant, where do I go for the official word? Make it easy for me.
  2. How is a forum such as this now communicating – in real-time this important information? Can this be on Twitter from an official source almost immediately?

There is unbelievably hard work done by multiple enterprises, private, social and government – something all should be proud of. It would be great to see conclusions and actions being disseminated to the wider diaspora in a calm accurate – and timely – manner.

It’s also important for government and all enterprise to hear the personal people stories – as it is for the people to hear accurate information. Give them information and empower them to decide what to do. For example, discounting waivers on the basis of risk underestimates people’s ability to make a personal informed decision. Previous cases should be recorded centrally and I – as an emigrant – should be able to decide what risks I wish to take. Risk is not, after all, something an emigrant is unfamiliar with.

Hopefully the two days will address this need amongst others. For my part I will suggest my ideas to the forum. I hope by writing this, you know there are people who care for your wellbeing working very hard to help you. You are not forgotten. Stay positive and grab the hands that reach out to you.

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